BenBax

Dracula Experience, Whitby

<<a work in progress>>

I was lucky enough to 'work' at the Dracula Experience at a young age around the 1988 - 1991 period. This was when the attraction was essentially in its original intact presentation. The place is very different now, going more for the 'shock/horror' value than the 'spooky' offering it once was. I've written this before on previous blogs, but wanted to have a definitive version in one place with as much as I could remember for anyone who may find it interesting.

Back in the late 1980s I used to hang out in the Dracula Experience in Whitby, a spooky walk-through exhibition on the subject of Bram Stoker’s Dracula character, with wax-works, moving effects, etc. It was an exciting place to be. I was friends with the manageress’s son, and we would lurk in corners of the attraction to scare people (when we weren’t wandering the streets or in the arcades). It was developed, owned and run by the same people who ran the Friargate Wax Museum in York (now sadly gone).

The small gift shop had a counter with red detailing and a glass counter top that had several marketing leaflets behind it describing the attraction to those who may not have decided whether to enter. The shop telephone was a traditional old bakelite one. The cash till was black. There were no credit card facilities. The gifts included fake cigarettes, false vampire teeth, branded carrier bags (15p I seem to remember!), rubber stakes with dribble of blood and sticky back plastic for attaching to your chest, fake blood, blood capsules, rubber bats, large rubber spiders, postcards that said 'the Dracula Experience' but that actually depicted the Dracula figure from the Friargate Wax Museum(!), ghost books, etc. There was a stuffed rat on the counter which acted as a great ice-breaker. Behind the counter was a spiral staircase that went up into the middle of the attraction that was for staff only to quickly get to the first floor rather than walk through the long way round. A momentary light switch behind the till was pressed after someone paid to go through. It would trigger a large strobe light to flash onto a colourful mural depicting the East Cliff of Whitby which was on the wall behind the spiral staircase that could be seen through some church-style arched windows (with no glass in) that you'd walk past to get into the attraction. Walking down the first turn, still visible from the shop, an infra red sensor triggered a gory 3D prosthetic face in a picture frame to be illuminated and appear from what looked like a framed mirror. This was a 'test' in many ways to see if the visitor wanted to continue. Sometimes we sent people down it to see if they weren't too upset by that, then the rest was plain sailing (there wasn't anything that gory in the rest of the attraction - no blood at all). You'd turn left, up a few steps past the colourful mural, then turn right. You'd trigger another infra red beam which would trigger the first proper scene.

To your right, Dracula would rise up from a well with glazed windows (so you couldn't touch it). The head was stylised - it wasn't realistic, in that it must have been about 30 inches tall. It raised due to a pneumatic cylinder. In the early days of the attraction (before my time, but I did once see it as a visitor) the head's mouth would move in sync with a dramatic 'warning message' which was voiced by an actor who was in BBC Radio 4's "The Archers" daily drama. It was truly excellent in delivery - the proper Transylvanian accent and evil laughter. As the message was rather long, it would, I was told, cause a slight queue on busy days, so the narration instead played on a loop in the shop and instead Dracula would just rise up from the well and laugh with associated thunder sound effects, before popping back down. In this area, several par 56 lights with coloured filters were under the floor pointing directly upwards through toughened glass. Two stage lights pointed down onto the Dracula head from above the well, each flashing alternately every half second. There may have been lights below the head, but I don't remember. The workings of the mechanism were effectively hidden by a smoke machine that would obscure everything below the head. The machine would trigger the moment the beam was broken, so it was all hidden before any lights lit up. Aside from Dracula giving this warning, there was no other recorded speech in the attraction.

After Dracula had started moving down, the sound effects stopped, lights to the scene went off and you'd continue walking around. A realistic quivering hand seemingly behind an 'admissions' kiosk drew your attention. It wasn't really relevant, and I think it may have been a little project by the maintenance guy. A number of people thought you carried on right, but you'd get nowhere because this was the access door to the control room behind the well. This contained the tape deck for the audio for the scene, amplifier, pnematics and smoke machine. I once crouched down and hid there for quite some time, it was so dark no-one could see me.

Instead, you'd turn left down a long stretch with bare old bricks on the right (which was in fact the shared wall to the neighbouring building), and black painted wood panelling on the left. About a third of the way down were some metal bars going from floor to ceiling, with climbing rope on the inside covered in fake cobwebs.  Unbeknownst to the visitor, they had triggered another infrared sensor as they turned this corner, which had a delay of about 4 seconds before the scene was activated that was hidden behind these bars.  A female (presumably Mina) is seemingly reclining whilst standing up, with her arm behind her head and she is illuminated Next to her suddenly a six-foot tall human sized bat wearing a shawl with clawed hand outstretched is illuminated and starts moving towards us.  This scene really did make people jump, as they were peering through the bars slightly already to see what was lurking in the darkness.  The sound effect that plays with the animation is the top two notes of the piano stuck together three times per second. In this scene is the first use of a pair of red blinking eyes hiding in the darkness.  The figure was on a track to move forwards fairly slowly and with a set course (a straight line), with a bicylce chain type arrangement which wound it back to reset after activation. I remember a black and white photo on display in the gift shop of the attraction's manageress Pam Belshaw standing next to the bat figure.

These days it may sound primitive, but it was effectively a pair of one centimetre diameter diffused red LEDs spaced around five centimetres apart which would flash periodically, to suggest the evil red eyes of some beast lurking.

Just past this scene, a Jacob's ladder was the next inexplicable item to be viewed.  It was seen through a pane of glass which had a picture frame around it, and was about at head height.  A Jacob's ladder is a high-voltage climbing arc of electric sparks that climb up two parallel wires.  I'm not sure whether this was any reference to horror films of Frankenstein in the laboratory creating his monster, but it didn't seem to have particular relevance to Dracula, and it didn't work for very long, despite the best efforts of maintenance manager Jon Corby.

At the end of the long corridor we are walking down is a fire exit, which is at the very back of the building.  We are now walking on a stone floor.  It wasn't until this fire door had to be opened to vent out a malfunctioning smoke machine that I realised some incredible woodwork pillars that seems to be holding up the floor above around the exit.  Not particularly intricately carved, but simply humongous beams of timber about 2 feet in diameter were around this area and only visible from the daylight spilling in from the fire exit doors when opened.  Turning left at the end of this corridor and we are in the asylum.  The large wooden beams and lintels are above us, and the word ‘asylum’ is painted on one of them.  Through some bars peers Renfield, a gaunt figure with thin wispy white hair, kneeling in his cell and holding on to the bars.  His cell is illuminated and we can see a cast iron bed with straw on it, and a chamber pot beneath it.  There are some flies on the sill of the bars.  A large barn doored light illuminates him with green light from below, making him look insane.  There is on the wall a brief paragraph describing what we are seeing, which is illuminated from above by a 15 watt yellow Pygmy bulb in a cast iron light fitting which is that of a domed bat, a bit like half of an umbrella.  We walk down 3 stone steps and become more level with Renfield’s face.  Then we walk up 3 steps again on the other side of this dip.  To the right is the very small wooden door to Renfield’s cell, which is padlocked.  There is a brick wall in front of us.  Instead, we turn left.  Another infrared sensor is triggered on the left. 

Suddenly, we are presented with a scene showing the dead captain of the ship Demeter, lashed behind the wheel of his ship, in full black souwester and wellingtons.  The scene is a section of the deck of the ship.  There is the ship's rigging and torn sails all around.  The deck that the wheel and the captain is on is violently moving and swaying like that of a ship in rough seas.  The ship's bell is on this moving floor and rings out when the clapper hits it due to the movement.  The captain's eyes are closed and his mouth is open and he has thin wispy long hair which emphasises the movement.  A large light with barn doors shines on to him directly, with another from the side, and a strobe flashes sporadically.  There is a black wolf looking directly at us, snarling.  I'm not exactly sure why, but the wolf remains on the non-moving section of the floor while the rest of the ship is moving around violently.  There was a smoke machine near the wolf, and the scene was usually shrouded in atmospheric fog from this machine, which was on a timer circuit.  This timer circuit did malfunction once or twice when the entire building was filled with thick fog which poured out of the front and back doors causing the fire brigade to pay a visit!  When I visited in the early 90s the smoke machine was no longer on a timer and went off each time the infrared beam was broken.  Loud dramatic classical music played throughout this scene, adding not only to the drama, but not also to the shock when the scene sprang into life and activated with the light and movement triggered by the infrared sensor.  This scene was the one that we all hated the most as it was the most frightening and still used to give us a shock.  I would say that the figure was the most creepy in the attraction, because it was so realistic - it really did look like a dead man with his eyes closed.  I have no idea where the classical music was from -- it's obvious that it wouldn't have been recorded specifically for this attraction by a full orchestra, so I can only assume it was taken from some music library.  After a set period of time, the scene shut down -- the lights immediately went off, the music cut and because of the mechanics behind the moving floor and inertia, the ship's deck would settle back to its rest position.  Sadly when doing this it made a very strange noise, almost like a deep unearthly growl which was pretty frightening in itself!

Looking ahead, there was a colourful stained-glass window, and to the left, stairs to the first floor.  The stained-glass window was on the door of the control room which sat behind the scene with the human sized bat behind bars.  The room was always kept locked when there was no one in it.  Inside the control room were all of the tape decks and amplifiers for the sounds in each scene (except for the Dracula well).  There was also a large air compressor for the various pneumatics with airlines going to actuators in each scene to give the animated movement of the figures.  There was also some smoke fluid for the smoke machines and spare bulbs for all the lighting fixtures.  It was an L-shaped room, and in the corner of the L was effectively a little workbench/reading desk where any maintenance tasks could be performed in good light.

Climbing the stairs, gravestones start to appear on the walls -- first in painted form then becoming more 3-D and sticking out of the walls before we turn right and into the graveyard scene.  In front of us is a large rocky outcrop about 15 feet tall, with gravestones sticking out, grasses, and at the top a seated pale woman in a white nightdress with Dracula in a black hooded monks garb standing behind her with bloodshot daemonic eyes, showing his teeth.  The seated woman appears to be in a trance.  We can hear the continuously tolling church bell (which in fact was taken from a BBC sound effects library recording of a church bell).  The wind also howls.  A black painted metal waist high handrails is to the right of us.  There is a silhouette of Whitby's St Mary's Church projected onto the opposite wall in orange.  This is arguably the largest set scene in the attraction, the full width of the building and the entire height of one floor, which must have been 20 feet tall.  The rocks are also up to about knee-high it on the floor on the other side of the walkway, with the handrail sticking out of them.  If we look back and upwards, we can see a few large prism convex coloured lights with barn doors illuminating the scene dimly.  There is also the profile light projecting a silhouette of the church on the wall via a gobo.  In the early days there was also a very large bat with a wingspan of at least 6 feet suspended up in the ceiling.  Somehow, someone managed to steal this.  On the wall close to these lights is another female figure -- ON THE WALL.  She seems to be floating, and she has her hand in what I thought for a long time was a big cushion, but it was explained to me that it is a bag with a stolen baby in it upon which she will feed of its blood (keeping true to the original novel).  As this figure was so close to the large stage lights, it seemed a little wasted to me.  Over the handrail on the other side of the scene was a walkway which we will soon be walking down, so on a busy day you may have seen people who were ahead of you in the attraction seeming to double back on us.  I'm not sure why this was or why the doubling back walkway wasn't boxed in somehow.  Maybe if they did box it in and cover it with fake rocks people might have tried to climb up it.

Ahead of us are 4 or 5 steep steps going up through an arched doorway.  Although few looked, to the left at the top of the steps was a very well hidden door which contained the stock for the gift shop downstairs.  But most people continued walking on as they could see a hint of daylight ahead.  This was from two scenes ahead.  But in the scene we are now approaching, there is again a waist high handrail as we realise we are now effectively on a balcony as we are looking down on Dracula himself below, who is looking up at some wooden doors which are at the top of some ornate steps from what appears to be a church.  Red LED eyes flash at us from the darkness.  A large UV fluorescent tube illuminates the scene from below our feet.  Suddenly a strobe flashes from above and the wooden doors swing open violently revealing a crucifix with garlic and some rats!  Dracula lets out a very loud scream in horror at what he sees. At last - a weakness.  In reality, the audio and timing from this scene never really worked well.  The scene animation (the strobe light, doors opening, light shining on the crucifix and garlic behind the doors and the audio) were on for a total of about 4 seconds.  The audio loop was a musical note or two, plus two screams from Dracula.  This audio cue itself was very short.  But the two elements of timing meant that very often the scene started halfway through a scream, and ended halfway through another scream so it had a very clumsy start and end cut-off.  I think because it was so short, and if people were not too scared, they had twigged that you could set off the infrared sensor and watch the scene again.  Maybe the scene needed to be four and a half seconds long to match the audio, but the show control timing wouldn't allow for half seconds? I don't know. The scream was so loud that it was heard in the gift shop downstairs, because upon exiting this scene, you were starting to go down a spiral staircase which actually went all the way down to the ground floor, ending up behind the cash desk. 

There was a velvet rope across them bannister to prevent you going all the way down to the ground floor, but on more than one occasion people thought this was the way that you got out, and we had to double check to make sure that they had walked through all the way to the end scene first and come back.  Anyway, as you start walking down this first part of the spiral staircase, we are now bathed in muted daylight for the first time since entering the attraction.  The scene is a transfusion between Jonathan Harker and Mina.  She looks pale, and is lying on a chaise long, hooked up to blood transfusion equipment.  For whatever reason, this comprised an upturned milk bottle with red blood in it, with a big rubber cork bung and the sort of rubber gas hose used to get on Bunsen burners at school going to her arm.  The scene was very well dressed as a traditional Victorian parlour, with pictures on the wall, wallpaper, etc, and was the most detailed scene in terms of set dressing of all.  The daylight would show any shortcuts in the set dressing with its truthfulness.  It was very close to the spiral staircase, so much so that you could reach out and touch quite a few of the props in the scene on the way down the stairs.  After a couple of stairs, we could now see what was below the floor of this scene -- Dr Seward climbing up some of the stairs to see the characters above.  He is wearing a coat and top hat, and was carrying a Gladstone bag until it was stolen.  A large prism convex lamp with barn doors illuminates the figure.  It was only near the end of my tenure that I noticed that there was a themed aroma dispenser just under the stairs of this scene.  I'm not sure what type of aroma it was to dispense, but presumably a musty smell associated with haunted house attractions.

A break from tension and some light relief -- at the bottom of these 10 or so spiral staircase steps, we see a Dracula cape mounted behind glass.  It is one of the original capes that Christopher Lee used in one of the Hammer Horror Dracula films in the 1960s.  The most interesting fact is that it weighs a lot - something like 30 lbs - but this did not stop Dracula Experience worker Hazel Thomson taking it home once to give it a wash!

The velvet rope stops people going down the last lot of stairs to the ground floor, but they presumably had to be there as an alternative fire exit, or to gain quick access to the attraction if some horseplay was happening from the guests, or perhaps even simply to access the stock cupboard for the gift shop.  I did hear tales that we used to grab people's ankles as they went down the steps from the transfusion scene (as the spiral staircase steps were open), but I'm not sure whether it was because of this or on a separate tripping incident but someone cracked her head open on the cabinet containing Christopher Lee’s cape, so that was stopped.  I think it may have been replaced with using a feather duster to tickle their ankles, which of course was particularly effective in the summer months when everyone was wearing shorts and had bare legs.

Continuing on past the staircase another sensor was triggered and at about knee height, effectively lying close to the floor, a slow-paced strobe light illuminated the body of a young woman wearing a nightdress lying in a coffin.  She had stuffed rats in the coffin, and a stake through her heart.  She was 'undead' (a vampire) but is now dead.

We continue on and find ourselves back in the graveyard scene, potentially watching visitors who entered the attraction behind us walking around it and walking parallel with us in the opposite direction.  We can now appreciate this scene from a different angle, although the most noticeable things are the large lights on the wall and the floating woman with her hand in a carpet bag. People would notice the bat more from this side.

We proceed ahead, and if we are tall enough (!), we trigger a head height infrared sensor which immediately activates a figure illuminated by rapid and bright strobe who initially is leaning back, but suddenly leans forwards with her arms stretched out in front of her, in a trance.  The sound is the top two notes of a piano being struck continuously.  Now from what I gather, this figure was supposed to put her hands on people's heads as they walked past, but obviously there was a propensity for people to either snap the arms off, offer her to knock people out if they were too tall, so the height of the effect was increased so her hands couldn't actually be touched, but I think you could theoretically if you put your arms up in the air. Anyone part way through the graveyard scene could see the shock on people's faces illuminated by the strobe, and them looking up to see the hands jut out, which gave them a good feeling that more surprises were to come!

We turn a corner and are presented with a moonlit scene of grand proportions.  The final scene. A howling wind is heard.  In front of us are a number of large 20 foot tall pine trees, and a scene of deep snow.  We are in Transylvania.  Above us on a cliff sticking out a Siberian wolf (stuffed) is snarling aggressively at us.  There are around 7 figures in this scene, all wearing fur coats.  There is a feeling of finality about this scene -- women are comforting each other, a wounded man is sitting on the floor with his arm bandaged after clearly having been injured in a fight.  Another man stands proud with a large sword or cutlass at an angle.  In front of him is a large wooden shipping container at an angle.  After we have taken this all in for a brief moment, the lighting changes and the front of the shipping container opens like a door, revealing Count Dracula lying in it.  Suddenly the lighting cuts out, the top 2 notes of the piano start playing rhythmically, and a strobe light illuminates Dracula as he suddenly starts standing up and moving forwards out of the crate.  His face is daemonic.  Suddenly, his head falls off.  His body then slowly goes back into the crate and the crate closes and normal lighting comes back on.  This is indeed the final scene of the attraction -- the real death of Dracula.
It was spectacular, and I could tell from people's reactions that it was a suitable finale to the exhibition.  It was very atmospheric and classy (well, until Drac pops up!), what with the massive trees and number of figures.  Yes, occasionally there were issues with the Dracula figure not standing up so the scene would simply be the crate lid swinging open, the strobe light coming on, Drac lying there and then the crate lid closing again.  Sometimes his head wouldn't fall off.  Sometimes his head would fall off as soon as he stood up, rather than there being a slight delay for everyone to take him all in. The trigger for this scene was the previous sensor for the trance woman with the arms. The delay had to factor in that happening, the reaction from the visitors, their assembly into the final scene, and their seeing what was in it.
Again, I also felt the lighting a little obtrusive in this scene.  Rather than the scene being lit from above our heads, where there was plenty of room -- after all, there was a large focused strobe projector for the climax -- there were a couple of the very large coloured prison convex lights with barn doors located on the left wall back from the trees.  One gave nice oblique lighting, but the other one, with a red filter, seemed to come on for about one second, almost like a warning that the scene was about to be activated, before going off again.  I never really understood the purpose of that, unless it was just to draw attention to the fact that the scene was starting so 'pay attention'.  The fake snow was, I think, Foss snow from Denmark, and it was pretty deep.  It was all contained by a similar waist high handrail, but from about knee height down it was solid metal to stop the snow from escaping from the scene.  It was very dark near the ceiling so I'm not sure where the speakers were, but I do know that there was a small car radio type speaker, a bit like an angled stage monitor speaker, like the type that you would put on the parcel shelf of your car in the 1980s.  The speaker was on the floor, in the snow, in the left corner behind the handrail.

Now Dracula is dead, we can leave and there was a heavy fire door saying "exit this way".  Visitors would open it and be greeted with daylight from the outside world coming from the bottom of a flight of wooden stairs.  But looking straight ahead, they would see a large framed scene showing Jonathan Harker and Mina in summery Victorian attire -- him with a straw boater and striped blazer, and her in a large dress with parasol.  However, is Dracula really dead?  We can see two red eyes glowing in the darkness behind the happy couple, and the music that is playing (effectively a sharp musical scale going down in pitch slowly, with sporadic echoey distant laughter of Dracula) portrays an aura of foreboding.  A large stage light lit the two figures from above our heads.  There was also a bulkhead light fitting on the wall in case this wasn't enough to be able to see the stairs on a dark night.  There was a suitable text description suggesting this wasn't the end, positioned just inside the picture frame.  There was also the instruction to come and visit the gift shop round the front of the building.  You have to go right, then right, then right again, because we have come out at the back of the building.  There is Bill’s Cafe over the road to the left of us, a fishing tackle shop over the road, and people's flats above it.  Lots of people understandably felt rather lost, hence the direction to come back to the gift shop round the front!  There was also a sign which was more for passersby at street level saying, "Danger - low flying bats! Enter at front of building".  People did regrettably sneak in from the back door, and it was easy to notice because they were walking round the attraction the wrong way which was obvious from the footsteps we would hear from downstairs.  We even used to grease underneath the exit door from the final scene so that no one could get a grip to come back in.  Although it played for many years, the laughter sound effect from the music that plays on the back stairs was removed, leaving just the spooky downward scale music, because someone living in the flats over the road could hear it and didn't like it.  They must have had incredible hearing to hear it over all the cars driving past!


 

Back in the late 1980s and early 90s when I was there, it was still in its truly original presentation since it had opened in the mid-1980s (1987?) and had won the "Come to Britain" award, been on ITV's Wish You Were Here (which is where I first heard of it) and had all the press attention quoted on the leaflets. A lot of work went into the original presentation and theming of the attraction, although I'm not sure who did it (I don't think it was an in-house job). There were, in total, around 23 wax works which were all of an very high standard (and very expensive). Some were animated, but not all. Scenes that were animated were triggered by a single infra-red beam about waist or knee height which used to 'click' with the relay when they were triggered. There was a hazard strip that the beam pointed to on the opposite wall like the type you get on bicycle wheels that reflect the light. There was a time delay on some of them so that the scene did not trigger immediately until you were opposite the actual scene. The animaion was either mechanical (bat scene, ship scene) or pneumatic (all other scenes).

Lighting was from professional focusable prism convex stage lighting fixtures with various colour filters and barn-doors to keep them more low key. Strobes were also used to simulate lighting, add a surprise 'shock' element, or accentuate movement. The speakers were nothing special - certainly not high fidelity or anything you'd get these days. There was a fairly basic wooden speaker cabinet in the front shop that would play Dracula's narrated greeting and some synthesized organ music on a loop. The rest of the speakers were hidden and I didn't notice them, but I do remember that the final snowy scene had a small car-radio speaker that you'd normally see on the parcel shelf of a car on the floor in the corner just over the waist high metal railing stopping you walking into the scene. As an aside, I believe the artificial snow effect used to cover the floor and trees in that scene was Foss Snow.

It seems odd now in this digtal age, but back then all the sound effects were played from auto-reverse C120 cassette tapes in twin tape decks that were produced by Bird Song recording studios in York. I emailed them about this a number of years ago but sadly received no reply. As each sound effect / music was only heard from a single speaker, the stereo field was never necessary, so the left and right channel of each tape had a completely different recording on it effectively halve the number of tapes and tape playback decks required for each sound source. They all played continuously. For continuous sound effects such as the tolling church bell in the graveyard scene, there'd be a pause every 60 minutes when the tape deck leader passed through the deck's tape heads and then stopped to play the other side. As far as I remember, there were 2 twin-decks in the control room and another in the other room behind the well (because that effect used to be triggered with the scene). The sounds were as follows:

  • Organ music / Dracula’s monologue welcoming visitors (behind well)
  • High pitched top two notes of piano spot effect loop (used in 2 scenes) / church bell for graveyard scene
  • Dramatic classical music from dead man at helm of ship scene / scream of Dracula when presented with garlic & crucifix
  • Thunder sound effects and Dracula laughing / howling sea wind
  • Eerie wind from final snowy scene / exit musical scales and ethereal Dracula laugh

I have just one of the original tapes here. They presumably would wear out periodically (after playing constantly all day for years). They were double cassette decks with auto-reverse, so they’d just play infinitely, but alas with a few seconds pause for the tape leader at the start and end of a side. I’m not sure what make they were, nor do I remember seeing the amplifiers. After Friargate sold it off, they had to re-do the music from the un-manned exit steps to get rid of Dracula’s haunting laugh, because people who lived in flats on the other side of the road to the exit complained. Also, Dracula’s welcome speech for when he popped up from the well in the first scene was edited to just be thunder and laughter with no actual dialogue. It was a posh actor who was apparently in the Archers at the time that did this voice!

When I visited after it was slightly re-vamped (in the mid 90s and under new ownership again I believe) they’d added a clip from the film “Labyrinth” saying something like “Back while you still can, this is not a way!, you can go no further, away, away” and looped. This played from behind the figure on top of the cliff in the graveyard scene. It seemed a bit out of place to me. On another re-visit in about 1998 the sound had clearly entered the CD age and a straight narration voice-over now lured people in from Marine Parade via a speaker built into the frame above the door, offered some narration in the Renfield / asylum scene, and also a slow mix out of Disneyland’s “Grim Grinning Ghosts” theme which I heard close to the top of the spiral staircase near Christopher Lee’s Dracula cape in a glass case.

If I had designed the attraction now, what would be different?

Well, the sounds would probably all run from either memory stick playing MP3 hi-fis, or multi-track solid-state recorders on constant loop playback. Narration clips could be triggered by infra red. There’d surely be a figure with a video projection of an actor’s face onto a blank dummy’s face (which are all the rage everywhere in attractions like this). [[*2016 edit - there is now one of these in Renfield's Asylum!]] Security cameras would certainly be peppered around the place – there weren’t any of these at my time, and if any drunks were regrettably allowed in, we’d have to patrol around to make sure they didn’t break anything or climb on the sets. Things did get stolen over the years – a smoke machine, a Gladstone bag and a large bat that was suspended up in the ceiling. There were no ‘live actors’ back then – you were just left to walk through at your own pace.

Although it was so long ago, I do look back at my time there with great fondness. I even remember falling asleep under the counter once! Just think, some of those wax works are now 25 years old! (at least the tape decks aren’t!)

From smokemachines.net

Launched in the mid-1980s, this walk-through experience is one of the many reasons people visit Whitby. A 'Come to Britain' award winner in 1988, as seen on ITV's 'Wish you were here', the experience was at one time owned by the same people who owned the Friargate Wax Museum in York (now closed).

The rear of the Dracula Experience building, 9 Marine Parade, Whitby. Black doorway on right is exit stairs.

The first scene depicts Dracula rising from a well and warning visitors that they will "die by my hand". Behind the back wall of the well was an aerosol-based Martin Fogger 1600 activated by the infra red sensor that triggers that scene. The smoke hides the mechanics of the pneumatic Dracula torso and to add an element of mystery from the outset. Sadly due to a door being left unlocked, this machine was stolen from the attraction in the mid-90s and was not replaced. Dracula's animatronic mouth which was lip synced to the welcome warning (voiced by an actor from 'The Archers'!) was disconnected in about 1990 as it was causing queues as people waited to hear the full speech.

A second machine is located in the ship scene, showing a dead man lashed to the helm of a ship. The machine is a Martin Fogger Junior 700 and was initially on a timer, but later triggered by the infra red sensor. On occasion, the timer circuit shorted and the machine filled the entire building with smoke, causing visits from the fire brigade as the exit for visitors was at the rear of the building - an unattended exit.

I've been told that there was another machine in the Transylvanian winter end scene, but this was again stolen.

From what I remember seeing in the control room, as shown by John Corby, Pam Belshaw and Hazel Thompson, the incorrect fluid was used in both the Martin machines (Le Maitre Standard fluid in the round containers) and Le Maitre Standard fluid aerosols. Possibly this was sent from head office at the Friargate Museum in York without them knowing exactly which machines they had in Whitby.

In the late 1990s, under new ownership for the second time, what was once next door (an auction room) was turned into a simulator ride, and a Jem Fogger 3 was situated in the pit below the seating.

==========================

I went through with a camcorder in the mid-90s and whilst almost still intact, still felt sad at how it used basic physical techniques to scare visitors (hanging cloth, squishy floors, total darkness, loud screams, people jumping out at you). In my era it was very much the 'experience' - the odd fright mainly from a dark scene coming into action with lights, movement and sound breaking the quiet and surprising the guests, but it was something people of all ages enjoyed. Now I only think it's suitable for younger adults - certainly not older people.

 

UPDATE - Contrast between original attraction and today's

I haven't visited for about 15 years, but by searching for photos visitors have taken in 2010 and again in 2016, I can notice the many differences from the original attraction. So I now contrast the attraction as I knew it in 1988 - 1990 when it was still in its original form. This is rather rambling, so please forgive me!

The original had no narration and no reference to the more modern Dracula film, but was rather more a "Christopher Lee's Dracula" affair.

Where the headless figure is in the shop used to be where the counter was. Sitting at the counter, you would look directly out of the door of the shop. The entrace to the attraction is in the same place. Behind the church-like arched windows used to be a large colourful mural of the east cliff of Whitby which could be illuminated by strobe. This now seems to have been painted over with 'stone effect'. The first part is completely different. There was no Bram Stoker figure or wallpapered room scene in the original version. That's about where Dracula would appear from a well to give the warning/ evil laughter. The door behind the Bram Stoker figure was around where the door to the backstage workings of the well was. From a photo I saw, there was a rather large hi-fi speaker next to Bram Stoker, and his shoe had fallen off his right foot, and his left leg was not bent but rather straight, making him look rather uncomfortable. It isn't a high-end wax work by any means.

The Renfield figure appears to have been replaced (he used to have hair and a more pronounced jawline). His cell which was once more of a cellar with a straw bed has now been tiled it white ceramic tiles and they have had green and red spray paint squirted on them. The bed (and bed pan) appear to still be there. The large ASYLUM sign is still in its original position, but may have been re-painted as I remember it seemed to be much larger. I think there is currently a figure with a projected face standing next to it.

The ship's captain 'lashed to the helm' had whispy hair that accentuated the movement of the ship and was really quite scary, and used to be slumped over the wheel. He's now tied to it from the front and looks like he's a bit worse for wear (no right hand, tape seems to be holding his head together). A back-lit stained glass window was next to this ship scene which was in fact the door to the control room. This appears to have been replaced by a Dracula figure that may move towards you down the thin corridoor that used to be this control room.

On the first floor, the figures on the cliff top in the graveyard scene have been replaced. The girl was sitting down looking like she's in a trance after being bitten, with Dracula standing behind her wearing a hooded monk-like black cassock. She's now in a more reclined / abandoned pose, and the Dracula figure is different. There now appears to be a large gorilla/werewolf figure on the wall above the entrace doorway to this scene. Either the gravestones jutting out from the cliff have been replaced or have been painted black as it appears that only the small area showing the painted name of the stone is the original paintwork. The graveyard scene has been improved in that there now appears to be a fairly detailed church wall on the right hand wall, comelete with carvings and windows. This used to be completely black and bare, with a silhouette gobo of the church focussed on it from an orange light above the doorway. However, this new church wall hides the rest of the route. In the original version, the blank wall was the neighbouring wall of the property, so the graveyard scene is now greatly reduced in its total volume because of it. In the original, you could often see people walking through ahead of you, as the route doubled back through the graveyard on a separate lower path, heading for the final scene after they'd seen the next few scenes. There's also now some sort of digital projector pointing towards this, but I'm only going by photos. The buffalo-like mounted head on the wall was in the original, but up the stairs before the next bit.

There aren't photos of all scenes, so it's quite hard for me to see what happens next. You USED to walk up some steps to a balcony where you'd be looking down into quite a large area with Dracula looking up what seemed to be a raised wooden chest where the doors would fling open to reveal a crucifix surrounded by garlic. There are railings still in place suggesting a steep set of stairs, but the stairs themselves are gone - you appear to now walk into the space where that scene was. There appears to be just a ladder there now. The next scene would be a double-deck one, with the blood transfusion happening on the top level as you walked down the top part of the building's spiral staircase. This transfusion scene was the only one with natural daylight coming through the window. It was very detailed because of this. The bottom part of the scene was the doctor heading up some stairs to the transfusion. This all appears to have been replaced by various goings on, but the doctor figure is in a scene and appears to be the original figure.

But the final scene is the most different. This used to have about 6 figures wearing fur coats in many different poses, set in a snowy Transylvanian forest. There were large pine trees stretching up to the ceiling and a cliff with a (stuffed) snarling werewolf on it coming out of the wall (which is still there!). The scene really was spectacular in its scale and detail. A large wooden shipping crate whose lid flew open, housed the Dracula figure that would rise up a la Nosferatu, singled out by a focussed strobe light, as his head would be chopped off. This scene now appears to be 'castle ruins' where a Dracula figure in a conventional coffin rises up and whose head appears to become detached / shoot forward on a pneumatic cylinder. There are only 3 figures other than the animated Drac now. A couple of them do look like the original figures with regard to their approximate stance, but seem a little worse for wear after 25 years. One appears to be doing a bit of an Elvis impression with his left leg, and the other just looks awkwardly posed. The clothing and wigs don't appear to be the original ones either. Of course, modern digital flash photography shows the very harsh reality all the weaknesses of any attraction meant to be experienced in semi-darkness, so forgive me if I appear scathing, but I am comparing to the original attraction which was only about 3 or 4 years old at the time. The lighting effects seem to be better hidden in the new version - in the original scene there were some very large prism convex lanterns with barn doors illuminating the scene, highly visible from near the tree, at a fairly low height and were arguably rather intrusive. There's an element of dis-jointing in the new version, in that the old version was very much a Christopher Lee as Dracula, whenever Drac was depicted. The new version seems to have some of both. ie the graveyard scene and a figure near the transfusion scene are the dark haired Lee-like figures, but the rest are the white-haired, red chinoise wearing ones.

Updated - Sun, 18/12/16


benbax.com © 2007 - 2015 Ben Baxter. All rights reserved.