So, Disney prides itself on being not-so-scary, but that doesn’t mean it can’t send a chill down your spine when it really wants to.
These are our picks for the most terrifying moments on Disney attractions from around the world!
The Stretching Room at the Haunted Mansion
The Haunted Mansion is more silly than scary, but there’s one moment before you even get on the ride that is down right dark for a Disney attraction. As you enter the stretching room, you’re treated to humorous paintings of the manor’s occupants in their “corruptible, mortal states”. Each reveal is darkly humorous, and there’s a reason these portraits are one of the most iconic parts of the attraction. However, then there’s the Ghost Host’s chilling challenge… there are no windows or doors, so how can you escape?
That’s when the lights go out, lightning flashes, and you get your first and only glimpse at your host’s dead body hanging from the rafters! It’s a true jump scare that you straight up would not expect in a Disney park, especially after it’s humorous preface, and it leaves many a guest screaming in horror.
The version at Disneyland Paris’s Phantom Manor is even more frightening. Rather than being a cheerful retreat for the dead, the Phantom Manor is a place of torment for the innocent young Melanie Ravenswood, as a vengeful phantom has risen to kill her groom and torment her on her wedding day. The paintings now show Melanie’s humorously named grooms facing comedic ends before the Phantom dramatically appears over head… but the original version was much darker. Each painting showed Melanie unknowingly about to face a gruesome, and not at all humorous death, before the Phantom was revealed hanging her groom from the rafters. Disneyland Paris does not pull punches…
The ExtraTERRORestrial Preshow
Once again, we aren’t even on the ride yet! While this bit of fear is nothing compared to the ride that followed, it’s still traumatized many an unsuspecting child… deliberately, in fact.
In 1994, Disney opened ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, a horror themed attraction in which guests would become the helpless prey to a ravenous alien monster. Disney knew that parents probably wouldn’t believe Disney World could have a really scary ride. Their only real point of comparison at that point was The Haunted Mansion; Tower of Terror had just opened the year before, and even it paled in comparison to what lurked in the Tomorrowland Convention Center. So, knowing that parents would ignore any written or spoken warnings, they decided to use an alternative form of child repellent… trauma.
When you entered the pre-show area, a sinister robot named S.I.R. (voiced by Tim Curry), would demonstrate the teleportation technology that you had volunteered to test. Skippy, an adorable alien, would be teleported from one tube to another across the room. Unfortunately, Skippy’s pained screams and charred appearance indicated the technology was seriously flawed. Curry’s narration (in which he describes Skippy being disintegrated and reconstructed) adds to the unsettling atmosphere. The fact that he casually pauses the teleportation indefinitely, leaving Skippy trapped as a cloud of molecules, only adds to the horror. Oh, and you’re next in line! Isn’t that fun!?
Needless to say, this pre-show was traumatizing enough to small children that many parents were forced to remove them from the queue, finally impressing upon them that this ride was not for kids. Even then, that’s not the worst part…
Getting Soaked In Blood on ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter
When you actually board the ride, you’re set down in a safety harness for the demonstration, and cannot move. Fortunately, you aren’t teleported. Instead, Chairman Clench of XS Tech elects to teleport himself instead. Unfortunately, the beam gets intercepted by an alien planet, and a bloodthirsty carnivore is teleported directly into the room instead!
The “safety harnesses”, in addition to making you feel incredibly claustrophobic, are also what hold the special effects for the ride, which largely takes place in darkness. You’ll hear the alien crawl around you. Feel it touch you, even drool on you. A lot of these effects were recycled for the more kid-friendly Stitch’s Great Escape, but there’s one element from the original ride that was just plain unsettling.
Shortly after the power goes out and the room is dark, a technician with a flashlight begins working in the rafters over head. You can see the flashlight moving around, even. Unfortunately, the alien gets to him first, and after several gruesome sound effects are played overhead, you’re dripped on by a disturbingly warm liquid…
Yup, Disney just simulated getting bled on by a dismembered corpse. In Tomorrowland. Now do you see why they put so much effort in keeping kids away?
Fun fact, though. Originally, the ride was set to have the alien carnivore as the surprise protagonist. The entire teleportation experiment was a ruse to test the combat capabilities of a monstrous alien on some unsuspecting targets, only for the alien to prove much more intelligent than XS anticipated. Rather than attacking you, it would turn its DEFINITELY NOT FAMILY FRIENDLY wrath on the experimenters, allowing you to escape. Thanks, murderous alien friend! You’re a real pal!
The Nostromo Scene on The Great Movie Ride
So, if you’re wondering how Disney came up with something so horrifying for Tomorrowland, the answer is…
…specifically the movie Alien. See, the ride was originally going to be themed after The Nostromo, the doomed ship set upon by Xenomorphs in the film. That license fell through, but Disney could still include it in another ride! The Great Movie Ride, to be precise!
The ride was a celebration of all things cinema, but it took an unexpectedly dark turn after your vehicle was hijacked by a movie villain! Not long after escaping a shootout, you end up on the Nostromo, where the xenomorph lurks in the vents overhead before leaping out and attacking you! On a ride that features The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ In The Rain as major scenes, many riders were taken off guard by this sudden transition to horror.
The Tower of Terror Drop
The Tower of Terror is really unsettling, and Disney has done an amazing job of making the entire experience eerie, from the slightly askew pathway to the eerily empty lobby. Still we all know why you got on board…
Unlike typical drop rides, you don’t have much context of how high up you are once you enter the drop shaft, as Disney’s disguised the rise with an elaborate dark ride. Once you actually do start dropping, you’re given one terrifying glimpse of just exactly how high up you are.
From there, you’re shaken up in an unpredictable mess of rises and drops, mixed in with disorienting special effects and periods of total darkness. However, once again, Disneyland Paris does not mess around.
Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy
Space Mountain is already pretty scary. Riding in pitch darkness makes the ride the most intense of the Mountain coasters. Being chased by a downright freaky looking… ghost nebula thingy… adds a whole layer of added tension. Illusions of the ghost grabbing at your ride vehicle changes the ride from thrilling to nightmarish, especially as you hit the finale… which features one of the few genuine jump scares on any Disney ride! Thankfully, the ride is only haunted for Halloweentime, and the Magic Kingdom version seems to have burnt some space sage, since it has yet to be haunted by any malevolent spirits.
Q’aráq on Roaring Rapids at Shanghai Disneyland
Roaring Rapids at Shanghai Disneyland is like if you gave Kali River Rapids the storyline of Expedition Everest. You go on an expedition to a forbidden mountain said to be inhabited by a dangerous beast worshiped by the local tribes. In this case, rather than a strobe-lit Yeti, it’s a massive reptile named Q’aráq. After some initial rapid riding, you end up in a foreboding cave… and then this guy shows up over head.
Glowing eyes, fang toothed, dripping maw, roaring directly in your FACE. This guy feels more at home in Jurassic Park than Disneyland. Fortunately, your pants are already soaked at this point…
The Carnataurus from ‘Dinosaur’.
DinoLand USA is currently dominated by Donald and Pals, so it’s easy to forget it’s hiding one of the scariest rides in the park. As you enter the Dino Institute, your time-travel tour to the Cretaceous period is co-opted into a mission to rescue an Iguanadon moments before an asteroid wipes out nearly all life on Earth. The result is a dark and unsettling ride through a prehistoric jungle in the middle of an apocalypse, all while being stalked by a massive predator.
The ride’s climax features you narrowly escaping seconds before impact, as the Carnataurus makes one last attempt to gobble you up. The sense of impending doom and the final jump scare is enough to make your stomach do somersaults… which is probably why McDonalds is no longer a sponsor.
As a side note, the movie is directly set in the world of the movie Dinosaur, with the Igaunodon specifically meant to be Aladar, the film’s protagonist. This has the unfortunate implication of the ride being about the entire cast of the movie, sans Aladar, dying a horrific death by meteor.
…Cause, you know. Most Magical Place on Earth! Yay…
Honorable Mention: Disco Yeti
Expedition Everest has its share of unsettling moments… from finding the rail track ripped up at the mountain’s peak before plummeting backwards through total darkness, to seeing the Yeti’s silhouette begin hunting you down as what you HOPE is just water drips on your head. You can’t deny it’s one thrilling ride. However, what was meant to be the ride’s terrifying climax has instead become one of the most famous technical gaffs in Disney history.
The Yeti, after stalking you for most of the ride, is supposed to FINALLY attack in the last cave, with a full-featured animatronic swiping at you as you go by. Unfortunately, the yeti broke down shortly after the ride opened, and the attraction’s complicated construction has made repairs impractical. Instead, Disney relies on a simple strobe light to create the illusion of movement, leading to the humorous moniker of “Disco Yeti”. While he inspires more chuckles than screams nowadays, you can’t deny this furry freak didn’t startle you the first time you rode!
That’s just a sample of the horrors that lurk within the Disney Theme Parks. Was there anything we missed? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll see you real soon!