The Dark Hour - Best Haunt Ever!
I discovered The Dark Hour in March, at St. Patrick's Day of all times, and I fell in love. I don't have the skills to work there, but I think if I could just secretly sneak in and live there, I would. I'd be like that weird guy from the movies who lives between the walls somehow, and you hear him rummaging around in the fridge at night. Just hope I don't get caught! Cause you know, awkward.
Dark Hour is a haunted house in Plano, Texas. It is one of the premier haunted houses in the nation, in fact — open year round, with shows every month aside from August and November. No show in August, because it takes extra time to prepare for the BIG show in September/October. (And by the way I AM SO EXCITED for the big show!) And no show in November because they're recovering from October; that's how much they throw themselves into it.
I refer to them personally as "shows" and not "haunts", because to me it's Vegas-quality spectacle. You get sets, lights, costumes, makeup, story, acting, music, dancing — the whole shebang. Their level of professionalism, the attention to detail, is just awe-inspiring. These guys love what they do and they are proud of what they do, and it comes through in every aspect of their productions.
To give you an example from a recent show, at the Summer Spirits event TheVCubeSolver and I were wending our way through the roughly 30,000 foot "path" that takes you through the three distinct sections of the haunt - the Dominion of the Dead, Coven Manor, and Voodoo Vengeance, when we passed through a kind of kitchen pantry area leading to a cafeteria lunch line filled full of some pretty gross stuff. As I scanned the scene my eyes settled upon a shelf lined with Calumet baking powder, an obscure reference to The Shining that I only caught because I had recently watched the documentary Room 237! That kind of blew me away, that somebody would go to that much trouble to incorporate such a minor, but incredibly satisfying little detail for folks "in the know". These guys not only know their craft, but their audience as well.
I discovered Dark Hour almost by chance, while Googling for something interesting to do while my friend Brian from reviewtheworld.com was in town from Ohio. When I found out there was a haunted house open that weekend it seemed like a no-brainer. Little did I expect, though, a haunt on the scale of Dark Hour.
As soon as you enter the building it's a full-on sensory assault. The first thing you notice is this incredibly pungent aroma — like an overpowering dark incense or something. I have no idea what that scent is, but I remember hoping by the end of the night that it would seep into my clothes so I could take it home with me.
The lights are the next thing you notice, because everything inside is done up like a Dario Argento flick. Although it's basically dark as a cave in the entrance (it takes your eyes a second to adjust), strong colored lights accent a few animatronic greeters in the lobby, all dominated by this amazing 20 foot golem that stands over a smoking cauldron. I thought I had stepped into a black magic Chuck E. Cheese. My first instinct was just to stand there and gawp at the thing, and on return visits when it wasn't too busy we've loitered a bit at the front just to take a closer look at everything they have going on there. Turns out there are a lot of little details that contribute to the basic story of the haunt. It's really well done.
The music is the next thing that hits you, and they like to switch that out from haunt to haunt, but it's never failed to bring a smile to my face. On occasion I've caught some cool soundtrack stuff, like the unsettling synth of Italian prog-rock band Goblin. It was their theme music from Suspiria, that show about a girls' boarding school secretly run by witches, that greeted you in the lobby the night of the aforementioned Summer Spirits show. A pitch-perfect nod right in the door that set the stage for what was to be a show crammed with movie and other fictional references.
When the lines are bigger you get actors roaming the lobby to harass (er, warm up) the visitors and pose for pictures. These guys range from the funny to the downright disturbing. They generally like to interact with you so it's a good opportunity to practice your role playing skills, if you have them. Or you can just snap surreptitious pics like you're on safari in the nut house.
One of the really cool things about Dark Hour is that you generally get live entertainment while you wait in line. You can skip the long lines with a VIP pass, but for the life of me I don't know why anybody would want to. On one occasion I arrived a little early to shorter than usual lines and I was actually afraid I'd miss the pre-show. By now I've come to expect it as part of the warm-up. Occasionally they'll have live bands, which have always been great. From time to time you'll get dancers, and if you're REALLY lucky, Buddy Blood the singing vampire will come out and do his lounge act for you.
You are not allowed to take pictures inside the haunt, which would be both ridiculous and impractical. Still, though, I wish I could because there is so much on the inside worth capturing. The set design takes your breath away in places, like at the entrance to Voodoo Vengeance. You're encouraged to move along at a reasonable pace but sometimes you just want to stop and take it all in. I have sometimes wondered what I look like to the monsters as I stumble through the haunt, mouth agape and occasionally turning the wrong way or running into things. Then they did this.
We're the first guys featured in the scare cam! There I am, captured on camera, shoving TheVCubeSolver into the arms of a monster as I make a speedy exit from the room. I try to be a good father, and the monsters appreciate that. Once I made one of the actors break character just enough to laugh at me and yell "World's Greatest Father!" after I came close to jabbing my son in the eye with a glow stick after overreacting to a jump scare. My fault? I say it was a good show.
Dark Hour puts on several shows connected by a common storyline. The story arch is flexible enough to allow them to change things up a bit from production to production, but the extent to which each year's shows vary is still being worked out. You can catch up on all the lore on the Dark Hour website, and there's a great breakdown of the monthly shows, about half of which I have not yet seen, over on the HauntWorld blog.
Afterwards there is always an add-on attraction which you can participate in for an additional charge, themed to go with the that month's haunt. Walpurgisnacht had a dark art gallery, Dog Days had a catered BBQ dinner, and Summer Spirits even had a prom night!
The Halloween haunt this year promises great things! All of the witches of the coven will make an appearance. The story is that a new witch has stepped forward to assume leadership — Vidua, the witch of suffering. Sounds like they're gearing up for something extra scary. Then apparently there is an after-haunt that pays tribute to the classic Universal monsters. I can't wait to see what these guys have waiting for us.