We asked former haunted house employees for the truth about their former haunts.
For some of us, autumn (aka Halloween season) commenced on the first day of September. We halted our search for the best rooftop lounges and began to book trips to destinations boasting the best fall foliage. We dressed in layers even if we were sweating on the subway platform or simply from walking at a decent clip.
Now, with Halloween just weeks away, we’re turning our attention to the macabre, the gory, the downright ghoulish.
For those who are seeking scares this Halloween, Fodor’s has investigated a popular spooky pastime: haunted houses. We’ve done some digging so you can be better prepared for what’s waiting in the wings, from your local haunts to bigger amusement park attractions. We turned to the employees who know the game best to find out what’s really going on in the dark corners of these fear factories. Beware: the truth might spook you, so read on if you dare.
The Scarer: Nico Ager
The Haunt: Silo X [now closed], somewhere near Pontiac, Michigan
The Character: “I was probably 11. I didn’t really get to go inside the haunted house to scare people because I was so young, so I would set up shop right when you walk in, and sort of balance on this window ledge. I had a big robe on and a scary mask, and I would stand super still, so when people would walk in they would think it’s like a mannequin or something set up as a part of the decorations, and they’d get close to me and I would look down at them and jump out.”
What was the best reaction someone had to getting scared?: “The one I remember the most is, there were these two people who came in and they just were so terrified when I jumped out that I chased them out to the parking lot, and they got into their car and drove away. They didn’t even go into the haunted house; this is before you paid for anything. They were just like, ‘hell no.’”
What were some dangers you faced? “My brother would be dressed as a werewolf and kind of prowl around the line while people were waiting. He almost got hit a couple of times because he would get really into it. He would run around and start sniffing around people waiting in line or jump up and surprise them. Some people instinctively react by wanting to hit whatever was freaking them out. But he’s a football player so he could take it.”
What was the worst reaction? When I was much older, I got to be the doctor—Dr. Hack-a-Limb [at another haunted house near Ann Arbor]. I got a drill—well, you could attach it to a drill, if you hit a trigger it made a loud sound from air blasting through it. I was standing next to a gurney with a body laying on it. People would walk in and it would look like nobody was in there, then I would pop up and do the drill and laugh and cackle and people would get freaked out.
“I had to take off my mask and show him that I was just a normal person. I feel like that kid is going to always remember that moment. He’s in therapy because of me.”
I was right near this window that went out to the line outside, so I could hear people talking while I was waiting for them to come into the room. Sometimes I’d catch a name or something, so when I’d see people coming around I could yell out their name from the next room. One time there was an 8-year-old kid out with his dad. He kept saying, “I want to go home, I want to go home,” and he finally came in and I popped up and was like, “You are home!”…and it was too much. He totally freaked out. [He froze] and then [had a total] meltdown. I had to take off my mask and show him that I was just a normal person. I feel like that kid is going to always remember that moment. He’s in therapy because of me.”
The Scarer: Grace Klich
The Haunt: I worked at Kings Dominion in Richmond, Virginia, a Cedar Fair Park.
The Character: “I played one of their ‘scare zone’ actors. Each scare zone was a different theme. I was a scare actor in IronworX, which had an apocalyptic steampunk theme.”
How did you get the job? “I got the job through Kings Dominion’s typical hiring process. It was my first job when I was 16. The interview was basically just acting out certain monsters and asking us about types of scary movies you like, questions like that. Super fun interview.”
“The interview was basically just acting out certain monsters and asking us about types of scary movies you like…”
What were some disclaimers you were told when you were hired? “Disclaimers were basically just you may get hit by a guest, which wasn’t uncommon. They didn’t warn about sexual assault, but that was pretty common, guests grabbing girl actor’s breasts and bottoms. They also didn’t warn about some of the conditions such as the extremely hot indoor mazes. A lot of actors would pass out working in scorching mazes for hours. I was never a maze actor, thank God; I would much rather deal with pouring rain or cold nights outside.”
What was the worst reaction a guest had to being scared? “The worst reaction was a lady who somehow managed to dump her Dippin’ Dots down my costume. I came up behind her and she flipped around and just dumped it straight down my dress.”
What was the best reaction? “Best reaction would definitely be little kids that were just so brave and would come up and be so fascinated with the costumes and masks and makeup. I’m talking kids under 5. Why people brought their little kids is a different story, but I always enjoyed interacting with them.”
Would you work there again? “I would definitely work there again; the scare actors are all a family and I made so many great friends and memories working there. It also was a great way to get acting experience and to interact with thousands of guests every night. Would not trade it for the world.”
The Scarer: Erica Pinto
The Haunt: I worked at Demented FX in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
The Character: I did makeup on actors and dressed as a demented nurse and worked in the recovery room, past the body bags/morgue.
What was the training process like? “There was a training day where they went through everything from walking like a zombie to dealing with drunk people in the haunt; safety words for customers that get too scared and want to exit the haunt. They took that seriously.”
What were some of the reactions from customers like? “I luckily didn’t have anyone touch me or do anything inappropriate, mostly because I was so scary that people literally would shriek in fear or giggle at me. One of our actors got in trouble for getting too close to customers. Honestly, that happens; the halls are tight and it’s dark.
Tell us more about what it’s like on the job. “You’re basically doing the same scene over and over again every seven minutes from 6 pm to midnight! Throwing yourself around, screaming, strobe lights, mechanical monsters, moving walls, secret doors…it’s a blast, but also grueling.”
The Scarer: Izzy Germain
The Haunt: Demented FX, Holyoke, Massachusetts. “It was in an old mill building area which had a lot of space. Very old industrial really cool area. [It] was a nice blend of mechanical monsters and scare actors.
The Character: “In my time there, I did both makeup and acted as a zombie. Our shifts would start at 5 pm, I would just start putting latex prosthetics on people as they would arrive. This was a cast of maybe 15-20 people, and we really only had an hour to put makeup on people, so it was a scramble.
My role was [as] a zombie in their laboratory. I had my designated room which was called the Demon Wolf room. My room had this giant devil wolf with bright red eyes, I would always hide in the corner and scare people after the wolf scared them.”
What disclaimers were you given when you were hired? “The warnings they gave us were to not touch the people who came into the haunt and to be careful of your surroundings. They also told us they had cameras in every room in the corner to make sure that if anything happened to us in the rooms that they would have it on video. We also had a group chat every night to alert each other of when there were some rude, drunk, or nasty people coming through.
What was the worst reaction someone had to getting scared?
There was this one group of extremely drunk girls–when I popped out of my corner that I was hiding in, they shoved me and were yelling loudly to stop touching them, even when I had not touched them at all. One of the girls in the group also tried to climb behind the cabinet thinking it was the exit and almost got behind the wolf mechanism. Drunk people in a haunted house are always the worst to try and scare.
Would you work there again?
No, I really didn’t like how much alcohol they sold to people. There were at least three bars inside and outside of the haunted house. It made the job a little bit more dangerous. The lines to the haunted house were long and the wait was often 2-3 hours. By the time they got into the haunted house, some people couldn’t walk through. I understand getting drunk and going through a haunted house. That’s wild, but I don’t want to work at a place like that.