The screams alert her to his presence, but it’s hard to make out his towering form in the darkness. She sees the skins on the wall, from the creatures that were chasing Red Riding Hood. She’s just been to Grandma’s house and seen all the blood. She knows the hunters are somewhere nearby hacking up the Big Bad Wolf — they’re not very nice.
As she enters the barn, light glints from the jagged metal of his weapon. The chainsaw roars into life, and she turns to flee, only to come face to face with two other chainsaw-welding psychopaths.
It’s just another night at Hangman’s House of Horrors, a longtime source of charitable funding in Fort Worth. But on Saturday, after 25 years, the haunted house will close its doors for the final time, leaving the 200 volunteers and the fans and their families with lots of memories and a lifetime of photos.
The haunted house has been part of Jack’s life since he was a mesmerized kid. He even met his wife there. But it’s time.
“At some point it has to be over,” he said. “We have to decide if we’re going to leave on top or push around wheelchairs wielding chainsaws.”
Chainsaw Jack is a terror to behold. He wears a suit of armor with jagged-edged tires over his shoulders and skulls on his chest. For more than 15 years he’s been scaring people at Hangman’s, some of them so badly that they wet their pants. “I want to be somebody’s nightmare,” he said.
By day though, he just wants to be your friendly volunteer fireman (and a manager at AT&T) who also repairs … yes, chainsaws.
He repairs them for the fire department and people all over his town of Edgecliff, a southern suburb of Fort Worth.
“I’m a chainsaw whisperer at this point,” he said.
Before Chainsaw Jack became a convincing monster, he was a 10-year-old boy named Jason Aston braving another trip through Hangman’s House of Horrors. Yet this time was different. He’d paid attention the last time he walked its deliciously creepy corridors. Now he knew that standing at the back of the group was the safest way to avoid a heart attack and wet pants.
Scary room after scary room, Jason slid by the monsters, never alerting them to his whereabouts. He thought he was safe. He couldn’t feel the eyes on him.
Like most boys and girls his age, he was sure a boogeyman existed. He just didn’t expect his own personal nemesis to find him in this haunted house, just off Forest Park Boulevard. And yet, that night, there came a moment when he realized that Freddy Krueger was standing close by. Wes Craven’s terrifying stalker might have been created in Hollywood, rotting flesh and all, but years of children’s nightmares were adding to his legacy.
Jason didn’t care that the group in front of him was still riveted on the rest of the roomful of monsters. He had only one thought in his mind: Run!
He promptly collided with his best friend and fell to the ground holding his split lip. And Krueger and his blades were moving closer.
Instead of slashing him with his wicked-looking claws, though, Krueger knelt and said in a voice that didn’t sound like a nightmare, “Hey man, I’m sorry for scaring you.” And the monster picked Jason up, dusted off his pants, and asked if he was OK.
“I immediately became a huge Freddy Krueger fan,” an older Chainsaw Jack said. “I love those movies. I just felt like he was my buddy.”
The experience turned Jason into a horror movie buff who took the trip through Hangman’s House of Horrors every year. At 16, he joined the team of volunteer monsters. Three years later, he became the smiling psycho Chainsaw Jack and created his team of chainsaw-wielding maniacs, Van and Ripsaw.
“If you’re going to be a chainsaw maniac, you might as well be a cheerful one,” he said.
Since its doors opened, more than half a million patrons have walked through Hangman’s themed rooms, and the house has donated almost $2 million to charities like the American Cancer Society, a Wish with Wings, Cenikor Foundation, Rocky Top Therapy Center, and Safehaven of Tarrant County.
Deann Dagan has been running the house since the beginning, and she worked at other haunted houses before that — 37 years in the business, from a few weeks a year when she was in college to the eight months a year that it takes to produce Hangman’s. Now she’s ready to retire.
“It’s time,” she said. Her husband, who retired several years ago, wants them to spend more time traveling together.
Chainsaw Jack likens the haunted house’s closing to the feeling you get when high school is over. “Most of these people I’ve been working with for a long time,” he said. “They’ve seen me grow up from a kid to an old man.”
In honor of its 25th anniversary and final season, this year’s haunted tour includes three separate attractions: the classic Hangman’s House of Horrors, a 3D Wonderland, and a Zombie Outbreak. The three-acre property has been transformed into a fright festival featuring live bands, food trucks, free photos, and other ghoulish treats.
“We’re building the last memories that we’re going to have of this place,” Chainsaw Jack said. “Nobody wants to miss out.”
The little girl with big glasses and pigtails isn’t missing out.
“Sir, can I ask you a question?” she says. She’s not frightened by Chainsaw Jack or his partners. “My friend is scared that you’re killing people, so can you use me as an example?”
One of Jack’s partners kneels and shows her friend the secret of their chainsaws: There are no blades on the chain.
But there go the saws again. Kids scream, men and women alike run. And Chainsaw Jack and his team, as always, stop to reassure frightened children that it’s all pretend.
“I want them to know that Chainsaw Jack will protect them,” he says and smiles. “When Hangman’s is over, it’s like some magic is leaving the world.”