So we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well over the past few months. You’ve read my reviews and features on numerous scary movies and have yet to call for my proverbial head; I count this as a win. So I felt, in light of the looming holiday that we all know and love, I’d share a little about myself that not a lot of readers are aware of. I live in the United States, in Texas, and I have for a number of years served as a monster in a haunted house attraction during the October months.
Yes that’s right, I was a haunted house attraction.
Now for any who want to go into the business (or at least get a good laugh) I’m going to give a rundown of the insanity that goes along with being a costumed creature for ten hours a day, and why I can’t do it anymore.
#5 The Make-Up is Largely Up to You
So I started my career as a monster at a local attraction that had an award winning reputation across our twisted nation. This meant that they would have some great training, awesome make-up artists, and amazing equipment for us to use, right?
No, being a monster is a lot like being a contract worker for a crooked construction company. You have to rig things up to work temporarily, in given circumstances, with certain variables planned out. Should the wind so much as blow in the wrong direction the whole operation could go south… and just like with a construction company, you’re shown how to do everything in the realm of make-up just once, during training.
Now many of you may think that sounds fair, but there are an easy eight different variations to mix up fake blood (three of which are sugar based!) and four or five to make fake skin that will look realistic enough to hold for the amount of time you want. Factor into this hair highlights, skin coloration, and designs on your face, hands and (in some cases) chest, and you have for a fairly hectic three hours before the haunted house opens.
My second and third year working there I was Line Security; that means I’m the guy that stands there with all the customers and makes certain nobody gets rowdy. Some actors get made up to look intimidating, pale faces with solid black eyes and blood drizzling from their hair, a pickaxe hanging lazily from their blue-veined hand.
Me? I went crazy with it. I took my costume (black shirt, black slacks) and traded it in for a pair of technicolor trousers and a carnival barkers jacket. I stood there with no shirt, fake entrails hidden behind the buttoned up jacket held together with Elmer’s glue and the tears of children. I’d paint my entire body red (took about ten minutes with a high-intensity sprayer) and then paint small black symbols all over me at random intervals while three of the girls who were done (they were ghosts in a fog room, white clothes and white face paint) would layer on cold red gelatin beneath fake skin in different patches all over my body.
I had a beard, and would often use the sucrose based blood to dunk my lower jaw in the liquid, making it look like I’d taken a bit out of somebody juicy and slow. To top it off, I would use teeth colouring to make my teeth appear old, yellowed with black cracks.
This made for a performer that would serve the haunted house well. For you see…
#4 Haunted Houses Begin in The Lines
You see a haunted house with a demented looking red clown man standing at the end of a long pier leading to it, and you say to yourself. “That looks like fun! I’m going to try it out!”
Yeah, you and five or six thousand other people in a very long, chilly day in October.
So as I previously mentioned, I was Line Security. But unlike my burly brethren, I actually went out on a limb and memorized a list of horrible jokes and hidden meanings, along with counters to the various insults that would be thrown at me. Call me a douchebag? I’d reply with “That’s why your mother smells fresher after every visit!” Complain about the line? “I have to stand here to, and trust me the view never gets any better.” I basically did a macabre stand-up comedy bit that rotated jokes and stories in and out every half hour, burning through a crowd as my radio would buzz for me to send another ten through the maze.
By making fun of the audience, and myself, this created a cheerful experience that the entire group got to get a kick out of. Now, the entire time this is being told by someone dressed up as a reanimated corpse, so they expect the scares.
And I gave them!
The aforementioned ghost girls who littered my body with patches of fake skin? I’d pull a fake knife (looked sharp, no edge and no point) and would slide it across my throat fast, using the handle to tear a large swath of skin holding back what had been cold gel. Funny thing about cold gel, it warms up fast when flush to your body, and expands too. So when I relieved the pressure beneath my throat covering it would spray out in a gnarly fashion. Before doing this I’d look at my watch (a large comical on a chain that had far too many hands), announcing that my time was up.
Then I’d slit my throat and drop to the ground.
Now you know in the back of your head that this is fake, but when a man pulls a knife and does a realistic suicide in front of you, you panic. I had teenage girls scream, grown me jump, and little kids crying. I’d lay on the ground for about twenty seconds before I’d crawl back up, blood dribbling down my neck and now in a small puddle on the ground.
I’d then radio for a mop up which management thought was hilarious. I did that three times a day, as I had two breaks where I’d have the skin and gelatin reapplied.
It was jokes like that that made people come back around just to see me again. But I’d have to say one of the more entertaining aspects of the job was…
#3 Relentless Torture of Guests
At the head of the line where I stood, there was an entrance to an old maze that had a grate that I would close after every group went in. I had a door beside me outside the maze that you could use to leave if the maze was too scary for you, but I would sternly remind you two things:
First, there were no refunds. If you stood in line all this time and chickened out at the last second, that’s your dime wasted.
Second, you had to fetch the key to the door, which hung on the far wall inside the entrance of the maze next to my partner, Bozo.
I guess I forgot to mention that the maze was done up like a house of mirrors, and populated with clowns in make-up just as scary as mine. There were hidden doorways that led from one section to another, and rooms with disturbing imagery put up to generally unsettle anyone going through.
Once people found out the first part of the haunted house was a clown maze, many would voice their dissent.
“There’s no way I’m going in there!” I recall one young girl, probably sixteen years old, saying. She had her phone with her and was talking to her Dad. She, for reasons I ponder to this day, asked if I could speak with her Dad. Floored, I grinned and gingerly took the phone up to my bloody ear.
“Hello?” I introduced myself.
“Yeah, Jessica doesn’t want to go through the clown part. Is there any way she can skip it.”
“I’m afraid not sir, she was warned at the entrance that there would be a maze and that clowns would be present. It’s on a sign if you want to look at our booth.”
“Ah, I see it. Can I get a refund if she leaves?”
“Again, I’m sorry sir, but all sales are final.”
There was a long moment of silence where I expected the man to demand to speak to a manager, but I was happily surprised. “Okay, then I want her to go through alone.”
“Really?” I asked, acting slightly offended so as to not show off what was being said.
“Yeah, she made me pay thirty dollars for the ticket, she’s damn well going to go through! Can you make it happen?”
“Go to the booth and sign a waiver as her guardian, and have them radio me on channel three, I’ll take it from there.”
I closed the phone and slowly walked back to bozo, a plastic clown who sat on a barrel next to the key to the exit door, and placed the phone in his lap. Before the girl could say anything, line three on my radio started crackling, and the booth operator said there was a signed parental waiver.
I remember how much my face hurt from the smile I had on. “Okay Jessica, here’s the deal. Your father is waiting for you to come out, and this door right over here will allow you out. As you can see, it has a padlock. The keys are by bozo, and your phone. Fetch both, and you’ll be free to leave. It just takes a small bit of daring to enter just the beginning of the maze, and then you can say you did it. How about it?”
She stuttered and whined, but finally the crowd gave her the courage to go through. The moment she touched the keys, I slammed the gate closed, twisting the lock before screaming.
“DINNER TIME FELLAS! FRESH MEAT FOR THE TAKING!”
The gate was an interlocking chain grate, and Jessica threw herself against it, panicking and crying. This intensified as three clowns came up from behind her and began cackling, one juggling fake knives between another while the third had a cleaver held in his blood-caked hand.
Needless to say, she ran.
I opened the grate after the clowns chased her away and retrieved her phone, radioing ahead for a maintenance person to come and grab it and give it to the girl who would be crying when emerging from the other side of the clown house.
This is but one of many stories of where I abused people who were already terrified, pushing them to whole new heights of horror. And I did so when I was working inside the house as well…
#2 The Inside is So Much Worse Than You’d Imagine
The inside of a haunted house, when the lights are one, looks like a deserted mall. It’s usually dirty, poorly built, and has a stale odour that can’t quite be described. But when the lights go down and the music kicks in… it’s as if someone opened the door to Elm Street. The guests would move in lines of eight, all lead by a shrouded figure that held a lantern that gave off low-light. The entire atmosphere was dark and brooding, with low lighting everywhere. My first year there I was the mad butcher.
I’d helped in taking over a hundred manikins, dismembering them and stuffing them with foam, and nailing them to the walls to create seamless walls of human corpses. Once stained red, and lit by flickering red lights, this room was disturbing to pretty much everyone that entered. I was dressed in torn red shorts, a shredded red shirt with a bloody apron and thick gloves, along with a huge cleaver (blunted of course). I had a mask I would take on and off, a muzzle that I packed with blood capsules from a stash I kept in one of the hollowed bodies. When I wore it and stuck my tongue out, the capsules would melt and overflow, dribbling out the slits to the floor as I drug my butcher behind me, walking as bonelessly as I could while moaning.
With how dim the light was, I could crouch down in a pile of bodies with my cleaver (roughly as long as a grown man’s femur) and let people pass by me without being noticed. Inevitably once a group enters the house, they break up into two or three smaller groups, staying close together. When the first mini-group would pass by, I’d stand up and drag my blade while wheezing, earning shrieks from the middle mini-group. The last group couldn’t see me well, and would be held up by the middle group as I walked up behind the first. I’d usually reach out and moan loudly, waving a hand a few inches from one of the people’s heads so that when they turned around, they saw an undead butcher trying to grab them.
I had an assortment of other tricks, from “cutting” up a manikin packed with fake blood while guests walked by to dropping down from the rafters in the middle of them, it all worked beautifully. This was all to a composition of music that involved whispers that were sped up and played backwards, with moans coming from the walls where the heads were mounted. When I played the butcher, I was slow and methodical, and I always got a scare. It was a blast, and it was made possible by the terrifying environment that the managers put together. Just remember, they keep the places dark for a reason…
#1 And The Reason is to Keep You Guessing
There was a total of fifteen rooms in the haunted house, not counting the clown maze that led to it. I would work the line, and when on my breaks where I wasn’t getting touched up, I’d be allowed to sneak into the house and “surprise” guests with a return appearance. Most of the Line workers did double jobs like that, and the workers from inside the house would usually emerge the closer it got to Halloween into the night time air.
We had this one, a person wearing skin coloured spandex with bloody lengths of flesh-toned rubber hanging off of them (they looked like they’d been skinned alive). He would chase the groups down the final hallway, screaming as loud as he could. Now, the groups would usually run from him but he was a fast fellow, and he’d always run past them. That would make them stop and wonder before turning around, to see the lumbering three-hundred-pound frame of a monstrous cannibal stomping after him with a meat hook.
In the darkness, he looked terrifying; pale and angry with a shaved head, standing tall enough that he had to bend down to get through doors, he’d catch the skinned man and “hook” him, before dragging him back on a length of chain, all while the skinned man would plead for mercy, and help, from the guests.
This was something so surreal that most guests didn’t know how to respond, other than to scream and back up against a wall to let this transpire. The walls of that hallway were lined with holes, and several workers would slip rubber snakes through the holes near the guests when they backed up, causing them to scream even further.
The whole point of a haunted house is to scare you, and to keep scaring you until you leave. They want you to remember the experience and laugh about it later. Above all, people in haunted houses are just actors who want to have fun. They may come up with multiple ways of getting scares from every room, sometimes multiple scares a room. And they will do everything in their allotted abilities to terrorize.
But hey, Halloween is once a year. Enjoy!
By Nicholas Paschall (@Nelfeshne)
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