Up and down the country, in the run up to Halloween, people put their nerves to the test visiting scare attractions as part of the spooky season.
But here in Blackpool we like to do things a little bit differently, so scare fans can get their fix throughout the year at the celebrated Pasaje Del Terror which marks its 20th anniverary of scaring people out of their wits this season.
Creeping down dimly-lit stairs into the first of many chambers of horrors, deep underneath the Pleasure Beach’s iconic White Tower building, the heart starts to pound almost instantly - and that’s before being ‘welcomed’ by one of many ghostly and ghastly characters we go on to meet during our adventure.
Winding our way through the basement maze, our group stayed close together; no one daring to let go of the others’ hands, clinging close my knuckles were whiter than they ever had on any rollercoaster whizzing high above our heads.
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When it all got too much, even an attempt to run for freedom was thwarted as a knife-wielding maniac appeared round the corner of a narrow corridor before the lights flickered and died plunging us into pitch-black darkness, as the group clung even tighter together screaming in sync.
Bursting into the not-so-bright lights of the Pasaje’s bar, I was caught on camera, breathlessly declaring: “I’ve never been so scared,” amid a flurry of nervous giggles alongside my journey companions Hayley Kay and Scott Gallagher from Radio Wave, both also in an equally shaken state.
It was a good couple of hours before my hands stopped shaking, not helped by the added ‘bonus’ of being joined in the bar by some of the attraction’s less friendly residents.
Even rewatching the video footage a couple of days later, I could feel my heart rate rising again.
This is seriously scary stuff, but the experience made me realise just how much of an artform ‘horror acting’ really is.
When your audience utter the likes of: “Is there a safe word? Can we stop this, I’m hating this, seriously... Get me out,” - I admit to all of the above - it must be pretty tough to not laugh at their terror or to do the right thing; break character and end the torture you’re putting them through.
To continue playing the fiendish felons and freaks in the face of another person’s pure fear takes some serious skill.
Aron Carter from Pasaje Del Terror paid tribute to the stars of the show, who have kept people coming back time and time again since the opening in 1998, when the attraction was signed up for the Pleasure Beach by the late Geoffrey Thompson, who’d experienced Terror On Church Street in Orlando - which is part of the Pasaje Del Terror international family.
Although ‘scare attractions’ are now a familiar feature of many theme parks and Halloween activities in towns across the country, Pasaje Del Terror was the first of its kind in the UK.
“We first opened in 1998 and since then have scared almost three million visitors who have come from all over the world,” Aron said.
“Now, if you visit other theme parks, you will see different horror attractions, but we like to think we were the first and we kicked off the interactive horror scare attraction industry in the UK today.”
So what’s kept people coming back for 20 years?
“Every time you come through, it’s a different experience,” Aron said. “The actors have their won unique way of scaring people, and the team behind the scenes are constantly changing, tweaking and improving it.
“Visitors are still screaming and it’s the adrenaline people come for; like a rollercoaster, people go on to be scared.
“Like the Big One where you have a steep rise, the beginning is similar here - you have a slow start and like the rollercoaster you go down and you go through all the impacts and scares coming at you from different areas and sides to get the adrenaline rush.
“Twenty years on, we’re scarier that every, I think. With time, like a good whiskey, it improves over time and comes even more atmospheric the older it gets.”
And the less said about reports of the attraction being haunted the better...