Behind the curtain of 13th floor: how the horror happens

A performer at 13th floor gets hair and makeup ready before the attraction opens. Photo: Erica Barillari · The Sentry

A performer at 13th Floor gets hair and makeup ready before the attraction opens.
Photo: Erica Barillari · The Sentry
The method to the madness of Denver’s most acclaimed haunted house

If it shrieks, claws, shouts, lurches, or moans, it can be found here… creeping behind every dark corridor and each manufactured monstrosity. 40,000 square feet of darkness and confusion, three themes made to disturb in all manners, and all the fear and adrenaline anyone could ask for, this is the essence of 13th Floor. 

Named number one on the Discovery Channel’s list of “Top 13 Scariest Haunted Houses in the US” and earning not only state-wide but national acclaim, Denver’s 13th Floor Haunted House stands above its other five sister attractions of the same name across the United States, and it’s easy to see why. 

The Sentry was given behind the scenes access to 13th Floor to see the creative process of something so terrifying. 

13th Floor is the product of true creative genius and morbid inspiration, bringing forth the most terrible of experiences in the most exhilarating of ways.

From bioengineered monstrosities to exorcized orphans, and even grimly humorous demon monkey clowns, this year’s artists, designers, performers, and management has created something astounding for the 2018 line-up that always stands to best itself from their previous year’s work.

Beginning as an attraction based off the folktale of  Otis Elevators never installing a 13th floor option in any of its established buildings, this house of horrors more than bodes something “unlucky” for its visitors. Rather, as a regular part of any Halloween experience, haunted houses are intended to evoke terror and delight in the macabre to celebrate the season of the Samhain tradition.

Being an attraction suited to evoke fear for entertainment, it can safely be assumed that it is more than visitor dread and the attraction’s grim nature that give 13th Floor its renowned standing, and self-proclaimed status as
“Denver’s Legendary Haunted House.”

The newest General Manager, Alex Burgraff, in her first year at the haunted house, has 13 years (how fitting) experience managing attractions for the 13th Floor Entertainment Group.

“The artists definitely bring this [attraction] together. They are my favorite part, for sure,” Burgraff said.

This is easy to see throughout each corridor, from each adorning stain, to vividly dreadful props, down to the terror in each actor and animatronic. 

From sketch modeling each actor and mechanical frightmare to practice models for possible gruesome scenes and costumes, followed by actor choreography and adapting the makeup and costumes to their movements, it becomes more than an art form to the artists.
It’s like having free reign over the design of a world, fresh from everything dark and demented.

After getting a few words from Burgraff, the group was then able to travel to the wardrobe, where the horrors would make even Dr. Frankenstein blush in approval.

Press was lead in 14 to 15 minutes flat from start to end through assembly line horror, with top notch quality, like a frightening Ford factory.

Thorough work from the artists from vivid stains and ghoulish discoloration, from each teared cloth and inhuman contact lens, shows its worth once the sun goes down and the denizens of the dark are free to jolt the minds of every audience member. One can hardly tell the actors were ever people.

Overall, the sheer fervor and commitment that Burgraff and her staff shows is devotion. Creating the very things that horror fanatics can only have nightmares about, showing the press that it is not merely in paints, décor, and shocking frights defines how 13th Floor operates. A deep, innate understanding of horror is almost second nature to all working on the staff.

Now of course, a review of this year’s themes shows how 13th Floor has encapsulated bleak beauty through its deranged, confined, and thrilling experience. 

Beginning in the sci-fi nightmare, the amalgamation of amalgamations in the lab, “Half-Alive” brings forth the fray of a science lab gone horribly wrong with enough abhorrent freakish creatures and mad scientists to feel the shock of inspiration and the morbid nature of unholy creation. 

Naturally, one would want to go to church after seeing something as wretched as the previous laboratories… a pity the one presented is corrupted.

Inspired by cult classics, such as John Moore’s The Omen, and modern horror editions like Corin Hardy’s The Nun, “The Possession” visits a monastery orphanage that has been desecrated by a dark, demonic essence. Without going into too much detail, these kids are not adoption ready and the sanitation is atrocious.

Okay, okay… after both of those more than surreal experiences, any one would probably not object to a visit to the local fair, right? They have got food… it’s humans. They have games… also humans. It’s pretty much all humans, taking middle spotlight in a cannibal carny’s dream in “Trick or Treat.” 

With enough backwoods and gasoline-fueled horror in each rev of a chainsaw and cackle from the cages, the finale brings forth an opus of terror that must be seen firsthand to be truly understood.

From start to end, this emotional, spine-chilling thrill ride will have guests on edge the entire time, death-gripping shoulders as they all wander into the grim unknown.

Taking approximately 30 to 40 minutes to get through the entire attraction, there is no room for anticipation and nowhere to run, inspiring a truly adrenaline pumping experience from start to end.

Tickets start at $19.99 depending on the day of the week and whether or not Fast Pass and Skip the Line features are added. The experience is worth every cent and will burn its own path into the memories of each of its visitors.

Mind the buyer, though, this is not for the faint of heart. 13th Floors actors and decorations sometimes include live insects and creatures to amp up the scary fun.

Those who wish for a “tamer” experience, Colorado is home to plenty more horror excursions.

However, 13th Floor is home to more than just the haunted house. It also features a Frankenstein’s Monster themed bar, carnival games, and a photobooth.

The attraction will be open only until Nov. 3, and then again on Nov. 9–10 for its “Blackout” attraction which, if someone doesn’t like horror with the lights on, imagine doing it with only a glowstick…in the dark. That’s right. It’s the same terrors, same design, and same horrific scene… but this time, guests are left at the mercy of the darkness around them, shakily holding a dim glowstick to guide themselves through the veil that hides all the fiends that await in this frighteningly unique experience.

Lines at the 13th Floor often get packed quick, so be sure to plan a visit soon.

Afterall, in each intricately gruesome detail to its premise, the 13th Floor surely lives up to its spine-chilling reputation as being home to any and all manners of fear and delight in what goes bump in the dark.

13th Floor Haunted House
3400 E 52nd Ave
(303) 355-3327
Open now through Nov. 3
Again Nov. 9 and 10

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