‘The Curse at Alton Manor’ is a re-imagined haunted dark ride at Alton Towers. Framestore worked in partnership with Merlin Magic Making (MMM) to deliver the creative concept and thematic design.
The Creative Process
The project looked at redeveloping the attraction’s old ‘Duel’ haunted house ride into a new story and experience using modern techniques. MMM's creative team conjured up a brand-new storyline, taking inspiration from a character in the queue line of the original 1992 version of the attraction 'Haunted House'. Framestore, led by Creative Director Gavin Fox, were then tasked with developing the ride story narrative into tangible scenes and special effects.
Framestore worked with Merlin’s MMM to provide the additional creative concept which included: set designs, ride narrative, storyboarding, lighting concepts, music concepts, animatronic placements, special effect concepts, illusion design, facade design, concept art and projection effect concepts.
The original ‘Haunted House’ opened at Alton Towers in 1992, featuring a bespoke ride system. In 2003 it was revamped as “Duel - The Haunted House Strikes Back” with the addition of an interactive laser gun game and a more fashionable zombie theme. After 20 years the ride was once again closed for 6 months to be almost completely redesigned as the now award-winning ‘The Curse at Alton Manor’, removing the laser guns in favour of a chilling narrative driven through a Victorian themed haunted house with a whole new storyline, set design and special effects.
The new storyline centres around a young girl named Emily Alton, who lived with her cruel parents in the opulent Alton Manor. In 1892, her parents hosted a lavish New Year’s Eve party in the grand hall, but as usual Emily was banished to her small playroom in the attic with only her cherished dolls house to amuse her. On the stroke of midnight Emily cursed the house, causing the party guests to instantly perish, as Emily and her parents mysteriously disappeared. Today, the house is up for sale and guests are invited inside for a viewing of the dilapidated property. The spirit of Emily joins them on their tour, revealing what happened on that night in 1892. After trying to play some creepy games with the guests she grows angry and shrinks them down to be dolls in her doll house for a terrifying and surreal finale. Weaving through giant demonic toys inside the doll house they eventually confront a huge screaming Emily reaching down from the ceiling.
This story has been carefully crafted to create something uniquely tied to Alton Towers, creating a compelling character in Emily that can carry the attraction’s brand who features heavily in marketing and merchandise.
Within the ride, every scene was reworked with most completely replaced. New lighting and sound design were updated throughout, and many new special effects were added such as projection mapping, media embedded pepper’s ghosts, directional audio, an infinity corridor effect, and a unique mirror illusion (the first of its kind in Europe) that makes the guests appear to disappear and turn into Emily.
The building facade, external queue area, surrounding land area, gift shop and F&B offering were all redesigned to reflect the new storyline and theme including a new musical score.
The ride opened to a tremendous reaction, from lifelong fans of the park through to new guests.
Gavin said: “I grew up with the haunted house at Alton Towers, so this was an amazing opportunity to really deep dive into its inner workings and then be given complete freedom to re-imagine the narrative and complete experience. Waiting for the guest reactions as it opened was completely nerve racking, but as they emerged glowing with praise (and some even in tears of joy), I could not have been prouder, it was a real passion project”.