Monday, Oct. 12, 2009 | 2 a.m.
IF YOU GO
What: Fright Dome
When: 7 p.m.-midnight Friday-Sunday, and Oct. 9-11, 15-18, 22-25 and 28-31
Where: Adventuredome at Circus Circus
Admission: $34.95; Fast Pass $49.95; frightdome.com
Audience advisory: Not suitable for children under 12
Beyond the Sun
If your friends and colleagues show up strangely and suddenly hoarse or voiceless one morning, it’s a good bet that they visited Fright Dome the night before.
Or that they are moonlighting there.
For one month only, Fright Dome — the mega-spookhouse that takes over the Adventuredome at Circus Circus each October — is not only a symphony of screams, it’s de facto the biggest production show on the Strip, employing more than 300 performers, and that doesn’t count backstage technicians.
These actors — 150 or so are in character on any given night — put everything they’ve got into delivering their lines, which mostly run something like: “AaaaaaAAaaagggghhh!” Or “EEeeeeeeeeeeeeiiii!” Or “Uuuurrrnnnnnghhhhh!” and other very loud and committed variations of “Boo!”
It wouldn’t be a stretch to call the 5-acre Fright Dome a work of environmental theater or gesamtkunstwerk, as drama, music, scenery and lights are welded into an all-senses experience.
But let’s just call it a haunted house.
A state-of-the-art, explicitly 21st-century haunted house at that: There are no vampires or beasties or otherwise otherworldly ghouls to be found in Fright Dome. Nearly all the monsters within its miles of dimly lit, intestinally twisting corridors are humans. Or what’s left of them.
Much of what Fright Dome creator and mad genius Jason Egan does is a sophisticated, supersized version of the childhood classic flashlight-under-the-chin scare. But Egan mines the past three decades of horror movie trends, focusing on the vogue for torture exploitation that began in 1974 with “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and continued through “The Blair Witch Project” and the insanely profitable “Saw” franchise.
Sure, there are the expected visual shocks and audible jolts, but the horror belying it all is the cruelty, depravity and sadism of humans.
Egan made a partnership deal with the producers and distributors of the “Saw” films, which get the star treatment with two dedicated attractions — “Game Over” and “Jigsaw’s Revenge” (there are five themed attractions in all, plus thrill rides, wandering clowns and carny shows). You don’t need to have seen the six (!) movies, theme and variations on a sadistic madman who traps and pits his victims against each other in perversely moralistic mind games that usually end in hideous mutilation.
There are some terrifically gruesome set pieces here — a girl puts her hands through a circular saw, another quite literally flipping her lid. Both “Saw” attractions feature an intense play on claustrophobia (with an option to escape for those who can’t handle it).
Each Fright Dome environment evokes grimy grossness, decay and depravity, and every effect is designed to prey on your startle response.
I went with a group of five putative grown-ups last Friday, and after leading the gang through the cannibal corridors of “Hillbilly Hell,” I began pleading for someone else to go first. Somehow I still ended up being used as a human shield, feeling my way through the dark, setting off a chain reaction of screams, occasionally shoving aside what turned out to be a body bag blocking a passage.
Don’t think that bringing up the rear means you’re off the hook: If you have the skin-crawling sensation that something is following you, you’re probably right.
The flickering, strobing lighting leaves afterimages of grisly tableaux — the scariest stuff is what you almost see or what you think you saw.
The ticket price is the first big shock, of course, but if you survive that you can wander through Fright Dome for hours, riding thrill rides in the Stygian gloom, dodging roving packs of menacing clowns (and roving packs of excited teens). Be prepared to wait in lines, unless you spring for the Fast Pass, which enables you to jump the line.
The remaining attractions include “Chainsaw” and “D.O.A.,” the latter sort of a secular take on the recent crop of “Hell Houses” presented by evangelical Christians.
I’d recommend saving “Chainsaw Massacre” for last. No matter how macho you are — I’m talking to you, 6-foot-2 Steve — when you’re being cornered and chased in the shadows by real, stinking, roaring chain saws, there is no face-saving response possible. You can’t help but cringe and back away and run like hell for the exit.
The hallmark of the 3,767-room Circus Circus Hotel, Casino and Theme Park in Las Vegas lies under the Big Top, where circus acts perform on the Midway Stage as part of the world's largest permanent circus.
The Adventuredome, America’s largest indoor theme park, offers five acres of climate-controlled fun for all ages.
Guests of Circus Circus may dine in a variety of restaurants including THE Steak House, rated the best steakhouse by Zagat and recognized a record 20 times in Las Vegas Review-Journal’s “Best of Las Vegas” awards, and Rock & Rita’s, where flair bartenders and live music enliven the scene.
Circus Circus also offers a casino, wedding chapel, meeting and convention space and a 30-acre RV park.