At every open night at the Boneyard Haunted House, owner Dan Hall asks his troop of dozens of actors a very pertinent question.
“What do we not say in the Boneyard?” he yells.
“BOO!” they answer back. “Boo is for trick-or-treaters!”
Looking at the outside of the Six Flags Mall in Arlington, it’s hard to imagine that anything thrilling or frightening takes place in this quiet, practically abandoned building.
But if you take a step closer, you can hear the screams and see the monsters that roam inside one of the area's popular Halloween attractions.
Located inside an over 100,000 square foot vacant department store, the haunted house operates more like a grand theater production.
"This is really close to a theater production in a lot of ways," Hall said. "Forget about the actors and producers - we’ve got stages, set lighting and even a script that the actors adhere to. The big difference is in a theater, you’re sitting down and the actors are moving around. Here, you are the one that's actually doing the moving, and it’s what I call ‘interactive theater.'"
Up to 80 actors slink around the rooms in four different quadrants that make up the space. It takes around 120 people total to run the whole operation -- from "Monster Moms" that cater to the needs of the actors to security personnel and stage directors that make sure the characters are up to par on their scare factor. It’s one of the largest haunted houses around and takes 45 minutes to walk through from start to finish.
"It’s a full blown production," Hall said.
On a typical day at the haunted house, the action begins at 3:30 p.m. where extensive checks are made of the audio equipment, fog machines, lighting, mechanic props and safety exits. Actors start filtering in at 5 p.m. to get their costumes fitted and make-up done by on-site make-up artists. After a brief pep talk from Hall, the scare tactics begin at 7 p.m. and run all the way until nearly 1:30 a.m., when the last customers are running scared out of the exit. All of the work by the actors is purely for volunteer.
"I'm a totally different person in there," said Arlington resident Dominick Hurley, a Boneyard actor of two years who plays a maniac clown this season. "When I get in their faces, jump out of corners and chase them, it gets the adrenaline pumping in me. Getting to scare people is just a thrill."
Arlington resident Parker Gibson plays a flesh-eating zombie in the “graveyard room” and it usually take about an hour and a half to create his zombie effect make-up of rotting skin and a displaced eyeball. Now in his third year of haunted house acting, he has a few strategies when it comes to frightening his customers.
“I basically just try running up on them and get them in a spot where usually they don’t know a way out. It’s always fun to sneak up on them when they don’t know you’re coming," he said. "I’ve had people run from me, trip, fall to the ground hysterically...I've had people crying. It’s just a lot of fun."
The haunted house season starts around late September and from there, Hall said, the crowds begin to build. By the middle of October, tickets are sold out every night through Halloween and the maximum capacity Boneyard is allowed each night is limited to 5,000 people.
To be a part of the haunted house production is not any different than the process to audition for a theater production. Interviews and auditions for new actors start in March or April, where an applicant must perform an ad-lib and run through a staged scene to scare mock customers.
"Some people are really good at a startle or ambush type scare, and some other people are little more direct and up front where they can carry the scare in a different path," Hall said.
Grand Prairie resident and high school student Jasmine Shorter plays the role of a mental, scary little girl in the "Playroom." She said creepy, crawling monsters scare her, so she incorporates that into her character's persona.
"I love seeing their reactions. It's really cool to see how people jump and scream," she added. "I play a lot of correlated things- - when I see things things that freak me out, I think that it'll end up scaring other people as well."
In addition to the frights, the Boneyard also has an on-site psychic, a stage for live bands to play, an event room, concessions and arcade games to keep patrons busy while waiting.
Hall said he has a theory and philosophy when it comes to scaring people, working off a formula of light moments, then suspense, and followed by pure terror.
"You can’t just go through the whole thing scared 100 percent of the time. You’ve gotta have ups and downs," he said. "Like a good movie has emotional highs and lows, there has to be some comedy, a little humor in there. Without that you can’t really appreciate the fear. So we really try to set the stage or the feeling of the haunt, the tempo to where you’re scared."