Walt Disney World and Disneyland are theme parks designed to be fun for the whole family, and that means, generally speaking, that the parks are largely free of elements that might scare younger guests. But a lot of people like to be thrilled and even occasionally terrified, so the Disney Parks have never been entirely without those elements.
As this is the spooky season, let's take a look at some of the attractions that have provided their share of scares over the years. Some of these attractions are long gone, but still fondly remembered. Others are part of the parks to this day and can be experienced now, at least at Walt Disney World.
ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter - Basically All Of It
We'll start off with what might be the scariest thing that Walt Disney World has ever done. I've written at length about ExtraTerrorestrial Alein Encounter, but suffice it to say this attraction scared people. It put guests in the role of observers of alien technology that goes haywire, and sees a frightening and violent alien break free of its enclosure and stalk its prey in the dark... its prey being you. Some people loved this one because of how scary it was, others hated it for exactly the same reason. It seems that most guests fell into the latter category, as the attraction was eventually closed down and replaced with Stitch's Great Escape, a cuter and more Disney friendly version of the same basic concept.
The Twilight Zone Tower Of Terror - The Drop
While ExtraTerrorestrial may have been the most terrifying attraction in the history of Walt Disney World, it isn't the only one that has the word terror in its name. One such attraction that has been scaring guests regularly since 1994 is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. It's a fairly spooky ride from the outset, with a note-perfect Rod Serling impression and that always creepy theme song. Of course, it's the attraction itself that has the scariest moment. The free-fall drop experience that will make everybody scream is extra scary because it isn't actually a free fall. Rather, the ride vehicle is pulled straight down, so you fall at a speed faster than what natural gravity would create. The redesigned Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission - Breakout at Disneyland isn't quite as scary anymore thanks to its more upbeat soundtrack.
The Great Movie Ride - Ripley and the Alien
As the new owners of 20th Century Fox, Disney now own the rights to the Alien franchise, but many years ago, there was consideration to turning Alien into an attraction. That attraction eventually became the above-mentioned ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, but Alien did find its way into the parks as part of the popular Great Movie Ride. One sequence saw an animatronic Ripley defending herself against the Xenomorph. They came through the walls and the ceiling, and were incredibly well done and creepy. Maybe with the Great Movie Ride gone, a real Alien attraction could be in the cards.
Matterhorn and Expedition Everest - The Yeti
These are technically two very different instances of creatures in two different attractions, but they are both yetis, so we'll count them together. The original yeti was part of Disneyland's first roller coaster, the Matterhorn. This version is basically an abominable snowman, who stalks your ride vehicle throughout the attraction. At one point, your car flies directly at the roaring creature before veering away at the last second. It's a great roller coaster moment. On Expedition Everest, the yeti is the largest animatronic ever created, and while as I've written about that elsewhere, the yeti has never quite worked as designed. Still, he's still huge and the strobe light does make him look pretty scary as you fly beneath him at high speed.
Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy
For some, Space Mountain is already a fairly terrifying experience simply because it's a roller coaster that is entirely in the dark. You never really know what's coming because you can't see it. However, for several years, Disneyland amped up the frights at Halloween time by creating Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy. This version of the attraction changed out the soundtrack for something a bit more spooky and added projection effects of some honestly pretty disturbing images. Some of them would jump scare you by popping some sort of ghoulish image right in front of you as you flew by. The screams got even louder.
Snow White's Scary Adventure- The Wicked Queen Transformation
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a fairly terrifying movie when it was brand new. So it's only fitting that Snow White's theme park attraction would be equally scary. If there's one moment that is more likely to make guests jump in their ride vehicle, it has to be the Wicked Queen's transformation. As the car goes by, we see the Queen looking at herself in the mirror and she looks regal and lovely. Then the figure spins around to face the audience, and guests are greeted not by the queen, but by her old crone form. It's quite unexpected the first time you see it, and still fairly chilling every time after that. One has to wonder how the current refurbishment might change this moment.
Dinosaur - Carnotaurus
Disney's Dinosaur movie was not one of the studio's massive hits, but it has lived on in the form of an attraction at Disney's Animal Kingdom. In the ride, guests travel back in time to the age of dinosaurs, where they see multiple animatronic recreations of the massive creatures. The goal is to obtain a dinosaur specimen for study, but there's a massive Carnotaurus standing between you and your goal. He's huge and boasts massive teeth, and as the asteroid impacts with earth and the ride vehicle makes its escape, the beast lunges at you, and you really wonder if it's going to eat your face off.
The Haunted Mansion - The Way Out
We can't really talk about scary moments at Disney theme parks without talking about The Haunted Mansion. Of course, it has to be said that to a large extent, the Haunted Mansion isn't all that scary. It's certainly creepy, but in an attempt to be more family-friendly, very little is actually meant to frighten people. There is one big exception, however. At the very beginning of the attraction, guests enter the stretching room, a room with, seemingly, no escape. The ghost host voice does offer one solution, at which point guests are shown a man who has hung himself from the ceiling. It's without question the scariest part of a ride that is otherwise much tamer.
Unfortunately, right now, due to the fact that Disneyland is closed, many of these scary moments can't be experienced. But we can still remember them and look forward to getting those chills once again when theme parks are back to normal in the future.