Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A NPN Exclusive Look at The Making of Dorney Park's Haunt VI

This Haunt display greets visitors just inside the gates.
Today we have a special treat for Dorney Park fans, especially those who enjoy the park's seasonal Halloween Haunt event.  The park's brand new Vice President and General Manager, Mike Fehnel, was kind enough to show off some of the goodies that Dorney Park has planned for the sixth instillation of Halloween Haunt, as well as provide a look at the enormous effort that goes into pulling off the scare-filled event.

Clowns, Crazies, Zombies, Pirates, Ghosts and more!
The hearse is out at the main gate, and that means that we can get a look at the attraction line-up for this year.  The park will not be adding any brand new Haunts in 2013, and actually one - Death Trap - has been retired.  That by no means represents a year off, though, as they have plans to massively beef up two of the existing Haunts.  The focus of those efforts are much of what I was able to check out at the park during my visit.

Different than the makeup counter at Macy's, indeed.
Our first stop was at the backstage location where all the monsters are created each night of the Haunt.  Let me pause and just point out how extremely creepy this room is!  I noted that it looked like you could potentially use this as a maze on its own... just as it is!  Kill the lights and make someone walk through here?  But I digress. 

This space is busier than busy on Haunt nights, processing the monsters is a big game of scheduling and efficiency and starts hours before the first guest arrives.

No, the clown will not do your make up thank you.
At any moment it appears as though these guys will come to life and scare the heck out of us, alas they all stayed put - thankfully!  It takes a lot of talent to make this space function on those busy evenings, and if you've been to the park you can understand what a good job they do.  Some of the makeup seen on the Haunt creatures is a combination of fantastic horror, and that's just the way we like it.  At least I do!

These guys are just resting.
Many of Dorney Park's backstage areas contain props and other Haunt related items in various stages of work.  Here we see a couple of skeletons just chilling out in one of the backstage work areas.  Mr. Fehnel pointed out that many of these guys come to the park as rejects from the medical field.  That is to say that any of them with imperfections don't make the grade for medical training, but that makes them perfect for Halloween attractions!  The park has been working on making these two guys look rotted and as if they've spent a great deal of time six feet under, a job they've done well.

This too is what your office looks like, right?
Elsewhere in the park's maintenance buildings you come across more Haunt supplies at nearly every turn.  While a lot of props may originally come from outside sources, such as masks, severed heads, gargoyles, etc, the park puts their own touch on most of these items.  A little dirt here, some extra paint there, and presto you've got all the creepy stuff found in the attractions.

Work underway for some new Haunt scenery.
In the park's larger warehouses some of the bigger props for this year's Haunt are well underway, with many of them already finished and waiting for placement in the park.  Above is a new display that will be used for different purposes, according to Jim Schneck, the park's Graphic Services Manager.  The park is sponsoring and will have a booth at the upcoming Parafest - a Paranormal and Horror convention - that will take place in nearby Bethlehem, PA.  Considering the quality of the props and settings that Dorney creates for Haunt, no simple backdrop was going to make the cut, so the team has been assembling this imposing gothic mausoleum for the event.  Once completed it will also sit atop the park's Halloween float that will be seen in local parades - pulled by a monster truck.

Note the scale here, these set pieces are huge!
Mr. Schneck's team is always ready to work on new projects on the drop of a dime, exemplified by this massive stage backdrop that they have created in a very short period of time.  To go along with some new entertainment for the Haunt, the park's stage needed a fitting castle background, and voila, here you see just that being created in one of the park's warehouses.  The park's carpentry team is also top notch, having created so many of the sets that the graphic design team has dreamed up over the years.  Many might assume that a lot of the castles, pirate ships, and building facades are purchased, but that is not the case.  The extremely skilled park staff creates those from design to finished product.

Creating a new monster not found in Jurassic Park.
Another toy that Mr. Schneck was happy to show off is this dinosaur that's currently being transformed into a dragon.  The creature will be a part of this year's Age of Darkness attraction, which is getting a major upgrade.  With Death Trap now gone, Age of Darkness will expand into its former location with a new maze section, known as the torture chamber.  This 'attraction within an attraction' will feature plenty of scares with a more tradition maze feel when compared to the scare zone that Age of Darkness has been for several Haunts now.  Not that the attraction hasn't had its fair share of scares in the past, but the new section is planned to kick things up a notch in that regard.

This guy is not done yet, but you can see the changes already.
The story behind this dinosaur turned dragon is pretty interesting, actually.  Last fall when Hurricane Sandy blew through the area, it did its fair share of damage at the park as well.  According to Mr. Fehnel the park actually lost around 100 trees when all was said and done.   The image at left is of one of the park's RVs that used to be in Backwoods - it might look like a set piece from The Walking Dead but it also was a landing pad for a tree during Sandy.

With Dinosaurs Alive! utilizing a heavily wooded section of the park that spelled trouble for the T-Rex during the storm.  A large tree happened to fall on him, actually destroying him beyond repair.  But that's one of the great aspects of the Haunt, according to Mr. Schneck - they take great pride in reusing old objects from the park in Haunted attractions.  In this case that meant that by using the broken dinosaur the park could have a giant dragon for Age of Darkness.  Take that Sandy!

If you look close you can see that Jim's team is using the skin from the smashed part of the creature to create scales, and claws from the feet are now horns on its head.  Eventually when complete the plan is for the Dragon to breath out smoke, have glowing eyes, and still move using the remaining parts of its inner mechanics.

Ever wonder what's underneath those rock walls?
The planning that goes into creating Halloween Haunt could be considered a full time job, and to some degree you could see it that way for Rich Litzenberger, the park's Assistant Manager of Graphic Services.  While too modest to accept the title, he's unofficially known as the mastermind behind each year's Haunt at the park, coming up with many of the twisted ideas we get to experience.  He pointed out that planning for the following year's Haunt actually starts in October of each year.  So really before one Haunt is even over they're starting work on the following season's!

The photo above is of a rock wall set piece that had arrived but was awaiting its paint.  Once Rich and the team get their hands on it an authentic looking castle wall will be created out of paint - but safely, he points out.  The set piece is flame retardant, as is much of what goes into the haunted attractions.  Safety is key when it comes to designing the Haunts, and to achieve that it takes the cooperation of so many departments at Dorney Park.  Carpenters, painters, designers, electricians - the list goes on and amazingly all the work is performed in house.

These have that rustic feel, you know?
The other attraction that will see a major upgrade for Haunt VI is Head Hunters, which just debuted last year.  It takes place on the midway along Possessed, and features some terrible tribal folk who have a penchant for collecting heads.  Above are some of the larger props that have been created - or are still underway - for the outdoor scare zone.  A slew of new set pieces were designed for the area to give the actors more places to hide, and create a more disturbing atmosphere.

Freshly painted horror!
There's some more changes that visitors will notice this fall, including an imposing creature at the park's entrance display and some different entertainment options - but some things should remain a surprise, right?

Many thanks to Mr. Fehnel for taking me around the park, and to both Jim and Rich for taking the time to speak with me.  I'm looking forward to Haunt VI, and can't wait to see all these goodies in their final placement as the screams begin!