02 Jul Haunted House Park Veteran Recalls Humble Beginnings
When it comes to getting in on the ground floor, Thrillvania Haunted House Park Co-Creator and Park Manager Mike Malec came through the basement. He was a part of Thrillvania Haunted House Park back before the haunt even came into existence. A long, long time ago, in a dark and dusty backstage hallway, Mike bumped into a man by the name of Lance Pope while working at Six Flags theme park.
“He was a college student at UTA, and he told me about this haunted house that he was building. So I went to his place, and it was this amazing haunted house,” Mike recalls. “It was only 3000 square feet, but every inch was amazingly detailed.” Mike’s first impression of the new Haunted Verdun Manor would leave a lasting impression.
“I was just used to spray painted murals on the walls, and here was this awesome special effects haunted house. I think that’s when I got infected with the haunted house bug.”
Having started out his haunt career working at a March of Dimes attraction in 1980, Mike’s first tour of duty was as a “carpet ape” pretending to break out of a flimsy iron-barred cage. “The costume was horrible. It looked like a shag carpet with a mask. Still, I thought that was the neatest thing in the world.”
Mike has been a core member of the Thrillvania Haunted House Park team ever since that fateful meeting. What’s his favorite part of the job? “It’s when customers leave the attraction and they stop me and say, ‘wow, it’s amazing. I’ve never seen anything like that.'” He adds, “It’s not just the special effects; it’s about how the actors sell the product. Your actors are your bread and butter. They make everything good. If you have horrible actors, you’re going to have a horrible attraction.”
Over the last 27 years, Mike has seen a lot of strange goings on at the celebrated thrill park. One of Mike’s most bizarre recollections centers around a tornado that struck the park one night after they had closed up early due to inclement weather.
“One rainy night we all decided to go to the Waffle House after shutting down, to get some breakfast, before going back to close up for the night. We knew it was a bad storm, but none of us had a thought about tornadoes. After we returned to the facility we found this 100-foot crane from a bungee jump ride that was all twisted up, and the Lab of Terror, which was a tent attraction, was pretty much blown away. The tent was just gone!”
For weeks afterwards, customers who lived as far as five miles away returned stuffed animals to the park that the had found in their front yards. One of the skill games at the park had also been destroyed, causing a hailstorm of 4-foot werewolves. Talk about raining cats and dogs!
Away from Thrillvania, “Uncle Mikey” works as a mild-mannered production manager at a post-operative medical device plant. “I love the entertainment industry, but I also love making medical devices to improve peoples’ lives,” he says, adding that he finds a comfortable symmetry between the two seemingly unrelated jobs.
Like many others, Mike admits to being hopelessly afflicted with haunted house fever. “It’s an infectious disease. It’s kind of like West Nile, once you get bit by that, you’re stuck.”