Jason Egan sits at a table tucked in the back of the Garden Grill restaurant on the Circus Circus promenade, just across from the entrance to the Adventuredome Theme Park. Each October, Adventuredome is overtaken by his macabre Halloween fortress, Fright Dome.
Egan sits in an unoccupied area that seems reserved for VIPs, but is actually just a place conveniently absent of diners. He pulls from his wallet a Circus Circus room key and slides it across the table. The image on that key is the Fright Dome logo.
“It took 13 years to get on the key,” Egan says, his eyes dark from lack of sleep but his smile beaming. “This is a great advertisement.”
One of the city’s great entertainment success stories, the 37-year-old Egan has once more set a new standard for themed attractions with this year’s Fright Dome fear park. The Dome takes over five acres of Circus Circus territory, as usual, but new to the lineup of haunted houses is Insanitarium, said to be Egan’s “most intense, disturbing and visceral labyrinth yet.” Guests are led to a check-in desk at a nurse’s station, where they sign “voluntary” commitment papers before entering the haunted fortress. Visitors are locked inside, then chased by a crazed surgeon with no mapped-out means of exiting the giant body locker, which smells of rotting corpses.
Also, Fright Dome is partnering with SimEx-Iwerks Entertainment and Warner Bros. Consumer Products to be the first haunted attraction to feature a 4D show, titled Friday the 13th 4-D, A Deadly Experience, wherein Jason Voorhees wields the machete with great zeal at the visitors to Camp Crystal Lake. This type of blaring, gory and even odiferous innovation is why Travel Channel and USA Today have both ranked Egan’s Fright Dome as one of the top 10 haunted attractions in the country. His annual investment in Fright Dome surpassed $2 million last year, and he expects more than 100,000 visitors through this month.
“Everything’s fresh, every year,” he says, even when he talks of fake, rotting flesh. “That’s why we’ve had success.”
Egan employs more than 400 actors and 20 technicians in the current incarnation of Fright Dome. In the spring he signed a five-year contract with the hotel to continue operating Fright Dome, and has plans to expand further to Shanghai in 2016. His haunted house in Hong Kong in 2014 itself was something of a learning experience, placed in a poor location on a mountaintop, its prospects also curtailed by pro-democracy protest efforts that cut into business on the weekends leading to Halloween.
Egan is recalibrating his Fright Dome debut in Boston, which had been planned for 2014, on Georges Island in Boston Harbor. That project was set back a year while Egan cleared several legislative and legal hurdles involving land owned and operated by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. But the contract is signed and, as Egan says, “We’re going 110 percent for an opening in Boston in 2016.”
Though his still-boyish looks belie this reality, Egan has matured significantly as a businessman and an entertainment trailblazer. He remembers early in his partnership with Circus Circus, which effectively leases him the Adventuredome space, when he was apt to just let some issues just slide. Not any longer. “I used to be a pushover, to be honest. But I’m not a pushover anymore,” he says. “I’m still a very nice guy and treat everybody with respect, but I stand behind what I say better than I used to. I make sure stuff gets done.
“I used to work on just a handshake. Not anymore. This is my livelihood.”
Egan has explored many film-licensing partnerships in the past, which have allowed him to use famous titles in the Fright Dome haunted houses. He is particularly fond of producer-director Marcus Dunstan (Saw, The Collector) and makeup artist Gary Tunnicliffe (My Bloody Valentine, Scream 4). He plans to work once more with Dunstan on a movie,The Neighbor, co-producing the film with his Las Vegas attorney Tony Sgro (a capable songwriter and musician who will also record the film’s soundtrack). The film begins shooting in Ohio in November, benefitting from that state’s distinctive architecture and similarly distinctive tax-credits for movie production.
Investing “more than $800,000 and less than $10 million” in the film, Egan hopes to develop a franchise and even an iconic character with which to cross-promote his collection of Fright Domes. “We’ve had many in the past: Michael Myers, Leatherface, Freddy Krueger, Jason,” Egan says. “But we have not had many really iconic characters with wide appeal in the past several years. I’d love to create a movie with that type of character that just takes off.”
Egan looks out toward the entrance to Fright Dome, which soon will be filled with thousands of frightened visitors. “There is always room to grow, and we’re in a great place here at Circus Circus. It’s an amazing partnership.”
As he says that, the great horror-attraction visionary unconsciously taps at his Circus Circus hotel key. Jason Egan has opened a lot of doors in Las Vegas—and if he walks in while gripping a chainsaw, know that it’s just a prop.
Fright Dome Through October 31, dates vary, 7 p.m.-midnight, $36-$100. Circus Circus Adventuredome, frightdome.com.