Scarefest has once again been un-earthed at Alton Towers Resort, delivering a frightfully fantastic time for all ages. With spooky shows, macabre mazes, including the new Freak Show: Toxic Junkyard, as well as some adaptations to suit restrictions imposed by coronavirus, TowersTimes lifts the lid on this year’s event.

The big new thrill for this year is Freak Show: Toxic Junkyard, a freakishly fleshed-out, maze version of the scare-zone from 2016-17 and roaming entertainment from 2018. Located behind The Games Bunker, Toxic Junkyard invites ‘townies’ into Barb Dwyer’s Reclaim Yard, where a menagerie of freaks, clowns and supernatural mutations are playing away the days, preparing for their next big show. With a compact route, hilariously chaotic performances and suitably psychadelic lighting, Toxic Junkyard is a fun little maze, and serves as a neat introduction to the scarier attractions on offer. Considering that the Resort had little over a month to put the maze together, the fact the maze is mostly built from pallets and props from previous mazes, plus all the uncertainty over the event in general this year, we were pleasantly surprised by Toxic Junkyard. Whilst weaker and far less theatrical than what we’ve come to expect from Scarefest, we enjoyed the maze and didn’t think there could have been a better alternative given the circumstances.

Also new for 2020 is Garden Lights Walk: Whispering Souls. The majority of the historic gardens are illuminated by an array of colourful lights, offering an enchanting experience for the whole family to enjoy together, with the Yew Arches, Conservatory, Choragic Monument and Bandstand being particular highlights. The Gardens feel very neatly presented, and the bridge that runs alongside it offers an incredibly stunning vista. It’s really great to see more focus on Heritage in general this year, following on from the limited opening of the Gardens in June, and this new walkthrough provides guests with a new appreciation for this hidden gem. In our opinion, Garden Lights Walk is a must see.

Emerging from the seven seas for a second year is Darkest Depths, now located behind Dark Forest. With an entirely reworked route and a new finale sequence, the sea shanty of The Mutiny sets sail stronger than ever. It continues to excel with luxurious lighting, highly detailed set pieces, and some truly putrid smells. Darkest Depths is still a superbly swashbuckling introduction to mazes for braver children, whilst still being incredibly entertaining for an older audience.

Another maze returning from last year is The Attic: Terror of the Towers. Taking guests to the eaves of The Ruins, The Attic remains largely untouched from its debut in 2019, however we feel it has lost some of its focus with less of an emphasis on the story. Whilst the maze is bookended by storytelling sequences, the vast majority of the maze lacks the narrative and theatrical edge that made it so enjoyable and unique last year. However, The Attic retains its detailed sets and lighting, which still makes it a chilling and creepy maze, and feels somewhat comparable to the staged version of the legendary ghost story, The Woman in Black.

Altonville Mine Tours: Uncover the Legend of the Skin Snatchers invites guests back to the infamous pits for the fifth year running, and continues to be one of the most detailed and horrific mazes in the event’s history. A number of changes have been made within the mines; the eerie Haunted Lantern helmets are absent altogether, the second preshow has been merged with the first, and the hazmat corridor has been pruned back. Nevertheless, Altonville Mine Tours returns with such a passionate, energetic cast, and the incredible design of the attraction ensures all guests leave feeling deeply unsettled. However, the queue line continues to take guests through the tight and poorly ventilated service tunnel, and with no lighting inside, we found it was incredibly difficult to see the social distancing chevrons. Hopefully this issue will be rectified over the course of the event.

Scarefest isn’t all about shock horror though, and so a number of family friendly shows are staged upon the lawns, alongside fearsome food options returning from the recent Oktoberfest event. Featuring a mix of song and dance, the familiar Freaky Five return to give younger children spooky performances with plenty of energy and interaction to keep them engaged. The Alton Ancestors have also made a return, this year performing their dance routine, updated with some more current songs, on the Front Lawns’ stage. Neighbouring food and beverage units, including ‘Oozy Boozy’, ‘Gretyl’s Cauldron Delights’ and ‘Monster Grill’ keep guests well fed. With this area adjacent to CBeebies Land, where younger guests can enjoy CBeebies Land Monster Ball, families are able to bounce-back between the two without travelling too far.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a number of changes have been applied to all extra experiences to ensure Scarefest is COVID-Secure. Guests are no longer able to meet the Freaky Five in person, whilst some shows feature masked roaming actors who stay a generous distance away from guests. Before and after entering each scare maze, guests are required to sanitise their hands, as well as applying a suitable face covering. Traditional maze briefings are missing, although most mazes play the announcement as part of the queue ambience. To keep the queue moving, The Attic and Altonville Mine Tours double batch guests before entering. For Darkest Depths, The Attic, and Altonville Mine Tours, each batch is split into three ‘mini groups’, with each mini group consisting of members of your own household or social bubble; Toxic Junkyard sees each group restricted to your bubble. During each preshow, the households are split up to ensure a large gap in-between, and if you’re visiting on your own, this essentially guarantees a solo run. Whilst waiting for your bubble to enter the main part of the maze, the actor continues to tell the story in a way that doesn’t feel intrusive, and also doesn’t mean that the first household misses out on any story details. Unlike previous years, actors are not allowed to physically touch guests, and for the most part, remain a metre away, although they are allowed slightly closer on occasion. If you encounter another group, guests are asked to pause or slow down to ensure adequate spacing between batches. Curtains between scenes have been removed, and, in a few places, some set pieces are absent as well. Overall we felt comfortable in all mazes (although still suitably spooked), but we understand that some groups have encountered issues with guests distancing in attractions.