A good twenty minutes away from the flashing lights of the Las Vegas strip, in a lot behind an unassuming Target shopping center…you can find the best Halloween scares in the state of Nevada.
The Freakling Bros. Trilogy of Terror has been a Halloween fixture in Las Vegas since 1976. The family-run haunt opened for its 2015 run last weekend, this year debuting their newest attraction: Coven 13.
Freakling Bros. hosts three walk-through mazes every October. Coven 13 will be joining returning attractions Gates of Hell and Castle Vampyre. Father and son team Duke and J.T. Mollner run the event together. J.T. said after years of building haunted houses in their home garage, his father first began a haunted house business in the ’90s when J.T. was 13 and the pair have been working together since. The independent, family-run business is often toted among horror fans as one of the best haunted houses in the industry. The Trilogy of Terror also houses what is promoted as Nevada’s “only R-rated maze,” Gates of Hell, where patrons must be 17 or older to enter and sign a waiver.
If you’re planning on visiting Sin City for some scares, this place should be high on your list.
Protip: It’s worthwhile to get a front-of-the-line pass–$10 extra gets you front-of-the-line entry and a souvenir T-shirt. These attractions only take in some groups at a time, which can add to the wait time for each maze, but saves guests the experience of the typical conga line passing endlessly through the mazes at other popular attractions. When you visit Freakling Bros., their monsters seem like they’d been waiting specifically for you at every turn.
Each attraction features an interactive host at the entrance, waiting to bid you forward and warn you about the dangers within (and, um, explain their general housekeeping rules: no touching, no running, etc.). Expect to greet a sultry vampire, a hooded witch and the grim reaper himself before entering each maze. Once you’re in, here’s an idea of what to expect.
The newest Freakling attraction was quite a feat to produce, according to the Freakling staff. J.T. said it was a big production to put together and unlike other mazes they’ve done before. It was such a big production, in fact, that its grand opening was delayed until midway through the second night of the event due to technical difficulties.
“It’s like it was cursed,” he joked outside the attraction. “We painted too many of these witch symbols onto it.”
It’s now fully up and running after Saturday’s opening.
In Coven 13, a witch’s coven is looking for new members—and thinks your group may be the perfect fit. That is, as long as one of you isn’t “rotten.” These witches are of the ugly—and sometimes diseased—variety, not the sexy kind, and several of them seem to be more warlock-esque. Elements of a storyline appear loosely throughout the experience, more so here than in the other Freakling attractions. These witches are facing a plague and turning on each other. Your group has picked a poor time to be joining their ranks.
Much of this maze feels different from the standard haunted house fare—in fact, there are relatively few of the typical jump scares within. This maze seems more interested in disorienting its visitors in darkness and fog, plays into claustrophobia a few times and provides some visuals that combine actors with the effects encountered. Many of those effects are pretty innovative, providing carefully timed surprises in certain rooms that should impress even the most frequent haunt regulars. Expect to be temporarily separated from your group and held in several confined spaces–one of which where it will be very difficult to move.
As would be expected, many of the usual vampire tropes can be found here: a cleavage-bearing Transylvanian looms at the entrance and there are torch-lit hallways and gothic décor. There are jump scares from actors lurking in the hallways and a few areas so dark you may need to feel your way forward. But several scenes in this attraction make it more than the typical vampire maze.
The first big effect is a good one. Expect to be surprised from the start. It sets the tone for an attraction that can actually leave an unassuming guest a bit hesitant and confused about what is really as it seems and what is an illusion. There are several of these moments in Castle Vampyre. This is a maze that takes very familiar material, both in subject matter and even the usual haunted house features (such as the use of mirrors, darkness and scare actors), and reworks them in unexpected ways.
The illusions featured in Castle Vampyre are simple, but ingeniously effective. Once they’ve fooled you, you’ll catch onto exactly how they did it. But that doesn’t take away from the fun of the surprise. Chances are, for at least a split second, they’ll have confused you with delightfully clever little tricks that they want you to realize before moving forward.
Gates of Hell
Perhaps the most notorious and innovative of the Freakling Bros. attractions is Gates of Hell. This is their only R-rated maze, the only maze with an age restriction at all, and the only maze at the attraction that requires guests to sign a waiver before entering. This is the only attraction of its kind in Las Vegas. Considered a full-contact haunted house, once the waiver is signed the demons within can touch guests. If the experience becomes too much for you, the safe word “Purgatory” will release you from the experience (without a refund). According to Duke, only about 20 percent of the guests who enter call the safe word—but about half of those who do will call it in the first room.
This intense haunt is not recommended for everyone. There will be verbal harassment and strong language, confined spaces, pushing and grabbing, as well as a few shocking surprises (get it? Go through or just read the wavier…you’ll get it). According to the Freakling staff, the haunt opened in 2011 to surprising success after initially being designed for their niche audience of regulars looking to intensify their scares.
In addition to the R-rated content, this maze, like other Freakling attractions, plays on incorporating some unique effects into its haunt. The theme of the maze centers around different ways to die and go to hell. The scares here are rarely of the jumping-out-and-shouting-boo variety. Most of what is encountered here is designed to get under the skin and make visitors uncomfortable. For those brave enough to enter, it will be a memorable experience.
And more…if you can handle it.
Freakling Bros. also hosts an even more intense experience for, as they put it on their website, “that special kind of thrill seeker.” The Victim Experience is an extreme horror experience that is physically and emotionally taxing. Promotional materials refer to the experience as a “test of fortitude” instead of a haunted house. Some of what is encountered within has been likened to “light torture.”
“This experience is not for most,” the official website warns. “This experience is not ‘fun.’”
The Victim Experience runs for one weekend only and visitors must be 18 to participate (in good physical health, willing to handle the trials of the experience with no retaliation, wearing clothes that may be damaged/removed during the experience). This year the event has already sold out, but Freakling Bros. has built enough of a niche following for it that it’s returned every year since its inception in 2013. For more information visit: www.victimexperience.com.
This relatively niche, independent haunt uses its resources to its advantage. Some attractions may be bigger and more heavily-funded—but Freakling Bros. still pulls off impressively detailed sets. And their thrilling scares and creative effects could make some of the more commercial haunts seem like kid’s stuff in comparison. Even jaded, regular haunt-goers are in for some surprises here—and are likely to see something they haven’t before. And that’s saying something.
So go ahead and wander toward that dark lot behind the shopping center. It could leave you a little shaken, but you’ll likely also leave smiling. And that feeling is exactly what Halloween season should be about.