The history of Sally Dark Rides’ Ghost Blasters (Part 1)

Introduction

What do a Scooby-Doo ride in Spain and a Haunted House in Sweden have in common? Both rides are spun off the same concept of dark rides. Spökjakten at Furuvik and La Aventura de Scooby-Doo in Parque Warner Madrid are both versions of the Ghost Blasters ride, designed by Sally Dark Rides (formally known as Sally Corporation). Sally Dark Rides is one of the industry’s leading dark ride designers and manufacturers. Their line of Ghost Blasters rides is the bestselling interactive dark ride installation on the planet. With the help of Sally, we decided to explore this fan favourite and its many incarnations all over the world. In this first part we will look at the first versions of the ride, that were built in North America. The second part will focus on the Scooby-Doo versions, as well as the Ghost Blasters II incarnation.

The History of Ghost Blasters

While nowadays Sally Dark Rides might be most famous for their interactive experiences, it wasn’t always that way. The company first found success as an animatronic (show) manufacturer for various theme parks, before branching off to selling these figures as part of custom designed dark rides. As far back as the mid-80s the company was experimenting with the concept of blasting ghosts from within a moving vehicle, but it was not picked up by any park. Perhaps the world wasn’t ready for such a ride yet. Then again, their plans were very ambitious. The company continued to develop animatronic shows and traditional dark rides as they had been doing for years and grew to be a reliable supplier for small and bigger parks alike.

About a century later, in 1995, Sally finally got the chance to install their first interactive dark ride: The Great Pistolero Roundup (a Wild West themed shooter) at Family Kingdom Amusement Park (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – United States). Still, during this time interactivity on dark rides was a novel concept and only a few similar attractions could be found worldwide. With the ride being a modest success, it opened up the possibility for the company to expand upon the idea with new themes, as well as revisiting old ones. In 1997, North Pole Adventure opened in Happy Valley Shenzhen (Shenzhen, Guangdong – China). However, third time’s the charm and 1999’s Ghost Blasters would quickly become Sally’s most successful dark ride installation, with five classic Ghost Blasters built between 1999 and 2002.

Sally’s first interactive dark ride: The Great Pistolero Roundup (© Sally Dark Rides)

The Ghost Blasters Experience

At its heart, Ghost Blasters is a game in which players compete for the high score, visible on the vehicle’s display at all times. The small dark ride takes on the form of a spooky mansion called Bleakstone Manor. Ghost Blasters is the world’s first interactive dark ride with a haunted house setting. Before boarding, visitors enter the ride’s queue which leads up to a machine called the Ghost Eradicator. A monitor on the machine plays a video of Professor
Phearstruck (originally, the professor was going to be called Finius Fright) portrayed by an actor. While he is a world famous ghost hunter, he is struggling to capture the mighty Boocifer (the big ghost with the bushy hair and pointy moustache) and asks for our help. By boarding one of his Scaremobiles equipped with Boo-Blasters, we just might be able to clear the mansion from Boocifer and his ghost buddies.

Façade of Ghost Hunt at Lake Compounce, the first Ghost Blasters (© Sally Dark Rides)

Depending on the location, there are about fifteen scenes crammed into the building wherein riders automatically move forwards in their vehicle. All five original Ghost Blasters use two-seater cars which were manufactured by the Barbisan company based in Italy. All scenes have multiple targets, bringing a total of 80 animated characters and props to life when shot with a Boo-Blaster. Between some but not all scenes a set of doors can be found, keeping riders from peeking prematurely into the next room. The decoration consists mostly of 2D planes arranged in multiple layers, so that they convey a sense of depth when passing them by. Also, there is very strong use of blacklight, which is one of Sally Dark Rides’ most defining features: set pieces are painted with fluorescent paint, making them appear to glow in the dark when lit with such a blacklight. These factors give Ghost Blasters a very distinctive style, which is reminiscent of Disney’s Fantasyland dark rides. The mansion is inhabited by ghosts of all shapes and sizes while every room has its own theme, ranging from a graveyard
to a creepy attic.

Depicted below is the ride layout for Ghost Hunt at Lake Compounce (Bristol, Connecticut – United States), which is the first and most elaborate installation of the ride. Therefore, our ride description is largely based on this installation.

Ride layout for Ghost Hunt at Lake Compounce (© DRdb)

After we have watched the preshow and are ready to take on Booficer, we board our very own Scaremobile, which will start moving shortly after. A brief stop is made at the Practice Targets right before entering the manor. Unlike the name might suggest, every hit does in fact count towards our score. After a while Professor Phearstruck chimes in: “Practice is over, now go get the real ghosts!” and we are on our way.

Our adventure starts at the Graveyard (in some versions known as the Bleakstone Graveyard) which immediately sets the tone for the rest of the ride. There are bright, cartoony gravestones surrounded by trees with faces all over. There is no way of knowing what might happen when shooting a target. A ghost might peek out from under a gravestone or a sound might play.

Graveyard scene (© Sally Dark Rides)

The Tombs and Haunted Garden scenes, which we pass by next, are completely overrun by the spooky entities as well. It is at this point we get our first good look at the design of the characters: frequently appearing as a ‘’bedsheet ghost’’ with red glowing eyes. They don’t have a lower body (more or less floating about with a smoke-like tail).

Ghosts in the Haunted Garden (© Sally Dark Rides)

As we near the scenes depicting the interior of the building, the theme song specially composed for the ride starts to become louder. Starting off slow with a carillon and some (synthesized) low brass to set the mood, it quickly turns into a playful melody with a harpsichord as lead instrument, accompanied by lyrics presumable sung by a group of female ghosts:

‘’Who’s that creeping up the stairs, it’s Boocifer
Is he here or over there, Boocifer
Hear his laughter everywhere, Boocifer
Giving everyone a scare, It’s boo, boo, the mighty Boocifer’’

Sometimes Boocifer can be heard laughing maniacally or even singing along part of the lyrics, usually the last line of a verse. The song was composed by Jamie DeFrates and multiple renditions of it are used throughout the various installations.

Boocifer and his cronies (© Sally Dark Rides)

Next we enter the Grand Hall of the manor. A swinging chandelier catches our eye, before we meet the first proper animatronic of the ride: a skeleton reading a book. A second skeleton can be found on the other side of the room, playing a game of chess all by himself. There is also a scared ghost holding up a sign with the text “Down with Professor Phearstruck!” on it.

What follows is a small room with three statues of knight armor fittingly called Suits O’ Armor. Hitting these suits makes them move towards our vehicle. Around the corner is the Dining Room, which features a ghost chef serving a skull to a pair of skeletons at a big table. There are some spooky characters that go hiding behind the table when shot at, like an undead turkey.

Dining Room (© Sally Dark Rides)

Up next is the Portrait Hall where we can shoot at various paintings, though it is one of the scenes that doesn’t appear in this location on every version of the ride. Also depending on the installation is the effect of hitting a portrait. On earlier installations of the ride, it changes color but on newer versions the portrait is printed on a Gobelintulle, exposing a second (spookier) image underneath when lit from the side.

The iconic Bedroom is what follows. Two skeletons rise from the bed once shot, both letting out a terrifying scream. To the side of the bed two coat hangers can be found, with what appears to be the skin of a ghost hanging from them, possibly implying the ghosts are just dressed up skeletons.
The further we travel into the manor, the more powerful the ghosts are that we encounter.

The Seance Chamber is next, where a fortune teller-like skeleton (with a nice wig) can be found sitting behind a table with a crystal ball on it. She appears to be scared by our presence: “Chase them away! Go!” While we can’t actually hit the fortune teller, we can make the floating heads surrounding her spin around.

Seance Chamber (© Sally Dark Rides)

We travel towards the Hall of Mirrors, but we can barely see ourselves because in each of the four mirrors a large ghost can be found. At the Pipe Organ scene, someone is having a field day, enjoying himself playing the instrument the room is named after. It seems he is too busy to notice our presence. The ghosts hiding behind the organ are not happy with the musician, covering their ears in agony. Meanwhile an organ version of the Ghost Blasters theme song plays synchronously. Some versions of the ride opted to use this instrumental cover for the entire ride, possibly in an attempt to make the ride more frightening.

As we near the end of the ride, we enter the Attic. With the creepy organ music still playing in the background, Boocifer himself can be seen opening a box, ignoring multiple warning signs on it like “Do not open!” and “Bad ghosts”. Another ghost can be seen holding up a bomb, while we enter the final scene: the Phantom Phrenzy. The entirely black room with a couple of floating ghost heads suddenly explodes, with the light killing Boocifer in the
process. One final turn takes us back to the station, at which point we can view our scores and compare our ranks as displayed on the sign, before leaving the ride.

Phantom Phrenzy (© Lagotronics Projects)

It is easy to see how Ghost Blasters became such a huge success. The simple idea of shooting ghosts in the dark is appealing and the cartoony style of the scenes and ghosts make the experience memorable. Generally parks do not age restrict the ride and when accompanied by an adult, children smaller than 105 cm (42″) can come along too.

The Installations of Ghost Blasters

While most installations roughly follow the route as described above, there are lots of differences to discover when comparing them.

Ghost Hunt at Lake Compounce (Bristol, Connecticut – United States) is possibly the most extravagant version of the ride, costing $2 million (1). It opened on May 29th, 1999 and was the first version to be constructed. At the client’s request, it was designed to be creepy but not scary, in order to appeal to kids under the age of 12. Tom Wages, who was the park’s general manager at the time, personally opted to use the name Ghost Hunt.

Technical specs:
Footprint: 557 m² (6,000 sq. ft.)
Track length: 115 m (377 ft.)
Animated characters and props: 80
Capacity: 400 p/h (upgraded to 800 p/h in 2008)
Transport: 8 cars

This installation has a relatively realistic exterior and encompasses the loading and unloading station inside of it. The queue features multiple monitors so people can follow the preshow when the line is long. What makes it really special however is the addition of an Attract-Mode on the back of the building, with a full blown animatronic of Boocifer coming out of the mansion’s facade every fifteen minutes to taunt onlookers and ordering his gargoyle statues to spit water at them (2). Nowadays the show plays just once every hour.

Boocifer taunting bystanders with his spitting gargoyles (© Jay Ducharme via https://youtu.be/gVnzdi0l_Ic, Sally Dark Rides)

Completely unique as well is the transport system, which was upgraded in 2008 to be trackless, boosting capacity from two to four people per car in the meantime. It was created by the Dutch firm ETF Ride Systems and is one of their many Mystic Mover installations worldwide. The ride up until this point featured a Balcony scene, with riders traveling outside of the building slightly, before entering a misty room. According to John Wood, Chairman and CEO at Sally Dark Rides, it was implemented to attract visitors to the ride. John Wood: “Unfortunately, the high bannisters [on the Balcony] that were constructed blocked the view of the people and the riders, so it was not very effective. To change the environment we created a fog and light show in an enclosed room, but a lot of the equipment started rusting and it was decided to enclose the entire area and eliminate the fog and lighting show when they did the rehab.”

The Balcony wouldn’t live up to its name from then on, becoming a darkened room with mirrors and tons of bright white LEDs, with a small light show still present at the final corner

The current Balcony (© Thrill New England via https://youtu.be/8jQtHMpI_a0)

In 2016 the ride was upgraded again, because the control system was starting to show its age and the ride got expensive to maintain. Ride Entertainment Group partnered with Lagotronics Projects to completely redesign the system and install new guns, targets and speakers. At the end of the ride a screen was added which shows the high score, replacing the simple sign from riders had to manually compare their score to the available ranks (3).

Left: John Wood (r) testing out the old two-seater cars by Barbisan. Right: the current vehicles by ETF (© Sally Dark Rides, Lagotronics Projects)

Ghost Blasters at Nickelodeon Universe – Mall of America (Bloomington, Minnesota – United States) also opened in 1999, back when the park was known as Camp Snoopy. Unsurprisingly, it is build inside of a mall and thus did not have the need to enclose the station inside the show building. This makes the exterior appear smaller. In 2012, the park added a massive tube slide called Anchor Drop, which prompted the removal of part of the fake façade. Around this time, the building got a new color scheme as well, changing the roof from brown to purple.

On the inside, this version is notable for having the Seance Room appear much earlier. The Practice Targets outside, which are very different for every installation, are a couple of basic tomb stones.

The next version of Ghost Blasters opened in 2001 at Castle Park (Riverside, California – United States) and is built inside of a small arcade. The ride is split across two floors, with the station to the side on a level in between the two (so technically speaking there are three floors). After the Dining Hall scene, a completely dark section follows, which is a (albeit very loud) lifthill taking the car to the upper floor.

There is also an extra scene added at the end, after the Phantom Phrenzy: three ghosts can be seen carrying suitcases (one of them even holding up a classic bindle) with stickers on it saying ‘’Just blasted’’, implying the ghosts have in fact been eradicated from the building. One of them is making a hitchhiking signal, possibly taking inspiration from the iconic Hitchhiking Ghosts scene at Haunted Mansion in Disneyland (Anaheim, California – United States). Then again, Disneyland is only a 30 minute drive away from Castle Park. Interestingly enough, outside the ride a banner can be found with the Ghost Blasters II logo on it. Considering the ride itself is definitely not a Ghost Blasters II, this is a mistake on the park’s behalf.

Just blasted! (© Sally Dark Rides)

Another Ghost Blasters got added in 2001 at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (Santa Cruz, California – United States). It has a remarkable façade, appearing almost completely light blue. It is a much simpler version, considering there is not even a preshow to found on this one. The Practice Targets feature a coffin and a picture frame with Boocifer hiding behind it. The instrumental version of the ride’s theme song plays outside, while the lyrics version plays inside as usual. There is at least one additional scare to be found inside: in the Portrait Hall a door falls towards the car when shot at. The hitchhiking ghosts are present as the final scene here as well. For the 2016 season, the logo on the front was redesigned.

Façade at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, showing the new logo (© Sally Dark Rides)

The final traditional Ghost Blasters (sometimes referred to as Ghost Blasters 3D) is built at the Great Canadian Midway at Clifton Hill (Niagra Falls, Ontario – Canada). It opened in 2002 and sure is a doozy. With the ride being built indoors, the fake façade is plastered with screens and animatronics. Instead of the preshow with the professor, a creepy bellhop animatronic is placed near the entrance which was also manufactured by Sally. The same character can also be found at Frankenstein’s Castle, a classic haunted walk-through at Indiana Beach (Monticello, Indiana – United States).

The Practice Targets scene is very elaborate, taking on the form of a hotel lobby with various animatronics and even a projection of a bedsheet ghost on a door. It leads to the next scene which interestingly is twice as long (featuring not just the Graveyard but also a Graveyard Entrance before it) and two of the hitchhiking ghosts can be found here right away. There is also an extra scene in between the Suits O’ Armor and the Dining Room, seemingly filled with random assets taken from other scenes. The third hitchhiker is placed right before the Attic, after which no Phantom Phrenzy follows. Instead, it is another graveyard with a very nice effect of a skeleton floating down towards our car. One final jump scare of a zombie closes out this version of the ride, which is possibly implying there is no happy ending this time.

John Wood explains how this ride came out to be so different: “The track was much longer than our normal, so we had to come up with some filler. In addition, we gave the owner creative license to augment and add to the attraction elements that they desired. We sold them extra targets and they bought Halloween decorations from a variety of vendors. I am pretty sure there was an original Phantom Phrenzy but I’m not positive it survived the upgrades.”

A full onride of this installation was uploaded to the Sally Dark Rides YouTube channel:

Ghost Blasters at Great Canadian Midway

End of Part 1

Next week we will continue to explore Ghost Blasters’ sister rides: the Scooby-Doo’s Haunted Mansion and Ghost Blasters II lines. Click here to keep reading.

References

(1) https://www.ultimaterollercoaster.com/news/archives/1998/news_nov98.shtml
(2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVnzdi0l_Ic
(3) https://www.lagotronicsprojects.com/en/projects/ghost-hunt

Further reading (and watching):

Article on Ghost Hunt by Laff In The Dark:
https://laffinthedark.com/articles/sally/ghosthunt.htm
Article on the installation at Great Canadian Midway
https://laffinthedark.com/articles/nf1/nf1_2.htm
Article on the 2016 upgrade of Ghost Hunt by Blooloop
https://blooloop.com/news/ride-entertainment-lagotronics-ghost-hunt-dark-ride/
Ghost Blasters on the Sally Dark Rides website
https://www.sallydarkrides.com/dark-rides/ghost-blasters
The Story of Ghost Blasters, an interview with Tom Canfield of Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Tom Wages of Lake Compounce
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5AQfpkFrTE

Images:

Images courtesy of Sally Dark Rides, Lagotronics Projects, Jay Ducharme (YouTube) and Thrill New England (YouTube)

Special thanks:

Special thanks to Lauren Wood Weaver, John Wood and Drew Hunter at Sally Dark Rides for providing us with information and pictures for use in our article.

©2020 Dark Ride Database
Article by Jim and Quintus