Thursday, 11 March 2010

Scream if you wanna go faster

The horror genre, more than any other, is a constantly evolving beast. Over the years it's seen more facelifts than Cher's bathroom mirror, as it adapts to reflect the fears of each successive generation.

In the fifties it was all about atomically mutated monsters, and in the sixties it was the breakdown of society, whilst the seventies tackled America's fears of its own rural heartland. By the time the 21st century rolled around, film-makers had embraced a new sub-genre, lovingly entitled 'gorenography', which took 'body horror' to torturous new extremes.

Although most of these films enjoyed a shorter shelf-life than warm mayonnaise, the Saw franchise combined economically low budgets with a labyrinthine mythology that kept fans coming back for more. With a never-ending supply of unlikeable characters to brutalise, decapitate and disembowel, the films consistently test the boundaries of what passes for entertainment.

If you haven't ever seen a Saw movie, just imagine Channel 4's classic 'Crystal Maze' - where unsuccessful contestants have their heads smashed with blocks of ice, instead of being locked inside an unconvincing Incan hut for half an hour. And replace Richard O'Brien with a cackling ventriloquist's dummy on a creaky tricycle, which shouldn't be too much of a stretch.

Now, as the series producers put the drippy finishing touches to the seventh (3-D) instalment, a new brand extension has been launched which promises to keep audiences shuddering for a good few years to come.

Anyone who's ever considered sawing off their own foot to escape a manacle, or crush their wrist bones to unlock a door, is in luck. Thorpe Park has proudly unveiled its newest attraction - Saw: Alive - a maze-style experience to supplement Saw: The Ride (modestly described as the world's most terrifying roller-coaster).

Once you've faced a 100ft drop that's 'beyond vertical', you can bravely make your way through a variety of vignettes, featuring actors recreating some of the most squirm-inducing tortures from the never-ending film series.

Still too tasteful for you? Then consider the fact that the park's owners recently ran a competition to find the visitor with the stinkiest pee, to help them develop a signature smell for the new ride. They even offered dietary tips to help people develop more pungent piss.

With Saw: Alive up and running, the tabloids are 'slamming' Thorpe Park for the grisly nature of its latest attraction. They're concerned that teenagers might be disturbed by the gruesome torture scenes, even asking clinical psychologist Dr Angela Wright for her expert opinion: "Violent films can cause aggression in children. The link may be stronger with this interactive experience."

The problem is, gruesome displays have always been a staple of visitor attractions. The London Dungeon has been turning stomachs and emptying pockets for almost 35 years, encouraging guests to revel in the delights of Jack The Ripper, Sweeney Todd and the great plague. In fact, one of the Dungeon's newest features is described in one review as the "hilarious noose drop ride". Try telling that to Ruth Ellis.

In the end, there's nothing wrong with a little fear and loathing in the name of entertainment. Terrifying thrill rides, like all the best horror movies, encourage us to contemplate our mortality and delight in the fact that we, unlike the films' unlucky victims, live to fight another day. Which is why so many people come straight out of the exit and rejoin the queue for another go-round.

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