Dead man's party

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Posted Wed, Nov 3, 2010

His business suit is shredded; the sleeves look as if they’ve been caught in a wood chipper. He’s covered in blood, like he’s been wounded and bleeding for days.His jaw has been blown away and the rest of his face is just small pieces of bloody flesh. He looks at himself on time in the mirror before heading to work – at the City of the Dead haunted house that is.

      More than 20 years ago, Randy McLellan started doing home haunts in his yard as a kid in Loveland.  His father would throw together a haunted house for Halloween in their yard for all the neighboring kids to enjoy. Though he may how outgrown his costumes over the years, he was never too old for scaring other people.

      “This is fun,” said Randy. “It’s rewarding to hear people scream. I am not afraid to say this; it is over the top.”

      Randy, with the help of his brothers Robby and Ryan, continued the family business and brought their scary appetite to Denver. Their first professional gig came in 2006 while working for Screampark in Brighton. In 2008, they started Haunted Concepts, LLC and with the help of eight core crew members, with more than 20 years of combined experience in the industry, City of the Dead was erected.

      Despite the gory mask covering his face, it’s not hard to imagine the beaming expression on his faces as he describes the house. He talks about it like a proud parent of their child’s accomplishments.

      “This is art and entertainment, there are painters and carpenters,” said Randy. “You will find mixtures of dirts and coffee grinds, anything I could find to make it realistic. There is a theme in room and everything has a story.”

      Just like his characters, Randy lives a normal life during the day. He worked in an office before he was laid off two weeks ago. With the extra time, he is devoted to turning last year’s No. 1 rated haunted in Colorado even better.

      “It is very original, we make all of our props,” said Randy. “Each year, we change 30 percent of the haunt. This year we focused on costumes. It took a week to make this mask; to sculpt it and mold it.”

      While Randy and his family, including his wife Tracie Major, are primarily responsible for putting on the haunts, they have enlisted the help of more than 45 actors on the team and there are 15 core crew engineers, builders, and artists. Crew members have even worked on horror films including “Jason” and “Friday the 13th.”

      First-year actor, Abby VonFeldt enjoys scaring the guests and hearing them scream. Ironically, she hates to be scared hasn’t stepped foot in a haunted house since she was nine before this year.

      “It looks real and it especially does in the dark,” VonFeldt said. “It actually does kind of creep me out.  As an actor I am okay with it, because I can tell myself ‘this is fake.’ People make the mistake of bringing in their kids and I get to pick on them. One kid came in who was about nine years old. He was so scared he actually sat in the seat when I told him to.”

      The 15,000 square-foot haunt is inside the events tent at Mile High Marketplace. It has 30 different rooms that portray different parts of the city including: a donut shop, police station, retirement home and a fishing dock. Winding streets bridge together parts of the city that you will walk through more than once and see a different side of each time you go through.  There are even three full-sized cars and a boat inside.

      “We started the art and design of the haunted house in August, and it took 24 days to build,” said Major.

      But with throwing Colorado’s scariest haunt there are a few setbacks.

      “Before we started City of the Dead, we traveled throughout the U.S. each October attending haunts and theme parks each year,” said Major. “We’ve been through hundreds of haunts from the East Coast to the West Coast and we miss having the ability and time to travel and experience haunted houses as guests.”    
      Kendal Holzman, a Red Rocks Community College sophomore, isn’t a big fan of haunted houses either, but in her second year as an actor for City of the Dead, she considers herself a “lifer” for the haunt.

      “I love it … I would like to be more involved behind the scenes,” Holzman said. “Randy puts so much detail in everything, down to the gum on the wall in the classroom.”

     “Compared to other haunted houses, I was impressed with the houses size and the scale of the budget,” guest Terry McCutchen said. “There are fake cobwebs, skeletons, and very elaborate, gory bodies. It’s more than just sights. There are odors of waste, Pinesol and Bengay in the retirement home. There’s even a cold air filter to make a room seem colder. ”

      Even as creators of the haunt, Major and Randy still get scared every once and a while.

      “The builders of the haunt add twists to the show each night that no one knows about,” said Major. “Even as an owner who has gone through the haunt a few thousand times, they get me with something new each night.  Last night [Sept. 30], was an air cannon they placed in a spot I would have never thought of and it got me good.”

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