For folks who are big into ghosts and goblins, Halloween is the biggest holiday of the year. And it never seems to get here fast enough. If you're one of those types who can't wait to get your scare on, the good news is that the spooky staff at two different Valley haunted attractions will be more than happy to oblige a few days from now.
The grotesque-looking creatures and characters inside Chambers of Fear in Surprise and the 13th Floor Haunted House in North Phoenix will get a jump on the Halloween season starting this weekend, as both scare joints will open Friday, September 13. It's a fitting date to start unleashing terror, and each establishment will offer its own brand of bone-chilling thrills, as well as a variety of new monsters and surprises that were conjured over the past several months.
Visitors to 13th Floor, for instance, might just cross paths with some of the new additions to its cast of fiends and freaks, like a downright repulsive rat man or some extremely creepy clowns.
They'll join an already bizarre rogue's gallery populating the haunt that includes "Thriller"-style zombie dancers, malicious winged imps, and its signature character, Mr. Hallows (a towering demon-like figure clad in a stovepipe hat).
Timothy Pugsley, 13th Floor's aptly named general manager, promises that it's cast members will be more skilled with their scare tactics this year. More in-depth training sessions and rehearsals were conducted during the summer, he says, with the goal of amping things up at the attraction.
"The main thing we've been focusing on over the off-season has been changing and increasing our training regimen for the actors inside [13th Floor]. We wanted to make them a little bit more scary and a little more over the top than they have been," Pugsley says. "Actors have been rehearsing and practicing for months now. We've gone above and beyond what we've done before to make sure they're are the scariest they can be."
Pugsley says that 13th Floor has also "taken things up a notch" with many of the five distinct haunts making up the 60,000-square-foot attraction.
That includes creating additional visual elements in the Zombieland portion of the property or building more obstacles throughout the place to navigate. A number of new animatronic elements and creatures were also installed over the summer, including more than a few beasts that came from the now-closed Monsterland in Mesa.
As Jackalope Ranch reported back in July, the owners of 13th Floor bought up all of the props and creatures that were inside the defunct Mesa haunted house and nightspot after word broke that it wouldn't be reopening.
"It just made sense for us to buy all of it," he says. "There was a lot of great stuff we could use."
While Pugsley says that some of Monsterland's former props were put into storage or will be shipped to other 13th Floor Haunted Houses in cities like Denver, most have been integrated into the Valley's location. That includes Monsterland's enormous fanged swamp being.
"You'll see a lot of the stuff from Monsterland inside our show here in Phoenix this year," he says. "A lot of it meshes well with what we already have going on here. It was just a matter of finding the appropriate place or scene. And it's made things even more scary here."
Pugsley and the crew at 13th Floor aren't the only local haunted house gurus who are hoping that a slew of changes over the summer will help ratchet up the scares when they open this weekend, however.
The off-season has been just as hectic for the proprietors of Chambers of Fear in Surprise, who are also opening their joint on Friday night.
Owner Paul Boyd says it feels like they've been going full-tilt boogie ever since last November by upgrading things with each of the three haunts inside the establishment for this year's run -- including expanding the size of rooms, redesigning the layout, and beefing up lighting and laser effects. Plus, they participated in the filming of an episode of the Travel Channel reality show Making Monsters back in May during Phoenix Comicon.
"Running a [haunted house] is a definitely a year-round job and there never seems to be much of a break," Boyd says. "We take a few weeks off after each Halloween to recuperate a bit, but then we sit down and start brainstorming about how to go about making things newer and fresher for next year."
And they apparently were influenced by childhood classics while in the midst of said brainstorm sessions, since one the biggest additions is the new "Scary Tales" themed haunt, which will encompass a large portion of the parking lot behind Chambers of Fear.
"We've converted the whole back lot into this new outdoor attraction," Boyd says. "It takes all children's stories we all grew up with, like Alice in Wonderland and Little Red Riding Hood, and completely twists them up into something frightening."
Boyd says that the attractions patrons should also be ready to encounter are a pair of 16-foot-tall animated monstrosities -- one of which is inspired by Iron Maiden's horrific mascot Eddie the Head -- that will be lurking throughout Chambers of Fear.
And then there's the enormous custom-built set piece that was created for the Chambers of Fear during the aforementioned filming of the Making Monsters episode by the staff of Distortions Unlimited, the Colorado-based company that's featured on the show. The booth-like black structure, which was on display during Comicon, resembles a mad scientists laboratory and features a trio of dismembered and impaled torsos that aren't quite dead. It's a bit grisly and disturbing to say the least.
"They've created this awesome, awesome display," Boyd says of the set piece. He hopes that Halloween fans won't wait until the Making Monsters episode airs next month on TV to check it out, however.
"It's really going to knock people's socks off," he says.
Both attractions will run through Halloween into early November, with days and times of operations varying for each. Visit the 13th Floor and Chambers of Fear websites for full schedules for either establishment.