Dark Hour opened during the 2013 Halloween season. The year-round haunted house is located in a 47,000-square-foot space, which was once a sporting goods store just off Central Expressway in East Plano. They produce 90 percent of all their costumes and sets on-site, employ 50 actors, and 20 full-time staff members. This isn’t your typical, run-of-the-mill, rinky-dink spook-fest. As far as haunted houses are concerned, this is the major leagues. One need only look at show director Allen Hopps for proof.
Hopps started working in a haunted house in Maryland when he was 10. “It was near my grandmother’s house,” he says. “So I walked over and I asked them. I told them I wanted to scare people because even as a kid I loved monsters.”
They agreed to let him work, but the position wasn’t paid.
“They took a ceiling tile out of the roof, and they put me up on top of the wall and I had a spider on fishing pole. When groups would go by, I would just drop the spider down into the middle of the group and scare people.”
Now 32 years later, he’s still in the spook business.
Dark Hour is currently in the midst of it’s holiday performance: Wreck The Halls. The show takes place on a 30,000-square-foot, snow-coated, demonic elf-filled, Krampus-ruled set.
“Winter season is, in my opinion, more appropriate for a haunted house,” he says. “The horns of Krampus, those are the mountains. And Krampus’ teeth are the teeth of winter.” He explains that cold weather taps into our human instincts to survive—winter is brutal and dangerous. (Play along. We know it’s 60 degrees outside.)
Wreck The Halls, like all of Hopps’ productions, has a theme based on a coven of 13 witches that settled in a home in the bayou of New Orleans in the 1800s. Each show features one of them as the villain. The women have one goal: to end mankind. While the estate, main house, and surrounding lands remain the base of the set, the visuals and characters and the trail that people stroll all change according to the witch who is reigning. The December show is the least witch-focused of them all, but there is a winter enchantress who softly whispers commands into Krampus’ wooly ears. There is a war going on between the fuzzy, horned anthropomorphic beast and Santa Claus and for $29 you get to land smack-dab in the middle of it. This is the final weekend for Wreck the Halls.
“We knew we wanted a framework story, which is one that would let us do a lot of different things,” says Hopps. “Because we use magic, magic is an excuse to do anything you want. It’s just a good platform for us. A lot of the haunted houses in the area go the clowns, redneck, cannibal, inbred route, so we didn’t want to go that route. I wanted to have a higher fantasy element.”
The experience is immersive, from the floating, man-made snow and crunch of salt on the pathways, to the smell of baked cookies juxtaposed with (fake, duh!) human body parts broiling in an oven. Actors dressed as mythical creatures slither and dart out of dark spaces. It takes about 30 minutes to get through, and chances are you will completely forget about the highway and the Olive Garden and the gas stations that surround the building.
I really, really loved it. But this was my first-ever haunted house experience. I took two friends who enjoy having the bejesus scared out of them and they loved it, too. Afterward, while being harassed by a wendigo on stilts in the parking lot, they declared that Dark Hour was one of, if not the best haunted house they’ve been to. I believe them. They’re honest people.
Wreck the Halls has two more shows this weekend, on December 28 and 29. Go. Get scared. Chances are, the most frightening parts of your holiday have come and gone already, anyway.