Disney World’s Nightmare Attraction – ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter

Creators and visitors recall Disney World’s short-lived ExtraTERRORestrial, its origins as an Alien movie ride, and the role of… George Lucas?

You're listening to the
Companions audio articles, a new

series that features our best
stories on the companion. I'm

Lawrence Kao. I grew up in
Southern California, only 15

minutes away from Disneyland. As
a kid, I didn't realise just how

lucky I was. Every time I
reached a certain number of

hours of community service,
making it onto the honour roll,

or even just relatives visiting
from abroad, I would find myself

giving tours of the happiest
place on earth. By the time I

was in high school, even my
marching band would be invited

each year to perform down Main
Street and our compensation, a

day off school to explore the
park we knew so well. However,

having one of the world's
greatest theme parks in your

backyard did have one drawback.
It meant never getting the

opportunity to visit Disney
World, the much bigger park in

Orlando. You would hear stories
on how much better it was.

Although, I don't know if I
always believed them. I guess

that's how much of a homer I am.
Nevertheless, I was left

curious. One of those rides was
this mysterious mythical out of

place attraction. And that's the
story I'd like to tell you about

today. Written by Clarisse
Loughreythis is the myths and

mysteries of Disney Worlds
nightmare attraction.

ExtraTERRORestriall Alien
Encounter. You hear the crunch

of splintering bones of Gulf.
hot, sticky breath trickles down

the back of your neck. You are
not alone. Here in the deep,

lonely, dark. Whatever this is
this crawling thing. It's not

human. You want to run but
can't. It sat on your shoulders,

lightly digging its claws into
your flesh, a screen. Then

another one. A spray of liquid
hits your face was that spit?

Blood. Only those who lived
through it may remember. But in

the late 90s You could
experience all of this and more

in the most magical place on
Earth. Walt Disney World in

Orlando, Florida. for just under
a decade ExtraTERRORestrial

Alien Encounter sat in the
Tomorrowland section of Disney's

Magic Kingdom. Somewhere in
between the Coca Cola stands and

the giant bins of plushies.
Here, you'd come face to face

with a ravenous slobbering alien
teleported into the room from

some distant planet. After the
lights went out, it would run

around eat a few guests caused
some havoc before eventually

being teleported away. You'd
walk back out into the bright

Florida sunshine, relieved that
you'd survived such a harrowing

adventure. Alien Encounter was a
Theatre in the Round style

attraction, installed into the
space previously occupied by

Mission to Mars, an opportunity
for guests to experience all the

simulated thrills of space
travel. It contains two separate

show theatres, each
accommodating around 180 guests.

Its history is brief, but
shrouded in myth and hearsay. It

first opened for previews on the
16th of December 1994, but was

closed after less than a month
long before the general public

ever had the chance to see it.
Disney's Imagineers the parks

design team retooled the show
and ready to for an official

opening on 20th of June. It
attracted near instant

notoriety. There was talk of
traumatised kids and incensed

parents who couldn't believe
that a drooling carnivorous

alien had crashed landed into
the middle of their perfect

holiday. It was so frightening.
It seemed really out of sync

with the rest of the rides at
Disney says Kirsty Ward, who was

only eight years old when she
first went on alien encounter.

When you're six the boundaries
between what is free reality and

what is not are blurred, says
Callum Birrell, remembering a

family trip to the Magic Kingdom
in 1996. On some level, I

probably understood that it was
all part of the gag. But any

rational part of my brain was
overridden by the sheer,

visceral and nightmarish
elements of the attraction.

Alien Encounter would eventually
close on the 12th of October

2003. In its place, Disney would
open Stitch’s Great Escape!,

which took advantage of the
popularity of Lilo & Stitch’s

puppy-like, blue-tinted
extraterrestrial star.. But in

many ways, it was the same
attraction. Only with the scares

now replaced by chilli cheese
burps than mischievious tickles.

Stitches Great Escape had his
final run on the sixth of

January 2018, with Disney this
year, confirming that the ride

was closed for good. The space
now lies empty, waiting, but the

memory of Alien Encounter lives
on. It's one of the only Disney

rides to have masked a genuine
cult following. Though the

company has buried almost all
reminders of its existence, fans

will still enthusiastically
trade T shirts, pins and

plushies Disney's Parks had
never seen anything like it

before. And they may never again
Alien Encounter may have been

inappropriate, says Callum but
it had integrity. It wanted to

make me cry, and it did. Terror
incognita. I have my own memory

of Alien Encounter, or to be
more specific. I have a memory

of missing out on it. My family
were on a Disney World trip at

some point in the early 2000s.
We'd come across an ominous

looking building, with its tall
spire and darkness within it

stood out like a half gangrened
thumb. The warnings plastered

all over the entrance. A
frightening theatrical

experience. Loud noises total
darkness triggered a family

meeting. My father, our
designated lab rat will go in

alone and report back. I'm not
sure what my brother and I did.

In the meantime, maybe we just
poked around the gift store. But

I do remember the exact moment
my father returned. Ashen faced

his head shaking vigorously. We
avoided all talk of a the

encounter for the rest of the
trip. And so I've had to

carefully construct an image of
the ride from the various video

recordings and written
descriptions now tucked away on

the internet. You would first
arrive at the Tomorrowland

interplanetary convention
centre, where the right is meant

to take place by invitation of
an alien corporation known asX-S

Tech and its chairman, LC
Clench. The queue line with

screens detailing other schedule
events like the championship pet

show and the Walt Disney
company's pan galactic

stockholders meeting. As always,
the parks never miss an

opportunity to break the fourth
wall. An alien with a curved

elongated skull, a pre fame Tyra
Banks so her voice was dubbed by

another actor within detail the
history of X-S Tech, “the

galaxy’s leader in innovative
high technology”. Their slogan,

“Those Who Seized”, already
seemed to hint that something

more nefarious could be at play.
Guests were ushered into a

demonstration room, overseen by
X-S Tech's most advanced cyber

robotic performance unit to
date. Simulated intelligence

robotics, or SIR for short, and
Tim Curry's smooth haughty

tones, sir, we'll talk through a
new teleportation system before

pointing to Skippy the days
guinea pig, a big guide,

elephant nose scamp of an alien
he'd sit in a glass tube off to

the side and who nervously at
every beat of service speech. At

the press of a button, Skippy
disappeared and a Bluster of

flashing lights and garbled
squeaks as the tube at the other

end of the room would start to
pulsate. And voila, Skippy

returned in barbecue form
sizzled to a crisp,

after tiring of the creatures
protestations, sir would

teleport Skippy once more,
leaving him in indefinite

suspended animation. A set of
doors with Then open to a second

circular chamber. rows of seats
were centred around a

teleportation tube much larger
in size this time. Guests would

be seated before harnesses
descended from overhead. Here,

we'd be introduced to two more
X-S Tech employees Spinlock and

Dr. Femus. Their plan was to
transport a guest, not just

across the room, but across the
entire span of the universe. As

machines scan the audience for
suitable volunteer, there'll be

a sudden interruption by Clench.
You'd hear yelling in the

distance as he stumbled into
view his sentences odd and

hasty. He would be the one
teleporting now, and it had to

happen fast. Somewhere in the
chaos, a lever was pulled in the

teleportation signal passed
through an unknown planet on its

way to Earth, accidentally
picking up a hitchhiker it was

trapped in the tube now, as the
fog cleared its features would

gradually come into view,
glowing eyes, razor sharp teeth,

horns, pincers, spindly limbs
and to translucent wings,

unfurling like Battle standards.
In a panic state, it would start

to smash its head and limbs
against the glass, the tube

would break just as the room
felt dark. You'd then hear a

chorus of screams, some pre
recorded and some from your

fellow guests. I remember my mom
trying to come from me, telling

me that it was only make belief,
but she was largely drowned out

by the sound of my own screams
says column. The thrum of wings

signalled that the alien was
moving through the room, landing

on guests and pushing down on
the restraints. I also think my

dad who sat behind me may have
tried to wind me up at some

point before it started grabbing
my arm Kirsty recalls, but this

could just be an effect of how
scared I was. At one point, a

confused mechanic, actually, a
cast member with a flashlight

would walk down the catwalk
above everyone's heads. He'd be

promptly eaten as blood dripped
down on the audience. Alien

Don't eat me eat this one. It
pre recorded cry will bring out

the alien settled behind you. It
snarled. sniffled then lit the

back of your head. Right at that
moment, Femus would lower the

creature back to its cage
attempting to return it to its

home planet. With the
teleportation malfunction, and

explosion sent alien guts flying
across the room. Oh, my mouth

was open a voice in the crowd
with yelp. At least you are free

alien encounter was created to
induce the feeling of pure

terror, not the electric thrill
of a roller coaster. And for the

90s it was a genuinely radical
thing to see, not only in Disney

World, but in any of America's
major parks. Intensive immersive

horror experiences are now
commonplace thanks to the

exponential growth of universals
halloween horror nights where

each year its parks will play
host to evermore elaborate mazes

and scare zones. Even Hong Kong
Disneyland has hopped on the

bandwagon since 2007 is offered
seasonal horror walkthroughs

inspired by properties like The
Nightmare Before Christmas, or

Alice in Wonderland. But, for
the most part, Disney has always

been about the creepy, never the
outright scary. Think of the

ghoulish right expressions of
the operators on the haunted

mansion with a Twilight Zone
Tower of Terror. Think of their

dimly lit hallways, elegantly
peppered with cobwebs. In fact,

the Imagineers, who first worked
on the Haunted Mansion would

frequently clash over the rise
proposed tone, a compromise was

reached. The right starts out
eerie and foreboding, but ends

with one big phantasmal party.
Disney's parks after all our

family parks, and that's how
they've always been in space.

Everyone can hear you scream.
Alien Encounter owes its

existence to a single piece of
technology binaural sound which

describes the effect of
recording on two separate

microphones with the intent of
creating a kind of 3d sphere of

sound. On the ride. Individual
speakers are mounted onto the

shoulder restraints next to each
ear. screams could be made to

sound like they were coming from
the person sitting next to you.

To give the impression the alien
was moving around the room.

Banks of subwoofers would create
heavy pounding vibrations that

felt like footsteps, water
spring boilers and air blasters

installed into the row in front
could stand in for drool blood,

breath, or an explosion of guts.
A soft textile tube with air

blown through it served as the
aliens tongue. Falling Walt

Disney's death in 1966, the
company fell into somewhat of a

slump. Following Walt Disney’s
death in 1966, the company fell

into somewhat of a slump. We
witnessed the era of The Black

Cauldron (1985) and Return to Oz
(1985) – strange, dark films

that barely made a dent at the
box office. In the late 80s,

Michael Eisner took over as
chairman of the company and kick

started a full scale
rejuvenation. In animation. He

ushered in the Disney
Renaissance that began with the

little mermaid in 1989. He
oversaw Disney's takeover of ABC

and ESPN, while also making sure
the parks fell in line with the

tastes of contemporary pop
culture. In 1987, Star Tours, a

motion simulator through the
many planets of the Star Wars

franchise became the first
attraction based on a non Disney

property. It was a massive hit.
So Eisner naturally began to

ruminate on what else its
creator George Lucas could offer

the parks having already served
as the executive producer on

Captain EO in 1986, a 3d film
headlined by Michael Jackson. At

a meeting with a director
alongside key Imagineers and

executives. The idea of binaural
sound was offered up, an idea

started to percolate, a sci fi
themed haunted house attraction,

where the technology could be
used to give the impression, a

monstrous alien was on the
loose. Tom Fitzgerald, who

served as the creative lead on
Star Tours, was enamoured by the

concept and went away to develop
it further on his own. Dan

Molitor joined the project as
its official writer in 1988.

mere months after he'd first
started working for Disney, I

wrote dozens of scripts created
video animatics and mock ups he

tells me after I reached out to
him to ask a few questions about

the behind the scenes process. I
worked with the rest of the

creative team to develop visual
styles, special effects, sound

design, and the design of what
would become the final creature.

That part of the story has
always been uncontested. It's

the rest of Alien Encounters
history that's ended up riddled

with rumours and half truths.
Some say the concept for the

ride originates from an aborted
Nostromo attraction, which would

have taken place inside of the
iconic spacecraft from 1979's

Alien and outfitted guests with
laser guns so they could shoot

down Xenomorphs a little like
Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger

Spin, which exists today. The
first iteration of Alien

Encounter then was supposedly
based on the film, though senior

imagineers. were horrified at
the thought of an R rated

property in the parks. Others
claim Lucas was behind a

discarded storyline with a major
twist that the extraterrestrial

was friendly and only wanted to
escape. In truth, Lucas had very

little to do with alien
encounter.

He was busy with other projects
and wasn't that interested

Molitor says a copy of his
script was sent to Lucasfilm for

approval. So he's not sure that
anyone at the company actually

read it. The director's name
only appeared in the rights

marquee as part of contractual
obligations, since he'd been in

attendance during its initial
conception. And while there was

a version of Alien Encounter
that included the Xenomorph it

was neither central nor
essential to the project's

future, largely because of the
Disney MGM Studio project, which

opened in 1989. It is now called
Disney's Hollywood Studios, and

Eisener's belief that the parks
needed more IP based

attractions, the company was
actively pursuing outside IPs

says Molitor. When working on
the initial concept, Fitzgerald

crafted two different versions,
one the feature to original

characters, and one that could
be built around Ridley Scott's

Alien. The latter would have
integrated Sigourney Weaver's

Ripley in both video and
animatronic form as well as the

Weyland Yutani Corporation. But
as Molitor makes clear, both

were pretty much the same, and
very close to what was

eventually built. As time went
on, Disney's efforts to

accumulate outside IPs began to
stall. Largely because studios

like Fox and Paramount had
started to develop their own

theme parks, and the alien
concept fell by the wayside. to

the newly opened Disney-MGM
Studios. Fox had agreed to let

an animatronic Xenomorph and
Ripley appear as part of the

Great Movie Ride, which
transported guests through

iconic scenes from films like
The Wizard of Oz (1939) and

Casablanca (1942). The pair
remained there until the ride’s

closure in 2017. Tomorrowland
belongs to me. Alien Encounter

was first proposed for
Disneyland as part of its

botched Tomorrowland 2055
renovation, which envisioned an

intergalactic future awash with
visiting aliens and strange,

clandestine crystals. Here,
Alien Encounter would have been

wrapped in an imposing Art Deco
facade, taking a cue from the

biomechanical chimaeras of HR
Giger imagination, and featuring

pillars that took the form of
hunched, oppressed humanoids.

Though the development of
Tomorrowland 2055 went on for

several years, it never really
excited anyone. Molitor admits.

It was eventually scrapped when
financial troubles connected to

the opening of Disneyland Paris.
Then Euro Disney in 1992, saw

major projects cancelled across
the board. The company instead

focused on a $100 million retro
futuristic makeover of the magic

kingdom's Tomorrowland, inspired
by the pulp space comics of the

1930s intergalactic payphones
and metallic palm trees

included. The Alien Encounter
project was revived only to face

another long stretch of
obstacles. One of the most

difficult, which was never
really overcome was trying to

figure out how scary it would
be, says Molitor. There was a

clear and sometimes heated
divide within the Disney team,

much like battles over the
Haunted Mansion in the 1960s

some Balt at the overt horror
elements, others argued that the

park could do more to appeal to
teen guests. You'll often hear

the story of how Eisner son
Breck after an invitation to

Disneyland. bullishly declared
that places lame dad, the

chairman was quick to heed those
words. In the late 80s fantasy

lands video propolis theatre
would transform nightly into a

neon drenched, pop blasting
dance club. But as Molitor

laments these two sides were
never able to reconcile, and the

attraction suffered as a result,
trying to please both sides

while ending up pleasing no one.
It didn't help that the

project's migration between two
different parts mended often

paths between teams and
competing visions. The iteration

the first open for previews in
1994. Featured instead of Tim

Curry, sir, a more hospitable
robot by the name of Tom 2000,

or the ‘Technobotic Oratorical
Mechanism’ series 2000, voiced

by Phil Hartman, the man behind
The Simpsons' Troy McClure. But

the all singing joke cracking
host failed to prepare audiences

for what really lay ahead.
Imagineers spent the next six

months trying to redress that
balance at this point, Molitor

left the project and Mike West
took over as writer. There were

issues to the binaural sound, as
Molitor explains, they require a

quiet environment in order to
work. But rather than quietly

sitting there and fear guests
did what anyone but a diluted

Imagineer would do scream their
lungs out at its first public

showing and despite the
protestations of Imagineers

several children were allowed
into the audience. As soon as

the lights started to dim, a
small boy began to weigh on Mom,

get me out of here, get me out,
get me out. It was hard to get

back control of the room after
that point. The live actor the

mechanic on the catwalk was
added as a way to shift the pace

of the show. There were other
smaller changes to the audio and

to the physical effects. But it
was never quite enough to save

Alien Encounter, which spent its
entire run, treated as if it

were the black sheep of the
Disney World family. Today,

there are still a handful of
signs of its existence. At

California Adventures Guardians
of the Galaxy Mission: breakout,

you'll find a paper invoice from
X-S Tech left out somewhere in

the queue. As Molitor says, I
think the right audience would

have embraced the show even back
then. Perhaps it didn't belong

in the Magic Kingdom. So close
to the ever smiling mechanical

children of it's a small world.
Perhaps it was just ahead of its

time. Disney has since gone out
of its way to accommodate older

guests, Epcot now regularly
boasts food and wine festivals,

while places like Star Wars
Galaxies Edge. Pandora – The

World of Avatar, and the
upcoming Avengers Campus have

expanded on the very idea of
what a Disney park should look

like. With the Alien franchise
now under Disney's ownership,

thanks to its takeover of 20th
Century Fox, the company now has

a swathe of R rated film
franchises that eventually, they

will want to take advantage of.
Is it too wild to dream that

Alien Encounter might one day
return? Will we ever see a

Xenomorph crawling through the
vents of Tomorrowland? The most

magical place on earth could do
with wreaking a little havoc.

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Creators and Guests

Lawrence Kao
Host
Lawrence Kao
Co-founder @thecompanionapp & StargateA.I. • Official photographer of my rescue Hugo 🐕 He doesn't pay, but it's good experience • Prev EP in Docs & Fact-Ent
Ben Herbert
Producer
Ben Herbert
Part of the team building @TheCompanionApp for fans of sci-fi (He/Him) I enjoy creative things, sports and whatever hygge is
George Mole
Producer
George Mole
He/Him | Community Manager @TheCompanionApp 🖖🏼💻🏳️‍🌈🚀#TransRightsAreHumanRights #LiveLongAndFuckTERFs #BlackLivesMatter #StopAsianHate
James Hoare
Producer
James Hoare
Tusken Master of Teräs Käsi. Writer of military history, witchcraft and weirdness. Editor @TheCompanionApp. He/Him. Big Doc Energy.
Tommy
Producer
Tommy
Project Lead, Product & Talent and Podcast Producer 📱🎙 @TheCompanionApp excited to be part of the team building the new home for sci-fi! He/Him
Disney World’s Nightmare Attraction – ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter
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