Dig Baton Rouge

Scare Tactics: A look inside this year’s 13th Gate

Year after year, horror fans seek to have their fears taken to new heights at the 13th Gate. This haunted house is known for setting the bar with its one-of-a-kind scares, and this year will see new additions that will please haunt patrons new and old.

“We’ve been building like crazy between the escape games and the haunted house,” said Dwayne Sanburn, owner of the 13th Gate. “Right now I’ve got 12 people full time, and pretty much all year we’ve been working hard on changes in the haunted house as well as some in the Necropolis. We got some fantastic things to show people now, including animatronics and unusual things that we’re gonna have throughout the lobby this year. It’s going to be a mini show of all these different characters that talk and come alive at different times as you’re waiting in line.”

According to Sanburn, a lot of new scares have been added throughout the haunted house, and there are quite a few new rooms in their London section, including a new Jack the Ripper area. Necropolis 13 also received a few major changes including a voodoo room and an updated fire show. There will also be a new section located in the 13th Gate that Sanburn cannot wait for patrons to experience.

“It’s going to be very, very scary,” Sanburn said. “We’ve been debating whether we want to give it away or not. On the one hand, we want to show everyone, but on the other, it’s such a surprise that I almost don’t want to tell what it is. It’s going to be something people are going to talk about.”

With new rooms added and sections updated yearly, the 13th Gate holds steady as one of the best haunted houses in Louisiana, as well as the United States. Every autumn droves of people come out to get petrified by what lurks inside the house, and will find themselves curling up in fear far easier than at any horror film. While you can turn off your television or leave a movie theater, that isn’t the case for when you attend the 13th Gate where the scares happen directly in front of your face. And unlike most horror movies that are made within a few months, haunts are a year-round business and always evolving, including the 13th Gate. As soon as the doors close for the season, its right to work on next year’s scares.

“I’m always amazed when I’m out somewhere, and it’s August, and I have my T-shirt on, and someone asks me, ‘Oh, you’re already working on the haunted house?’ And I always tell them, ‘No, we never stop working on the haunted house,’” Sanburn said. “It literally never gets finished. It’s a continuous job.”

Sanburn works on new designs all the time, and throughout the year his full-time team will build new things or add new items purchased from trade shows. There are also artists that come in throughout the year to work on various parts of the haunted house. Without these individuals, there wouldn’t be eerie sounds or cool lighting to make us scream.

“We’re nationally known because our detail and the time and energy we put into the smallest details are hyper realistic in a lot of places because we take the time to do it, but it takes all year,” Sanburn said. “We come together and create new things. It’s a labor of love. I’ve been very lucky to find the people I have who help me create my vision.”

Along with special effects, detailed sets and makeup, there are also high-quality performers waiting to give you a real fright. Many different haunts each have their process on how they incorporate their actors, but it’s not the same experience as one would prepare for a stage or film performance.

“Unlike standing on a stage and acting, your audience is constantly streaming by you,” Sanburn said. “It’s a great place to learn acting and to hone your skills, particularly improv because you get an instant reaction, and you can change and add new things. A different audience comes in every few minutes to see you.”

Haunt actors can smell fear easily, and it’s in real time. While characters in a horror film on screen are fictional, pre-filmed and don’t know you exist, an actor is waiting around the corner to give you a fright in a haunted house.

“We have something representing every phobia you can think of,” Sanburn said. “There’s no protection for you. Of course, our actors don’t touch anyone, but they get in your comfort zone for sure.”

The makeup department is another element that holds the haunt together. They help create iconic, horrifying looks that the customers see and remember for years to come. Without them, you would be looking at masks on everyone there. The bigger the haunt, the more crunch time you have to produce makeup and get an actor out on time. And having 120 actors to get ready in two and a half hours is scary in its own merit.

“The difference is a single makeup for a movie may take six to eight hours to put on, but in the haunted house we don’t have the luxury of that time,” Sanburn said. “Makeup artists may only have 20 minutes to apply makeup, but they’ve learned the tricks and techniques to speed up the process. Our makeup artists do a phenomenal job given the time they have. It’s amazing the amount of work they do to get the actors show-ready each night.”
As for which night to achieve ultimate levels of fright, Sanburn suggests coming to Flashlight Fright Night, or at the start of the season.

“If you want the scariest show, the best thing you can do is come early in the season when the crowds aren’t so large,” Sanburn said. “It’s a very much more intimate experience when the actors can interact with you and have more time to do so.”

The 13th Gate, located at 832 St. Phillip Street in downtown Baton Rouge, will open on Friday, Sept. 23, and will have Flashlight Fright Nights on Nov. 4 and 5. The gate opens at 6:30 p.m., and may remain open later than 11:30 p.m. if there is a line. For more information, call 225-389-1313 or visit midnightproductions.com.

Photo courtesy of 13th Gate.

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