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Real-life Mental – Popeye Village, Malta


I spent last week on holiday in Malta. As a film buff, it makes sense that I would want to visit the set of one of the most emotionally charged, poignant pieces of cinema ever released in the medium’s relatively short history. I am of course, talking about Popeye Village, the set of the 1980 movie Popeye. While I’m sure everyone’s seen this gem at least forty times, here’s the trailer to jog your memory anyway:

Getting to Popeye Village was an adventure in itself because the journey took us across Malta. At one point we got off the bus at what we thought was the right stop. We were greeted with this:

Eventually we got there, and to its credit it does fulfil its main goal very well – the original Sweethaven Village set is present and looks just like it did in the film. Even for a film that hasn’t quite stood as a classic over the years, it still gives film fans like me a little thrill wandering around and imagining where the cameras, the lighting, the crew could have been positioned for each scene.

Of course, not everyone is interested in film sets (kids certainly aren’t), and there’s obviously much more to Popeye than the film. That’s why Popeye Village has more to offer than just some funny-looking buildings. Oddly though, very little of it has anything to do with Popeye.

There’s a bar, a pool area, a Christmas village (which was closed) and a nine-hole mini-golf course with dodgy holes – I scored a par on the first then had to stop because the hole had no walls and the ball rolled underneath the actual course. Apparently there was supposed to be a plastic cup in the hole. I salvaged the situation by pretending that my golf club was a walking stick and that I had used it to climb to the top of a mountain. This acting masterclass made me completely forget I was supposed to be playing golf, and thus the disappointment disappeared.

And then there’s Santa’s Toytown. This “attraction” is the reason you’re reading about Popeye Village on a site that generally covers horror movies, because Santa’s Toytown is one of the most unintentionally terrifying things I have ever seen.

The idea is that you walk through Santa’s workshop, watching little animatronic elves working away as you hear audio of them chatting to each other. However, there are many things wrong here. Not just wrong in the sense that “hmm, that’s not supposed to be like that”, but also in the sense that “that’s a bit fucked up really”. Here’s the first room:

Doesn’t look too bad, does it? Well, it gets infinitely creepier. Here’s what struck me as I walked through this ‘attraction’:

1) The elves are terrifying. Some of them have huge beards that cover their entire face, others look like old corpses wearing baseball caps, others are fat little trolls that look like something out of an ’80s horror film like, well, Troll 2.

2) The pre-recorded dialogue is bizarre. There’s weird chat of a man who sounds like Santa (even though he’s not in any of the displays) saying “excuse me for my interruption, I am a scientist”, and then talking about his computer screen and various other random things. It makes no sense whatsoever, and the fact that it’s not synced up to the barely animated troll elf things means it’s impossible to tell what’s going on. Most importantly, however…

3) Only the first room is working. Once you push open the squeaky door leading to the second room, you are no longer in Santa’s workshop. You are in Saw. You are in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. You are in Resident Evil. You are in Silent fucking Hill. You see, in the years since Popeye Village was formed, Santa’s Toytown has seemingly deteriorated drastically.

Only the first room has all the lights working, and only the first room has that odd recorded dialogue. Every other room is chillingly silent and very dimly lit – at times it’s pitch black. A camera flash is a wonderful thing, and it was thanks to my camera that I could see what the second room looked like (it looks like this, in case you’re interested), but as you’ll see in the video below it’s far darker and creepier when there’s no light. The animatronic elves still move, but they move very slowly, as if they’re barely possessed by a weak spirit ready to snap into action and leap over the barrier, pinning you down and consuming your soul.

After looking through the first couple of rooms I decided to walk back outside, stick my phone on and film a walkthrough of the entire building. In the video below you will follow me and my girlfriend through this unintentionally terrifying Blair Witch experience and hear our reactions as we saw its wonders for the first time, including easily the most fucked-up snowman you’ll ever see and, right at the end, a cow with breasts for a nose. This, my dear friends, is truly a bit mental.

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