The Dark Hour Haunted House sets a very high bar for its very frightening attractions.
The costumes are intricately designed. The rooms and sets look like something built by a movie studio with a high-priced budget. The makeup designs are seamless, striking and supremely scary.
The makeup team — which gussies up the large crowd of actors and actresses that greets the Halloween events crowds, and the four other themed houses Dark Hour offers on and around Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, the summer and Christmas — has a long to-do list in a short window of time.
Makeup artist Molly Macabre says they have to decorate up to 90 people a night if the haunted house is in high demand.
"It's very fast-paced," says Macabre, who's been making up haunted house actors for the last 10 years. "It can be hectic in there."
This Halloween run was makeup artist Kim Anderson's first for a professional haunted attraction. She says she's been doing spooky makeup as a hobby after getting inspiration from the Syfy reality series Face/Off and scored her first paying gig with Dark Hour in September shortly after moving here from Sheridan, Indiana.
"I learned from someone who had been there awhile, and he showed me the first night and I took over from there," Anderson says. "I was intimidated but excited at the same time."
The planning starts at the beginning of the year when show director Allen Hopps designs all of the characters' looks, including the prosthetic items they'll wear when they're in character. Macabre says some of the performers have more intricate prosthetics and all of the pieces are made out of foam to reduce weight and help performers emote more under the masking.
"Some of the characters have specific pieces for them that are molded to their face," Macabre says. "The vast majority who wear prosthetics, it's just one cookie-cutter type of piece that should fit nicely on everyone."
The artists are trained on the techniques and procedures for making up the performers, and then after a few weeks, the house opens for business. The shows leading up to Halloween get bigger and bigger depending on the weather, and the weekend before Halloween was "insanely busy," Anderson says.
"By the time Halloween comes along," Macabre says, "we've done this routine enough by now and know where to go."
A team of five to seven makeup artists handles different parts of the process in sections. Two hours before the doors open to the public, each performer is assigned a specific look and reports to each section where the artist has around five minutes to design them.
"We have quite a few characters that require prosthetics, so our makeup room is made up in stations," Macabre says. "So if you have prosthetics, you go to that station first and have them applied and then you wait for your makeup time."
Anderson handles prosthetic applications and Macabre works on airbrush makeup while a crowd organizer sends performers where they need to go in the makeup room before showtime.
"I usually am doing one or two at a time, depending on if I have someone help me," Anderson says. "Once they're done with me, I base them out with flesh-colored airbrush paint and send them to their makeup artist."
Of course, the process is not immune to mechanical obstacles and technical malfunctions that can eat up time.
"I have malfunctions with my equipment on a regular basis," Macabre says with a laugh (not a normal, non-evil laugh). "The airbrush will clog up constantly. It's part of the business. You just switch out a gun."
However, the process has gone through years of refinement into a "smooth-moving machine" so that every face design matches the space and lighting in order to deliver the perfect scare, Macabre says.
"What we do is effective," Macabre says. "I've been auditing the makeup looks once a weekend. When we first started out, people were painting faces too light and we had to tell people to make the looks darker. There is some science to all of it."
The process can be a grind, but the screams they can create from their handiwork can feel just as satisfying.
"I truly do this because I love to do it," Anderson says. "I don't really care about the pay or anything like that. The experience is amazing, and being able to do what I truly love is basically why I do it."
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.