Portland Oregon's - Frighttown
By Hauntworld Magazine
Portland Haunted Houses are some of the scariest and best in America! Hauntworld.com rates and review the best and Scariest haunted houses, haunted attractions, and Halloween events in America! Frightown is located in Portland, Oregon and has one of the scariest haunted houses in America! Prepare to scream! Sit back and prepare to scream through our review of Frighttown. This Halloween you can't miss the scariest and best haunted attraction in the entire state of Oregon, Frighttown. Their attraction features some of the scariest actors, crazies scenes, and amazing set design. Now sit back and read all about the best haunted house in the the Portland area Frightown When you are looking for the biggest, scariest and best haunted house in the entire state or Oregon Fright Town is your haunt and now Hauntworld will give you the full scoop of what makes Frighttown the ultimate Haunted Attraction in Portland, OR.
To learn more about Oregon's Frighttown visit their websit below:
TO FIND MORE HAUNTED HOUSES IN OREGON
The celebration of Halloween, as we know it today, is a heavily American tradition. But when you think about America’s great haunted attractions, chances are you’re only thinking of places east of the Colorado River. Haunted attractions like Netherworld in Georgia, The Beast and The Darkness in Missouri and Headless Horseman in New York have fame and infamy the world over, but with the exception of an elephant in the room like Knott’s Scary Farm, the Western states rarely offer even a blip on the scariest haunted houses radar. So when we heard about a horrifying haunted attraction that was tearing it up in Portland, Oregon, of all places, we knew we had to dig into that shallow grave and see what popped up.
The undisputed heavyweight haunt champion in that land of moss and microbrews is FRIGHTTOWN, a vast, macabre complex of three haunted houses located in Portland’s Rose Quarter: the giant entertainment complex in the center of the city housing the Moda Center and the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and home to Portland’s NBA team, the Trail Blazers, the WHL Winterhawks, and every major event from Disney On Ice to Lady Gaga. Filling the Rose Quarter’s Exhibit Hall, a 40,000 square foot “basement” adjacent to the hockey rink, FrightTown is now celebrating its tenth year as Oregon’s premier haunted attraction. We had a chance to sit down with FrightTown’s producer and creative director (and mascot), Dave Helfrey, and talk about being a big haunt in a small pond.
HAUNTWORLD: Let’s start at the beginning. How did FrightTown come about?
FRIGHTTOWN: It’s funny. FrightTown was never “the plan.” It was a lucky coincidence where an amazing location, an eager crew of talented artists and my own midlife crisis all just kinda came together.
HW: You’re going to need to expand on that “midlife crisis” thing.
FRIGHTTOWN: It was pretty much exactly that. Some guys buy a convertible and start birddogging girls half their age. I dressed up like a vampire and opened a haunted house. (laughs) Becoming a professional haunter was a long road for me. My whole life I’ve always LOVED Halloween and haunted house scares. As a kid, I would draw monsters until I ran out of paper, but my lily-white, middle class upbringing steered me towards a job in marketing…which I really only liked, for the most part. But I was pretty good at it and ended up a partner in my own agency.
HW: Like in MAD MEN?
FRIGHTTOWN: More or less. I was the creative director, so I guess I would have been the Don Draper. Only without the square jaw and the parade of one night stands. So yeah, a lot less, actually. (combined laughs) Long story short, my advertising agency lost momentum when the dotcom bubble burst. I was trying to figure out my next move when 9/11 happened, and I thought “You know what? Life’s short, so #### it. I’m gonna open a haunted house.”
HW: I’ve heard a lot of 9/11 stories, but that’s a new one. So you actually credit 9/11 with giving you the motivation to fulfill your haunted house dream?
FRIGHTTOWN: Well, there were a lot of other feelings first, of course, but I do credit 9-11 for firing up my sense of carpe diem, so to speak. The rest fell into place afterward. I started researching haunts online. Then, I found out about the Transworld Haunt Show, back when it was still in Chicago. Somehow, I talked my way in and I was overwhelmed by this haunted attraction industry that I had no idea even existed. I was blown away.
HW: And then, FrightTown happened?
FRIGHTTOWN: Not yet. At Transworld, I met a guy that ran a haunt complex in Portland called Scream At The Beach. (It was actually called TerrorWorld but after 9/11 everyone was scared to use the word “terror” for a while so he changed it.) He was expanding and experiencing some growing pains, and offered me a small chunk of his floor space. Less than 2000 square feet is tiny for a haunted house, but that was the year I started Baron Von Goolo’s Museum of Horrors, the haunt that would become FrightTown’s cornerstone.
HW: “Baron Von Goolo’s Museum of Horrors” is kind of a weird name for a haunt. Can you tell us why you chose that direction?
FRIGHTTOWN: It is a weird name but The Museum is a pretty weird haunt. It’s not so much a “haunted house” as a parody of haunted houses. I do love Halloween but I love making fun of things even more, so I thought it would be a hoot to tease the hockey mask & Visqueen crowd. Baron Von Goolo is sort of a cross between Dracula and Willy Wonka, and his museum is likewise equal parts evil and satire. Anything that makes us laugh finds its way into The Museum. We’ve had actors dressed as zombie penguins and the ghosts are old school, just wearing bed sheets. The stoners and the hipsters loved it. Still do.
HW: So the Museum made people laugh on purpose? Again, that seems weird. Unique, but weird.
FRIGHTTOWN: I know, right? But that’s the beauty. You get someone to laugh, they let their guard down. It causes an actual chemical reaction in the human brain that starts to put people at ease, and then WHAM! around the next corner you scare the holy hell out of them. You do that three or four times and by the time the fifth joke comes around, they don’t know which end is up. I would tell my actors that it didn’t matter what they said when they pop out of their drop panels, because as long as they delivered it like “I’ll swallow your soul!!!” they were sure to get the scare. So they would pop out yelling things like “I have a rash and I vote!!” and “I’m naked from the waist down!” and ta-da, they’d still get the screams. And then the guests would catch their breaths and say “Wait – was that demon wearing a bunny suit?”
HW: So it’s safe to say that Baron Von Goolo’s Museum of Horrors is nontraditional?
FRIGHTTOWN: Everything about it. It started as a rejection of the traditional notion of theming, which I know a lot of haunters swear by. I had all this stuff that I had built from my former life as a home haunter and an unrepentant hoarder. A mummy here, an evil clown there, a bucket of space mutants, whatever. So a friend of mine suggested that I style the attraction after a museum. Perfect! You could walk from a forest full of werewolves into crashed alien spacecraft and then into a circus freak sideshow and in the context of the different wings in a museum, it all made sense! I didn’t know about the “rules” of theming and that ignorance saved me.
HW: So how did the Museum of Horrors become FrightTown?
FRIGHTTOWN: In 2005, we were outgrowing our space at the other haunt and things were getting strained. I got a call from a radio station that we worked with – which I expected, because I was Scream’s marketing director - and the rep dropped a pretty big bombshell on me. Turned out that the event managers at the Rose Quarter had heard about haunts at other venues like Madison Square Garden and loved the idea enough to want their own Halloween event. Beneath the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, they have this cavernous, cement sort of bunker that was 40,000 square feet of underutilized space. It’s totally unfit for most events but when you turn the lights off and crank up a fog machine, it’s freakin’ perfect for a haunted house business. Santa got my letter! Fast-forward and later that year, FrightTown opened right across the quad from where Bruce Springsteen plays. It’s a great location. And the moral of the story? Be nice to your radio reps.
HW: 40,000 is a lot more square footage than you were used to. Were you ready for that kind of expansion?
FRIGHTTOWN: No, but we were too starry-eyed to notice. On our best day we really only had the resources to pull off two haunted houses but our new space was so huge it really demanded three. So at the last minute, we made the call to do a darkness maze that covered close to 10,000 square feet. We capped the ceilings, painted the walls with gore, made invisible hidey-holes for the actors to pounce from, and added a few strobes that went off when a monster attacked you. We called it The Black Box. The idea is that you shouldn’t be afraid of the dark; be afraid of what’s in it. It was just dark walls n’ halls with gory monsters lurking everywhere. Simple. One monster was a feral, child zombie still attached to the corpse of her mother by a huge, rotting umbilicus. She’d run at you like a junkyard dog, and the umbilicus would snap her back like a tight leash. It was ghastly. People loved it. The Box has returned a couple of times since that first Hail Mary season, but since then we’ve had the time to truly craft it and our other haunted houses.
HW: That’s as good a segue as any: what are some of the other attractions you’ve had at FrightTown?
FRIGHTTOWN: We try to rotate out a different haunted house every two to three years, so that there’s always something fresh to entertain our returning customers, and we also balance the “flavors” so that the three haunts don’t blur together. For example, The Museum will be more brightly lit and slower paced, so you can drink in all the eye candy, but the other haunts will be darker and louder and bloodier, aimed specifically at video game playing teenagers. So besides Baron Von Goolo’s Museum of Horrors and The Black Box we’ve had Elshoff Manor, your gothic castle haunt, The Asylum, which is rather self-explanatory, The Contagion, our zombie apocalypse haunted house, The House of Shadows, which was a flashlight haunt where we started to delve into the theme of demonic possession, and The Chop Shop, an auto scrap yard filled with inbred mutants that turned themselves into cyborgs using the car parts. I loved that haunt. We nicknamed it “Hillbilly Hellraiser.”
HW: That’s one I wish I had seen. The inbred theme is a favorite of mine...Lots of good scares and screams!
FRIGHTTOWN: Yeah, it was solid. Five bucks says we bring The Chop Shop back in 2016. And then last year we introduced The Madness, a haunt based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
HW: Sounds interesting. How was The Madness received? Were you worried that approach might be too obscure or highbrow for the Paranormal Activity crowd?
FRIGHTTOWN: Not at all. At least, not here. Portland is a teeming hipster-nerd mecca with a lot of very literate horror fans. Because of the weather, people stay indoors and huge bookstores, like Powell’s, still thrive. Folks read here. Plus, Portland hosts the annual H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, and there’s even a Goth bar in town called The Lovecraft. Their response to The Madness was thunderous and epic. We created a rotting New England fishing village in our echoey cement box under the Coliseum. We got a lot of feedback that it was not only our best looking haunted house ever, but also THE BEST looking haunted house that a lot of our guests had ever seen. That win felt good.
HW: That sounds awesome. So do you have a Cthulhu?
FRIGHTTOWN: That was the first rule I laid out for the team, in fact. No Cthulhu. I’ve been reading Lovecraft and Derleth and the others since I was in junior high and I respect the source material too much to phone it in. Cthulhu is a hundred feet tall and looking on him drives you mad – a haunted attraction can’t deliver that. So we went deeper into the mythos and pulled out the more esoteric stuff. Deep Ones and Pickman’s Model and shoggoths and yes, of course, even zombies of a sort. Don’t worry, though; The Madness still has plenty of tentacles. And we even threw in a Re-Animator room. You know. For kids. (laughs)
HW: Did I detect a tone in your voice when you mentioned zombies?
FRIGHTTOWN: Myself, personally, I’m done with zombies, but with the Walking Dead craze and the zombie genre so popular, I’d be shooting myself in the foot to ignore them. You gotta give the people what they want, you know? We keep all of our inside jokes to The Museum, but the other two haunts at FrightTown always cater to the more visceral tastes of teens and young adults. Ergo, zombies.
HW: Our readers will want to know what’s in store for them at FrightTown 2014. Anything new?
FRIGHTTOWN: Tons. 2014 is FrightTown’s tenth anniversary, so we couldn’t let that go by without doing it up right. Besides Baron Von Goolo’s Museum of Horrors and The Madness – both of which will have massive remodels – we’re building a new haunt called The Witch House. It’s an old warehouse where cultists are squatting and worshipping the demon, Orobas. That’s a “real” demon; we do our research. The warehouse gets raided by cops who discover the cultists are being possessed and transformed into demons themselves. It’s going to be very supernatural in feel, and we’re drawing heavily from the Paranormal Activity movies as well as demonic transformation movies like Night Of The Demons and Gates Of Hell, with a little Wicker Man thrown in for spice. (The Christopher Lee Wicker Man, not the Nicholas Cage Wicker Man.) People might pick up on a little True Detective vibe, too.
HW: So Baron Von Goolo’s Museum of Horrors is a part of FrightTown every year?
FRIGHTTOWN: It’s our cornerstone and my personal playground. We change and grow it every year with revolving exhibits like The Food Court Of The Damned, The Petting Zoo Of The Unsettling, The Institute of Evil Clown Surgery and others. The sets are detailed and the characters have more Addams Family in them than Freddy Krueger. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea perhaps, but I can’t think of any other haunt like it, anywhere. Horror film director, Jovanka Vuckovic, even wrote a travelogue about us for Rue Morgue Magazine back when she was editor-in-chief and said The Museum was ‘the most amazing cabinet of curiosities she’d ever seen,’ or something like that. It was huge props.
HW: It sounds like you and your crew craft some fairly vivid environments at FrightTown, and that the artistry of it all is pretty important.
FRIGHTTOWN: Yeah, you could say that. It’s not just important; it’s why we do it. I’ve been an artist all my life, and half the people I know are artists. When we get together and make props and costumes and more for FrightTown, it’s game on. Beneath the surface, our haunted house is a walk through art gallery, where the patrons are totally immersed in the horror we craft. We have an impressive armada of industry standard props and animatronics from companies like Ghost Ride and Unit 70, and we’re huge fans of Midnight Studios and Poison Props. I’m personally addicted to the silicone masks that Immortal Masks puts out – so darn pretty. On top of that, we have collector grade props from Hollywood effects studios and amazing creature creators like Jordu Schell, Casey Love, Jonathan Fuller, Neal Kennemore – I could go on. But the glue that holds everything together, that makes FrightTown a truly one-of-a-kind haunt, is the stuff we create ourselves. I was so fortunate to start FrightTown in a youthful, energetic city like Portland that attracts artists from every discipline. We have artists from LAIKA (the studio that did ParaNorman and Box Trolls), and we have artists from Michael Curry Design (that did the puppets for The Lion King musical), plus folks from Intel and TV shows like GRIMM and yadda yadda yadda - and they all CARE. They care because they know their contributions will be respected and not wasted on some shoddy spook show. And then, our actors enter these worlds we’ve created for them to play haunted house in, and they get motivated by the beauty and energy of it all, and in turn they bring the sets and the props to life with the characters they create. And all of that artistic energy results in FrightTown being the best haunted house event in the Pacific Northwest.
HW: That’s a bold statement.
FRIGHTTOWN: We’ve got 40,000 people screaming their fool heads off every year to prove it.
HW: That’s a solid crowd. So being in Portland hasn’t been a challenge for you?
FRIGHTTOWN: Well, I don’t remember saying that. Portland is small. The population isn’t huge like Atlanta or other established haunt cities, so we’ll never have numbers like some other haunts do. And unlike the Midwest and the East Coast, Oregon and Washington folk don’t think of haunted attractions as a go-to thing to do to celebrate Halloween yet. But we’re preaching and they’re learning. On the flip side, I don’t believe that I could have pulled off FrightTown anywhere else. I mean, we’re located in the biggest entertainment venue in the state, for cryin’ out loud! And all the energy and creativity that our crew and actors are willing to invest to make FrightTown so amazingly terrifying – I don’t think it could have happened the way it did anywhere else. I think we’ve got the perfect storm of haunting here.
HW: Is it that “perfect”? I understand that all this – the three haunted houses, the stuff in the courtyard, all 40,000 square feet – is all mobile?
FRIGHTTOWN: Oy. [Helfrey put his face in his hands.] Yup, every year we have about ten days to get the hell out of Dodge. It all has to come part and fit on pallets. We fill ten semi trailers and our 2,000 square foot workshop to the roof with spooky stuff. And we get 1 month to put all the attractions back together the following year.
HW: You’ve got to be kidding!
FRIGHTTOWN: (laughs) I really, REALLY wish I was. I do envy haunts with permanent locations. There’s just so much damn stuff here. It’s funny. Every year, at least one of our actors asks me how much all this stuff is worth. And I tell them it’s worth about a million dollars to a haunter, and about thirty bucks to anybody else. It’s all relative. Every year, we put at least $100,000 into the new show with more gags, more props, more stuff. There are no laurels to rest on. We’re giving the people what they want. Upgrades, new animatronics, new tricks to old floor plans or, of course, entirely new haunts like this year’s Witch House. The overhead on a good haunted attraction is insane. But the result is a good show that people enjoy and respect. We get feedback from patrons that they’re glad that FrightTown is “a part of Portland.” We’re in the zeitgeist, now. Hell, we should be on Portlandia! You can’t buy that kind of love. So we do what we have to.
HW: So after all these years, how do you keep things fresh? Where do you get your inspiration?
FRIGHTTOWN: My crew and I are such media junkies that we find inspiration in the wildest places. Obviously, we follow trends in horror; things you can’t miss like scare pranks on YouTube that get ten million hits and how “amazing” teenagers thought Insidious was because no one born after 1997 had seen Poltergeist. For that reason, we do pull ideas from older horror movies since the source material is much less likely to be recognized. We’re big fans of urban legends, and some of that influence will be found in our Witch House haunt this year. For The Museum of Horrors though, inspiration could come from anywhere…from 1950’s classroom “scare films” to 70’s musical variety shows to EC Comics and everything in between. Plus, we watch a lot of Adult Swim. You’ve got to see Superjail. It’s an acquired taste and maybe skip Season 2, but it’s a must-see.
HW: Thanks for the tip. One last question: what advice would you give someone trying to get into the haunted house industry?
FRIGHTTOWN: My advice is that Taco Bell is always hiring.
HW: (laughs) I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not.
FRIGHTTOWN: Mostly not. The ONLY reason to open a haunted house is because you live and breathe Halloween and can’t imagine doing anything else. Otherwise, to compete at the big dog level these days, the barrier to entry is insane. Even here in sleepy, little Portland. Customers are so jaded by Silent Hill this and Resident Evil that, that the days of peeled grape eyeballs and Freddy masks are ancient history. Like I mentioned before, the overhead for an outfit like FrightTown is staggering, and then you’ve got insurance to deal with and fire marshals and prima donna actors ruining things for everybody else and on and on and on – no one ever tells you about all that stuff. ASCAP hunted me down a couple of years ago. I had no clue! I just wanted to make monsters, but I rarely get to anymore because I’m in marketing meetings and dealing with city permits and whatever else. That can be a bummer but then opening night rolls around, and I see that my crew and I have made a machine where wary people walk in one end and happy people walk out the other. I love that so much. We’re not curing lupus here or anything, but we are bringing the joy of Halloween into thousands of people’s lives. Making people happier is worth something. More people should do it. And some days, that’s enough.
HW: Whoa. That got unexpectedly profound there for a second.
FRIGHTTOWN: Yeah, I know. Sorry. Quick – tell me a fart joke.