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Behind the scenes on Halloween: stories from this scare actor

Come every October, theme parks hear screams and yells louder, shriller and more frequently than normal – and no, these are not from extreme thrill rides. That’s right, it’s Halloween again, and as soon as haunted houses open their dreary gates, crowds flock to meet (their doom?) with ghouls, zombies, ghosts and witches. Have you ever wondered though, as to what exactly goes on behind the scenes in these scary, spooky contraptions? This October, I decided to find out exactly that, and took on a somewhat crazy sounding freelance job as a scare actor in a haunted house. And so, for two Fridays and two Saturdays (sayonara, weekend!), I was transfigured, with full make-up, prosthetics and wardrobe, into an animal spirit, bloodied up mental patient and a really hot witch!

Image: www.thestage.co.uk
Image: www.thestage.co.uk

Before I say anything else, I have to admit that it was a really fun experience! So much so, in fact, that I was surprised by how little this actually felt like work. Of course, that is in part because I got to work three of the four days with my best friend (who actually was the one who introduced me to the job), which meant laughing at each other’s (sometimes hilarious looking) get-ups, snapping selfies (which we unfortunately cannot post), and sharing really funny stories about the people we scared.  To top it all off, the pay was pretty good too!

Here are some things this very regular human learned about being a scare actor:

1. EAR PLUGS ARE YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND

It can be incredibly disorienting when creepy haunted house music (like what’s playing here) is blaring, things are falling (thud!) and people are screaming simultaneously, which is why ear plugs are, in my view at least, crucial for every scare actor to keep their sanity intact. And if you’ve never worn ear plugs before, you’d be surprised at how comfortable they can be, and how well you can still hear with them on. Though I kept my ears comfortably plugged through the night, I was still able to pick up on things being said when others were talking to me, no problem! And if you do find it kinda gross after awhile (they will collect dirt and stray hairs and makeup) they’re easy to remove too.

2. CASUAL CONVERSATION? JUST NO

That said, just because we can hear what guests are saying, that doesn’t mean we want to respond. Some people are really hard to scare (okay, the onus is on us) and oftentimes guests would sound out: “Hey, how’re you doing!”; “Can I take a selfie with you?”; “Is it hot under that mask?” As much as I always want to yell a resounding YESSSSS to that last one, we have to be in character at all times, and that means not acknowledging your casual comments. So, on behalf of all scare actors, I will respond: “Yes, we’re having a pretty nice day. It would be much nicer if you were doing a little less talking and a little more screaming, because that would make the amount of sweat under this ghoulish-looking mask completely worth it. But hey, no pressure.”

3. WE KNOW WHEN YOU’RE SCARED

You take tiny, uneven footsteps and occasionally turn back to look for whoever it is you fell into this gory little rabbit hole with. You cover your head with both hands, sing to yourself, make awkward high-pitched forced laughter, and stare with eyes wide open a bit too long at mechanized monsters … it isn’t all that hard really, to tell when someone’s genuinely frightened or when they’re trying to put on a good show (no complaints there either). And if you really are frightened, you’re exactly the type of person we’d flock to. Hue hue hue.

4. IT WON’T WORK WHEN YOU TRY TO SCARE US

Prior to taking on this job, like any other moderately rational person, I’d freak at the sight of a bloodied-up creature of some kind. But when you see the creepiest of monsters – amazing what a little (or a lot) of makeup can achieve – doing the most banal of things, say eating a curry bun for instance, well, you can imagine it’d sort of kill the fear factor, no? If our fellow actors can’t scare us, what makes you think you can?

5. ON SECOND THOUGHT… IT MAY WORK – GETTING PUNCHED IS A REAL HAZARD

This came as quite a nasty shock – I mean, getting paid to scare people sounds incredibly fun (and somewhat sadistic) but I never once imagined that I’d actually fear for my safety. On hindsight, I suppose I really should have. In haunted houses, I think it’s safe to say that many terrified people revert back to more ‘primal’ fight or flight instincts. And while it can be a huge kick when visitors scream till their lungs give out, sometimes, out of shock I’d like to think, they retaliate and may even get physical with you. In just the four short days I was working for instance, I either witnessed or heard of fellow co-workers getting pushed (my partner’s head got pushed against a wall), poked, touched (sometimes inappropriately), kicked even. Going back to contradict my earlier point – I suppose scare actors can get scared after all. This scare actor definitely did.

6. IT IS INCREDIBLY TIRING

Worrying about your safety while simultaneously trying to elicit reactions of terror in people? It’s no wonder that scare acting is a really tiring job. In an average night, scare actors work around five sets of 30-45 (usually the latter) minutes each. That sounds pretty reasonable, except when you realise that that means walking around, screaming, and staying in character for 45 long minutes.  While we do get breaks in between, sometimes because of scheduling issues, these get cut extremely short. So cut us some slack if you catch us stifling a yawn, okay?

7. SCARING PEOPLE IS REALLY, REALLY FUN

All in all, despite how tiring or risky it may be, being a scare actor is really, really fun. If you’ve ever pranked your friends on Halloween, just imagine their reactions and multiply that by… I don’t know, 100? It’s priceless to see the looks on people’s faces! My only gripe is that we didn’t literally scare the shit out of our guests (these scare actors would get $200 if they did accomplish such a feat, quite literally) – then again, thinking about the clean up after, I’m not sure if we’d want to!

So hey, if you like scaring people just as much as I did, then you should definitely consider working as a scare actor the next time round. Happy Halloween 🙂


Do you have any scary haunted house stories to share? Leave a comment below! 

Elizabeth Kamaldin
A mass communications student turned human geographer, Elizabeth loves travelling and immersing herself in new places and spaces... and writing about them later! When not busy finding pet rocks, considering adding them to her ever growing collection (every geographer must surely have one!) she also dabbles in art and craft, and likes to think of herself as an amateur watercolour/ink artist (check out her ig @littlecorals)!