An inside look at The Arches' revival of Alien War
The Arches revival of the infamous terror experience from a first-person perspective
The List’s intrepid reporter Paul Dale went along to The Arches to experience its terrifying promenade show Alien War. How did he fare?
For as long as I can remember ghost trains have been a part of my life. The first time I went on one I filled my long socks with urine. The second time I jumped from the train and had to be led out by an employee with a white sheet draped around his shoulders. At 16 I went for fun, the rushing hormones and chemicals of my adolescence impelling me to point, laugh and decry everything. Even now, a visit to a recalcitrant British seaside resort is not complete without clambering aboard those few remaining chariots of chiaroscuro as they trundle along their monorails of murder. The thrill I seek is little more than that unleashed by a dip in the road taken too fast, but it is enriched by the weight of nostalgia.
And so it is that I find myself in the queue for Alien War at The Arches, a slick variation of what Americans have re-branded ‘the dark ride’. Like the original haunted house attractions which had their roots in the silent and B-movie horrors of the early 20th century, Alien War bears the capitalist markings of spin-off and franchise. Alien War is what is known as a ‘total reality’ or ‘promenade show’. There’s no hard plastic buggies or grip bars – just you, others and a highly-strung soldier guide (played by an actor). This scare pageant has been going for 20 years and is now in its third resurrection at The Arches, and there is no better place for it than this dank bricked-in viaduct, this twisted, booming glory hole of wonder and culture. Its labyrinthine vaults are the natural home for the creature that HR Giger spawned, Ridley Scott conjured into life and James Cameron propelled into endless possibility and reinvention.
Ten of us are led down to the basement of The Arches. I'm put with a group of 14-year-old school girls. I feel ill at ease, I want to explain to the staff that I’m only here for the thrills not to do some neutered impersonation of Gary Glitter at a Cambodian pool party. Ashamed, I stare at the floor hoping to be mistaken for a parent. We are led into a backstage area and told to remove all coats and bags. A girl in army fatigues carrying a machine gun arrives. She makes us line up against the wall and gives us the low down. We are going for a walk through the military laboratories. We enter a dark space, our guide babbles on, an alarm goes off, one of the pod bins makes a popping sound. We start running. The girls, who I now realise are all friends, start screaming. I hang back a little, not wanting to puncture their inflating hysteria. We regroup, there’s shooting, we are chased by something ominous and roaring. An alien mother breaks out of one of the bins, it’s a good scare. We yelp and flail. More shooting, more lining up. At one point I look down a dark corridor and can just make out a hirsute man growling like the alien. A new girl turns up, apparently she’s been lost for days. We are led into a military transporter. It rattles into life. Something scary happens before we reach light and safety.
‘Is that it?’ asks the petite teenager who has spent the last 15 minutes screaming. I ask her taller friend what she thought of it. ‘Oh it’s great.’ she giggles. ‘But I’ve done it before.’ A girl after my own heart.
Alien War is at The Arches, Glasgow until Sun 14 Apr 2013.