Take a ride on the dark side
October 23, 2013 7:47 PM   Subscribe

Collectors Weekly takes a look at dark rides. "Most roller coasters put their stomach-dropping slopes and brain-twisting loops front and center for all the world to see. But the amusement-park attractions known as “dark rides” keep their thrills hidden. As you’re standing in line for a tour of a haunted house full of ghosts and ghouls, a high-seas adventure with pirates, or a ride on the range with gun-slinging cowboys of the Wild West, all you can see are the riders in front of you, who get into little cars before disappearing through swinging doors into the dark. You hear the sounds of screams and shrieks coming from within. And then, an empty car arrives, stopping before you with a mechanical ka-thunk. You’re next."
posted by porn in the woods (26 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Good to know like most silly, stupid things I completely adore, the dark ride comes from New Jersey.
posted by The Whelk at 8:06 PM on October 23, 2013 [7 favorites]

Good to know like most silly, stupid things I completely adore, the dark ride comes from New Jersey.

You're right, dark rides are remarkably like the Misfits.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:12 PM on October 23, 2013 [7 favorites]

This immediately made me think of Nightfall by Isaac Asimov, which was obviously inspired by these rides.
"Well, I was there. You remember hearing about the "Tunnel of Mystery" that broke all records in the amusement area -- for the first month or so, anyway?"

"Yes. Wasn't there some fuss about it?"

"Very little. It was hushed up. You see, that Tunnel of Mystery was just a mile-long tunnel -- with no lights. You got into a little open car and jolted along through Darkness for fifteen minutes. It was very popular -- while it lasted."


"Certainly. There's a fascination in being frightened when it's part of a game. A baby is born with three instinctive fears: of loud noises, of falling, and of the absence of light. That's why it's considered so funny to jump at someone and shout "Boo!" That's why it's such fun to ride a roller coaster. And that's why that Tunnel of Mystery started cleaning up. People came out of that Darkness shaking, breathless, half dead with fear, but they kept on paying to get in."
posted by NoraReed at 8:29 PM on October 23, 2013 [9 favorites]

great stuff - they really do some nice article sometimes.

I have fond memories of my first dark rides - all three in Asbury Park, NJ. They were rickety, their thrills were predictable and dopey (strings hanging down, clunky ghoul ratcheting at you around a corner), and yet they were totally fantastic.
posted by Miko at 8:37 PM on October 23, 2013

This piques my interests in special effects, Halloween, and rollercoasters all at once. Which is fun as an adult but strange considering my younger self, because I always found dark rides kind of lame even as a little kid. But that's me. Fun, sure... but not scary or even startling in the slightest.

Did someone insult the Misfits?!? *bristle* You take that back!
posted by quiet earth at 9:01 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

That wasn't an insult in the slightest!
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:06 PM on October 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

My favorite kind of metafilter post: something fascinating that I had no idea I was interested in until the post! Thanks for sharing the article, that was great.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:47 PM on October 23, 2013

I used to work at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk haunted house in the 80's. It has this lame bit where you were in a space ship and were going out the air lock, I think most people did not get it.
Sooo I changed the timer so the light would go out when people got to me in my uniform standing in a mannikin pose, people would be looking at you to figure out if you were real, just as the light was about to go out you would jerk towards them and it would go black, Screams...it fukin' moved man!... me right behind them (I could see in the dark,I was in there for hours) flick on flashlight under chin RAAAAAAAHHHH! People would really panic. It was awesome.
I remember the bit with strings too it really was freaky to feel them drag over your face.
posted by boilermonster at 11:05 PM on October 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

Please note, at least one dark ride included a real mummy amongst its pasteboard thrills: meet Elmer McCurdy, star of stage and screen after his adventurous and untimely passing.

mwah ah aha HA HA HA
posted by mwhybark at 11:19 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

In a way, I regret being too literal, practical, and rational to really enjoy something like this (to this day horror is one of my least favorite genres) -- to me it was basically, go through a curtain/door, spin around in the dark, skeleton rears up with hokey scream effect, spin, grim reaper tilts away from wall, spin, something something spin, and out. I just couldn't enjoy the being scared/surprised aspect even in the sense of it being a completely safe experience -- or perhaps because of that. But reading this I suppose I underimagined the tactile and primal aspects of the experience.

No, I'm no fun at parties, either.
posted by dhartung at 11:41 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh man, those Bill Tracy rides in Ocean City were amazing when I was a kid.
posted by empath at 3:12 AM on October 24, 2013

After reading this article last week sometime, I then went to our county fair this week, and what struck me most was the lack of a dark ride, now that I knew what to call it. I remember growing up, being terrified of the painting on the front of the haunted house dark ride at the fair--and with good reason, it was pretty awful, and I bet it wouldn't be allowed today--all dismemberment and sorrow and tears. There may have been some sort of winking humor I didn't get as a kid, but I kind of don't think so. Still, although that one left me scarred for life, it was a little disappointing to realize that nowadays there was no spookiness available, no tunnel of love, basically nothing that involved being out of sight for more than a couple of seconds. But I wonder why not? Fire risk? Lack of interest? Maybe it would just be too hard to disassemble when it was time for the fair to move on.
posted by mittens at 4:23 AM on October 24, 2013

Doesn't Disneys Space Mountain count as a dark ride?
posted by sammyo at 4:31 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I remember Kaleidoscope at Seabreeze (Rochester NY) in the late 70s and maybe early 80s. I loved the ride even though it scared the crap out of me (born in 1971, so single digits). Wish I could find information on it.
posted by disconnect at 6:03 AM on October 24, 2013

There may have been some sort of winking humor I didn't get as a kid, but I kind of don't think so.

One of the big things about dark rides was this sense that you were supposed to make out in there. I never did, too young every time I rode one, but that was the legend about them carried over from the 50s/60s - it was dark, you were with your boo, etc

I wonder why not? Fire risk?

The article goes into this disappearance a lot, and places a bunch of the responsibility for this on the Great Adventure Haunted Castle fire of 1984. I was a young teenager then, and it was truly horrific (it still frightens me to think about being in that situation). There was an enormous outcry and an entire project of reviewing haunted house/dark ride/amusement ride safety across the country, and it changed most dark rides and haunted attractions forever. Now, you can always see an exit sign, there are always two egresses, there are no mazes, etc.
posted by Miko at 6:11 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, a pretty good latter-day Helloween epic.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:39 AM on October 24, 2013

Palace Playland at Old Orchard Beach, Maine had a dark ride called Flight to Mars in the late 1970s/early 1980s. As a little kid I was simultaneously fascinated and scared by the facade, which featured a big animatronic scary one-eyed monster thing. (Ahhh! This article has a perfect photo: Flight to Mars amusement ride was rite of passage.) There were other heads too, and generally spooky horror/sci-fi themed artwork.

When I finally worked up my courage to ask if I could go on it, I remember being totally mystified by how dismissive my dad was. I mean look at it! If there are big creepy monster heads on the outside, just imagine how cool and/or creepy it must be inside! I think I finally wound up riding through it with my older brother... as my dad had sort of warned me, it was one of those minor childhood losses of innocence.

It wasn't scary or cool at all. Everything was painted in fluorescent colors and lit with black lights, so it all looked completely fake (I mean, even for an amusement park dark ride) and with all the glowing objects it actually felt pretty bright inside. And maybe the sounds/animatronics were busted, but I don't even remember any sudden startle moments. I vaguely remember being a little bit scared by a skeleton/monster mannequin in a space suit, but that was pretty much it. But I'll be darned if I'm not still a little bit creeped out seeing a photo of that giant head again.
posted by usonian at 6:48 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great article!

And this is a subtle point:
People have told me that if you’re scared by something that’s not that scary, it has more of an impact on you. You say, “Wow, I can’t believe that thing made me jump out of my seat.” Compared to what I’ve seen on TV, on video games, or at an IMAX theater, if this little thing makes me jump out of my seat, then I guess it’s pretty good.
posted by doctornemo at 6:53 AM on October 24, 2013

Doesn't Disneys Space Mountain count as a dark ride?

Disney's definition of "dark ride" seems to be a slow indoor car-based ride (so a non-coaster) in which there are things to look at (which Space Mountain doesn't have a lot of). Of course, it seems the upcoming Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will blur the lines a bit.
posted by Z. Aurelius Fraught at 7:19 AM on October 24, 2013

I LOVE these rides. And I grew up in NJ. Coincidence? Kind of.
posted by Mister_A at 8:58 AM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is also this ride a the Santa Cruz boardwalk The Cave Train it has a lot of stuff that is totally new from the last time I was there. I always liked it and the boardwalk has a big in house art dpt that looks like they have been busy.
posted by boilermonster at 10:08 AM on October 24, 2013

Nobody? Really? I'm the first? Yesss. [Rubs hands together eagerly]

MetaFilter: just thread that hit[s] your face
posted by Mooseli at 10:22 AM on October 24, 2013

I was at Toronto Island Park a couple of years ago, with my 2 kids, in my early 40s and after having come here maybe 10 times as a kid myself. There's a dark ride there, the Haunted Barrel Works (last link SLYT), which has been there for as long as I can remember. I used to be terrified of it based on the sinister animatronic colonial figures in the scene outside in the waiting area and avoided it like the plague for years. Went through with my cousin at age 9 or 10 and hid my face the entire time.

So at 40 it's still there, and looks exactly the same, and I'm intrigued and curious...but my kids wouldn't go near it with a barge pole, so it remains unknown to me. (on the same trip we rode the Scrambler, which there is built inside a building with strobes and coloured lights and loud music. Kids loved it, loved it, loved it. I was green and wobbly for half an hour, because I have somehow become an Old Man).
posted by hearthpig at 6:36 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

My brother reminded me of this great dark ride at Dollywood which we did when we were kids. It really is a masterpiece of the genre (and since Dollywood was built in the 80s, has to be one of the most recent iterations of the form). The genius is that it's kind of kitchsy-creepy at the beginning, with the rocking old-timers with their shotguns on the front porch and a bunch of comic vignettes, so you're laughing and enjoying the surprises. Then you see a vignette in which a fire is starting (pretty convincing) and then there's some sort of dam break, and the illusion of the ride being inundated with water, then you go over a bridge where a sign warns "BRIDGE OUT" and feel yourself panicking in a stomach-looping drop in darkness amid flaming timbers seeming to fall all around you, while explosions burst water at your left and right. All the while you occasionally encounter mountain people mannequins hollering sneeing invective at you. That is no shit. The dramatic turns in this one made it really, genuinely alarming. The daylight walk-through doesn't do it justice.
posted by Miko at 7:23 PM on October 24, 2013

Pretty good video of that ride experience,here. I forgot about the part where you almost get hit by an oncoming train.
posted by Miko at 7:30 PM on October 24, 2013

The Hogwarts ride at Harry Potter World is a fantastic example of a state-of-the-art dark ride, I'd say. I'm not typically a fan of such things, but I rode that one twice.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:11 AM on October 25, 2013

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