Dark Rides Under Lockdown

A series of short documentary pieces about the history of the dark ride and independent amusement parks under lockdown. Delivered through online video and VR materials, utilising content shot by the Dark Ride Project and produced using the capacities of the DML, Deakin students, alumni and the Imaginarium.


  • To build immediate social media outcomes to promote my research, the capacity of the DML and the Imaginarium.
  • To deliver my research to concerned audiences amid the tensions in the amusement park industry in the USA. This body of footage that would deliver immense impact amongst audiences and providers in this sector. The amusement and haunted attraction industry is a multi-billion dollar sector.
  • To prepare and refine my research for entry into short film, feature documentary, VR and episodic markets globally.
  • To build greater capacity amongst students and Alumni in seeking experience in 360 video and animation production.
Explanatory video about the project 2017

Key stakeholders

  • Deakin motion lab – facilitating the research
  • Imaginarium – helping with testing, technical aspects, marketing and potentially internships
  • Luna Park – Have offered a site to shoot when safety restrictions ease
  • The Dark Ride Project – Has 10k followers online and this project would utilise that fan base
  • Deakin Marketing – Claire Whiteley has expressed interest in covering this campaign further after its success in 2017.
  • TEAAAS – The newly formed Themed Attraction and Amusements Academic Association of which I am a board member would support and share


This series of social media videos will tell the story of the world’s oldest amusement parks and one of their strangest and most influential attractions, the dark ride. Nostalgic documentary vignettes will discuss the history of the classic American spooky ride and its influence on popular culture. Follow the story of a small-town invention that captivated a generation of horror enthusiasts but has now all but disappeared.

This unique view into a historic form of entertainment takes you aboard the oldest haunted attractions in the world in virtual reality. From New York’s famous Coney Island to Blackpool England and Luna Park in Melbourne Australia.

Existing content includes interviews in VR and HD with fans, enthusiasts and academics including Professor Vannessa Toulmin of the UK Amusement and Fairground archive and Professor Brendan Walker, Thrill engineer and BBC host.

In the wake of the COVID crisis, many of the parks featured in this documentary will not open for summer or Halloween 2020.  This immersive media work will help to connect fans with park owners through an accessible and exciting media work. Each video will feature zoom interviews with park owners and experts around the globe

Draft VR piece from Waldameer Park, PA


I am seeking a small amount of internal funding to employ 2 junior creative assistants from FTVA for 100 hours each. Both creatives would be sourced from Deakin student or Alumni and I would work with them on general video editing and animation production as well as train them in lens-based VR post production and Animation for VR respectively. Working remotely or on campus the two creatives would be part of the newly branded DML LAB. In addition to this I would seek to utilise another small quantity of my FS29 income for research assistance with production, animation and editing supervision.

Research Grant     
2 x 100 hours$24.70 (NAVA guidelines)Junior creatives  $4940
FS29 Income     
2 x 60 hours$43.31Research Assistants$5197
In kind   
Use of the space for testing and marketing content    $10,000
Guidance and training from Imaginarium staff including possible internships.    $5,000
Access to Titan VR camera  $5,000
Deakin Motion Lab     
Access to specialist computers and rendering facilities  $10,000
Supervision for internships from FTV  $5,000
Short video of the project at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, 2017
DRAFT COMPOSITE – Scaled down panoramic footage from Knoebels Amusement Park 2018

Content Timeline and Outcomes


  • Conduct Zoom interviews with parks around the world
  • Knoebels, Conneaut Lake, Waldameer, Blackpool, Coney Island, Funland and Lagoon Park
  • Shoot at Luna Park Melbourne with the Titan VR camera, conduct interviews with staff and CEO.
  • Begin editing and review of existing footage
Zoom meeting with Randy Curry, operations manager at Funland Amusements, Rehoboth MD


  • Create 3 short animated components explaining the history of the dark ride, test this content as VR compatible footage.
  • Complete edit of 2-3 HD video pieces for review


  • Edit and release 6 short videos containing interviews intercut with parnoramic video of rides and Broll from the parks.
  • Release HD and VR animations explaining the history, mechanics and other unique qualities of the dark ride as teasers for other content


  • Leading up to Halloween, videos would be compiled and distributed to local media around the world with a concentrated campaign to highlight closed parks and attractions and drum up interest for this project.

Scope for Impact and distribution

This project will build my capacity to release more refined research outputs that have great impact. Through film festivals, screenings there will be numerous outcomes for worlds best standard outcomes that also lift mine and Deakin’s profile amongst new audiences.

I have tested my footage in the Melbourne planetarium and also screened works at Melbourne’s VR Cinema and the University of Virginia’s Cube screen. In addition to entering this enter this work in international VR festivals, I would imagine it could screen as an educational resource at Planetariums around the world and at a range of cultural festivals in the haunt community.

With the Covid crisis gripping parks and film festivals there will is already an increased focus on delivering online content and connecting with customers virtually.  Many independent amusement parks will not open for 2020 and may not open again.

I have been in touch with a number of parks and would expect to support this project through further social media engagements with them. I would envisage leveraging the thousands of fans and media professionals who follow my project as a way to promote the work and gain traction about its release and potential screenings.

Test screening at the Melbourne Planetarium 2018

More about the Project

In the midst of the great depression, America’s once booming amusement parks were in trouble. The rise of cinema and the motor car meant that audiences no longer relied on local fairs for their weekend thrills, hundreds of parks were turning out their lights. In 1929, a pair of New Jersey inventors created a new type of amusement that was cheap to run, easy to build and would thrill and scare generations of Americans for the next century. 

The first spook houses, ghost trains and dark rides were built by Leon Cassidy and Marvin Rempfer who sold thousands of unique rides around the world. From descents into hell, haunted mansions and witch’s lairs, the rides brought the first experience of horror culture to the masses. 

The rides were strange and handmade but they brought people together, created memories and inspired artists, moviemakers and entertainers. Before the dark ride, the characters and dress-ups of Halloween hadn’t been a part of American culture but now frights were all the rage. After the war, a new generation of kids enjoyed dark rides at famous sites like Coney Island and Santa Cruz. The influence of fairground tricks could be seen in popular drive in teen movies. 

With the digital revolution of the 21st century, the dark ride has struggled and America’s appetite for old time parks has evaporated. Hundreds of parks have fallen victim to real estate buyouts and natural disasters with few mourning their demise.  Of the thousands of dark rides across the country only a handful are still running and they’re doing it tough. The Ghost House in NJ was obliterated by hurricane Sandy while the owners of NYC’s Spookarama watched as their beloved ride was submerged under water. Independent parks aren’t only targets of storms but also wealthy developers, keen to make a buck off locations the parks made popular. In 1964, Fred Trump tried to rezone Coney Island’s Steeplechase park to build a hotel, when the community fought his decision, he bulldozed the site to the ground.

All across the country dark rides have closed or are barely hanging on, but those who do care will go to some amazing lengths to keep this unique example of American culture alive.

Jeremy Cruz of Alabama remembers his first dark ride, he rode it every vacation, when it closed down during the financial crisis he bought and rebuilt it in his shed! Bushkill park has flooded 5 times in a century, but their community fights on, rebuilding the park and adopting a new dark ride to inhabit it.  From England to Australia, Denmark to Mexico, we see examples of people restoring, rebuilding and remaking dark rides to share with a whole new generation. New technologies can’t bring back these classic experiences but we see how traditional experiences have influenced creators at Disney and Universal to design more exhilarating, scarier rides today. 

Interview with Barbara Ackerly, grand daughter of the inventor of the Dark Ride

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