Event Report: Dark Hour Haunted House – Plano, TX

I’ve been a fan of haunted attractions for most of my years. I even spent many years a long time ago working in them, where I was everyone from Merlin the Magician to Jack the Ripper. Those days are long gone, but my love for commercial haunted houses remains.

Dark Hour (tickets and info here) is one of the newest houses in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, which is kind of a mecca for haunted attractions. The sheer number of options leads to quite a lot of competition, which brings forth a great deal of quality for us to enjoy as houses compete for our business.

While Big D is home to many long-running, legendary houses, I hadn’t heard much about Dark Hour. All I’d heard was “good production values.” I knew it had a theme of witches, and I knew they were one of the few houses I’d seen that open repeatedly during the year for various holidays.

I went out on a Friday night with Mitch the Viking and intended to check out the main maze, but we were talked into adding a few bucks to the price so we could do the smaller “classic” maze “Terra Del Monstrum.”

My first impression was one of foreboding, but not the good kind.

The house is in a strip mall. It’s in a former Sports Authority building.

Yeah.

I immediately figured it’d be very short in length and that they might be doing things on the cheap with a very mild-mannered exterior.

I was very, very wrong, and I’m very, very happy about it.

The gorgeous and spooky lobby and restroom area made it clear where those “high production value” rumors came from. Then the queue area featured a full-scale stage where performers appear to entertain those waiting to enter the line (unless they pay for a VIP ticket which bypasses the queue). Vampiric lounge singer Buddy Blood did a nice rendition of “Aint That a Bite in the Neck” before Carl, the rollerblading psychopath, came out and engaged in some humorous banter with the crowd.

The primary maze, Dark Hour during Halloween, is quite simply a state-of-the-art haunt mixed with old-school talent and artistry that will knock your socks off. Mitch put it well: It’s like walking through a horror film or a survival horror game.

Like most of the best haunted attractions, this one has an overall narrative. As explained on their website and by a very large animatronic witch in the lobby, Simone Noir’e leads a coven of 13 witches who founded Coven Manor back in the 1800’s. At various times they’ve been driven out, but they’re back again to reside and make their individual forms of mischief together and separately.

The main maze consists of three sections: Dominion of the Dead, Coven Manor, and Voodoo Vengeance.

Dominion is, quite simply, a massive graveyard full of not-so-restful corpses and ghosts surrounding the manor house. The Manor itself is a rambling mansion full of interesting relics and rooms themed to the witches that inhabit them. Voodoo Vengeance is the swamp surrounding the manor, filled with voodoo practitioners drawn to the manor by the evil magic and witches.

After a short introductory warning by a woman who is in disguise as a voodoo worshipper to warn trespassers of the evil they’re about to encounter, we’re thrown into the Dominion of the Dead and our journey begins.

I’ll say this: The attention to detail here is unbelievable. I don’t think there’s a surface in the building that isn’t hand-painted or sculpted, including the performers. Everything is crafted intricately to serve the mood or the story. I noted that in one voodoo hut they had painted the carpet so that it appeared to be straw and sticks. Someone hand-painted the carpet. That few people probably even notice. That’s dedication, y’all.

While the narrative itself is fast and loose (evil witches, graveyard, voodoo people, end) everyone has a part, everyone is dressed and made up to fit their part, and everyone sticks with their part no matter what. You won’t see a single generic off-the-shelf costume or mask. No shaker cans. No blackout masks, except when needed for stealth. (Spoilers, sweetie.)

Above and beyond the performers, Dark Hour utilizes the highest tech I’ve seen outside of Disney dark rides. HD projectors and screens abound, animating objects and creating illusions. Animatronics are triggered by motion detectors. Gigantic (and I mean gigantic) puppets and animatronics threaten visitors. Hollywood-quality makeup is used on performers, especially the showcase 13 witches.

As for length, I’d say we spent nearly an hour in the main maze. That’s insane length for a haunted attraction. I’ve cruised through some of the biggest haunts in the nation in less than 20 minutes. That length doesn’t even include the second maze.

Ah, the second maze. Terra Del Monstrum. Weird name, but I can make it simple to understand: a classic haunted house featuring the classic monsters of filmland.

Featuring the amazing Midnight Syndicate album Monsters of Legend (prominently announced on a poster in front of the attraction), this maze is a love letter to horror films. Presented entirely in black and white, you enter the world of old-school horror films in an old-school haunted house.

All 6,000 square feet of Terra Del Monstrum are constructed the old-fashioned way. Lots of 8-foot tall plywood walls and black paint. Few props or effects you couldn’t buy at a hardware store for $20. I spoke with the staff, and their take was, you have millions of dollars of the latest haunted attraction next door… what can you follow that with? Simple: the old way.

I’m here to tell you, as someone who spent a lot of time surrounded by plywood walls, they absolutely nail it with this smaller maze. I think I counted seven actors in total, moving from room to room via secret passages to keep scaring you again and again, all representing classic film references from Dracula to Frankenstein’s Monster to Mr. Hyde to Renfield to Igor. (Absolutely none of them infringing on Universal’s trademarks, mind.) These guys are clearly the A team, timing their movements perfectly to entertain each group, moving throughout the maze, setting up gag after gag.

Seeing names like Max Schreck and Conrad Veidt used in the attraction warmed my heart. This maze demonstrates a complete love of classic horror, not just the big three. It’s a gem and well worth the paltry few bucks it costs on top of the main maze.

What makes Dark Hour even more special is that they don’t just run the standard September-October haunt season. Almost every month of the year features one or two weekends, mostly themed around holidays, where the house opens with special shows that feature new sets, stories, and creatures. These are themed around the various witches of the coven… and it’s promised one witch dies every year, leaving an opening for a new one to take her place and add her particular spin of evil to the calendar.

Wreck the Halls around Christmas brings the Ice Witch and her buddy the Krampus, fairie folk and leprechauns go to war with the witches during St Patrick’s Slay Weekend, Love Is Blind for Valentine’s Day when you have to take the maze in the pitch dark, Walpurgisnacht is when the witches get their party on and the witch of revelry and debauchery takes over, the witch of contagion shows up and unleashes a zombie plague for Spring Fever, etc.

The team behind Dark Hour have a great love for Halloween and horror and the skills to put on one of the absolute finest haunts I’ve ever seen. If you find yourself in DFW this Halloween season, do yourself a favor and grab a combo ticket some Friday or Saturday and check out this amazing house. I know I’m going back to do the behind-the-scenes tour before the season is over; they have some great illusions that I want to see with the lights on!

Dark Hour

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Mr. Dark

A man of mystery. An enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a low-carb whole grain tortilla. A guy who writes about spooky stuff.

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