The Alien Encounter live action horror experience is the spiritual successor to the 90′s Alien War experience in London. Alien Encounter was first developed in 2008 when the UK Colonial Marines (AKA UKCM) gathered for the National Space Centre’s second Movie Mania Weekend in 2008.
Given Alien Encounter is not a professional production (in that all those involved do so in their free time), I freely admit that at first I was skeptical as to how scary it would be. After twenty minutes of creeping through smoke filled corridors, with klaxons blaring, warning lights flashing, colonial marines yelling at me, and Xenomorphs leaping out at our unsuspecting party, I was impressed. Whilst Alien Encounter may not be a professional affair, this is more than compensated for by their considerable talent and enthusiastic dedication to creating an authentic experience.
The attention to detail in Alien Encounter is phenomenal, from the superb armour worn by the colonial marines and the Xenomorph suits, to the rotating 3D graphics of implantations and notes reminding people of “meeting C. Burke – 3:45” (a nod to Carter Burke from Aliens). All of these combine to create a atmosphere that is genuinely immersive, and even the most stoic of people will find their hearts pounding as they are escorted through the Weyland-Yutani Bio-Research unit.
Having survived the Alien Encounter more than once, I was fascinated about the creative forces that went into creating a live action horror experience. During the National Space Centre’s Aliens Anniversary weekend, Gary Sheriston (who plays the lead scientist Professor Carabas) took the time to speak about Alien Encounter and how the UKCM designed the experience.
Onemetal:Can you tell me how Alien Encounter first started?
Gary:To be honest, I wasn’t there when it began, as I only became involved when we started doing the first shows at the National Space Centre. Basically there was a post on the forum saying “Is there anybody wanting to do the lead scientist role” and I volunteered.
Onemetal:How has it developed from its initial inception?
Gary:We have a script to start with, but we ad-lib and it changes every year. As people think about what they are doing, it stops being a script, and more about what information people have to give out, so you can frame it however you like.
Onemetal:How long does it take to set up the Alien Encounter?
Gary:We were here from two o’clock yesterday afternoon.
Onemetal:In Alien Encounter there is massive amount of set design and special effects. How was that developed?
Gary:The maze is provided to us by the National Space Centre, and we are constrained obviously by the design of the building. What we have done is work around that very, very well. We were given a script with a cracking storyline that fitted very well within the confines of the building.
Onemetal:Have you taken Alien Encounter anywhere else?
Gary:It has only been at the National Space Centre. Mostly because when the UKCM get together here, we’ve got this facility available to us. While it is still popular, we will keep running it.
Onemetal:What have the responses been so far?
Gary:Since we first started Alien Encounter, people have been through it multiple times – such as yourself (true!) – as every now and then you see face and think “hang on – I’ve seen you before!”. Reactions have been fairly positive. I’ve not seen anything particularly negative yet – although I do not know if people are hiding that from me – but no, reactions have been overwhelmingly positive.
Onemetal:What has been the most extreme reaction during the experience?
Gary:We did have one lady standing waiting to go in with a ticket in her hand, and she saw a group who was leaving (fleeing?) and decided she couldn’t go through – so she never actually got inside – I think that was in the first year.
Onemetal:What does the future hold for Alien Encounter.
Gary:As long as people keep coming, we’ll keep running it. We try and morph the script as much as we can, but we are constrained by the design of the building, so there is not much we can do in terms of where we go. What we say and what we happens in those places we can change to a certain extent, so we like to keep to surprising people.
Photos by Jacquie James