(Note from the writer: for this article and the next one, we will take a break from our chronological history and delve into Halloween Fest, the Halloween event at Ocean Park)
The park went in a different direction in 2001 with The Abyss, a 200 feet tall pair of S&S Power Turbo Drop. It was a huge investment given the dramatic location and work required to install those towers in the Heartland Rides area near the Condor, replacing the Octopus. Unfortunately, it did not reach its goal: guests did enjoy it… but did not feel compelled to rush back in line or even return to the park specially to ride it again. To make things even worst, the small S&S Frog Hopper installed the same year in Kids World had a much better reception.
The Eagle, The Abyss and the Dragon are visible in this picture.
The restraint on The Abyss. The cover was added so that the restraints would last longer.
The bottom of the tower. The red pipe is connected to the 4 yellow pipes and inside each of those rest a plunger, connected by two steel cables to the cable. The constant flow of air pumped in from the top has the effect of taking the car to the top at a constant speed. Once at the top, a special air tank at the bottom is filled up and then quickly released into the yellow pipes from the bottom, causing the car to fall faster than gravity toward the bottom. The gradually equalling air pressure between both sides of the plungers generate the small bounces and the car eventually will make it to the bottom safety. It then sits on the metal hydraulic pistons for loading.
What to do now then? Paul Pei who was a director of sales and marketing at the park quickly realised The Abyss was not the hit they were hoping for and started looking for other ways to bring back the crowd. That’s when he though of an American phenomenon: a Halloween event. After Knott’s Berry Farm came up with the concept in the 1980’s, many parks have enjoyed tremendous success with a special season of scary shows and haunted walkthroughs. Guests would line up in various locations such as the park’s bumper cars pavilion, a restaurant, a banquet hall or even temporary tents set up for the occasion. Through the “haunt”, guests would be scared by actors who would jump out, get out of hiding points or just scream at them in order to startle them. What was even better for Ocean Park was that it could be done on a limited budget out of cash flow and generated more cash than the investment.
So Mr. Pei approached the officers of the park and presented his idea this way: what if I took half the money we spent on The Abyss and we did something special that would force our guests to visit us in a period where we traditionally have low attendance? It was an interesting gambit and given the circumstances, he was allowed to proceed.
That is when he quickly ran into an issue: Mandarin or Cantonese languages did not even have a word describing “Halloween” and Chinese people generally did not understand the concept of the occasion that is widely celebrated in the USA, Canada and the United Kingdom. As a trial run, it started with two weekends in 2001 that coincided with Halloween and Mr. Pei tried his best to explain what Halloween was and in the process, created the word in Chinese. Those two syllables did exist in both Mandarin and Cantonese, but had never been put together and had no signification.
The end result of those two weekends? We were told the story that Mr. Pei stood at the exit of a Haunted House that weekend and he saw a lady collapse at the exit. She was in a panic and crying and she was immediately offered assistance of any kinds. Do you need a taxi home? Do you want us to call your family? Her answer was pure music to the ears of Mr. Pei and the proof his bet had worked: I am so terrified! But… I really want to go back and do it again! The lady stumbled up and rejoined the line!
Lady Midnyte, the park original Halloween icon. This picture appears courtesy of Ocean Park.
Similar to the world famous “Hanging” show at Knotts, the park came up with its own signature show: the Scaremonies. This was the event signature show and would feature various variety acts played by scary characters and the content would refer to current songs and events.
One interesting aspect about Hong Kong is that guests and the media do not care at all about repeat experiences; one year, the park recycled a maze and during the media preview of the event, a journalist had an interesting reaction. Here is what he said after experiencing the repeat maze: “you can’t fool me! It’s the same thing as last year!” and the review the following day noted in negative terms the fact the park had recycled a maze. So, the park is forced to go over all its mazes every year and create new experiences. Elements may be recycled, but the park may skip a year and then redress it in such a way it looks brand new.
Halloween Bash require so little capital and force crowds to come during a quiet period, it helped the park turn the corner on its financial issues. It eventually got to the point over 600 000 thrill seekers from Hong Kong and surrounding area would descend on the park and pay an extra fee to attend the after hour event. Dates were expanded and by the time 2010 came around for the 10th Anniversary, the event was already in the top 5 most attended Halloween event in the world. This is incredible given the fact that in 2001 when it started, Halloween as a special occasion did not even exist in China!
The writer was lucky enough to attend Halloween Bash in 2010 and this was quite a departure from the events seen in North America. First, the website was quite attractive and really promoted the event well. Second, the TV ad for the event is personally the greatest theme park advertisement ever created: you can see it here on the park Youtube channel (Warning: it can be quite scary): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxPUGyIJ2t8 .
Lady Gwai-Gwai was created out of a need to refresh the event title character who was Luna Midnyte up to that point. Lady GaGa was at the peak of her popularity at the time and she became the inspiration for the new character. The original idea was to refresh the image of Luna, but as the brainstorming went on, they realised it would be easier to just create a new character. One of the park executive joked during a meeting that they should call her Lady Gwai-Gwai since she would be their Lady GaGa (Gwai is Ghost in Cantonese). After much musing, the joke name stuck and the park had their new icon. Next, they recruited a Korean singer named EnJel to play the role of Lady Gwai Gwai for the TV ad, the title character for the 10th Anniversary Halloween Bash. She appears in the video as the lady being lifted out of the casket and leading the unique dance. That dance routine worked so well people in Hong Kong still remember it years after. The old lady is a famous Hong Kong actress and it was quite a coup for the park to have her appear since she would add credibility and recognition to the TV spot.
The park now needed a memorable theme song. Hong Kong born singer Lana Lo (羅藍亞) had released her first album in 2008 and in 2010, the park hired her to write a 1:30 song for the event. Lana Lo then reworked the song into a love song called “Are you In?” and an expensive music video filmed for it.
So we had an incredible TV ad, could the park follow up on that? They did, as they created three unique attractions in addition to many other mazes. Zombie Hunt was hosted in the building under the Ocean Express Summit Station and involved lazer tag. Every guest entering the attraction was handed a laser rifle and the zombie scare actors had vests with targets along with laser guns themselves. It was one of the first interactive haunted walkthrough in the world and it brought a lot of repeat business since guests were scored and this created a feeling of competition among the guests.
A major first was Terror Park, the first maze to use RFID in the world. The theme here was a haunted amusement park and for this, while it may have appeared the park raided its boneyard for old ride vehicles, the theme elements were custom made. This allowed the creative staff to really have fun with the theme and go beyond what you’d normally expect of a creepy clown house. Then, they were spread through the maze as both static and moving effects and this is where things are definitely different from North America: guests had to walk through the bumper car section and some of the cars moved, whereas in America, you would not have such large moving effects in the guest’s path. Carousel horses were used as room dividers and the house design among the greatest ever seen in the world.
The facade of the Terror Park.
So, where does the RFID come into play then? A carnival barker in the waiting line interacted with the guests with wisecracks, roasted some guests (such as the author, the only non-Chinese guest in sight!) and also explained the idea of the house: you need to score points by using a RFID Camera and you can’t rush through; you need to explore each room and find the targets and touch them with your camera. At the end, a team member prints out your score and gives you the results. It is a whole new approach to mazes as in many case, guests are either sent in small groups or form an endless line and don’t have time to explore the rich details.
The last maze is the most unique and has never been replicated since: Burned Alive! The idea here is that a priest sprays your group with water and recites your last rites. Then, you are given a drape corresponding to your height and then sent to one side of the house where you asked to lay in an open casket and then sent to your cremation!
First, you had projected flames and intense heat to simulate the cremation. You were then in complete darkness as various projections come on to simulate our trip through hell. You had a scare actor get in your face to startle and shock the victims and also had various props falling toward you. It was a completely unique experience and it is still legendary in Hong Kong.
How was the guest kept safe and monitored through their journey? As soon as the casket enter darkness, a scare actor walked with the guest through the whole experience and he was able to stop the conveyor belt if the guest tried to stand up or had a panic attack.
The Scaremonies show that year was called the Carnival of Chaos and featured pyrotechnics, lots of dancing and a nice mix of K-Pop, Cantonese and Western songs. The show ended with Lady Gwai-Gwai making her appearance by flying in on a suspended chair above the crowds, all the while singing “Bad Romance”. She is then lowered on the stage and she continued with “Poker Face”. The show then transitioned into Ricky Martin “Livin’ La Vida Loca” while she made her way up the stage and concluded with a live dance of the event theme song.
The stage for The Scaremonies was located at the Tai Shue Wan entrance in 2010.
A close-up of the huge stage.
In 2011, the theme for Halloween morphed into the “Republic of Halloween” with Lady Gwai Gwai as the leader. A new theme song was created and used in the long TV spot to promote the new content created for that year. The Scaremonies stage was composed of crashed freight containers and this hid the various show action equipment and effects very well. The finale of the show saw Lady Gwai Gwai appear at the end of a long scaffold that would lift up and then she would spin around to two Lady Gaga songs: Judas, Edge of Glory. She would then come back on the floor and the last musical number was the whole cast dancing to Jennifer Lopez “On the Floor”. This show was so good it was recognised by IAAPA and won a prestigious Brass Ring Awards in 2012 in the Overall Productions: Budget of 50001-100000$ USD category.