An Interview With The Horror Crypt Owner Kurt Dirt

I had the privilege of interviewing owner of Blackpool’s Horror Crypt Kurt Dirt, here’s that interview.

First of all thanks for taking the time to do this.

Q1: The Horror Crypt has a big history in Blackpool, it’s one of many Horror features that used to be on the front, now it’s the only one left. What’s your memories of all the Horror features on the front?

As a kid Blackpool was my fav place on earth for that very reason! My hands down favourite was the chamber of horrors in the old louis tussauds waxworks, it had a great mix of classic horror characters, murderers and torture displays. I would make my poor parents spend hours down there in the dark whilst I sneakily took photo’s and copied info in to my scrap book.

We also had the ghost train on the pleasure beach (the first in the world!) Trauma Towers which was a walkthrough haunted house with a big tadega ride at the end, The Haunted Swing, The Horror Crypt and then near the central pier we had something which I think was called House of Mysteries. My memories on this one are hazy but it was a walkthrough with a few tour guides dressed like igor, Dracula etc and it had all the sideshow style illusions in such as the spider lady, peppers ghost etc. it came out in to a big horror themed gift shop at the end which pretty much ate up all my pocket money and then some. The main things I remember buying where a talking crypt keeper doll and some Bram Stokers Dracula holographic badges but they also had all kinds of expensive gory props from the companies like distortion fx in the states, the kind of cool shit you’d see advertised in fangoria magazine.

Around 1992ish we also had a hige Horror Exhibition called “Movie Magic” set up by some of the guys from image FX featuring props and models from the movies they had worked on such as Hellraiser, Nightbreed, Hardware and Waxwork. That also had a gift shop at the end where you could buy screen used skulls from nightbreed for a fiver! Being a young un’ though I opted for a wind up Frankenstein toy and I have kicked myself ever since haha.

Most well known is probably Pasaje Del Terror which opened in 1998. This was a Spanish attraction which had become big in the states where it was known as “Terror on Church Street” and was backed by Anthony “Psycho” Hopkins. The whole concept was that you walk through a series of iconic scenes from horror movies and live actors dressed as monsters and killers would jump out and chase you. This has become quite common now thanks to universal studios Halloween Horor nights and various other scare attraction but at the time no one had seen anything like this. The show includes a very intense Exorcist inspired encountered with a possessed girl, a walk through freddys boiler room and concludes with being chased by a chainssw wielding maniac where you run screaming out in to the “horror bar” I worked as an actor at this attraction for a good few years and had the absolute time of my life. There was never a dull moment and you can’t beat getting paid to be a monster!
Lastly there was Carnesys Ghost Train, this was a collaboration between the wonderful show woman Marisa Carnesky and the very creative Atmosfear entertainment company. It takes the layout of a classic ghost train ride but then added actors and live special fx turning it in to a whole theatrical experience based around the story of doomed European immigrants who’s souls lay in limbo. I only got to ride this once before it closed but it was quite an experience, both scary and technically impressive like a well executed magic show.

Q2: What memories do you have of The Horror Crypt as a kid?

I remember going in with my parents and my school friend on my 7th th birthday, we got to the top of the stairs and an animatronic rattling cage scared my friend (who is now a drummer in a big scary metal band) in to running back out again and of course my parents had to go with him so I walked through alone haha. It was pretty terrifying as it was all dark with UV lights, I remember loving the peppers ghost mirror illusions, one of which was a young man who turned old. The funhouse style soft and wobbly floors scared the crap out of me too. We have kept those little features in to this day and they still freak out folks.

Q3: Why do you think the Horror Crypt is the only one left?

Well we still have pasaje del terror and the dungeons and two ghost trains haha. But I think the reason a lot of tableaux based horror attractions have closed is because of people’s shorter attention spans, the bias with modern tourist towards big branded attractions as opposed to local sideshows and the popularity of actor based experiences. This works two ways, the brave people now think that an attraction can’t be scary if it does not feature people chasing you and the less brave people are completely put off anything horror themed as they are convinced there is going to be an actor somewhere trying to grab them. The Crypt however has soldiered on and survived now in two different incarnations for about 40 years, starting life on the golden mile and designed by artist Dennis Lowe (who went on to build space ships for the first two Alien movies) and then to ocean blvd on the pleasure beach in the late 80s. Back in the old days the crypt only cost a pound to enter and didn’t take a whole lot of maintenance so I think it just managed to survive because it didn’t cost the pleasure beach anything to run. Of course people’s nostalgia plays a big factor too.

Q4: So what made you want to take over the Horror Crypt?

A desire to offer a horror experience that was a bit different, harkening back to an era before constant jump scares and being chased all over the place. We love those kind of attractions too but we also missed the old school creepy wax museums. The place just had so much history and nostalgia for me, a few of Doctor Terror’s Vault of Horror late night horror double bill intro segments where shot there and Tim Burton shot the video for The Killers “here with me”with wynonna ryder in the foyer, so her DNA is still scattered around the place. One day I hope to find a stray hair and clone my own Lydia Deetz. Plus I kind of always dreamed as a kid that one day I would own a chamber of horrors and grow up to be David Warner from the movie “Waxwork” haha

Q5: Did you feel any pressure when you finally got the keys?

Initially it was just pure excitement, like that south park episode where cartman gets his own theme park haha. We where just dying to get in there, explore and make all the little changes / repairs I’d been aching to do for the last few years. I used to visit the place in its old incarnation whilst I was working as an actor at Pasaje del terror, I was overjoyed when I discovered it was still running and used to go there on my lunch breaks with a pen and pad, sketching out ideas and changes. Initially the plan was to approach the current operators and volunteer to spruce the place up, the manager was very enthusiastic though and wanted to see what we could do with the place if given free reign.

Q6: If we’re being honest the place had started falling apart, was there a lot of work to do to get it back up to standard?

It hadn’t been touched in quite some time so there was plenty to do! Some things where so rusty we had to take an angle grinder to get them out. The upside to this was all the cool little artifacts we found whilst digging around. Every day we’d find some vintage ghost train sign or relic that had been stashed away or had fallen behind something decades ago . The previous operator had a lot on their hands as they ran a number of shops / attractions and a place like the Crypt is deceptively high maintenance if you want to keep it to a certain standard, it also requires a warped imagination.

Q7: What’s been your biggest challenge?

There was a lot of physical work and hours involved to bring the place up to scratch, a lot of problem solving too. I’ve never watched so many DIY youtube channels in my life. I think maybe the biggest actual challenge now we’re open is changing the publics perception of the attraction from what it once was to what It is now.

Q8: How has the reception been since you took over?

Overwhelmingly positive! We have had such lovely comments both in person and on review sites like trip advisor, facebook etc. Of course we get some people thinking they are going to be chased around who enter, power walk the entire museum without looking at anything and then come out a bit beffudled but we generally just bop those people on the head and sell their bodies to the burgar bars on the prom. Our fav compliment was when Marc Warren (Itv’s Dracula, The Hustle) and Michael C. Hall (Dexter) came in on a very quiet day and where terrified!

Q9: What exhibit are you most proud of so far?

That’s a hard question, its like choosing between your kids haha. Our Texas Chainsaw / Ed Gein display is a personal favourite as is our vampire set featuring Mr Barlow from Salems Lot and Christopher Lee as Dracula.

Q10: Have you got anything exciting lined up?

Quite a few things! We change things all the time as being creative Is the fun part for us. We are collaborating again with Chris Walton from Monstertronix (he built our fantastic electric chair set) on a bigger, more exciting Frankenstein set, complete with real Jacobs ladders and lab equipment. The very talented Nathan Crook is also working on a great Chucky doll for us.

Q11: Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Come work for me instead haha. No, if you want to do something don’t feel like it’s a pipe dream, break it down to the logistics and find a way to make it happen. It might not make you a millionaire but you will be 100% happier and more fulfilled than if you keep on daydreaming.

Q12: Do you have any last words for anyone reading this?

We’re coming to get you Barbara.

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