It’s time for the gripping climax of the spring-town trilogy. Let me tell you about a waterfall and spotting crimes.
Hello friends! Last time, I talked about the Edinburgh Dungeon and the spooks therein. That same day, my companion and I also visited Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions.
This place is located near Edinburgh Castle, which means I’ve walked past this place many times before without going in. I never really knew what was going on with it, from street level it always seemed like it was fairly insubstantial.
This time though, I suggested it as a location sorta half-heartedly, then took it more seriously when I looked up their website and they promised ‘6 floors of interactive hands-on fun!’. I don’t know about you guys, but that sounds like a lot of fun to me!
I do like optical illusions and things, so we decided to go for it, once again not having any particular idea what was inside. I mean, yes I expected some illusions, but I like to be surprised so I didn’t spoil anything by looking too hard at the website. I didn’t know what was going to be on any of the floors, and honestly I didn’t even know for sure what the Camera Obscura part of the name was talking about, it might’ve just been a cool-sounding name. Or it might have actually been the magical camera from the Fatal Frame series.
Nooooooooo I’m too young to die!
Fortunately for my sanity it is not in fact based on spooky Japanese video games. So what is it?
What is the Camera Obscura?
The Camera Obscura itself refers to a really neat device on the top of the building that projects images onto a table. Using nothing but mirrors and daylight, the operators of the camera are able to look all around Edinburgh, from viewing the skyline to the people walking around. If there’s a straight line of sight to it, the camera can look at it, since the mirrors apparently can look around 360 degrees.
You actually start off by going straight to the main event here, climbing to the top floor of the building right away. There is some flexibility here, but it’s probably best to just head up there and work your way back down so they can manage how many people are in the special room at a time. While you wait for the staff person to usher your particular bunch of people in, you can go out onto the rooftop area and look at Edinburgh with your naked eye. This is quite nice!
Anyway, this demonstration of the Camera Obscura doesn’t actually take too long. The friendly staff person explains the system and how it works, with everyone circled around the table in the dark room. It was quite interesting to me, even if it’s not mind-blowing or anything. The best part is where they hand out plain pieces of card, and you get to interact with the table projection a little bit. There’s something innately amusing about using the cards to ‘lift’ random clueless people on the street below into the air. Or maybe that’s just the tyrant in me.
There is one major point to remember however. This device operates using nothing but sunlight. Thus, the later in the evening or cloudier the day, the less you will see. I entered on the last showing on the day during a dull day, so things were juuuuust good enough. This is something that is mentioned a little bit on their promotional materials, but if you are going during winter, try to get in during the brightest part of the day otherwise there will be nothing to see.
The rest of the place has floors with some loose themes. If you’ve been in a place with optical illusions before, many of them will be familiar to you. There’s a floor with those holograms that move when you move from side to side which are excellently done. (I did appreciate that they warn you of a giant spider hologram for those with arachnophobia!). There’s a Magic-themed floor with things that work best with a friend, allowing you to seem to swap eyes with each other and the expected body-warping mirrors. There’s a floor with some Edinburgh-themed illusions and historical things which are neat. There’s an area with the ever-popular electrical things that zone in on your fingers when you touch them, making you look fabulously evil.
There were several excellent areas which amused me, but my favourite part is the Vortex. In this section, you need to walk across a small bridge in a darkened room, while lights revolve around the bridge. As in, the whole floor/ceiling/walls combination is one giant revolving tube of lights, as if you’re a tiny person walking through the inside of a used revolving toilet roll that’s been painted a bunch of diffe-wait wait wait, I’ll just show you.
See, just like I said.
In a still picture this looks like nothing special, but the second you start walking through here your brain is terribly confused, and you start uncontrollably falling to the side. I love it when an illusion messes with my brain despite knowing exactly what’s going on, and I spent a fair while walking up and down this part, trying to use my force of will to walk smoothly. I did okay after a while, but it’s best when you’re watching other people walk it from the safety of the sides. You’ll see your friends cling to the guard rail for support like they’ve been shot in the leg, and wonder such scientific thoughts like “I wonder what would happen if I put a dog in here? What about a toddler?” Ahh, mad science.
Ahem, where was I? Oh yes. My other favourite things were the trick perspective rooms, and the thermal imaging room. In this room I finally got to see evidence that I am actually made of molten lava compared to most other people. I also particularly liked the tiger box for something unexpected.
I have been giving this place a glowing review so far, but it’s not perfect. If you’ve been to similar illusion places before, there will be many things that provide nothing new. Several of the exhibits seemed to be non-functional, and it’s not exactly obvious when this is the case. What if you’re just not doing it right? Should you go any find a staff person to find out if you’re just being dense, or maybe your eyes aren’t working right?
I also didn’t like the ‘6 floors of fun’ tagline. After going through everything on offer, I had to come to the conclusion that one of the floors they were talking about was either the shop or the toilets, neither of which seemed fair to describe as a floor of fun. (well, I’m sure in *some* places they are…)
Only later did I determine that it seemed like they count the rooftop as a floor of fun. Gotta be honest here, it didn’t seem like there was enough up there to count, but whatever. It was only mildly misleading, not a deal breaker.
I would not recommend visiting this on your own. There are many things that are only interesting if you have a buddy to operate some devices with, or at least some friends to laugh about the illusions with.
The price of around £14 for an adult is not terrible, but it’s not amazing value either.
I really enjoyed this place. I think children would also really like these things if they are interested in visual trickery. (this should be all children fyi) It did help that I didn’t really have any high expectations for this place, so I was just consistently ‘pleasantly surprised’ by how many things I liked. I might be just easily pleased by colourful things and all that, but if you’ve never been to a place like this, do it!
Until next time!
p.s. If you didn’t know, I’ve been shoving Magic articles over to my friend’s website recently. I am still going to write about cards here too, but if you’re into standard ramblings, they will mostly be over here. Here’s the latest one.
Recently, I had a mini-holiday, featuring Edinburgh. There were some other parts to the holiday, but lets stick to Scotland’s lovely capital for today. There are many nice things to see and do there, so I recommend Edinburgh if you’re in the area. I’m writing about this place (and soon other places) because it costs money to enter, unlike some other fine establishments like this lovely National Gallery and so it might be worth knowing if it is worth your time and monies.
Today I am discussing the relatively well known Edinburgh Dungeon which you might well find out about via a bus ticket if you’re coming in from the airport, since they have a promo on (most? some?) bus tickets to give you a nice 6 pound discount on your Dungeon tour if you show it at the desk. It presents itself as being funny and really rather scary, a tricky combination, and it even claims to have some rides inside! As a result, I honestly had no idea what was going to happen when I got there. I’m not going to spoil particular scares in detail, but if you want to go in totally blind, just skip down to the picture of Immortan Joe giving his review for the recap.
Was it scarier than this vegetable though?
So what happens? You are taken underground through a series of rooms which have cool-looking thematically spooky sets. In each room, there is an actor who will explain (in character obviously) who they are, and why you should be spooked at this particular section. They throw in some jokes, some historical context, and in some cases there are some animatronics to make things a bit more dynamic.
You travel in groups. I understand why, of course. With this set up, there’s no way you could go around individually, there are far too many people to accommodate showing all the skits to people one or two at a time. I was sorta expecting a bit more exploration, being able to move at your own pace through certain parts of an old-timey dungeon would’ve been very cool. Alas, I went through with a group of 20, which seems to be the norm.
Was it spooky?
Sadly, any natural eeriness the setting would have is lost almost immediately by virtue of the large group of modern-jacketed strangers walking around with you. Despite the ghoulish things in the background, you never be relieved of your feeling of safety at any time while walking about, unlike in a good haunted house type thing. Of course, you know deep inside going into any of these places you *are* actually safe, but a good scary ride/house/whatever will make you lose that feeling despite yourself.
So, the spook factor is limited to the individual set pieces and actors doing their finest screamer impressions. It’s very common in any particular skit for the actor to randomly just shout a word really loudly and stamp their feet while talking about some ghoulish history things, which works on the person they are right in front of, but when you’re behind a few other people, not so much.
So, before you think I’m being too harsh, I’m not asking to be given a full on terror experience or anything, just the expectation that I would be able to get into a state of suspended disbelief at times. I’m actually a huge coward when it comes to horror films, so it actually doesn’t take that much to be scary for me!
Having been in some other scary-place-attractions with interactive parts, I wasn’t sure how interactive this place was going to be. You know, all kinds of ways that could be, like was I going to be able to touch a gross gooey brain? Was the group going to need to solve a puzzle before a murderer broke the door down? Were we going to have to walk through a room hiding from an actor with an axe? That would definitely help increase immersion.
Sadly, you realise very quickly that you basically don’t get involved in anything unless you are sitting down. After you come to the conclusion that no one can touch you, nothing’s going to grab you, nothing but water will be sprayed on you, you feel invincible.
I already mentioned how the large group also takes you out of the experience, no matter how good the rooms were, you end up shuffling slowly behind some people so you can’t even ‘run away in terror’ if you do get scared, which leads to the realisation that the actors cant actually come into contact with you barring ‘brushing past you sinisterly’. Being stuck behind the crowd might’ve actually been helpful at scaring you if the people at the back might ‘be caught by the scary people’ as stragglers, but that never happens.
Of course, this is probably some legal thing where people would sue if they got some fake slime on their designer trousers, or maybe someone might get freaked out by someone’s hand popping up from under a bridge and punch it, so I can forgive this.
Probably the most egregious obstacle to getting immersed in the atmosphere is when they have to keep giving the spooooky warnings about strobe lighting, and checking to see if anyone is pregnant or have a bad back. This happens fairly often, and it’s harder to suspend your disbelief when your would-be tormentor is asking if you have a spinal problem.
It’s a shame that they have to keep asking, again, presumably to prevent them being sued by people who don’t like listening to warnings.
This is a shame, since they have all the spooky props, sound effects, costumes and things you could ever want, there just seems to be too many reminders that we’re actually tourists.
I think the actors are the best part of the Edinburgh Dungeon. You could really tell they were getting into it, telling the various stories about cannibals or plagues or mad science or graves or what have you. There were definitely some jokes here or there, but it wasn’t exactly hilarious.
They start off their most comedic with the Judge character who explains how everything works while cracking some jokes, and that went down pretty well. From that point on the comedy mostly comes at laughing at who gets most surprised by the jump scares.
The best actor for me was the Torturer, who really exudes menace. The weakest was the Boatman, mostly because he was a bit too quiet considering the group-tour format, I was standing right next to him and could hardly hear him at times. Still, even the worst one wasn’t actually bad, just a bit hard to understand.
Ah yes, the rides. I read about them (Featuring TWO RIDES!!!) at street level, and once again didn’t know what to expect. I have to be honest, I was very underwhelmed.
First was the ‘boat’ ride. You might think you know what to expect from a scary boat ride… and you’d be right. Except… imagine a bit less than that. Yes, everyone climbs aboard, then the boat goes into a scary tunnel. So, at this point, everyone was actually pretty tense! We were all ready to be scared!
Sadly, almost nothing happens. It’s pitch black, which is fine. Then the ride actually stops for a while. Just straight up doesn’t move, while sounds play. Okay, fine, sounds are scary in conjunction with your brain, you’re primed for things to happen to you. At some point, there was a brief flash of light and a scream sound effect. What happened? Who knows, if you didn’t happen to be looking straight forward and upwards, you missed it.
Mild confusion, the horror!
Of course, of course, there was some scary stuff hanging down from the ceiling, brushing against the passengers’ faces while the ride moved. Buuuuut it only seemed to be right in the middle of the tunnel, and only hit the tallest people.
So in summary, if you were relatively short and sat at the side of the boat (naturally inclining you to be watching to the side in case something tried to grab you from there) the whole ride was ‘sit in darkness for 5 minutes’ while listening to someone whispering about Sawney Bean.
Noooo the horror, the horror! Oh, wait…
The other ride had a fair amount of build up to it. It was like one of those fairground rides that lift you up high, then drops you, then lifts you up and down repeatedly while everyone screams. I don’t like those at all, (in the sense that I would be scared due to being cowardly etc.) so I fully expected this to be better than the boat ride.
It was, something happened! But, it was short. Really short. It kinda feels overly generous to call it a ride even.
The highlight in terms of effective scares for me was their newest room, that ostensibly has a ghost in it. This room effectively uses darkness, prop backgrounds and sounds to be genuinely surprising and quite scary, giving the whole thing the vibe of a horror film far more than any other section. The actor was great too, A+.
There was one particularly disappointing part, in the medical room. This is a spoiler for something for the absence of something, to skip over it if you want. Just move past Immortan Joe, he’s almost here.
In the medical room, the actor is talking about grave robbing and so on. And there’s a part where ‘the jar of leeches’ or similar is broken while at the same time, the lights go out. Now, your mind puts 2 and 2 together here for you. OF COURSE they are not going to throw actual leeches at you, but little slimy doodads landing on you in the dark would still be very gross, and absolutely everyone was cowering and shielding themselves from the inevitable ‘leeches’.
Nothing, just… nothing. The lights came back on, we were hurried towards the door, and everyone looked around, wondering if perhaps someone else got a leechy surprise. Far as I could tell, no one did, and everyone was slightly sad,
Okay, time to wrap it up.
You said it Joe.
In the end, I have mixed feelings about the Dungeon. I did enjoy myself, and apparently it lasted for 80 minutes which is a decent amount of time. There were a few really great areas that managed to get a few scares and there was one or two jokes that managed to make people laugh, and I did really appreciate the Torturer room. (Not a spoiler, you read about this guy when you walk in the door) Overall the actors were really good and it was enjoyable to listen to their stories.
But for all these positives, I can’t help but feel let down. Most of the scary things were not actually very scary at all since they made it quite hard to get in the right frame of mind for anything but cheap jump scares to work. The ‘rides’ were huge let downs. Many of the set pieces went on too long with nothing happening, and many sections that seemed primed for something scary to happen just seemed like missed opportunities.
Should you see it?
I wouldn’t go at full price. (£16.95) Fortunately, it’s very easy to get it discounted. I wouldn’t go if I needed to wait an hour in a queue at the door. But if you look past the advertising promises of terror and hilarity, and think of it was a fairly interesting collection of short stories with some scary and humour subthemes, then you’ll be happy.
Don’t have high expectations is what I’m saying. I don’t regret going, and it’s a decent experience, but if you have limited time in Edinburgh you aren’t really missing out on too much.
Next time, I’ll talk about something else I visited in Edinburgh, the Camera Obscura.