Coaster Kingdom

The Haunting (Drayton Manor)

The following review will go into explicit detail regarding the attraction and the surprises it may conceal. If you choose to read on, be warned that it may detract from your first ride on the attraction.

The haunted swing is a concept that has been around for many, many years, and the same principle remains from the very first one: Its a mind trick, and to varying levels of success, tricks you into thinking it is you moving not the room around you.

The idea is similar to the revolving tunnels found on many haunted houses. You remain still, but everything else revolves around you, so with nothing still to fix your eyes on, you are coaxed into thinking you’re turning, and the tunnel isn’t.

Its a clever trick, and requires no ground breaking technology, just the ability to suspend a gondola of people inside a room, and to have the room inside a drum enabling it to make full revolutions in either direction around you.

Older style haunted swings were very basic and not too convincing. Decor in the room resembled that of a prison cell, and the flicks of light through cracks in the walls together managed to kill the effect that you were indeed moving.

Modern haunted swings focus on the decor of a room among other things. The more in a room that should move, and doesn’t, the more convincing. Also, the Vekoma version has the gondola moving about twenty degrees in time with the room. It moves in the opposite direction exerting tamed down forces on you as to what would actually be happening if you were in fact being inverted within the room. Its very clever stuff, and really improves the feeling of movement.

It is the latter version that Drayton Manor installed, and although the concept remains the same throughout all parks’ installations, the room is normally only the finale of a whole experience involving pre shows and the like. This is what normally decides whether the park have a winner (like Villa Volta for example), or a full blown dud (no names mentioned).

With regards to theming, the Haunting could surprise you. Like most, it could have simply been a house that was haunted, and you sit in a room full of possessed spirits. Its on queuing that you realise that the plot isn’t quite as obvious as that.

The queue starts in the atmospherically misty and wooded garden outside the front of Drayton Green Vicarage. The queue meanders past the main door of the building, and finishes at the far left at the bottom of a ramp going up into a grey lorry trailer.

Every ten to fifteen minutes, the door on the side of the lorry at the top of the ramp will slide open, and a group of guests will be invited in. The lorry may seem outrageously out of place, but as it will soon be explained, something is seriously wrong at the vicarage, and help was hastily called upon.

You are now inside the lorries trailer. There is a two tier ramp going past various electronics and gadgetry, presumably belonging to the Institute of Metaphysical Research. The lights flicker, go out, and two monitors above will burst into life.

Dr X from the institute will introduce himself at this point. He goes onto explain that you form part of a party to go in and find an investigation team that went missing on the night before. They take the liberty of showing you their final steps deep inside the vicarage, which upon the screams of horror from the investigation team cuts out.

A ride operator posing as one of the remaining members of the institute will now guide you through the house. You go through a door and into a long, dark and forbidding corridor. The lights are flickering, and once all of your party are in, the door slams behind you, and it is here it is explained to you that it was here that this was the last place the team were seen alive.

The lights go out, and from above, two ghoul like skeletons swoop from out the darkness, glowing with ultra violet in probably the worst single effect you will encounter within the house. The mere fact that you can see the arms and rails supporting the afore mentioned is enough to make your hair stand on end in horror that such poor effects remain after years of the ride being open.

You are now led from the corridor into the vicarages library. In here it is dark, musty and strangely absent of books. The next thirty seconds the ride operator will be enticing you into the centre of the room away from the walls, and from there, what little light there is, is dimmed before a picture comes to life with the face of the vicar.

The lip synching on the vicar is diabolical, infact worse than any Venga Boys performance, although other than that, the animatronics aren’t too bad, although limited. He explains about the curse bestowed upon the house and announces the fate of the team preceding yourselves. Look up, there they are, hanging from the ceiling. The ground begins to thump, light comes up between the floorboards and the room fills with smoke and you are instructed to pass through either one of two corridors which will lead you to the vicarages chapel.

This is the ride section of the attraction. Four pews line the room, two on each side, facing a central cross on a plinth in the centre of the room. The room is dimly light by lanterns on the bare stone walls, with the underside of the tiled roof visible from underneath.

After the obligatory instructions from the ride operator, the bars come tightly down, before the doors slide shut, and you realise, you are now on your own.

The lights flicker briefly before going out. A second later, they’re back on, the room has now sunk down on one side at an unsettling angle. As gothic chants fill the room, it slowly begins to rock. The illusion has already begun: With the gondola moving slightly too, its hard to make out whats moving where, and by how much.

As the chants get louder, you feel your head either slump forwards or be pulled back as the room does a whole revolution above you, completely confusing you, not knowing whats the floor, and whats the ceiling, showing you the graves which formerly resided below you and your bench.

The institute control announcements do little to reassure: “Attention in the house, attention in the house: We’re aware of your situation and are attempting to rectify...”. I hope they don’t though, as its just starting to get enjoyable.

As it does though, the movements get smaller and smaller, the room settles at an upright position, the bars raise and you prepare to leave. “Thanks for your help, and we hope we never have to see you again”. And thats it. You are cast back out into the relative normality of the park.

It always seems funny that you are completely immersed in a ride, and are then thrown out without any conclusion what so ever. I can see why though: Many people dislike preshows, and would hate to have one after the climatic ending, but the story does seem a bit unfinished.

The cheesiness of the ride is forgivable, and I find the second pre show with the vicar more amusing than it is unsettling. Okay, that isn't the purpose of the show, it was obviously suppored to be quite scary, it fails, miserably, but I've been in far worse pre shows.

However, for me, I find it hard to understand the ten to fifteen minute waits between when people are let into the building. Surely the wait should be no longer than the ride itself, as its common practice to have the pre shows the same length as the ride itself, so as the ride finishes, so do the pre shows, and so everyone will move in, out and about the house at the same time. It seems it takes too long for the first pre show to start, and with the corridor between that, and the overly shambolic second pre show (as much of it is spent herding people into the middle of the room), everything is a kilter, meaning long queues.

Those gripes aside, the Haunting is more worthy of our rating than people give it credit for. It is probably the countries second best haunted swing, and makes a change from the predictability of the haunted house they could have installed.

2/5 Marcus Sheen