By Caroline Fontein
Most people only think about ghosts, gore and ghouls around Halloween, but not Jason Egan. As the creator of Fright Dome, thinking of ways to scare people is always a top priority. Since he started the haunted theme park at Circus Circus in 2003, his business Egan Productions has blossomed into an all-encompassing scare factory where he and a team of other designers, artists and engineers create countless props and special effects for Fright Dome and other haunted houses around the world.
His 7,000-square-foot shop located in Las Vegas operates year round. Egan and his team start moving pieces to Circus Circus and setting up Fright Dome at the beginning of August. Before everything was moved from the warehouse I got a chance to talk to Egan and take a behind-the-scenes look at some of his creepy creations.
“Everyone’s shocked to be going right back to work in November,” said Egan while giving me a tour of his shop. “Back eight, ten years ago we’d start planning in July to be set up in October. Now it’s immediate. We have to get going very quickly.”
At the shop he has about six permanent employees who work on creating countless haunted props from scratch. Some of these are for Fright Dome, while others are sold to outside clients including David Copperfield, Sea World Parks and Entertainment and countless other haunted attractions. Once it gets closer to October 1 when Fright Dome opens, Egan employs around 200 additional people to help operate the five-acre haunted theme park featuring five haunted houses, multiple scare zones and amusement rides that operate regularly during the rest of the year in Adventuredome. Fright Dome operates 7 p.m. – midnight Thu. – Sun. through October 31.
Fright Dome also includes live entertainment from some of the world’s most notorious and macabre illusionists in the all-new “Show of Magic & Horror.” The show features a combination of shocking illusions and unsettling conjuring by three magicians – Dixie Dooley, Kevin James and Dan Sperry, who recently performed on “America’s Got Talent.”
For the second year Fright Dome is partnering with Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures to create two new horror-movie-themed haunted houses.
“The movie themes are great because people love to feel like they are in the movies,” says Egan.
After the success of the “SAW” themed houses last year Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures offered “My Bloody Valentine” as a new theme for this year.
“I was stoked when I had big Lionsgate executives coming through my attraction (last year). You know these people are used to $30-million movie sets, and when they were absolutely impressed with what we did and how much scarier it was than other attractions they had visited, that’s a great compliment,” says Egan.
He explained that the “My Bloody Valentine” theme was an especially good fit for Fright Dome because there is an area in the park with a rocky façade that looks just like a mine shaft.
“This one’s actually going to have an elevator ride at the beginning, which will simulate descending into an underground mine. Then you have to dodge Harry Warden while you’re down there,” says Egan.
Along with this, Fright Dome will also have a new “SAW” themed house. In the “SAW” house last year people just got to see replicas of the “games” from the legendary movie, but this year they get to experience them with an all-new interactive haunted house.
“The customers are actually going to sit on this prop, and to make it to the next room everyone has to push the button at the same time,” says Egan while pointing out one of the new props for this year’s “SAW” house.
Creating every new prop is a multi-step process, but Egan likes to keep as much as he can in-house to ensure that everything people see at Fright Dome is unique.
“We try to make sure everything’s original to us. That’s a big thing. We don’t want our haunted houses to have the same things as everyone else. They come to us expecting to see the best haunted house, and we’re going to make sure we give it to them,” says Egan.
Many of the props start as illustrations. He works with various artists who sketch out new ideas for scary creatures. Once he approves them, the sketches become clay sculptures that are used to create plaster molds. The molds are then filled with liquid latex, which dries and is painted to look like a freakish ghoul, rotting corpse or another frightening creature.
With the movie-themed houses Egan gets images, renderings and models from the production companies that are used as guides to create life-size props and costumes.
Other props might start as something Egan and his team purchase at a thrift store and modify. Egan showed me a second-hand dresser that they purchased and outfitted with springs to make the drawers mysteriously pop open. The dresser will also be aged and modified so that it looks like something from a Stephen King novel.
“When we need something we just build it up real quick, we’ll age it and we’ll blood it up. We use our secret blood formula,” said Egan. The secret blood formula is a two-part recipe that Egan got from a friend who owns a special effects company.
This modification process doesn’t stop with furniture. Egan’s team also works on cars, and this year they even built a 37-foot-long replica of a Huey helicopter.
“It doesn’t fly, but it’s a static military helicopter. We just keep taking on these projects, and we’re successful with all of them,” said Egan.
The helicopter is going to be used in the all-new Zombie Apocalypse scare zone this year at Fright Dome. For those of you who have never ventured into the haunted theme park, the scare zones are areas in the park outside of the haunted houses where frightening scenes are set up with roaming scare actors ready to terrify anyone who walks by. Zombie Apocalypse will also include a 1969 Jeep Willy that Egan and his team outfitted with an animated zombie gun man.
“We can’t fit that type of stuff in the haunted houses, but we have the advantage of being a theme park so we can fit it in our scare zones,” says Egan.
For the new Clown Evil Alley scare zone, Egan and his team transformed a 1965 Chevy Shorty into a scary clown ice cream truck. Evil clowns are already creepy enough on their own, and now they have an ice cream truck as a tool for terrorizing people.
“Everything we fabricate from scratch, it was just an idea at one time and my guys are constantly bringing me ideas,” says Egan.
Haunted 13th Floor Tour
Aside from Fright Dome this year, Egan is also putting on the Haunted 13th Floor Tour located in the hotel room tower at Circus Circus.
“The tower actually has a thirteenth floor, which is really rare, and you know some people say the thirteenth floor is a portal to the other side,” says Egan.
This tour will be available every day from 2 – 10 p.m. October 1 – 31. It features 13 rooms with frightening scenes including a seance room, a bellman-gone-bad room and a crazy catering room. The tour is $13. Egan pitched the concept to Circus Circus when he first started doing Fright Dome, but it wasn’t until this year that the hotel took him up on the idea.
“There’s all kinds of fun new stuff going on, if there were only more hours in the day,” says Egan.
Since the park opened, Fright Dome has attracted more than 60,000 customers each year. It’s recognized as one of the nation’s top haunted attractions and one of the scariest Halloween attractions in Vegas.
Creating new haunted props for more than 30,000 square feet of haunted houses and another 20,000 square feet of scare zones each year means that Egan has a constantly growing collection. He’s already talking about needing to move his shop again into a bigger location.
Along with the overwhelming response to Fright Dome each year Egan is getting more recognition as a master in everything macabre. He was recently featured in one of the man-on-the-street segments on Joan Rivers’ “How’d You Get So Rich?” After October, he and his team are going to start work on filming a television pilot for a new show that he described as a cross between “Punk’d” and “Ghost Hunters.”
His ultimate goal is to direct and produce horror movies. Breaking into the movie business is something Egan is confident his company can do, but he’s waiting for the right time.
“Just like anything else, I want to make sure that I have the perfect script, the perfect product. The last thing that I ever want to do, I swear I have nightmares about it, is creating a bad product. I swear the nightmares that I have are not normal. They’re about having a bad haunted house or not finishing my haunted house,” says Egan.
Take a behind-the-scenes look at some of Egan’s creepy collection of haunted props.