Spook-a-Rama, a beloved dark ride in Coney Island, is getting the virtual reality experience just in time from Halloween.
Australian university lecturer Joel Zika has captured the ride located in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park through new age technology in order to preserve the traditional dark ride, the number of which is dwindling by the day. Viewers can enjoy the ride without leaving their computer desk.
Zika, who raised over $13,000 through crowdfunding to work on Spook-a-Rama’s VR experience as well as other dark rides, said he has a passion for these unique amusement park experiences. “VR,” he stressed, “is an exciting new way to archive our entertainment and popular culture history.
“I’ve been studying ghost haunted rides and dark rides,” he said. “What I noticed is these really old rides are historic examples of darkened rides. I got into rides because they’re a great example of the history of media and storytelling in the horror genre. Lots of people look to the past to get new ideas for how to work with tech now. I’ve been doing a lot of immersive and interactive artwork.”
According to Zika, from the 1920s through the 1950s, dark rides were a massive phenomenon, with as many as 1,700 worldwide during their heyday.
That number diminished over time. “During the ’50s, there were 200 of these ghost rides around the country,” said Zika, who has been studying these rides for 10 years. “Now you only have a few examples left. There are 12 in the U.S. and I captured them in VR started in June when I went to West Virginia and Maryland.”
However, Spook-a-Rama — which opened in 1955 as one of the last rides created by the Pretzel Company — is special to Zika due to the love it evokes from locals as well as its history. “It’s one of the oldest and most iconic dark rides still in operation, so I said New York has to be first on list,” he explained. “Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park in Coney Island is a crucial park that has been there well over 60 years. And we got talking about how old the ride is and how Superstorm Sandy almost washed it away completely. (Deno’s) cares about the park and the idea of heritage.”
After the owners of Deno’s invited him in, Zika ran a whole bunch of cameras in very low light conditions and captured every single direction.
“What you need to do in dark rides is capture low light at a fast movement and capture the bright lights that go off,” he explained. “The ride starts outside and the outdoor situation is just as important because you’re waiting to go to inside. I captured it many times and we edited the footage together to see what it’s like to be on the ride.”
As far as the ride itself, Zika is enthusiastic. “It’s so kooky and has beautiful carts,” he said, adding that he is grateful for the support of those who helped the project come to fruition. “There are hardcore fans. I haven’t just connected on a monetary level. I’ve had conversations with each one. Even many people who couldn’t donate thanked me. It’s absolutely a mission of love.”
“It’s an amazing ride with a rich history and new technology will help us to show it to the world,” added Deno Vourderis, a member of the family that owns Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park.
The video of Spook-A-Rama is slated to premiere online of Friday, October 28. To view the ride and other projects by Zika, visit www.darkrideproject.com.