Phobophobia: the best way to spend Halloween in central London
It’s always a joy to visit Phobophobia, The London Bridge Experience’s adults-only Halloween spooktacular, which feels like an outlet for the attraction’s frustrations at catering for a touristy, family-aged audience over the rest of the year.
Guests are invited to spend up to an hour (its more like 20-30 minutes depending on how fast you run) inside a two-part attraction that’s designed to be utterly relentless in its onslaught of horror, profanity, and uncomfortable laughs. The first half repurposes the London Bridge Experience’s usual, history-based tour into a warren of strobe lighting, ripped confederate flags, and Pentecostal churches for ‘A Hillbilly Halloween’. After being greeted by none other than Donald Trump, we’re thrust into a surreal nightmare – forced to crawl through seemingly endless tunnels, run from chainsaw-wielding barmen, and witness no end of unspeakable, uncouth atrocities at the hands of vicious rednecks.
This part is undoubtedly the most fun of the haunt – using the Experience’s wealth of sets and seating from the daytime show to engage in some hilariously uncomfortable antics, including seeing one of our group wedded to a very, erm, buff bride, then consummating the marriage in the church. Despite the humorous tone, there’s no shortage of scaring, and small batch sizes make sure that guests feel vulnerable to attack from all sides at any minute.
Considering Phobophobia is a seasonal show, with reasonably low throughput and a small date-list, there’s been a lot of work put into production design and theming – from the myriad of inventive costumes, to the constant usage of American iconography in the sets and stereotypical dialect from the actors. The attention to detail is more impressive than last year’s ‘The Freaks’, more than justifying the admission price. The inappropriate content – admitted via a 16+ age limit – is continuously exploited to uproarious laughter from the audience; the balance of humour and horror works fantastically.
With the seasonal element over, the second half of Phobophobia descends into the permanent ‘London Tombs’ attraction for a more straightforward, but increasingly intense walk-through that uses the fantastic year-round maze (with an increased actor count) to great effect. Taking guests through beautifully themed toxic wastelands, container yards, dilapidated hospitals, and horrifying circuses, the second half of Phobophobia is a disorientating, loud, strobing sprint to the gift shop, as chaos rages from all sides. The tight corridors and low lighting of the section mean that the experience consistently feels dangerous, and the actors lurking in the dark have plenty of opportunities to pounce from the most unexpected places. A variety of static models and animatronics also do a fine job of scaring us, even when there are no actual actors present, due to the harsh strobing obscuring whether they’re real or plastic.
If there’s a problem with the show, it’s the batching – by the time we’d reached the midpoint of the second part, we’d caught up with the group in front. It’s true that the speed groups will move at is unpredictable – the people in front of us were moving at a snails pace, constantly anticipating what would be around the corner, whilst our group preferred to charge into spaces with a reckless bravado – but an extra few minutes between batches would have been ideal.
Nevertheless, Phobophobia remains the only true horror maze that we’ve visited within the M25. It’s a long (30 minutes is a long time when you’re scared), fantastically themed, professional slice of terror that’s also a lot of fun. The easily offended might want to give this one a miss, but for thrill-seekers, I can’t think of a better way to spend Halloween in central London.