“There are so many people who would die to have my job,” Amy says, leading the group down the darkened hallway and into a room ringed with a row of grotesque heads. Halloween is fast approaching, and the halls backstage at Plano’s Dark Hour Haunted House are filled with activity and the smell of pizza. Inside the mask room, Amy and artistic director Allen Hopps show off a macabre collection of false faces that will be worn weekly in the haunt’s creepy Halloween show.
All around the 40,000 square foot building that plays home to Dark Hour, characters are scurrying to get costumed, made up and fed in preparation for the commercial being filmed today. Entering their third season in Plano, the staff are working hard to make sure more folks know they’re here and ready to scare the pants off Plano’s families.
Even with the lights on, the atmosphere feels spooky. It’s tough to tell if your surroundings are static, or if they might spring to life at a moment’s notice. That kind of uneasy uncertainty is exactly what Dark Hour hopes guests will experience.
“That adrenaline, that release when we experience fear in a safe environment—that’s what we give our patrons,” marketing director Amy Reed explains. Terror driven by the psychology of fear, not blood and gore, is part of what differentiates Dark Hour from their competition.
The haunted house’s indoor location offers huge advantages that other haunts can’t match: clean bathrooms, a climate-controlled queue area and shelter from the elements. A lobby bar sells sodas and non-alcoholic drinks, and a concession stand serves hot chocolate on busy, cold weekends. Adjacent to the queue area, a huge stage hosts live performances from a troupe of zombie dancers and other ghoulish entertainers while guests wait.
Dark Hour’s big on making sure you get your money’s worth. “We want it to be a full experience as much as possible for our customers. We want to give you a reason to come,” says Amy of their goal to give customers more than the chance to “just to go through a haunted house.” Devoted fans of horror, their dedication to haunt isn’t just a passing phase. Dark Hour operates year-round with near-monthly events: February features a love story gone wrong, April’s theme is zombies and June’s all about werewolves. Fans can even purchase season passes and never miss a show.
There’s a lot of work that goes into running an operation this big. A lot of the haunt’s success depends on the caliber of the people involved. “Everybody here is pretty damn talented,” says Allen of the cast and crew, some of whom put in over forty hours a week crafting and building the sets, props and costumes involved in each production. Allen (“lead scary guy,” according to Amy) heads past cans of latex and paint to show off a silicone mold of his own face that he uses to produce Dark Hour’s masks.
“In my office, there are a bunch of historical monster books of what people believe. And I just have stacks of them,” he explains and elaborates that the productions’ themes are “historically accurate to the fantasy and the mythology of the time.” Dark Hour’s monthly events and seasonal Halloween haunt are all loosely based on a coven of witches and the havoc they wreak on the world around them.
Why witches? “Witches draw their power from magic, and anything is possible with magic,” Amy responds. “This year, there’s a new witch in town,” which is bound to shake things up among the coven. But there’s no clear winner to root for. “We’re a world of evil versus evil,” Amy says. “It’s not a world of good versus evil. You just have to decide.”
Which witch will come out on top remains to be seen. And if witches are too much, Dark Hour offers a second old school, lo-fi haunt, which can be purchased alone or in combination with the main haunt. This monster-based haunt, aptly named Terra del Monstrum, is smaller and driven by a close crew of talented actors. For a family-friendly experience, just tell the haunt’s greeter; they’ll let the actors know to tone it down a notch for the little ones.
There’s no doubt owner Lucy Moore’s investment in her passion is paying off. A veteran of the haunt industry, Lucy brought together the talented team that runs Dark Hour after years of working in the business herself. In Dark Hour, she’s achieved the perfect balance of the believable and unbelievable, made possible by a surplus of talented people who love to make seriously scary stuff happen.
Among that group is Laura Kilpatrick, Dark Hour’s social media person slash graphic designer slash actress, coming off the commercial set partially covered in goo after attempting to remove full witch makeup. “Even out of makeup, I still feel like I’m in makeup,” she laughs. She talks of joining the team fresh out of college and her excitement at the opportunity to work in an industry she loves, which is a feeling shared among the staff. “We like the spooky,” she comments.
With everything in place for a great Halloween haunt, Laura feels this will be their biggest year yet. “I feel like we just kind of progressively keep getting better and better,” she says. “Just from all we’ve put into preparing for the show… honestly, I’m gonna give you my opinion. It’s gonna be a killer year for us.”
Dark Hour Haunted House Website>