Halloween is a special time in Las Vegas. The city embraces the season with a furious passion. Haunted attractions pop up all over town including Asylum, the new Project X, and the infamous Freakling Brothers Trilogy of Terror. Arguably, the centerpiece of Halloween in Las Vegas lies in an unlikely location: the classic Las Vegas hotel and casino, Circus Circus, located on the north end of “The Strip,” just south of Sahara Avenue. Behind Circus Circus is their popular indoor theme park, the Adventuredome. Each October, the Adventuredome gets transformed into “Fright Dome” and its grand architect is Jason Egan.
Haunts come and go in Sin City. Just last year, Eli Roth’s multi-million dollar Goretorium shuttered just before Halloween. Fright Dome, however, has returned to haunt the Strip year after year since 2003. Egan leads his team and nearly 400 performers to put on the yearly event. Prior to Fright Dome, Egan was just your average guy who wanted to scare people.
“I had a haunted house that was just one block away on Highland Drive that was in an old abandoned ballroom in 2002,” noted Egan, whose official title is Owner and Operator of Fright Dome. “[Circus Circus] had this event [back in the ‘90s] and it didn’t work out well for them. So they wanted to team up with someone that was a haunt expert.”
The event he spoke of was called “AdventureDoom.” When Egan was brought on board, he had with him a much more fitting title.
“The most ironic part of the whole story is I had actually owned the name Fright Dome before this even came about,” he added. “I was going to do these big, giant air-dome structures around the country and set up haunted houses in them.”
And just because the setting for this event is one of the few family-friendly hotels on the Strip, don’t let it fool you.
“My first concern with Circus Circus was ‘Are they gonna let me go as scary as I want, as gory as I want?’ and they were like… the reigns are off!” said Egan. “[Circus Circus said] you do what you want as long as you don’t go crazy with the profanity or sexuality or anything like that. Those are lines I don’t like to cross and I don’t want to cross. I really look up to Universal and what they do [with Halloween Horror Nights]. They’re the biggest in the business by far and they don’t have to cross those lines, I don’t have to cross those lines, I don’t have to gag you and drag you across the floor.”
He, of course, is referring to more extreme haunts like Blackout, Mckamey Manor, and Las Vegas’ own Freakling Brothers. Fright Dome offers something more akin to Six Flags’ Fright Fest, Knott’s Berry Farm’s Halloween Haunt, or Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights: Haunts and frights intertwined with rides and attractions in a controlled environment. In this case, a theme park inside a climate-controlled glass dome.
At Fright Dome, you can partake in many of the rides and attractions that Adventuredome has to offer during the day such as the Canyon Blaster, Disk-O, Chaos and the all-new El Loco roller coaster… albeit in COMPLETE DARKNESS. The 4-D theater and Ride-film Theater are given a haunted makeover with unique Halloween attractions that can only be seen in the evening. Add to all that a few scare zones and, of course, haunted houses.
Each trip through a house is done in a small group (usually around two to six). This makes it a much more intimate experience when compared to the bigger parks that usually have a steady stream of guests cycling through. On your journey, you are accompanied by a guide who provides a thorough narrative in the maze. Egan does this to shake up interactions between guests and performers that have often been considered “the norm” in haunted attractions. “The words we hate hearing in haunted houses are ‘Help me!’ and ‘Get out!’,” said Egan. “We try to rid the haunted houses of those words. So, we want that weird interaction with that actor and the customer.”
There are five haunted houses at Fright Dome that all general admission guests can experience this year:
Dead End – a vampire house.
Hillbilly Hell: Offspring – a haunted swamp/redneck house
Zombie Quarantine 2.0 – a zombie apocalypse house
Killer Clowns 4-D – a circus house, complete with chromadepth glasses
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – based on the film series of the same name
Texas Chainsaw was a big ‘get’ for Egan. He’s always wanted to use it as a theme, but it wasn’t until this year (being the original film’s 40th anniversary) that he was able to bring them on board. This isn’t the first time Fright Dome has had licensed properties making an appearance.
“Both Universal and I did ‘Saw’ in 2009,” said Egan. “Then in 2010, Lionsgate actually came back to us and said ‘Hey, we really like what you did. It helped promote the movie well; we were happy. Can you do a ‘Saw’ house and revamp the whole thing, and we’ll give you ‘My Bloody Valentine’ as well?’”
In 2011, they had a house themed after John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” In 2012, Egan reached out to legendary filmmaker George A. Romero and worked with him personally to create Ward of the Dead based on Romero’s films “Dawn of the Dead,” “Day of the Dead” and “Land of the Dead.”
[Texas Chainsaw picture]
Bringing a licensed property on board takes quite a bit of time, with the studios and production companies being VERY hands-on. Egan also noted that some production companies come to him merely a month before the event asking to be a part of it. By that time, it’s simply too late.
They have one more Haunted House…
Unlike the other houses, there is no guide and there is no group. You go through completely ALONE. When surveyed “What would be the scariest thing you’d have to experience in a haunted house,” a very common answer was, “If I had to go through ALONE.” This unique experience, themed as an asylum, creates its own challenges in the form of capacity. On any given night, Isolation can bring through between 700 and 1200 guests… Far less than the total number of attendees each night. This is why guests must purchase a fast pass or VIP guided tour to experience this haunt.
This is the second year they’ve done an “Isolation”-type house. Last year, they had a similar experience themed to the film “The Collection.”
“I love ‘The Collection,’ but it was harder because I had to stay on track” admitted Egan. “I couldn’t do as sick and twisted as I wanted to do. When you’re with a movie partner, you better stay on track. Your scenes have to be your scenes and that’s what you have to do. So, [Isolation] has been fun with the actors I want to put in there and I get to do exactly what I want.”
Over the years, the event has grown and grown. It has attracted such celebrities as Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Missy Elliot, David Copperfield, Holly Madison, Paris Hilton… the list goes on and on. It has become a staple in Las Vegas and will be back next year. In fact, once Fright Dome 2014 closes its doors, Fright Dome 2015 begins its preparations immediately. For Egan and his team, it’s a year-round job and the workload continues to increase. This year, he opened another Fright Dome in Hong Kong. In 2015, he’s bringing something new to the table: a haunted experience in Boston called Fright Island.
Fright Dome runs select nights through October 31. On November 1, Fright Dome has their Afterlife: Day of the Dead celebration – an 18-and-over edition of the event featuring live DJs. For more information, visit frightdome.com.