Prince of Darkness

A St. Louis company is making a killing off Halloween. Your screams are music to their ears.

It made more sense for the two men to get back to what they knew: spooky, technologically sophisticated attractions. They began building "dark rides" — think Disney's "It's a Small World" meets A Nightmare on Elm Street.

"It just seemed like a natural progression," Kelly says. "A lot of the themes and special effects we used at the haunted houses were the same things people were doing for dark rides, and they also demanded a premium price."

Lit by black light and housed in theme parks around the world, the five-minute indoor rides typically use computer-animation depictions of pop-culture characters like Garfield and Spider-Man.

Jennifer Silverberg
Jennifer Silverberg

The grim headliners at Halloween Productions' first dark ride, "Fantasilandia," in Santiago, Chile, were vampires and werewolves — same with the "Monster Mansion Dark Ride" they recently built in a rural Chinese theme park called Mysterious Island.

Installing rides in remote locales is challenging. Crew member Mike Cox reports it once took him a day and a half just to find screw tips for his screw gun in China, because he couldn't locate a hardware store.

"As far I know, there's no such thing as a Home Depot in Third World countries, so if you didn't ship everything you need, you're in trouble," says Kelly.

In recent years Halloween Productions has shifted its focus toward "dark" mini-golf courses, which also feature black lights and pop-culture characters. Their most recent creation is a Dungeons & Dragons-themed course, scheduled to open next month in Branson.

"Dark rides take two or three years and can cost millions of dollars, but [mini-golf courses] are better because they cost less to make and are quicker," says Kirchner.

"You could say we created a new market," says Kelly. "Mini-golf used to be [exclusively] outdoors, so bringing it indoors is a new thing. Our courses are all about the theming and the attraction, and golf is just something you're playing inside of the attraction."

In addition to his Halloween exploits, Kirchner is also a budding Hollywood screenwriter. Brew, which he co-wrote with recently deceased St. Louis-based filmmaker James Dean Schulte, is in pre-production and will star veteran horror actor Brad Dourif, according to the Internet Movie Database.

"It's a scary movie based on the Lemp brewery," Kirchner explains. "Some kids inherit a brewery which has been closed since Prohibition, and they try to reopen it. But the walking dead are still there, brewing beer.

"A lot of people will ask me, 'Do you like blood and guts?' I can't watch a show about a surgery. It makes me almost want to throw up. That's not how I got into this. I like monsters, but monsters don't necessarily translate to death and murder, you know what I'm saying? We don't just want to scare people. We want to entertain them."

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