The Reinke Bros. Haunted Mansion would be celebrating fifty years of operation this season — if it weren’t returning from a three-year hiatus. But the attraction will be bigger and better than ever when it reopens on Friday, September 28, with a two-day party that includes a visit from the BigWonderful as well as a professional fireworks show on Saturday, September 29. But the main event is the Haunted Mansion.
In advance of the celebration, I went to Littleton to chat with one of the Reinke brothers, Greg, take a lights-on tour of the famous haunt...and hear about why it’s been closed for three years.
The horrifying story:
Greg and his brother, Chris, had been obsessed with haunted attractions since back in 1968, when they opened their year-round store and costume shop with a seasonal haunted house. The business kept growing, and what became the Haunted Mansion gained a national reputation. But one day in June 2014, a particularly nasty hailstorm completely demolished the roof of the Reinke Bros. Store and Haunted Mansion at 5663 South Prince Street, Greg says.
When Littleton officials demanded one style of roof but the insurance company called for another, the damage went unattended while the parties entered into litigation. Then in the spring of 2015, Denver saw an unprecedented 28 consecutive days of rain, causing considerable damage ($3.5 million, to be exact) to the sets, props and merchandise inside the building. While the store limped along, what remained of the Haunted Mansion was moved to the Reinke Bros. parking lot, where the brothers filled an astonishing 56 storage pods with whatever could be salvaged of the haunted house.
Fast-forward to February 2018. With the legal battle behind them (the brothers won a bad-faith ruling that covered 100 percent of their damages and fees), Reinke began the painstaking six-month-long process of rebuilding their store and haunt. It's still a work in progress (the current roof is only temporary, with big plans to make it look and feel like there's no roof at all by next season), but the brothers have made incredible progress and are rightfully proud to reopen to the public. And what will the public see?
We start our tour in front of the Haunted Mansion facade inside the store. Waiting in line here isn’t like waiting in line at most haunts; from an indoor stage with a band to the dancing skeleton singing “Unchained Melody,” there’s plenty to keep you entertained while you work your way to the entrance.
“I hate long lines," Greg Reinke says as we stare at his queue-line entertainment. "Anybody tells you long lines are good [because they make you look busy], they’re wrong.”
All around the waiting area are movie props and animatronics. Be sure to look for the electrocution chair that’s been signed by Alice Cooper, a regular who visits the Reinkes nearly every time he's in Denver. If you're a parent, be sure to let your little one take a ride on the Reinke Bros. version of a pony ride: an animatronic dinosaur.
Inside the Haunted Mansion, just about everything moves, including walls, shelves and the ceiling.
“We try to have movement in every room, and then there are the actors on top of that,” Reinke says as he points out a couple of clever hiding spots.
While some sets might seem simple or even kitschy, others will completely blow your mind. In one room, for example, you'll encounter a talking bust inspired by the singing headstones in Disney's Haunted Mansion. Another room displays seven or eight skeletons no bigger than a foot or two tall, all attached to a mechanism that spins them around like a carousel. With the room dimmed, a strobe light flashing and Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man's Party” blasting, the effect is a gaggle of skeletons dancing before your very eyes.
Be on the lookout for funhouse clowns, banjo-playing swamp folk, a walk-through crypt, a tilted room and even an underwater shipwreck scene. Greg says that about half of the scenes change from year to year, but since it's been three years since anyone has seen the haunt, everything here should feel fresh and new. When the haunt is up and running, the self-guided tour typically takes about twenty to thirty minutes to complete, depending on how often you stop to gawk at the special effects and custom-built props.
But don’t look for gore. “We don’t do any blood and guts here," Reinke points out, later adding, "We have no chainsaws, no knives or anything like that."
And he's proud of that fact. But just because the haunt is gore-free doesn't mean it's scare-free...it’s just less likely to offend customers, or frighten small children who can't tell the difference between what's real and what's pretend. Rather than evoking pure horror and terror, Greg prefers to induce what he calls "the laundry room scare."
"It's where you’re downstairs doing the laundry and someone sneaks up on you and goes, ‘Boo!’ and you slap their wrist and say, ‘Stop! Don’t do that!’ That’s what really scares you,” he explains. “Blood and guts doesn’t scare anybody."
He likes the challenge of entertaining all guests who walk through the door, whether they jump in fright or not. "The sets, the props: It’s all eye candy. It’s like going through the backlot at Universal Studios," Greg says. "And trust me, I've walked that lot plenty of times!"
And there's more, including behind-the-scenes light tours every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. “They get to see how the fog machine works. They get to see that things are rubber and you can touch them,” Greg says. “What it does is, instead of scaring the hell out of a little child, is it turns them into one of my clients, because now they know the difference between fantasy and reality, and the rest of their life they’ll enjoy my haunted house."
With Greg’s background in professional set design (he apprenticed at Disney and worked at Universal Studios before going into business with his brother), a walk through the Reinke Bros. Haunted Mansion is full of awe and wonderment rather than the fear and unease of a typical haunted house. If you’ve ever been to a Disney theme park, you noted the impeccable attention to detail, especially on classic rides like Pirates of the Caribbean. The same appreciation for hidden detail is apparent at Reinke Bros.
Many of the staffers bringing the haunt to life, actors and set designers alike, have been with Reinke Bros. for more than twenty years. Some, like professional set painter Stephan Clark, have known the Reinkes for more than forty. Every scene in the haunt is stamped with Clark’s work in one way or another. The shop walls behind merchandise shelves are covered with murals so that the store never looks empty, even as product is depleted; he painted those. “Follow the yellow brick road” to locate the store's bathrooms, and you can admire even more of Clark’s jaw-dropping work. (Pro tip: Compare notes with members of the opposite sex.)
The store, just like the haunt, is designed to be an experience. Whether you're walking through Bourbon Street looking at masks and beads or browsing an extensive weapons arsenal for the right prop to complete your costume, you're bound to feel the magic of make-believe.
There's even a deli meat counter with a costumed butcher behind it. When someone wants to take home a brain or a foot prop, the butcher will weigh out the order, wrap it in packing paper and hand it to you, just like a butcher at the grocery store. “Now you don’t have gory stuff being carried through the store, but it’s part of the show," Reinke explains. "People find it amusing, not disgusting.”
In the store, you can talk with a professional makeup artist about the right product for the look you're trying to achieve, or flip through catalogue after catalogue to find the perfect rental to pull off that hilarious costume idea you've always had. With affordable prices, unbelievable selection and experts to guide you every step of the way, Reinke Bros. delivers a product wrapped up in an experience unlike any other in the area.
The Reinke Bros. Haunted Mansion will open at 3 p.m. Friday, September 28, with a two-day celebration. For the grand-reopening weekend, Reinke Bros. has teamed up with TheBigWonderful and radio station KYGO; the free party includes live music and food trucks and a beer fest (you pay for food and drink). Tickets to the Haunted Mansion during this celebration are just $9.85.
The Haunted Mansion will stay open seven days a week through November 4. Because it's indoors, it opens much earlier than most Halloween attractions, making this an excellent warm-up if you’re heading out for a marathon night of scares this spooky season. Find out more at reinkebrothers.com.
Danielle Look will be visiting Denver's scariest sites and sights over the next month. Have a suggestion? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.