Have you ever wondered where old carnival Dark Rides go to die? Some are dismantled and sold off for parts. Others are literally put out to pasture, left to rot and rust in some deserted field. Such was the case for The Haunt House, which was front and center of a murder investigation in the 1970’s. A murder investigation that uncovered a veritable slaughterhouse of mutilated bodies. When the owner was shot and killed by police, The Haunt House was boarded up and hidden away.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t hidden well enough…
The Haunt House is located off of highway 30 in Caddo Mills, (Dallas Texas Haunted House) Texas (just 20 miles east of Dallas) and is the brainchild of Bart Butler. Along with business partner Paul Kollaritsch, who funded Butler’s vision and continues to handle the website design and marketing, unleashed the terror inside to an unsuspecting audience in 2007.
While it may be a relatively new attraction, those involved are anything but. Butler cut his teeth in the haunt business working and learning under the direction of the late Lance Pope. With nearly twenty years in the business, Butler’s talent and imagination seem to have no bounds and in just three seasons, he has turned The Haunt House into one of Dallas/Fort Worth’s Top ‘Must See’ Haunted Attractions.
This in itself can be considered somewhat of a challenge as the DFW area is home to over 20 haunted house attractions, a few of which are nationally recognized for their size, detail, and level of fright. Butler realized the competition would be fierce, but felt that he could still be successful because of his particular style and vision, as well as the level of talent he was able to attract.
Another element of what makes The Haunt House so successful is Butler’s sense of family. Family and friends mean so much to him that even the name of his company, “HobNob Productions”, was chosen because it meant a gathering of friends. This commitment to family has also allowed Butler to reunite a creative team of haunters/actors, which includes Hobbes LeCompte, Michael Edwards, Jeff Johnson and Kahl Brice, all of whom were a part of Lance Pope’s original ‘family.’ Most came out of retirement from the haunt business for the opportunity to work together again.
“Even my own family has gotten into the act, with my wife Michelle utilizing her makeup artistry to turn our actors into nightmarish fiends, and my son, Gage, proving at home he is the world’s scariest zombie… even at the tender age of three,” says Butler. He didn’t stop there, however. In the first year, Butler persuaded Steve Morgan and his wife Kim, neither of which knew they even wanted to be in the business, to join up. Steve has since proven himself to be a very enthusiastic, inventive and resourceful part of the haunt’s family, while Kim has demonstrated her gifts as a makeup artist in her own right. The family also includes Steve Ramirez and Jeff Boren, master builders, carpenters, and THE guys who can get anything, as well as Brandon Fitzgerald, the haunt’s head of Security. Best of all, it’s not ‘all work and no play’ for this group as every single one of them HAS to get into costume during the Halloween season!
Unlike some Dark Attractions, Butler’s haunt isn’t confined to a shopping mall or pre-existing building. Instead, The Haunt House was built from the ground up as a permanent structure allowing it to remain standing year round as well as giving its crew time and freedom to change or add to the house each season. For these guys, the first day of work for the next year is the day after Halloween. This suits Butler just fine as his team has diagnosed him with “Pope’s Syndrome,” which causes him to never be fully happy with how The Haunt House looks, so he is forced to keep improving it and improving it and improving it…
What has also been creatively freeing for The Haunt House was Butler’s decision to be flexible with the themed attraction. Though he created the character of ‘Spoils the Clown’ many years before, the murderous jester was kept and incorporated into a storyline that permits a nearly infinite supply of frightening ideas that can be made to fit seamlessly into the haunt. Butler says, “This has been especially beneficial to the patrons as they truly never know what might be lurking around the next corner.” The creative team also has an innate sense of detail, building scenes and props that are extremely realistic, holding up to close scrutiny even if you walk through the haunt with the work lights on. Even the ticket booth isn’t safe from sinister detailing. What’s more, Butler and LeCompte have designed and created many masks and costumes, going so far as to share their processes with other haunters through online videos and get-togethers, as well as branching out into independent film work.
Driving up to The Haunt House, leaving the lights of the city behind, there is an almost immediate sense of foreboding when faced with the ominous façade. The haunt sits in an empty field, enclosed within a tall stockade style fence. The entrance into the front yard features hanging bones and barbed wire. The front of the house, with its grimy walls, dimly lit boarded up windows and darkened doorways makes you think twice before stepping up to the porch..
While waiting to enter, some of The Haunt House’s murderous inhabitants like to come out to play… teasing and taunting… occasionally causing a few visitors to drop to the ground in fear, or simply run away in terror.
Stepping through the front entryway, patrons are ushered into the foyer and told the haunt’s history, learning of its once being an old Dark Ride. Though the tracks have been ripped out by its new owner, ‘Spoils the Clown’, the first set of double swinging doors through which the cars would roll are still present. Entering these doors, Butler’s show comes alive.
Throughout the house are scenes that are varied in style, but all created to flow together in order to deliver the most memorable frights ever. One outside area puts patrons directly into a series of ramshackle buildings and tool sheds that create an extremely eerie path leading to a caretaker’s decrepit home. Walking through this part of the haunt is like stepping right into the worst backwoods nightmare you can imagine. The interior sides of each building look as though they were pieced together with a hodgepodge of moldy wooden planks. Wandering along this path, there is much to see. Grimy bottles are everywhere, old rotted wooden furniture sits in one building, rusted tools cover the walls in another, and heavily soiled linens hang outside yet another. One building is particularly unsettling with decayed dolls strewn everywhere and tarnished doorknobs hanging from the ceiling. Of course, the caretaker and his minions are skulking about and the only escape is a secret passage to an abandoned underground mine shaft.
There is also a room that is deteriorated to the point of the wall’s interior wooden slats showing though the decaying wallpaper like the ribs of some monstrous thing. Even worse, there is a frenzied and gibbering creature within its walls trying to get out. Another is a cramped storage room with odd-sized shipping crates stacked to the ceiling. These crates appear to be from the old abandoned Butler mortuary down the street. They look as if they aren’t stacked very safely and some of the contents are oozing out. In the haunt’s kitchen there is a centralized table, complete with the remains of a very bloody human corpse, pieces of flesh barely clinging to its frame. The pantry shelves are covered with ancient bones and jars full of bits and pieces of body parts.
In the bathroom the white tiled walls look nauseatingly dirty and the sound of dripping water comes from everywhere. The first stall contains what is left of the last person who tried to use it, while the second stall remains unnervingly closed. The wall at the end of the room looks as though it has been crashed through and leads into complete darkness.
A disorienting portal leads to a clownish hell. A dark, yet gaudily colored ticket booth and barker stand beckons you into Spoils’ circus tent. Tall skeletal clowns rise from gigantic jack-in-the-boxes on either side of the room framing the entrance to the circus. But these aren’t the only clowns found here…
The final room of the house has been described as mind-blowing. “Very few really get a chance to see this room as nearly everyone runs through it at top speed, hoping to find an end to their terrifying experience. Of course, being outside doesn’t always offer a safe haven…” says Butler.
These last few seasons have meant a lot to Butler. Recalling the days where he was just an actor at a haunt and had become for many years the student, he has now become the teacher to an ever growing number of actors who are very passionate, not only about the scare, but how they are created. He is extremely proud of his actors and the work they do so tirelessly every season, many of them reminding him of himself when he was starting out.
One thing that has become increasingly important to Butler and his crew is the addition of iconic characters to The Haunt House. Initially, ‘Spoils the Clown was the famous face everyone identified with the haunt. Not that this was a bad thing, as he furthered his ascent into celebrity with a successful film and an upcoming book under his belt. But last season, Butler introduced several new characters, including Malachi (the eight-foot scarecrow), Caddo (the clown skinning redneck), Rott’n (the mute, yet loathable door greeter) and The Ringmaster. For the upcoming season, the plan is to turn some of the haunt’s older familiar faces into fuller, more fleshed out creatures. And designs are already in the works on several more new characters, ready to give our patrons nightmares they won’t soon forget.
All of this barely scratches the surface of what the experience of visiting The Haunt House is really like. Beginning to end, this attraction is filled with remarkably detailed and immersive sets, original props, and a highly stylized lighting and sound scheme which set the perfect atmosphere. Butler adds, “We also feel that living, or at least undead, actors are a key component to the perfect scare. As opposed to utilizing animatronics, The Haunt House is filled to the rafters with an enthusiastic crew whose sole purpose is to give you one of the most horrifying haunted house experiences you’ll ever have.”
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