Do you have what it takes to survive The 13th Gate?

October 21, 2010

Your heartbeat rises, your breath quickens. You listen to the screams echoing around you and watch as group after group enters the Hellevators and descend into horror. You watch as crazed, bloodied nurses with sinister smiles on their faces usher those around you forward. You wait your turn to enter the 13th Gate.

The nurses are sweet and helpful as you enter the Hellevators and are lowered in darkness 13 floors to the asylum. You are greeted by the head nurse, a bleeding woman asks, “What are you doing out of your rooms? The doctor is waiting.”

Thus your trip into madness begins.

Located in downtown Baton Rouge, the 13th Gate has been rated one of the top four haunted houses across the country for the past four years by Hauntworld magazine

Owner, house manager and artistic director Dwayne Sanburn has designed every detail in the 13th Gate and is living his dream every night in the month of October.

“I’ve always loved Halloween, and, as a kid, I wanted to own a haunted house,” he said. “I went to college to become a registered nurse and worked for 10 years in the ICU of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center to make enough money to start my first haunted house.”

Sanburn opened “Louisiana Nightmares,” his first haunted house, in Alexandria in 1994. Between 1998 and 2001, he and his crew worked with the 4-H Foundation and held a portable haunted house on LSU’s campus in the livestock show arena. They couldn’t seem to get to the level of haunted house he wanted.

“I started looking for a bigger venue, some place I could build a haunted house and could build on it each year,” he said. “In November of 2001 we opened, and we’ve grown ever since. We started doing more detail, started hiring movie scenic artists between movies to work on the sets. We’ve been gaining nationwide recognition.”

With several professional scenic artists on the payroll, the 13th Gate isn’t just something thrown together each year. Each room is carefully designed to look as real as possible. The actors are not simply high school students looking for an after-school job. Each actor is hired not only because of ability but also for a love of what they do.

The actors are passionate about scaring the bejeezus out of you, and they do it well. The costumes are not something done by amateurs but by professional make-up artists. When I say a character from legends or a movie, I mean it feels like you are being confronted by that character come to life.  

The 13th Gate has been recognized not only by Hauntworld magazine, but also Fangoria, Haunted Attraction Magazine and The Travel Channel.  Sanburn said he and his crew are constantly looking for new ways to scare the hell out of visitors.

“We add new things to mess with people each year. The foam, the crawling, the claustrophobia, the smells are just a few of the things we do,” he said. “We have live animals. If you are afraid of something, it’s probably in there.”

Sanburn said he loves all his designs for different reasons, but the scariest parts are the cellar and the asylum while the coolest sets are the global force area and the submarine.

“We try to break the envelope as to what a haunted house should be,” he said. “We try to do something really different. Then we try to do things that are just basic fear such as darkness, dank, nasty places, too.”

Darkness? Check. Dank? Check. Nasty? Check. Walking through the house, I had a grip on my stepdad’s hand that inducated, “If you let go of me, I will never forgive you.”

We made our way through the halls of the asylum, past the murderous inmates, through scenes of doctors gone mad and performing horrendous surgeries on the unanesthetized. Each scene feels like you are about to be attacked by an insane person covered in the blood of a previous victim.

After surviving the terror of stepping through horror movie scenes extracted from “Silent Hill” and “Venom,” we then came upon a man, obviously dead, who told us we had to choose: death by burning or death by drowning.

 We chose burning without understanding what was happening. My stepdad and I crawled through a crematorium and into the outdoors only to be greeted by an indoor haunted swamp complete with voodoo practitioners, dead bodies hanging from live trees and gators snapping at us. That’s right, an indoor swamp. I felt like I was walking through a southern Louisiana swamp or bayou. I walked through the swamp into a forest and watched as a wolfman sneaked from tree to tree. I should have been watching for the skeleton reaching for me from the side.

My stepdad and I made our way out of the forest and into the global force command center. The compound had been overrun by the beasts from “Alien.” I hate those things. I yelped and screamed every time one appeared out of nowhere.

There were some places where it was very obvious the beasts were animatronics. The sounds of the hydraulics gave it away. But you are so caught up in the moment you don’t register until afterwards what your mind was trying to tell you.

I made it out alive after all of that only to descend into a sunken submarine with squid tentacles reaching for me from everywhere. The ghost of the first mate greeted us as we entered the submarine and warned us not to look in the water too long.

Scuba divers waited in darkness to attack us, thinking we were what brought the squid. The squid tentacles looked real and I actually got wet as water poured into the submarine. As we exited the submarine and found ourselves on the ocean floor, my stepdad and I walked across sand, seashells and starfish. It felt like I was actually traversing the ocean floor. I felt like I should be swimming.

I survived all this only to find myself in an iceberg with a woolly mammoth that farted on me and a caveman trying to eat me. Running from the caveman, my stepdad and I were once again thrust into darkness.

I’m deathly afraid of being squished to death, doesn’t matter by what. While making our way down a hallway, I noticed something about the walls. They were moving.

A Banshee scream escaped my mouth and I took off running. Stupidly, I tried to stop the walls from closing in on me only to receive, literally, the shock of my life. I ran out of one horror and into the waiting arms of the pig-masked man from Saw. He growled at me and I twisted free and kept running, my stepdad trying to keep up.

With the streets of the Baton Rouge in sight I thought I was home free, only to be attacked by a man with a chainsaw. I ran screaming from the corner I thought he was coming from and into the street with my life. I survived The 13th Gate. Will you?


E-mail comments to mkd009@latech.edu.