Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 | 2 a.m.
It’s an hour until sundown and Warren Ross is busy turning himself into a killer.
The 45-year-old father and church volunteer applied his face makeup — a demented clown impression done up in red, white and blue — before making the drive over to a shopping center near Rainbow Boulevard and Smoke Ranch Road.
Once there, he laces up his spiked forearm cuffs, tightens his rainbow suspenders and begins mixing a concoction of lighter fluid and alcohol in a coffee cup.
Soon, he’ll make his way from the makeshift staging area and out into the parking lot, where he’ll spend the rest of his night performing as Scorch, a fire-breathing, psychotic clown who stalks the grounds of the Freakling Brothers' trio of haunted houses, terrorizing whomever crosses his path.
“I’m an equal-opportunity scarer,” Ross said. “Whether it’s a football player or an 8-year-old girl, they’re all fair game.”
Ross has worked for Freakling Brothers for five years, but his ties to the Mollner family, which owns the houses, dates to the 1970s, when Ross was a teenager running through haunted attractions the Mollners had each year in the garage of their east Las Vegas home.
The business was born when family patriarch Duke Mollner started building elaborate Halloween-themed facades for his home and challenged neighbors to survive his haunted garage.
The Mollner’s house became so popular during the 1980s that people would spend hours in line for the opportunity to go on a five-minute expedition through the garage, son JT Mollner said.
“Ever since I was 5 years old, (my dad) would put some fangs in my mouth and put me in the show,” JT Mollner said.
When the family moved in 1992, the decision was made to take the business commercial, and Freakling Brothers was formed.
“We built it as a family,” Mollner said. “Friends and family came with hammers and screwdrivers and helped us build (the first house).”
Twenty years later, the company is one of the most popular and enduring haunted house operations in the valley.
It has grown to encompass three different haunted houses — the Circus of Horrors, Castle Vampyre and Gates of Hell — in a strip mall at 2321 N. Rainbow Blvd.
On a recent Saturday night, group after group of people entered the haunted houses, only to emerge running and screaming some 15 minutes later.
The Gates of Hell, which launched in 2011, is the most popular attraction and the first R-rated haunted house in the valley.
Customers must be at least 17 years old and — before entering the Gates of Hell — sign a waiver that allows the actors to touch them. Inside, they’re subjected to electric shocks and a mock execution before coming face to face with Lucifer, all while being grabbed and sworn at by foul-mouthed actors.
“It’s rated R because we made it an experience where things happen to you. You might get separated from the group; you might be touched,” Mollner said. “You’re facing your death. Each room is a different way you can die.”
Mollner said the family prides itself on avoiding cheap scares — actors aren’t allowed to say the word “boo” — and that increasing competition from other houses and graphic horror movies prompted them to try something new with Gates of Hell.
“It’s taking a lot more to scare people, and that’s why we had to up the ante. People have been de-sensitized,” he said. “We don’t believe in splattering blood around for no reason. We’ve never ever used a chainsaw. … I think the scary part for (Gates of Hell) is the idea and anticipation of getting touched. When people are told it’s a full-contact haunted house, they’re on edge the entire time.”
Tickets for Freakling Brothers’ haunted houses start at $12 each. The attractions will be open daily at 7 p.m. through Halloween.