I delve into my memories to recall Alien War, An officially sanctioned haunted house style experience in the heart of London in the early 1990’s.
In the early nineties, the hype for a new Alien film was increasing with the approaching release of Alien³. I was too young to see this film in the cinema but it didn’t stop me grabbing a lot of Alien related merchandise.
My local town at that point in time didn’t have a comic shop that imported American titles, so I was unaware of what Dark Horse was up to at the time with their Alien license. The British company, Trident Comics, decided to reprint and serialise the Dark Horse comics in a larger format and I remember them being sold in the popular newsagents, W.H. Smith.
They decided to start their run with what was then titled Aliens: Book Two which featured the gorgeous artwork of Den Beauvais on the cover. The magazine also featured two other serialised Predator related titles as well.
The magazine changed hands after issue sixteen and the reigns were given over to Dark Horse International. Unfortunately, Dark Horse International went out of business and the magazine stopped publication after a further twenty-two issues.
I’m straying from the point here, in an issue of Aliens magazine from around 1992, they featured an article about a new experience that was set up at a location known as The Arches in Glasgow, Scotland.
Entitled Alien War, this was an experience rather than a ride. It was a reworking of the haunted house scenario with official backing from 20th Century Fox to use the Alien name, likeness etc.
The end of the article mentioned that the creators hoped to move the experience to London in the near future and by 1993 this became a reality.
In the same year of 1993, The Alien Trilogy was released onto VHS cassette in the United Kingdom. To mark the occasion, 20th Century Fox released a box set for the UK retailing at a hefty £69.99, but it was rather special.
The cassettes were housed in a plastic briefcase was of an angular design, made to look like it came from the set of Alien³. What also made the case very striking was the face hugger wrapped around it, gripping so hard that the edges were buckling slightly. This was one complete plastic piece and unfortunately all one colour, but still very impressive.
Inside the case were copies of Alien, Aliens (Special Edition) and Alien³. A fourth cassette contained the making of Alien 3. There were also pin badges, artwork cards and a plastic card for Alien War.
This plastic card allowed a “two for one” entry and also served as a queue jumping card. If you know anything about British culture, you know that we love to queue for anything!
It was my best friend of the time, David, who bought this great set and we decided to go and visit Alien War which had now successfully been set up at the Trocadero Centre in London.
Please note that this took place over twenty years ago and I’m trying to remember these events as best I can. We didn’t have smartphones with cameras, nor did we have digital cameras, so I’m doing my best to recall the information. David also confirmed we visited twice, so my memory of the events may be incorrect. Some aspects of the ride were upgraded between visits but I may be recalling them as one experience.
The Trocadero Centre was a building which contained a few shops, a multiplex cinema, two arcades (one of them branded as Sega and only contained their games) and the basement space. It was in the basement that Alien War had been placed, a rather a fitting place to hide monsters.
Once we made our way downstairs, the corridors had been decked out to resemble the look of the terraforming colony of Acheron, which was situated on the planet of LV-426. If you don’t know what I’m on about, I’ll use the less nerdy description, it looked like it was from the film Aliens.
The first thing we noticed was that on the right-hand side of the corridor was a ticket booth and the gift shop. We made a beeline for the gift shop and it was hard not to miss the full-size alien queen sculpt sitting at the entrance.
I can’t remember if this was a beautiful marketing piece or maybe it was created from the moulds used to make the monster used in the film. I’m sure there were a few other props on display but I cannot remember what they were.
The opposite wall of the shop contained the huge painting that was hung outside of Ripley’s hospital room from the beginning of Aliens. The painting contained a huge vista of the planet earth and a portion of Gateway space station.
The gift shop also contained various other typical items such as key rings, badges and various other products all containing the Alien War logo.
We left the shop and headed for the ticket booth. A queue of around ten people were patiently waiting in line to buy tickets. David flashed his special Alien War card and we walked straight to the front. Remember how we British love to queue, we don’t approve of line jumpers, even if they had a valid reason and there were mumblings and groans as we made our way to the front.
Since we first entered the basement, every twenty minutes or so, a group of people would come bursting through a doorway that was situated on the opposite side of the corridor to the gift shop.
Pushing through the thick plastic slats covering the doorway, they were pushing and screaming as they found themselves in the corridor of the Trocadero Centre. They caught they’re breath and composed themselves after discovering they were at the end of the experience.
This was a promising start to our own Alien War experience.
When our time come, a USMC colonial marine took approximately eight of us through the first door and into Alien War. The colonial marine looked very impressive, as if he had just walked off the set of Aliens.
Inside, it was well lit, bright and to our left was one of the actual hyper sleep chambers from the spacecraft Sulaco, an actual set piece from the film Aliens. On the floor beside it, like the owner had taken them off and placed them neatly by the bed before going to sleep, were the actual Reebok boots worn by Ripley in the same film. This was only just beginning and I was already nerding out!
The marine introduced himself and welcomed us to a tour of the Weyland Yutani facility, a research station where the company could study the successfully captured alien species.
We were guided down a corridor and came to a small cross junction were the side exits were merely alcoves with a (painted) locked bulkhead door. Then the lights went out! It was pitch black. Emergency lighting kicked in which allowed you to see just about where you were going.
The marine talking through his communications equipment revealed to us that the aliens held for experimentation had escaped and somehow had cut the power to the facility! His job now was to escort us to safety.
We heard a noise at the end of the corridor and a blue strobe light started flashing revealing an advancing alien. The marine fired with his pulse rifle killing it and then the banging started.
I was already pushed into the alcove against the locked door but something started banging from the other side. Aliens were trying to break through! Now fully immersed in the environment, I was panicking. I started pushing people screaming, “Move, move, move!”
We ran down the rest of the corridor until we reached a raised meshwork floor. Underneath the floor, the aliens had already placed several eggs. We were instructed to walk slowly and carefully across the room as to not disturb the eggs and their lethal contents.
Next, I remember being bundled into a small lift so we could make our way to another part of the research complex. We all just managed to cram into the lift and the marine pushed the button so that the door closed and we started to move.
However, the lift stopped and the doors were pried open by a pair of alien hands. Once open far enough the monster grabbed one of our screaming party, whom we joined in with our own screams and shouts of panic, then doors slammed shut once again.
If I remember correctly, the doors on the opposite side of the lift opened and we travelled along a short corridor and into either a drop ship or an APC (armoured personnel carrier).
The marine sat up front, and started the engines and told us we were practically safe and on our way home. I’m not sure if I’m imagining this but I think we were all sat in two rows facing each other. Keeping us in our seats were long safety bars that dropped from overhead, just like in the film, similar to what you would find on roller coasters.
Before the vehicle could make its first move, another alien appeared and dragged another party member away screaming! By this time, were all panicking and running on fear. The marine opens another door and shouts at us to run!
I’m sure the lift/APC section wouldn’t run the same gag twice, so I think these two events are from two separate visits. I distinctly remember that the second time was better with various aspects of the experience greatly improved.
We all got up and almost start pushing each other out of the way as we run down the corridor. I’m not going to become a host of a chest burster, move it! That’s when we reach the end of the corridor and burst out into the open by the gift shop and other members of the public waiting to buy their tickets.
I caught my breath, found my friend David and then we soon start laughing. It was a great experience and despite my short brief description, it actually lasted around twenty minutes.
The whole set-up was created using smoke and mirrors. I did see a picture of the alien costume in a magazine article and under full light, it was laughable, yet under strobe lighting, your mind told your something else.
The marines M14A pulse rifle’s trigger was connected to remote speakers to emit sounds from the film all adding to the effect. Also, our marine’s language was 18 rated just like the film as well.
When whispering to David during a quiet section of the ride (I think we were being quiet to hide from a nearby alien), the marine turned to me and said, “If you don’t shut up, you won’t be invited to the Christmas fucking dinner!”
Both times my friend David came up unlucky. Firstly, in the panic during the ride, someone grabbed his backpack and pulled it open. I remember he lost his Alien novel in the ride somewhere along with a few other belongings but it wasn’t until we were on the train back home that we discovered this.
Secondly, David somehow managed to get left behind during one section of the ride. He had to wait for the next group of people to appear and the marine was rather surprised to find him there on his own!
This wasn’t an uncommon experience and I remember reading of one girl who in a panic managed to stumble across one of the “secret” doors where an alien performer was relaxing backstage. Apparently, before she realised where she was, the performer quickly put the alien headpiece back on and moved towards her. She screamed, turned around and ran back into the ride again to find the others.
Unfortunately, we never did go again. There was a flood in the basement of the Trocadero and Alien War had to close, never to open again.
Research for this article revealed that the rumours of insurance problems were true. After sitting idle for a while, the creators approached the insurance company for their payout only to be told this won’t be possible as the insurers had gone bankrupt!
Alien War did reopen again but on smaller scale back in Scotland for a month in 1998. Classing this as a test run, they decided to take it on a national tour, appearing at different attractions around the country until 2010.
As this touring version was not affiliated with 20th Century Fox, the experience was renamed Alien Wars. Various changes had to be made to distance the experience from the movie franchise such as removing the colonial marine guide tour and replacing him with a generic Special Forces soldier.
Alien War was obviously a memorable experience and I wish it could come back. With today’s theme park technology, it really could be something out of this world.
Here is a short fifteen minute documentary at a look behind the scenes at Alien War.