Coaster Kingdom


It seems at the very least a risky business model to scare your customers off, yet The Sudden Impact! Entertainment Company have made it their bread and butter.

Spaceship Earth, Epcot

Lynton V Harris of The Sudden Impact! Entertainment Company 

Lynton V Harris is the founder, Chairman and CEO, and Sudden Impact! have made it their mission to move the idea of interactive walk through shows away from simply achieving the flimsy pretext of being Halloween attractions to fitting the far more profitable and accessible format of being more general forms of entertainment playing on the universal emotion of fear.

An Australian, Lynton V Harris was a surfer cum Marketing Director for eight regional radio stations. With a dream of moving to America and chasing fame in Hollywood, he visited New York New York where an advert in the entertainment trade magazine Variety caught his eye.

It was for the Radio City Christmas Show, a performance that went on to take  $32m (Ł18m) in a matter of months. Inspired by the concept versus takings, Harris pondered whether the similar niche of Halloween could perhaps be exploited.

Back home in Sydney, Harris quit his job and focused all efforts on writing a Halloween musical to be shown in the enormous 13,000-seat Sydney Entertainment Center.

Six-or-so months later, despite losing thousands, the show was a success of sorts – Harris wrote the experimental show mainly to get his foot on the live entertainment ladder, using a video of the show as a multimedia portfolio to take with him to America.

Harris bit the bullet in February 1993, when he packed up his life and moved to New York. It took three years before Harris’ idea came to life in earnest, as the 40,000 square-foot Madison Square Garden was transformed into a vast interactive Halloween show, Madison SCARE Garden.

Spaceship Earth, Epcot

The Freezer is such a cool attraction

With live acting talent and a labyrinth of dark sets, Madison SCARE Garden became an annual Halloween institution scaring over quarter of a million people in just four seasons.

But Lynton still wasn’t happy. Why settle for just 250,000 over the space of four holiday seasons when there was no reason why these live walk through shows couldn’t become year-round, as a broader entertainment opportunity?

Putting a three-year Harvard education in Owner President Management to practice, Harris began selling the idea of the walk through shows to Hollywood movie theme park studios like Paramount and Universal.

After ‘testing’ The Mummy LIVE as part of Madison SCARE Garden, and to prove how the concept had universal appeal and didn’t have to fit within the Halloween agenda, Sudden Impact! created The Mummy Returns LIVE! and toured it to Dreamworld Australia, in their June/July winter vacation period. It was a smash hit success, and Australian audiences were thrilled (and scared) to bits.

Universal Studios followed suit, and opened The Mummy Returns Live, a lavish walk through with nine massive crypts themed to the two Mummy films.

Since Madison SCARE Garden, Sudden Impact! attractions have opened in the UK, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Amsterdam, Las Vegas and a return visit to Dreamworld on Australia’s Gold Coast with Lara Croft: Tomb Raider LIVE!, for the high profile Christamas/Summer vacation season. Booked for a month, the show was extended for a further three months after breaking Dreamworld’s attendance records.

Spaceship Earth, Epcot

They are theatrical shows that require all of the disciplines that any live show requires   

This was Dreamworld’s most popular show for a decade, proving that Halloween was an unnecessary constriction when it came to scare-mongering.

Europe’s first encounter with Harris’ dark side was in 2002 when Thorpe Park introduced Fright Nights. The cornerstones of these events were two haunted walk through mazes – The Freezer and Freakshow 3D.

While both of these mazes scared ticket holders into submission, neither resorted to blood and gore, and neither relied on actors simply jumping from darkened corners screaming ‘boo!’.

Elsewhere, in Staffordshire, the reportedly haunted Towers themselves were the slightly sinister setting for Terror of the Towers, part of Alton Towers’ short-lived Halloween Spooktacular.

Tussauds’ love affair with the dark and macabre snowballed from this, and itself went to show how the idea of scaring guests wasn’t limited to dark and autumnal evenings with Warwick Castle and Madame Tussauds both operating Sudden Impact! mazes throughout the year, both in unique and challenging locations.

Warwick Ghosts Alive! in fact introduced the ‘theatrical play’ style of scare show that is a fully scripted and choreographed, interactive short play.

We were afforded the chance to speak to the Sudden Impact! dark lord himself, Lynton V Harris, who told us about the art of scaring people. Continues...

Coaster Kingdom Magazine
Issue 16: Mar 2006

Issue 16
'We Don't Do Boo'
An interview with Lynton V. Harris, creator of The Freezer, Terror of the Towers, and much, much more

In The Picture
In The Picture
Click to enlarge image