Duel - The Haunted House Strikes Back!

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Duel - The Haunted House Strikes Back!
Duel Facade.JPG
Alton Towers Resort
Area Gloomy Wood
Status Operating
Opening date 2003
Replaced The Haunted House
General statistics
Attraction type Dark ride
Manufacturer Mack Rides
Designer Tussauds Studios
Theme Gothic
Capacity 1,920 riders per hour
Vehicle type Car
Vehicles 35
Riders per vehicle 5
Rows 2
Riders per row 3 (front) & 2 (back)
Duration 6 minutes 15 seconds
Fastrack available
Must transfer from wheelchair
Assistive listening icon.svg Assistive listening available

Duel - The Haunted House Strikes Back! is an attraction at the Alton Towers theme park near the village of Alton in Staffordshire. It opened in 1992 as The Haunted House and was the largest ghost-train ride in Europe. There is a minimum height restriction of 1.1 metres for younger riders unless accompanied by an adult.


The Haunted House was designed by The Sparks Group and John Wardley. The transit system used to take riders through the show was built by MACK Rides; it was specifically designed to allow a high throughput whilst leaving the cars to travel the ride separately, and at varying speeds in different areas to allow the effects to best surprise visitors. Upon opening at the start of the 1992 season, The Haunted House gained much publicity and remained one of Alton Towers' major rides for many years.[1] Some of the ride's larger animations experienced technical problems in the ride's first season, leading to some effects being replaced the following year; most notably a scene in which a phantom flew above riders on an overhead track.

By 2002, the ride's visitor numbers dropped and many of the original scenes had been altered by the park on an ad-hoc basis. Tussauds Studios decided to add laser guns and a zombie theme to the ride in a refurbishment. Towards the end of the 2002 season, a poster was placed outside the Haunted House, advertising the new name and opening date, along with the slogan: "Whatever you do, don't miss! Duel - The Haunted House Strikes Back".[2]

A new theme tune with two different in tone stereophonic sections heard in different zones was composed by David Buckley, to be played on a loop throughout the ride; replacing the original eight tracks produced by Graham Smart. Changes to the show itself included the replacement of many animated characters with zombies. Also the paintings displayed in the preshow rooms were replaced with new versions, due to plagiarism claims with the originals. The ride reopened with the new laser quest element at the start of the 2003 season.

For the 2008 and 2009 annual Halloween 'Scarefest' events held at Alton Towers, the ride became host to "Duel: Live!" This attraction featured live actors situated in different scenes around the ride, to scare riders while in their cars.[3]

Ride sequence[edit]

Guests queued past gravestones in a wooded area, before entering up steps into the porch of the house. The interior queue meandered through a preshow set, depicting a darkly-lit Victorian entrance hall and drawing room. These highly detailed scenes featured a number of haunted illusion, accompanied by themed aroma and ambience. The floor was also slanted at an angle to disorientate guests as they walked through.

Many of the illusions featured in this room were removed or altered in the 2003 refurbishment. This included the removal of the optical moving-eye portraits, to be replaced by queueline TV screens playing a backstory & instructional video.

In the station, riders boarded one of the ride vehicles in a continuously moving procession. Once beyond the platform, the vehicles would accelerate away from one another and take riders into the scenes individually. The first scene was a small area filled with smoke, taking riders past stone walls that appeared to crack with the sound of thunder. This led to the Grand Hall scene, decorated as an ornate mansion foyer with two columns ahead. The first shock effect then appeared, in the form of a large demon that unexpectedly floated overhead between the columns. This effect was achieved with a parallel mirror illusion, with the spaces either side of the column appear vacant when in fact the demon was hidden behind a set wall. The lights would dim and the demon appear overhead in an instance, before resetting. Following the Duel refurbishment, the original timed lighting was removed and the demon remained visible as it pivoted out from its start position and is currently lit with full red gelled lighting. Since the Duel changeover the statue with an angry expression at the start of the Grand Hall is now animated and jumps out at riders lit by a green strobe in a can, accompanied by a loud creaking sound effect.

Following the demon encounter, the car would swerve right into a dark corner of the set, where the demon re-appeared offering a cup of tea in its hand. Initial feedback from guests deemed the ride not scary enough and so the demon's second appearance was changed to a different demon character, holding a knife and rat and using a loud creaking sound which can still be heard today.

The next scene was a traditional false-crash ghost train effect, featuring a narrow archway that appeared too small for the car to fit through. As the car approached, the lighting dimmed and a section of wall would move out the way just in time for the car to pass, with the sound of crashing bricks. This set piece featured much trompe l'oeil fluorescent scenery by Rex Studios artists.

The car then turned to face a large stone skull effigy, passing walls adorned with flickering flambeaux and accompanied by dramatic music. Through the skull's mouth was a scaled up trommel tunnel effect, in an homage to a traditional ghost train. The principal of the trommel was to give riders the illusion of turning upside down as they moved through a rotating tunnel. A bload-soaked zombie jump scare on a frame with a powerful LED strobe was added during the Duel changeover to shock riders before entering the tunnel. Since the Duel changover, the splitting head was moved to the end of the tunnel and the fleshy skull face inside is now painted in more ultraviolet pinkish colours to pick up the light used for the Trommel.

After exiting the tunnel, ghostly bats attached to frames are seen flying overhead both vertically then horizontally lit by blue and red led strobes. The stonework architecture continued into a set of corridors with large Gothic windows either side, with a further accompanying music track. Giant fingers would appear to grab for riders through smashed glass as a sinister voice echoed through the walls. After another turn, riders met the owner of the fingers as a giant face peered through a final window, staring at the car as it passed and saying he wasn't, "going to hurt you". It was decided in June 1992, that the giant sequence should be modified because it wasn't coherent enough to some guests. The fingers were redressed to look like monsters with large teeth and hissing sound effects were added. The giant's head remained in place as a standalone effect. In 2003 the window monsters were again changed, to become zombies reaching towards riders; the giant's head was replaced by a set of formally dressed elderly ghouls staring through a pane of glass being lit up by flickering strobes and green mood lighting. A shouting zombie with a grossly melted crater-like face and UV led strobe was also added around the corner during the Duel changeover.

The next scene took riders through a UV-lit spacious dark area, with stretching arches and large spiders hanging from webs with intense hissing sounds. The scene ended with a giant size spider suspended overhead, larger than the entire width of the car. Four blood-soaked laughing, screaming and groaning zombies on frames were added in the Duel changeover to add more drama to the scene each with their own gelled strobe.

Riders then entered a straight corridor with ornate skull-shaped lanterns, in a short lived scene known as the Ghost Corridor. A large phantom would appear from behind riders and fly overhead, travelling down the corridor and crashing into a wall. The Flying Ghost was achieved by using a mechanism similar to a roller coaster, which allowed the ghost prop to run along a track down the length of the corridor, before ducking to the side and entering a small lift hill that was hidden from view.

However, this system failed to work reliably through several redesigns. A new scene featuring skeleton characters replaced it the following season, at which point the set was modified with new features and UV trompe l'oeil murals. Many of the skeleton effects were hidden by gauze scrims, until a lighting change would reveal the skeleton animations behind as the car passed. Scenes included a skeleton on a toilet and a skeleton with a bomb. Several years later, some of these effects were removed and the UV murals painted over; it remained in this way in the 2003 refurbishment other than a witch prop replacing a the skeleton with a bomb. Currently the skeleton pulling the switch known as Electric Bill who is know wearing a robe remains. The witch prop now uses the shriek originally used for the garden witch before the changeover.

The car then performed a sequence of tight bends through a dark space, as ghoulish heads fly overhead and shock riders. These effects used a variety of rotational arm movements and synchronised spot audio to appear out of the darkness and swoop down.

Riders appeared to travel outside into a garden at night, at which point the car slowed down to a gradual pace. Straight ahead a crashed hearse could be seen against a garden wall, as an undertaker character gestured to come closer. A ghost was seen flying out of the open coffin inside the hearse, using a Pepper's Ghost illusion. Further into the garden, a troll-like monster with a now green-filtered light leaped out from a rocky cave on the right, laughing, before disappearing again. A pulsating statue of Death in robes stood to the right, flanked by the flickering windows of the house exterior, as riders passed under an archway and further into the set. A half-broken column came into view behind this arch, which unexpectedly turned to reveal a tall, thin demon emerging from the other side. It originally used a hissing cat sound effect then an evil booming laugh sound effect during the changeover before its current shrieking sound. The demon's face would be used as inspiration for the hissing window finger demons. From here the dramatic finale music played and the cars increased to their max speed into the end scene.

A face was seen etched into a rock that wailed at riders as they passed. The car travelled a corner towards a giant reptile rising up from a swamp, before turning again under a collapsing tree, then to dodge a ghoul bursting its head from a stone crypt. The scene continued with several sharp bends and shock effects, including a collapsing wooden tunnel, a tower from which another ghoul swooped down, and a splitting stone face that opened to reveal glowing 'lost souls' beneath. Coming to the end of the sequence, two large stone faces were seen against a tall wall to the house. From the mouth of the furthest gargoyle, a giant fanged reptile lurched out down towards the car, creating a dramatic end to the ride. The cars entered the offload station for riders to disembark.

The bridge monster in this scene started to cause problems shortly after opening, since the weight of the prop strained the mechanism used to operate the effect. The monster was modified so that it simply tilted forward and repositioned to the end of the flying heads sequence, where it still appears in Duel. A new effect was installed in the monster's former position, consisting of a witch that stuck her head through a crack in a wall and screamed. The long-necked swamp monster was also removed by Alton Towers some time after the ride's opening year. Similarly, the park changed the splitting stone face towards the end of the scene, modifying it to look like a splitting flesh face with a toothed-tongue sticking out.

The Swamp finale is also the only scene to have been removed in its entirety in the 2003 refurbishment. It was replaced by a walled set depicting a basement labyrinth, with multiple zombie props popping up from barrels, appearing through wall windows and standing on metal gantries overhead. The only surviving effect was the modified fleshy splitting face, which was moved to the end of the trommel tunnel.


  1. ^ "Alton Towers Haunted House Website". Hauntedone.co.uk. 1992-03-31. Retrieved 2012-07-04. 
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 March 2012. Retrieved 2010-09-19. 
  3. ^ "Scarefest Begins!". towerstimes.co.uk. 16 October 2008. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°59′20″N 1°53′04″W / 52.98897°N 1.884314°W / 52.98897; -1.884314