What do you get when you combine a 100-year-old illusion with state of the art technology? There are probably a multitude of answers possible following that question but you can’t go wrong with Efteling’s Villa Volta. The Madhouse has become a staple of the European theme park landscape and installations can even be found outside of the continent. It is unique in the fact that it effortlessly combines storytelling, theming and a thrill-factor, while still being an enjoyable experience for the whole family. It gives the illusion of turning upside down while in an enclosed space.
Villa Volta is a prime example of a Madhouse done right, and for a first time try at that. To celebrate the release of our article Madhouses II: The Development of Villa Volta, let’s take a virtual tour through Hugo’s cursed home.
Ride: Villa Volta
Category: Show Ride
Manufacturer: Vekoma / Efteling
Designer: Efteling (Ton van de Ven)
Opened: 4 April 1996
Villa Volta is located in the north-western part of Efteling known as Marerijk (which can loosely be translated to Fairy Realm or Lore Realm). It tells the story of ‘Hugo van den Loonsche Duynen’, who joined a vile pack of robbers, the Buckriders, and became cursed by a mysterious lady during the plundering of an abbey.
We approach Hugo’s real estate by walking through two large pillars adjoining the Ton van de Ven Square, named after Efteling’s former Creative Director. A large, well-kept garden with a sundial stands between us and the villa. It resembles a large Victorian era building with cream white plastering and corner slips. Decorations like a large buck head above the main entrance refer to Hugo’s connection with the Buckrides. Stone vases and finials decorate the tops of the balcony and roofs. The most eye-catching however is the statue of a mysterious lady standing on top of the central dormer. Her arms slowly wave in the wind. All doors and windows are shut and the villa is devoid of any sign of life.
A typical shield-like sign, found at most Efteling rides and displaying warning icons, draws us to the right side of the building and in turn the shed-like queue line. Here lies a winding path between fencing and multilingual signage on the wall. Written with ink on goatskin and decorated with hooves and other iconography of the Buckrides, it clues us in on what the story will be about. Music plays in the background, featuring a distinct and powerful percussion rhythm, once in a while drowned out by voices of villagers in disarray (in Dutch): ‘’The Buckriders are coming!’’.
Every 5 minutes, the doors are opened and a staff member lets up to 80 people inside. The first pre-show, set within some sort of shed as an extension of the main building, starts immediately with exciting music, followed by a narrator (also in Dutch, like all spoken language on the ride): ‘’In the 18th century, a band of robbers roamed the countryside in the Campines area of Brabant and Limburg, leaving a grim trail of destruction in their wake…’’ Voices of villagers can be heard again, coming from the corners of the room, discussing the recent problems caused by the Buckriders. The shelves found on all sides of the room are packed with tools, pottery and other stolen goods.
The narrator continues: ‘’According to the legend, this demonic army of Buckriders met its fate in a gruesome battle, high in the heavens above the Postel Abbey. For sixty long years, the gang enforced a reign of terror over the population. Their satanic coat of arms, the hoof of a buck, left them shuddering in fear.’’
Lightning strikes, a jump-scare. In one of the corners a curtain drops to reveal the satanic coat of arms, swinging back and forth. ‘’Curse those Buckriders, the parasites of this region, that Hugo in particular!’’, exclaims one of the villagers. The narrator introduces the fictional leader: ‘’This is the story of Hugo, Hugo van den Loonsche Duynen, who joined this vile pack of robbers. A man void of any compassion, possessed by a boundless greed for money. Hugo, the Buckrider…’’ The doors to the second pre-show light up and open shortly thereafter.
In the next room we meet the once fearless leader, now nothing more but a crippled old man. He sits in a chair, high up on a platform surrounded by his stolen goods, and glances across the audience. He begins his speech with the famous words: ‘’This house, this cursed house… It is as hell.’’
Hugo tells the story of how one day in the Belgian Campines, he and the other Buckriders, searching for a place to sleep at nightfall, stumbled upon the Postel Abbey. ‘’Right behind the chapel door, golden chalices and silver girandoles ripe for the taking!’’ He lets out a laugh, as if still getting excited at all that treasure, even though the story happened many years ago. ‘’With this thought, we rammed the door.’’
They found the treasure they were looking for right on the altar. Acknowledging but not questioning why the candles were lit, even though the building was abandoned, they started plundering. ‘’My men cracked the sacrificial block, and I myself, emptied the altar.’’ Then, a mysterious woman appeared. ‘’Suddenly, on my shoulder, a slender hand. Behind me stood a young woman, her eyes full of fire. She seemed to levitate in her long white dress.’’ She known as Lady Good warned Hugo and her voice can be heard coming from all corners of the room: ‘’Thee profane this house here. So repent thy sins, and do not invoke the wrath of God upon thee.’’
Of course, Hugo did not listen. He knocked the woman out of the way and ordered his men to prepare to leave the abbey, not before Hugo witnessed the woman disappear into nothingness. When reaching his home a day later, he is shocked to find Lady Good standing on top of the roof, swaying her arms in the wind. Hugo heard her voice in his head: ‘’Nowhere in thy owneth house, nor anywhere this world, shalt thou find rest or peace, now thee has’t defiled God’s house… Only then, at which a noble man with pure conscience, liketh of a newborn child, enters thy home, willst thou findeth peace in thy house and in thy heart…’’
Hugo begs us to help him. ‘’That curse, my horrible fate, has not been broken to this day… Enter with an untroubled conscience, so that the doom may fall from this house, and my soul may gain the rest that I so desperately desire…’’ The doors to the next room (which for those unaware open in our direction) open up.
Hugo’s living room
Behind the doors lies a small hallway which splits into two. They both lead to the opposite sides of the largest room within Villa Volta, in which the Madhouse ride is found. The Victorian-era living space inside the drum is richly decorated with large antique cabinets, a fireplace, valuable vases and paintings on the walls.
Some creepy artefacts hint at Hugo’s past and the curse that snuck its way into every corner of the house. A stuffed goat head hangs from the wall, the candle holders have faces and a pair of eyes are found on the sides of the swing. We sit down on one of the large wooden pews that stand opposite of each other and after a while the safety bars are closed. We are about to experience the curse for ourselves.
The lights dim and the music begins to play, a startling sound. The mirrors on the wall start to rotate and the candle holders’ eyes spy around. The swing and drum are slowly moving in perfect synchronisation and a disorienting feeling overcomes you. You realise that this is not a normal living room as the swing and drum part ways. The music builds suspense and the first few notes of the Villa Volta theme are played nervously on violin. The room is almost completely dark and the melody is briefly replaced by increasingly louder percussion.
There’s no stopping it now! The familiar drum rhythm starts and the Villa Volta theme plays in full. The large floor lamps in the midst of the room light up and dim one after another. You are rocked back and forth, each time the drum continues to sway further and further apart from the swing.
The music takes a more suspenseful turn. One moment, right in front of you is the ceiling, the second the checkerboard pattern floor. The living room becomes mostly dark for a moment and the first screams can be heard coming from the audience as the drum is about to make its first full rotation on maximum speed. A choir takes over the score, accompanied by aggressive orchestra hits. The room hesitates on which way it wants to rotate next as the climax of the soundtrack kicks in.
The Villa Volta theme including additional percussion is heard one more time, sung by choir and backed up with a slapping baseline. The room turns around completely one more time, to return to its starting position. As the floor whizzes past, in a flash of light the ghost of Hugo can be seen through a Gobelin Tulle. As the drum and swing once again near their beginning point, the music builds up quickly and ends on a series of increasingly longer, strong notes as the lamps light up in sync to the rhythm. To top it off, lightning strikes behind the windows.
The music dies down, the room returns to normal and the safety bars open up. We leave the living room on the other side, walk through another small corridor and soon find ourselves on the square in front of the building again. The curse left unbroken, and Hugo doomed to forever be trapped inside Villa Volta.
Read more on Villa Volta in our special: Madhouses II: The Development of Villa Volta.
© 2022 Dark Ride Database
Article by: Jim
Photos by: Jim