Wednesday, June 1, 2011

10 Questions with Zombie Manor’s Caretaker, Dean Jarnig



Part one of a three part series on Zombie Manor (part two to come later this summer)


ZOMBIE MANOR is one of Dallas-Fort Worth’s TOP RATED and the ONLY zombie experience in north Texas. Featured in Haunted Attraction Magazine, selected as a TOP ATTRACTION in Texas by Hauntworld and seen during the 2010 World Series on FOX, ZOMBIE MANOR’s highly detailed movie quality sets, interactive performers and special effects will place you in the middle of your own Hollywood horror movie. Chosen by Columbia Pictures and MOROCH Entertainment to provide the interactive performers and make-up for the Texas premieres on Zombieland thier talented team transformed over 300 VIP guests into the living dead for showings in Austin and Dallas, Texas.


I was able to ask “Caretaker” Dean Jarnig a few questions about his past present and future plans.

Most haunt owners I know started with humble beginnings as home-haunters. What inspired you to open this terrifying haunted house?
We’re not unlike many that have dreams of opening a commercial haunted attraction. For almost 10 years Janine (my much better half) along with several of our friends and neighbors would haunt the neighborhood. It really brought a sense of community to the neighborhood and through those combined collaborative efforts we were able to pull off some really great Halloween events covered by the local media every year. We’ve created 32’ Spanish Galleons (the year before Pirates of the Caribbean hit the big screen), created free standing haunted mansions in the front yard and even created a full scale circus one year complete with clowns, caged gorillas, barkers, sideshow freaks and more. After an initial unfulfilling journey onto the commercial haunt world we formed an acting troupe known as The Dark Night Players sought after by the best haunted attractions in town to provide their que line entertainment, host sponsor party entertainment, provide photo ops at film premieres and more.
As for what inspired ZOMBIE MANOR I really just have to say that the crew we have contributing to the production annually continually inspire me and are the driving force behind our desire to create a safe, professional, movie quality attraction that places our guests in the middle of their own Hollywood horror film. When we first built ZOMBIE MANOR it consisted of a very tight group consisting of the Greg Little family, Sammy Maxwell, Janine and my father Larry; however, the Zombie Nation very quickly took hold and took off from there. We train our actors, make-up artists, costumers, technicians and back stage crew on the importance of the total entertainment experience and we work hard every season to create a very unique and original Halloween destination in Dallas – Fort Worth.

You were recently named to the “Top 25 Haunted Attractions” by Haunted Attraction Magazine and selected by Hauntworld as one of the “Top 10 attractions in Texas”. What did these honors mean for you and your crew?
All the recognition, honors and support that ZOMBIE MANOR has received from leaders within the industry like Haunted Attraction Magazine, Hauntworld as well as the thousands of guests that visit our attraction every year are not taken lightly OR for granted. We were also extremely honored to be contacted by FOX Sports during the 2010 World Series when ZOMBIE MANOR was selected to be the featured Dallas – Fort Worth Haunted House. ZOMBIE MANOR was seen during game 4 Halloween night before, during and after the broadcast between the Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants!
The consumer is very sophisticated, short on time and money and extremely savvy about where they want to spend their discretionary income. Every year, as more haunted attractions open, a few will certainly close, and we all are reaching for a bigger slice of the Halloween pie, so to speak. At ZOMBIE MANOR, we’ve invested a great deal of time, energy and financial resources to ensure our customers are rewarded for honoring us with their ticket purchase. There are no endless black hallways, cheesy props or trailers on blocks (although that is certainly scary in itself) containing our attraction. ZOMBIE MANOR is updated with new sets, illusions and special effects EVERY season so our repeat customers keep coming back and help us to spread the word of who we are and what we are all about.


Most haunted houses have multi-scene haunts. For example…clown rooms, butcher shops, meat lockers, etc. What made you decide to solely base yours around zombies?
There are several great haunted houses in Dallas – Fort Worth and I’m personally a big fan of many of them; however, many throw everything and the kitchen sink at you which just doesn’t make sense to me. I’m a big fan of horror films and a good film has a central theme, a tight storyline, terrific set dressing, a driving soundtrack and top notch acting! The Haunt House in Caddo Mills and 13th Street Morgue in Red Oak are a couple fine examples of attractions taking a theme and storylines seriously. Two other iconic attractions in Texas not to be missed are The Cutting Edge in Fort Worth and Thrillvania in Terrell. I just think the customer is much more immersed in their surroundings if the production makes sense, the entertainment value is much more tangible and real; the ability to suspend disbelief much more plausible.
When we created ZOMBIE MANOR no one else in town was really playing the zombie element up as a cohesive and themed experience. We certainly did not invent the zombie creature or mythology BUT what we have created is an attraction unlike any other in the region and one our guests have really embraced enthusiastically! Our interior and exterior sets (although all of ZOMBIE MANOR resides within a commercial industrial park warehouse behind a looming façade) flow convincingly from scene to scene…YOU are actually IN a ZOMBIE MANOR. So if you’re looking for clowns, next to Freddy, next to aliens…then another long dark hallway…ending with a tiresome chainsaw running you out the door you may be a bit disappointed. You’re in store for something very different from ZOMBIE MANOR, DFW’s only real ZOMBIE EXPERIENCE!


The back-story for “Zombie Manor” is as chilling and detailed as any movie treatment I have ever read. Tell us how this came about and who conjured up this frightening tale?
When we sat down and decided to go with a zombie inspired haunted attraction we felt we needed a back story with interesting characters and a timeline. We also wanted to ensure that we followed through on that storyline for anyone that actually came to tour ZOMBIE MANOR. The script was a collaborative effort by several on our team led by Janine, Greg and Debi Little. Greg is actually currently working on an original screenplay that he plans to turn into a feature length film. While you don’t necessarily need to know the storyline to ZOMBIE MANOR many of the happenings at the attraction tie back to the story and vice versa. The Caretaker, his henchmen (the Zombie Wranglers), Bedula and the zombie horde infest the Manor on a nightly basis. While Bedula and her zombies provide the frights and startles, the Zombie Wranglers (Cooter, Dirty Ernie, Rufus and Cleetus) provide some of the comic relief and help to “keep the zombies in check”. Sadly Rufus is now hunting zombies in Florida and Cleetus has been bitten and turned into one of the Walking Dead. What will this year bring??? Stay tuned for more in the coming months…

The sheer attention to detail is amazing. Who is responsible for the upkeep and set design for the haunt?
ZOMBIE MANOR is extremely fortunate to have very passionate and talented volunteers that make the attraction one of the TOP RATED in Texas. Although stressing safety and building to code first, we pride ourselves on our realistic and highly detailed set designs. You really get the feeling you are in an old plantation home when you cross our threshold.
The Zombie Nation (as we call ourselves) consists of individuals from a very diverse background of skill sets. School teachers, sales reps, nurses, designers, painters, sculptors, students, fire fighters, electricians, film makers, IT professionals, students and more comprise the Zombie Nation.
Their tireless efforts show each and every night during the season and many of the crew devotes numerous hours off season creating the illusions and scare zones at ZOMBIE MANOR. I would be remiss not to call out the significant contributions made by Duane Mackey along with Stephanie and Joe Titus who have been there since the beginning and who Janine and I could not continue to do what we love if not for them and the continually growing Zombie Nation. In only our fourth year, ZOMBIE MANOR has already seen a second wave of volunteers really GET THEIR DEAD ON to make the production something special.

All haunters have that “one” scene or prop in their haunt which they are extremely proud of. What’s yours?
Well that’s a hard one…every year I think our set designers create bigger, better and more realistic environments. Our trophy room really turned out great last season and our swamp shack is a favorite but many of our subtle transitional areas and the off balance pacing of the floor plan throughout is something that I think set us apart from our competition. Many of our props are custom made by our in house property masters; however, we do attend the major industry tradeshows and can’t help from picking up a few items each year. For 2010, the “Zombie Attack” was a tremendous hit with our visitors. Not only was it a great effect with a lot of impact but it fit our storyline perfectly and all I can say is you’ve got to come see it to believe it! We’ve got several new tricks up our sleeve for 2011 that will stretch our walk through, create a sense of dread and extend your stay inside ZOMBIE MANOR…assuming that is you do make it out at all (kidding, of course).

How many actors do you have and how long do they take to get into to costume each night?
While our cast count can vary slightly depending on the time of the season and the day of the week we generally have a volunteer crew ranging from 40-75. And it takes EVERY one of them EVERY night to ensure the event runs smoothly, is safe and a great night out for your entertainment dollar. From parking lot attendants to ticket takers, back stage technicians to security all play a vital role in making the evening a success. The make-up artists, performers, wardrobe department and SPFX team take the production to a level unmatched by several of our nearby competitors. You will not see a bunch of young performers running around screaming in bloody tee shirts and Nikes. Each SCAREactor at ZOMBIE MANOR will convince you they were made to play their part! Generally, the operations manager, make-up team, SPFX and wardrobe crews arrive 3-4 hours before the first tickets of the night are sold at the box office. They run sound checks, ensure the security cameras, light board, special effects, etc. are all prepped for the evening’s production. Getting performers roles assigned then through make-up and wardrobe can be the most taxing and stressful portion of the evening but our crew works their magic every night as well as for the numerous fundraising events, media engagements and promotional appearances ZOMBIE MANOR participates in throughout the year. As far as actor assignments, we normally assign 25-50 roles for that evening’s performance for positions both inside as well as outside the attraction.

By design you sell a limited number of tickets each night. Can you give us the reason behind this decision and what is the limit for each night?
We are very strategic on how we approach the flow, group size and velocity of through put at ZOMBIE MANOR. While we are in business to sell tickets we will not sacrifice the integrity or the quality of the production to simply “push through a conga line”. Due to our size and the time we are open each night, we have a sophisticated A/B switching system working in conjunction with video surveillance and radio communications to increase or decrease both the size of the group as well as the spacing between groups within the attraction itself. We strive to keep groups at 2-3 (we’ve even let guests tour alone for the ultimate experience with the zombie nation) but will go as high as 6 if we have to on some of the nights closest to Halloween when the wait can be as long as 2.5 hours. The A/B switching system and bouncing the group size from 2s to 4s allow us to maximize throughput by the hour to maintain the integrity of the production. On top of this, excellent internal communications inside ZOMBIE MANOR by our show directors adjust the pacing as required on a nightly basis throughout the evening’s production. Like a movie’s director or the conductor of an orchestra, a haunted house operations manager’s total awareness of what everyone is doing at all times plays a vital role to ensure EVERY guest becomes a raving fan after visiting ZOMBIE MANOR.

I heard you have maxed out your current space. Any plans on moving to a larger facility in the future?
Our only criticism from our guests is that they wish the ZOMBIE MANOR experience was longer…they really want more of it and for that we are very thankful! If you check out our reviews from customers and the media alike ZOMBIE MANOR is quickly becoming one of Dallas – Fort Worth’s favorite Halloween destinations. We are in a leased space and as such very limited in scope to what we have already scripted and story boarded so, yes, we do have a plan and hope to move into a larger venue with 2-3 additional attractions (all within the zombie family, of course) but that may still be a season or two away. Until then, be sure to grab all your family, fiends and co-workers and get out to Arlington, Texas to see ZOMBIE MANOR and help us continue to SPREAD DEAD!

Without giving too much away, are there any new scares in store for your victims this year?
Once again, we will transform approximately 20-25% of ZOMBIE MANOR as we do annually with NEW scare zones, detailed sets, original illusions and special effects not seen anywhere else in Dallas – Fort Worth. We will also increase the length of the guests walk through experience by moving our que lines outside and being extremely creative with our floor plan making the most out of our space.
We are adding a highly detailed courtyard putting you in the crumbling ruins of the entry to ZOMBIE MANOR unlike anything in the Dallas – Fort Worth metroplex, incorporating sophisticated video elements creating a sensory overload in numerous areas and adding several new areas of misdirection that will have you guessing “where is the next zombie coming from”.
There will be more iconic characters, more twists and turns, and more to tell all your friends about on facebook this season SO DON’T MISS IT. The Caretaker, his Zombie Wranglers and the Walking Dead are dying to eat…er, I mean MEET you!


Visit them online at www.ZombieManor.com or on facebook at www.facebook.com/zombiemanor. You can also see their 2010 World Series on FOX commercials along with several of our other videos at www.youtube.com/zombiemanor.

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