THE 13TH GATE Haunted House
THE 13TH GATE – Portals to Hell
By CHRIS ALEXANDER
The good lads at Midnight Productions don’t mess around when it comes to terrifying both residents of and visitors to Baton Rouge. Not satisfied with scaring the pants off you in one attraction, they’ve situated a double-shot spook-house experience on either side of a street in the Louisiana city: the award-winning flagship haunt The 13th Gate and its nearly-as-hair-raising counterpart Necropolis 13. FANGORIA spoke with Midnight director Dwayne Sanburn about the company’s morbid modus operandi.
FANGORIA: With two horror houses, you are almost in competition with yourself! How do you plot such shock? Is there a method to the madness?
DWAYNE SANBURN: I don’t think there has ever been a time when we didn’t have a trick up our sleeve! We are always planning ahead and growing our attractions. The 13th Gate recently introduced a huge new section called 1888, where guests can enter the fog-filled streets and dark alleys of East End London during the time of Jack the Ripper. We’re creating a very dynamic environment where the characters go about their daily lives regardless of the audience, something I don’t think you see much in haunted attractions. This is going to create a very real feel to the area, making it seem much more dangerous than someone waiting to pop out of the dark and scare you—though there will be plenty of that, too.
In addition to the unique acting style, a considerable amount of detail is going into this year-long construction project. This ranges from 2,000 fiber-optic stars above the tops of the buildings to a very disturbing cholera victim in the city morgue, compliments of Glenn Hetrick of Optic Nerve Studios and the TV show Face Off, to the smells and sounds of the period—which you can expect to be very unpleasant!
FANG: That’s fascinating: attacking all the senses of your patrons…
SANBURN: Indeed! In 1888, guests will experience a city district that is out of control. Vagrants, cutthroats and murderers lurk around every corner, a cholera outbreak is threatening to take down the city, the jails are overflowing with all manner of vermin and overshadowing all of this is the elusive Ripper, taunting the authorities and terrorizing the populace. In addition to the outdoor streets, brave visitors will explore the interiors of several decrepit buildings and shops, including an old doll store, the laboratory of Dr. Henry Jekyll, a butcher shop, the city morgue and even the hidden lair of Jack the Ripper himself.
FANG: Do you look at other scary attractions and try to one-up them? Is there a level of competition in the business?
SANBURN: We do get inspiration from a number of other houses, particularly the members of America Haunts, as they tend to set the bar very high in this industry. However, I have never thought of it as a competition. I do this because of my love for Halloween and haunted houses, and I really don’t worry about what others are doing. I’m more concerned with doing the best job I can for my customers.
FANG: What do you generally model your attractions after? Films? Mythology?
SANBURN: A large portion of the overall theming comes from Louisiana folklore and history. We have a huge outdoor New Orleans-style cemetery and a real Louisiana swamp, and of course a large amount of voodoo can be seen throughout. Overall, The 13th Gate alone has a very dark, Gothic feel to it. We like creating old brickwork and ancient architecture, caves and ruins.
FANG: Did you grow up with an interest in horror?
SANBURN: Absolutely; I loved scary movies as a child. When I was 13, I talked a buddy’s mother into getting us in to see Halloween II on Halloween night—in an old, scary downtown theater, no less. Everyone in there was screaming like crazy—something you don’t see anymore—and I thought it was awesome. The Evil Dead and Phantasm also made great impressions on me. When the Tom Savini Scream Greats tape came out, I must have watched it 100 times so I could figure out how to replicate the effects.
FANG: Can you tell us about the most intense patron experience you’ve had?
SANBURN: To enter The 13th Gate, you must first get on the Hellevator, an old service elevator that has a nice simulated malfunction and subsequent 13-story drop. One night I got on with a large group, and it was a bit crowded. It’s during these times that I always enjoy mentioning that I’m sure we’re over capacity for such an old elevator. A young teenage girl immediately freaked out and said quite enthusiastically that she was claustrophobic, and she wanted out “now!” A string of expletives followed, and I was half-inclined to grant her wish—but it was too late, since the button had been pushed and the doors had already closed. For the brief ride, the lights went out and the girl, who had been screaming her head off, went curiously quiet.
When the lights came back on a moment later, I found her passed out on the floor. I called for staff, and we carried her to the exit, where we have a small air-conditioned room with water, a couch and, more importantly, ammonia inhalant vials—OK, so this wasn’t the first time someone had passed out in the haunt. I quickly broke one and waved it under her nose. The girl instantly opened her eyes, looked straight at me in horror and passed right out again. Surprised, I waved the vial under her nose again, and again she instantly opened her eyes, looked straight at me in horror and passed out once more!
After the fourth or fifth time repeating this, I gave up and called EMS. When they arrived a few minutes later, they broke out another ammonia inhalant and, just as I did, waved it under the girl’s nose, and she awoke instantly. This time she stayed awake, and shortly thereafter walked out of the haunt on her own—to the nearest therapist, I’m sure.
It wasn’t until later on that I remembered I was wearing my black theatrical contacts. I guess the girl thought she was staring at the devil each time she came to!
Read about both 13th Gate and Necropolis 13 at www.midnightproduction.com.