LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — JT Mollner will be the first to tell you: "It’s not for everybody.”
He and his dad, Duke, are the duo behind Freakling Brothers Horror Shows. They've been making haunted attractions in Las Vegas for decades.
"It's kind of a local favorite," said JT. "My dad and my older brother started the company in 1992."
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Rated R: Restricted for those under 17
True Las Vegas locals know that Freakling Bros. is no joke.
"It's all about really realistic and disturbing content," he said. "Having something happen to you rather than watching a scene."
What started as a prank to spook trick-or-treaters has evolved into one of the scariest Halloween attractions — not only in Vegas — but across the United States.
"A few years ago, all of a sudden we started getting on these lists," he recalled. "USA Today ranked us number one in the country, CNN put us on their top five in the country list. Fox News put us on their top 10 in the country list."
Freakling Bros. has three haunted attractions, one of which is the only R-rated haunted house in Nevada — Gates of Hell.
"We wanted to rate it R so people would understand that walking into it was the same experience as watching a hardcore, hard R-rated horror film," said JT. "It's not rated X, it's not that type of experience, but it is rated R."
"We wanted to have the freedom to do whatever we wanted to do in there," he said.
Worldbuilding, character development
The R rating for "Gates of Hell" is a self-imposed one, but if anyone knows a thing or two about creating an R-rated movie experience, it’s JT.
"A few years back I ended up directing my first feature called 'Outlaws and Angels,'" he said.
As a filmmaker, JT says a lot of what he does on set translates into creating these terrifying worlds that people step into every October.
Watch the 'Outlaws and Angels' movie trailer below.
"Doing this with the actors we have here at the haunted houses is very similar to directing a film, we consider it interactive theater more than a traditional haunted house.”
For each actor they hire they write unique characters and scripts, just like for a movie.
“When the season starts, we hold a casting session," he said. "We look at hundreds of people and we choose who the best 45 to 50 are, and then I work with them.”
All of the characters are made by Freakling Bros. for Freakling Bros., so you won’t find a generic Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger at their haunts.
"The people who come here take it very very seriously, and we take it seriously, so we spend a lot of time getting them into character, teaching them the characters, writing the lines, creating the roles,” he explained.
Although he’s busy directing films and commercials in Los Angeles most of the year, JT says he blocks off September and October every year to make sure he can return home and do this with his family.
"It's been really lucky, I've been able to be here every season since I started managing an attraction for my dad back in 2003," he said. "It's a tradition every Halloween."
A tradition his dad started more than 40 years ago.
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Imaginary, wonderful life
"My name is Duke Mollner," said Duke introducing himself.
"I am a baccarat dealer at the Bellagio in real life and I run Freakling Brothers' haunted attractions in my imaginary, wonderful life.”
The business began in 1992 when Freakling Bros. introduced the city’s first free-standing haunted attraction inside self-contained trailers. But before that, Duke’s haunted house empire was born at his home on Halloween night while the family gave candy to trick-or-treaters.
"One year I decided to try and do something a little more intense, maybe scare some of the kids before we gave them some candy.”
He built a coffin and dressed up as Dracula."I had a stake in my chest and I told my wife, 'We're going to put the coffin in the entry hall. I'm going to be laying in it."
He says he told her to tell the kids the candy was inside the coffin. To make the scheme work, he put candy on his chest like he was a prop.
"Well, sure enough, the kids started coming.”
Duke recalls chasing the kids around his neighborhood all night long. Even adults were stopping by to see what was going on.
"I remember chasing one lady a block and a half down our street before I came back. I don't think she ever got over it," he laughed. "But it was an awful lot of fun for us."
Word got around and Duke and his family became legends. Their house was the place to be every year on Halloween.
To this day, duke says that’s still what he loves most about making haunted attractions.
"Listening to and seeing grownups come running down the exit, screaming the daylights out of themselves. I can't tell you what an exciting pleasure that is, and it keeps happening so I'm going to be here for a while.”
What's new for 2021
Last year, Freakling Bros. took a hiatus because of the pandemic but they are back this year with three haunted attractions to explore, and they are doing something they haven’t ever done before.
"We've transitioned into a horror park environment,” said JT.
This year, one ticket gets you in and you can walk through the haunted houses as many times as you like.
COVID protocols are in place and everyone, including the actors, is required to wear a mask. If you don’t have one, JT says they’ll give you one for free.
Tickets start at $50 and there is no re-entry if you leave the park. The attraction runs through Oct. 31.
Learn more at freaklingbros.com.
The Freakling Bros. attraction is located at 6555 South Riley Street in Las Vegas.
This story is from our "Las Vegas Art Scene" segment in our newly-launched dedicated digital show "How to Vegas." Watch "How to Vegas" at 10:30 p.m. on Fridays -- and throughout the weekend -- using the KTNV app on your favorite streaming device.
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