For 10+ years the guys and girls of FrightProps.com have been supplying the industry with a unique and extensive line of products. Recently, we had a chance to interview Drew Ailes (designated "Chief of Halloween Enthusiasm") and find out what makes the folks at FrightProps so good at what they do and why it's not just a job...it's a calling.
Doug Anderson is the founder of FrightProps! He used to own a computer company and I think he's always been sort of a prankster of sorts. After he sold his company and got out of the tech business, he started a haunt called The Dig right outside of Denver in Broomfield. From my understanding, he realized there was a real need for a place where you could get so many of the things you need to run a haunted house all in the same spot. After he relocated the company to Bloomington, Minnesota, Scott Bibus (Creative Director) started working with Doug and along with Scott's wife Kathleen, they've basically built the entire company to what it is today.
Honestly, from the time I first started working with FrightProps back in 2007 to now, what's really set the company aside from others is the dedication to helping the customer. Whether they're creating "How To" videos or spending hours helping someone get started on their first PicoBoo, Doug and Scott are exceptionally generous and decent people who just want to make people happy. I do the marketing side of things for the company so I'm always reading all these articles on how to create a strong brand and grow your customer base. It's funny because all these studies and analytics arrive on the conclusion that Doug and Scott (and the rest of us) just naturally operate under - be fair to people and appreciate them. They didn't sit around and read marketing books - they've just always done what's right for the customer.
I can't say that other haunted house suppliers are unfair or dishonest, or anything like that - but I can say we've established a great reputation by being consistently appreciative of the people who support us and never losing sight that they're the reason we're able to do this.
It's all about how the prop is used. I've seen $12,000 props that bored me; not because they're not scary or built well, but because they weren't placed right, were lit poorly, or the programmer messed up on the timing. Or maybe they put a ton of thought into how that prop was going to scare people but zero thought into creating a cohesive theme for their haunt and in turn, don't realize that every single scare feels out of place because they didn't care to look at the bigger picture. So I think that's one of the most important things for any prop, having a vision as to how it works in conjunction with the rest of your haunt.
There's a lot of different schools of thought on this. I don't personally get too frightened at haunted houses because I can't let go of the fact that no matter what, it isn't real. So for me, I'm really into the visual aspect of haunts and sort of admire scares and jumps in a secondary way. In that regard, props driving a scene is totally fine because I'm giddy over watching all of these things in action. But in terms of unleashing some real scares on your audience, I think they work better as an enhancement. A good actor, working with their environment and props, will almost always scare harder than any prop out there.
We do a lot in house but we're also a reseller for tons of people. We also have to obtain parts from certain places as we're not able to make nuts and bolts and stuff like that. Short answer is that there is no way we make all 25,000 products we sell in our warehouse, but we're able to do some amazing stuff with the space that we do have.
Crazy in the best way possible.
In addition to your usual array of costumes and decorations, our controllers, motors, lights, and pneumatics are all really popular. I think probably one of our most unique products we sell is the Scary Peeper, which is designed to look like a creep is peeping in your window. We talk about that thing almost every day.
My hope is that eventually Halloween will become a month long holiday filled with pranks, costumes, and general chaos - but maybe that won't happen in only ten years. I do think that the mainstream population becomes more and more enamored with Halloween and horror each year. As far as where I see us, as long as we're all still here doing what we love to do, we'll be very happy.
That's a great question. We do fulfill a lot of orders around the world on a regular basis. Some of them send us pictures and descriptions of their haunts but it's a little hard to say precisely how different they are, culturally. I'd assume that in non-European cultures, things might be a little tame to us. I think Americans really adore being thrilled and terrified so people are always looking for the next way to scare the hell out each other, so that breeds more extreme approaches to haunts. I can see other countries being just as extreme as a way to duplicate what they've seen over here or possibly, they're less scary as people there have just seen fewer haunts in general. As anyone wrapped up in this scene can tell you, it doesn't take much to scare a person at their first haunted house. But really, every country is different. A haunt in Mexico City is going to be different than one in Manila, Philippines.
As a young person, my most memorable experience is going to the Minnesota State Fair haunted house. I remember being really frightened and clinging to my mom's arm while she was just laughing. I went back there maybe four or five years later and walked through the whole thing, shrugging my shoulders and feeling pretty bored. I was also so fascinated and in love with the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. I was obsessed with that ride.
As an adult, there are a lot of memorable things but the one that stands out to most of the FrightProps staff is an effect at the Dungeon of Doom in Zion, IL. I won't go into too much detail but basically, they put you in a dark room and start covering you with those plastic balls from a children's ball pit - only they're painted black. It's really disorienting and makes you feel like you're being buried alive.
Killing Joke, Void, Necros, Die Kreuzen, G.G. Allin, and the woman who introduced me to weird art - my mother. But in terms of props, I can say that the people that I'm most regularly fascinated by are the folks at Pale Night Productions, Distortions Unlimited, Gore Galore, Blackjack Creature Company, Poison Props, and Unit 70. And probably 30 or 40 others - there's just so many immensely talented people in this industry.
We've been in business over ten years for a reason.
Man, it's the whole thing. Every day is exceptionally bizarre and I think sometimes we lose track of that as we're also operating a business. But when I think about it, nobody gets to come to work with some of their favorite people, blasting whatever weird music they want - and for the end result of scaring people. Aside from that, I think being at one of the costume parties at TransWorld and looking around at everyone sort of cements how genuinely cool and strange this way of life is. It's definitely surreal.