The Clown updates the classic ghost train inside the world’s oldest theme park
There is something deeply unsettling about a clown that’s not putting smiles on children’s faces. This specific one, which just appeared on the display of my oculus rift headset, is eagerly waving his hands, inviting me to come forward. I have little choice, trapped as I am in a rusty wagon, blindfolded by a virtual reality display equipped with headphones that shut out the deafening, but strangely comforting, sounds of the Prater amusement park around me; instead, I’m immersed with the eerie sounds of imminent terror.
After a few seconds, I feel the sensation of rolling up a hill, hearing nothing but the squeaking sound of the wagon’s under-carriage. There’s nothing but pitch black straight ahead, so I move my head and discover what appears to be a picture gallery, depicting very strange individuals – it’s hard to tell, it’s a bit blurry. The tunnel worms its way deeper, before, all of a sudden, the previously invisible tracks light up as if on fire. To my left, I see a small chamber where a man wearing a blood-stained shirt is brandishing a gigantic ax against an unseen victim. A door opens and welcomes me into a brightly lit dining room, where I’m dragged over a long banquet table. Strange creatures dressed as clowns leer at me menacingly from left and right. Helpless, I inch closer and closer toward the end, where a drooling butcher is waiting to carve up the main course – me.
Welcome to The Clown, a virtual reality ghost train located in one of the world’s oldest amusement parks, the Prater. What would be an eventless 3 1/2-minute ride through an empty building without the proper equipment is instead a state-of-the-art journey of horror – thanks to the miracles of techno-logy. Rather than rubber zombies and plastic skeletons popping out for cheap scares, the visuals were created by professional stage actors like Volkstheater veteran Christoph Krutzler and piped into your senses via headset. “The spectators are watching a 360-degree movie, giving the whole experi-ence more resemblance to a play than a film. Similar to a stage, the viewer has complete freedom in where he wants to look and which character or detail he puts his focus on,” says Axel Dietrich, CEO of the Virtual Reality studio Vrisch and mastermind of this novel approach to the haunted house.
As with all new technologies, this one still has some growing pains: the visuals can be a little blurry and the sound quality isn’t perfect, affecting immersion. And hardcore horror fans might be disappointed: The Clown is fairly tame, suitable even for the faint of heart – a conscious decision to accommodate younger audiences.
But the real draw is the technology: as theater, film, video games and other mediums inevitably merge, new opportunities arise for multi-sensory experiences. And while it’s still early days, The Clown makes innovative use of the tools at its disposal, creating a well-crafted ride that manages to clear away the dusty fake cobwebs of the old Prater ghost trains. The real chill is that killer clowns are likely only the beginning. If that doesn’t give you virtual goosebumps, nothing will.
€5 per ride, Prater