We’ve held our fair share of seances in haunted houses in Dallas / Fort Worth area and we can tell you from personal experience Ouija Board parties can either be a whole lot of fun, or they can be hella-scary. But even hella-scary can be fun if you do it right. Here’s how to host your own Ouija party safely.

Invite a good mix of people – Invite a couple of people who truly believe in the powers of the Ouija and a couple of people who think it’s pure malarkey, then invite 4 or 6 people who fall somewhere in between. This ensures you’ll have enough serious-minded folks to make a concentrated effort at contacting the spirits, and enough folks who just want to have fun to maintain a fun party atmosphere.

Beware the witching hour – We’ve always had the best luck contacting spirits during the hours between midnight and 3 a.m. – the witching hour – so it’s best to start your Ouija party later than normal, say around 10 or 11 p.m. You want your guests to have just enough time to relax, mingle, and maybe have a drink to calm their nerves before you get started.

Don’t drink and drive – While it goes without saying that friends don’t let friends drive drunk, we’re talking about “driving” the planchette here, that little pointy thing that moves around the board landing on letters. There’s always the chance there’s a demon lurking in that dark, gloomy corner over there and if you’re drunk you might say the wrong thing and invite them in.

Set the mood, but be careful – The best way to set the mood is just to make the room as dark as possible. Close the curtains, drape them with black cloth or scarves. Cover the table with a black tablecloth. Of course, nothing makes a room creepier than flickering candlelight but be careful, especially if you’re serving alcohol. Place candles away from high traffic areas and away from your Ouija Board circle so they don’t get knocked over if someone gets scared and bolts.

Use protection – No, we don’t mean that kind of protection. There are some who say it’s dangerous to even have a Ouija Board in your house. Here are some tips to help protect you from the spirits:

1. Never use the Ouija Board alone, always have at least two people.
2. Never dare the spirits.
3. Never use the board when you’re drunk or using mind-altering drugs.
4. Never ask questions about your own death or someone else’s death.
5. Use white or blue candles in the room.
6. Visualize yourselves being surrounded by a white, protective light.
7. Clear your mind of all negative thoughts or distractions.

Be polite – If you only remember one thing after reading this, let it be this: Always remember to thank the spirits for speaking to you and tell them Goodnight before you get up from the Board. If, after thanking them, the spirits don’t move the planchette to point to Goodbye, then you should do it yourself. Otherwise, the channel between you and the spirit world will be left open and anything can come through.

Lighten the mood – Once you’ve finished your séance, lighten the mood so your guests can all make it home safely. Turn on the lights, put on some music, and have fun for a while.

A tent in the foreground with a large ominous tree in the background along with the stars

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from our experiences with haunted houses in Dallas / Fort Worth, it’s how to tell a good horror story. You know, not those hokey stories you told around the campfire back when you were a boy scout. One that your listeners remember long after you’ve turned the lights back on. One that makes them pull the covers all the way up and sleep with the lights on – every night for the next month.

Research It – We’ve all heard the story about the guy with the hook who tries to nab the couple at Lover’s Lane, but do you really know all the details? Google it. Research your story and dig up all the “facts” you can. The more details you can give your listeners the more believable your story.

Localize It – How many times have you heard someone start off with, “This guy and his girlfriend decided to go camping somewhere out west.” Right off the bat you know this isn’t a real story. At best it’s an urban legend that might be based on a true story that somebody’s sister’s cousin’s boyfriend’s uncle heard a hundred years ago.

Set your story in Your Town, Texas USA. It’s a safe bet that your tale of horror is made-up, as most are, so it doesn’t matter where it happened – as long as it happened close to home. It’s much creepier to imagine that guy with the hook is lurking just around the corner in a deserted warehouse on the corner of Main Street and Vine because sooner or later everybody has to pass that corner.

Personalize It – Give the characters names so your listeners can make a personal connection. “This guy and his girlfriend were driving along…” is too vague. It could be anyone, or no one at all. Give your characters names. Give them physical descriptions. Give them personalities so your listeners will feel sorry for them when they get killed by The Mangler.

Increase Your Vocabulary – Gross, ugly, monster, bloody… yeah, those are all OK. But what if you threw in “horribly disfigured” or “a gelatinous mass of blood, mucus and gore” Spend a few minutes with an online thesaurus to learn one or two new useful words that will help make your story more exciting.

Rehearse It – Now, turn out the lights, stand in front of a mirror with a flashlight under your chin and rehearse your story until even you’re scared. That’s when you know your story’s ready for the campfire.

Happy Scaring
Thrillvania Haunted House Park

Thrillvania Haunted House Park wants to know what does it take to scare someone in 2013?  Gone are the days when a simple rubber spider dangled from the ceiling could send a person screaming from the room. Today’s haunt-goers are understandably jaded by constant exposure to Hollywood special effects on the big screen, small screen and video games.  Children are weaned on violence, blood, explosions and pyrotechnics, all in 3D Technicolor surround-sound.

In an effort to up the fright factor, haunted houses now integrate all kinds of high tech visual effects, lighting, chilling stereo and enough gore to fill a dozen Hollywood horror movies.  Many haunted houses are like horror movies on steroids, and you, the customer get to play the hapless victim who goes stumbling through the doorway while the entire audience is yelling “don’t go in there!”

And still, it just doesn’t seem to be enough anymore.  As opposed to bungee jumping or skydiving, there is no inherent risk in traversing a haunted house.  Deep down, visitors know that they will not be harmed.  This combined with the over-exposure to special effects has made some customers difficult to unhinge.  The ante has been upped, and in an effort to meet the challenge, some haunted houses are going out on a limb these days – way out.

Take for example, a haunt in both New York and Los Angeles.  Is more reality television than Twilight Zone, they send you through a sort of whacked-out, over the top Guantanamo Bay kind of experience, complete with blackout hoods and water boarding. You are forced to go through solo, and subjected to some physical contact, verbal abuse and sensory deprivation for roughly 40 minutes. Less a haunted house and more of an immersion experience. Here at Thrillvania Haunted House Park we choose not to go to such extremes to scare our patrons.

Is this what it takes to scare you?  Let’s go back in time, to the works of the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. To truly scare someone, you have to get inside their mind.  Hitch knew that a suggestion of horror was often more frightening than the deed itself.  The human mind is capable of imagining things far more horrific than anything the best computer graphics can simulate. Thrillvania Haunted House Park like other haunted houses in Dallas choose to use the patrons psyche against themselves by invoking that fear of darkness and the unknown.

More than anything else, humans are afraid of the unknown.  That’s why haunted houses often depict the supernatural in the form of zombies, goblins and ghouls.  A haunt-goer knows that the actor with the chainsaw will not hurt him, but fear of the unknown makes him wonder if he might fall victim to a freak supernatural event beyond the control of the attraction’s owners.

A truly great haunt catches you by surprise, knocks you off balance and keeps you in suspense, never knowing where the next scare will come from.  This is a function of careful planning, strategy and just a touch of genius, carefully cultivated by Thrillvania Haunted House Park and other haunted houses in Dallas/Fort Worth area.  That is the mark of a world class haunted attraction, and that is precisely what it takes to scare someone in 2013.

In the haunted house industry, there are some favorite quotes that come up now and again, particularly in reference to the fine art of scaring the wits out of people. It takes a special kind of person to work in a haunted house, and the folks who work in your friendly neighborhood haunted houses in Dallas are no exception. They tend to have a wry sense of humor, a touch of kinky fetishism and a penchant for the occasional walk on the dark side; hence these quotes are quite apropos.

See if you can recognize the authors of these famous witticisms:

1. Where there is no imagination, there is no horror. Indeed, your imagination is more powerful than any visual images or special effects, which leads us to the next one:

2. There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it. Suspense, anticipation, and dread are often much worse than the deed itself. Also, seeing things can be frightening, but sometimes it’s what you don’t see that is even more terrifying, because:

3. The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. One of the many unknowns that we all carry within us is our dark side, and one of our greatest fears is that someone might catch a glimpse of it.

4. Everyone is a moon and has a dark side, which he never shows to anybody. Except, perhaps when he goes to work in a haunted house…

5. There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls. These are the nights when strange things happen at Thrillvania Haunted House Park.

6. Blondes make the best victims. They’re like white snow that shows up the bloody footprints. There’s a price to be paid for having more fun…

7. I’ve seen enough horror movies to know that any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly. Especially when they’re brandishing a chain saw!

Think you know who said that? Check out the answer section to see your score!

1) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 2) Alfred Hitchcock, 3) H. P. Lovecraft, 4) Mark Twain, 5) George Carlin, 6) Alfred Hitchcock, 7) Nancy McLoughlin as Lizabeth in Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI.

mike malec5

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.”

Thrillvania Haunted House Park Co-Creator and Park Manager Jeff Gilbreath, working at the beloved thrill park is more than just a job, it’s an addiction. “We’re ready for this next season to get started,” he says. “I’m having withdrawals. I’ve got to get my fix.”

Jeff has been living with his obsession for over two decades now. Starting out as an actor at the renowned haunt in 1991, Jeff immediately became infected with “haunted house fever,” and knew immediately that he would never want to work anywhere else.

After moving up the ladder to become first a costume supervisor, then technical manager and finally operations manager, Jeff was one of the core family of seasoned professionals who stepped up to the plate in order to keep the show running after the untimely death of the attraction’s much revered founder, Lance Pope.

“It’s hard to fill Lance’s shoes. We try. He sure was a master.”

It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes an extended dysfunctional family to run a haunt as large and extensive as Thrillvania Haunted House Park , with five different attractions on nearly 50 acres of desolate Texas scrub land. Jeff, along with Park Manager Mike Malec and a handful of others closed ranks after Lance’s death and pitched in to help his parents keep the attraction alive, with welcome advice and assistance from Cutting Edge Haunted House owner Todd James, an old friend and college alumni of Lance’s.

It was difficult at first, but some 11 years later Thrillvania continues to grow and thrive, a monument to a dream and a lot of hard work. Jeff compares it to a “family reunion every year that lasts for six weeks.” Although he works on the property during the off season to make repairs and improvements, from December through around May Jeff also does fencing, remodeling and construction work on a nearby ranch. It’s busy work, he says, while he waits for the real fun to resume.

It’s only June now, and the long-time haunt addict known affectionately to some of the crew members as “Uncle Jim” is already getting antsy, in anticipation of getting the family back together for another season of thrills, chills and just plain old fashioned hair-raising excitement. It’s what he lives for.

“To be honest with you, I don’t ever see myself doing anything else. As long as this park stays alive, I’m pretty sure I’ll be here every second. This will be our 27th season; we’re almost to the 30 mark. It’s going to be awesome.”