As a lover of horror movies and a love for in your face scares, it's comes to my attention that many people expect the same scary level from cinema to translate into real life at scare attractions around the country. I don't want to burst any bubbles, I've worked at a few and one in particular that is well known in the industry of Haunted Attractions (i.e. - one of the top 13!), but most are not going to be straight out of your horror movies.
1) Horror movies are on screen, while haunted houses are right in your face the entire time!
While you can turn off your television or leave a movie theater, that isn't the case for when you attend one of these places.
From my own experience, the only thing that the movies have in common with such a place: fear. Haunt actors can smell fear easily and it's in real time, while your characters on screen are fictional, pre-filmed, and don't know you exist. The ones in the haunt you attend, will prey on it if you are the one most likely to get spooked! Don't worry we notice the tough ones that are terrified and about to pee their pants.
So don't throw your friends under the bus, we know you are terrified, why else would you use your girlfriend as shield and NOT shield her. Obvious much? And no really, this happens all the time.
2) You can yell at your screen or run away, but you can't too much at a Haunt!
I say this because of the sheer amount of times customers have literally run down hallways or through a cornfield (rain is your enemy!). Or you get the ones that are so petrified to move that you have to scare them to move into the next room.
If you get spooked easily, physically attack when someone scares you, need to be intoxicated &/or high, or have claustrophobia, then you may want to re-think attending one in the fall season. I'm saying this from a safety point a view as a fan and actor/makeup artist whose worked at haunts.
You can HOWEVER, if you get super spooked, you can ask to be escorted. Most haunted houses have that and code word to get you out.
Unless you attend one of those extreme haunts where you sign a waiver and they don't let you out unless it's a medical emergency, you may want to rethink those place. I haven't attended one, but I know people who've gone to similar attractions and seen the videos from most, those are straight out of horror movies. Which brings me to number three...
3) How scary is too scary?
Now some people want to have an actor in their face, while others want them at a distance like on a hayride similar to the distance you have between you and a television/movie screen. Yet year after year, horror movies have now taken their gore to new heights and pushed the envelope far. This alone leaves most haunts floundering or struggling.
Why does this happen? Shock value. Haunts compete to bring it up to the level of horror movies. But most won't. That's the big difference. Some stay true to their roots and still deliver. The haunt I use to work for stays true and has been around for over 20 years. They stuck it out because they've delivered time are time in scares without ridiculous shock value.
4) Movies are made, edited, and released in a year. Haunted attractions are a year around job.
Unless you signed a contract to do sequels to a popular franchise, most horror movies are made within a year, then it's over. Haunts are a 365 business and constantly evolving.
They hire on a crew that tirelessly works 5 days week, even 6 days, to keep up on top of the houses, trail(s), animatronics in tact, making sure big deliveries are properly handled, that is something falters they get on top of it ASAP. The crew is the backbone of keeping a haunted attraction alive and well in the fall.
Without these individuals you wouldn't have the eerie sounds or the cool lighting to make you scream!
Then you have the people who write scripts or work on costumes months in advance. Once the snow melts, most haunts are working hard to bring you the next seasons scares to life. So don't forget to thank your haunt works that do this year round!
5) Each place is different, just like each horror movie is different.
No two horror movies are the same (unless you are doing a series), same applies to most haunts. Some are huge with over 9 haunted houses and maybe a hayride, while others are home haunts that are in the backyard or on the front lawn that have no money.
But while studios will give film makers a budget with money, that isn't the same for haunt owners. Unless they have millions of dollars, have connections, or willing to do more then 5 jobs on site the first year it opens, you are broke. It takes years to create a name and not fail. What keeps most going? Passion. Most haunt owners LOVE horror/halloween! Same goes for the actors, makeup artist(s) and crew members they hire.
It also takes years to fight and keep established in an industry that is constantly changing every year. The envelop keeps getting pushed and if most haunts don't do something in relation to it, most don't make it into the next season.
It's a dog eat dog world and those that are passionate about it, keep fighting to stay open another season.
6) Haunt Makeup isn't apply and go. It's dedication, time, and fast paced.
The bigger the haunt, the more crunch time you have to produce makeup and get an actor our on time. Some haunts can not afford this luxury in the beginning so they either: 1) have the actors supply their own makeup or 2) buy products and let the actors cover their own faces and hands. Same thing goes for costumes that the actors wear.
Both in the first year, it is going to happen if the owners are tapped out to pay an artist. But after 5 years and a steady flow of income, they hire on people to help create the looks they want to see out in real time with their haunts.
I've had my hands get messy with what they call 3D, which is the more gory aspects of physically fx. From scars to wounds to big bites on actors necks, I've applied it. I've done neck slits to applying a giant skull piece to a girls face. Latex is easiest to do. Once you start using Gelatin and using foam pieces, your actors have to sit a little longer. The bigger the piece, the longer they sit.
Same goes for airbrushing. The airbrush artists are the ones that apply the coloring, shading, and depth to the characters looks. Depending on the haunt, they may or may not have the time to apply blood application to create that extra creepy effect. There may or may not be a blood station or the actor may have to apply it themselves or head back to their 3D station for a makeup artist to do it.
The makeup department is also the other glue that holds the haunt together. They help mold sometimes the most iconic looks that the customers see and remember for years to come. Without them, you would be looking at masks on everyone there.
7) Acting at a Haunt isn't the same as Acting on Stage.
I can detest to the fact that many people come to a haunted attraction and think they are just going to be automatically hired. Each haunt has a process on how they bring on new members to their team for scare acting.
Some interview, while the big mainstream ones like Knott's or Universal audition EVERY single actor that wants to work the halloween season. They have them either go over lines on the spot or act out a scene that the casting director tells the actor to do. They get millions of people there every year, so it's their top priority to find the cream of the crop.
Now smaller haunts don't always audition, but they will put you through the ringer to see during dress rehearsals if you have what it takes in that role. If you don't, no worry. Most will move you to another house or a different role. I found out I wasn't good at drop window scares, because of timing. I found out I had the chops for scream my lungs out and playing a victim the first time I worked in a haunt! You never know what works for you till you try different roles.
And once you get placed, you'll find your groove. Once it's found, for 99% of the people I know, they are a force of nature as their character! They can scare people to the point of bring them to their knees. I should know, I've brought grown men to their knees by me just smiling creepy and waving last year!
And then their is the covet position at any haunt that almost every single person who acts wants into this small club: line acting! You have the most freedom in what you say and do, so it's a very rewarding but also exhausting experience.
I've gotten the chance to experience this first hand. You need to be hyper aware of your surroundings and the people you come into contact with. if you sense you may be stepping over the boundaries of a customer, back off slowly or quickly if you feel they might try violence. I've had the unfortunate encounter of scarring someone so much that when they turned around they reacted by shoving me to the ground! Thankfully I've got a good balance and know how to be quick on my feet. Catching myself was the least of my worries.
Now for as a female about line acting, it can be more dangerous. Not saying it isn't rewarding but, it has 2x's the risks than a male would. I've not only been hit on (I know, why!?), but touched and borderline sexually harassed (i.e. - hair pulled, almost spit on, almost punched, my ass was touched, my boobs were practically touched, etc.. you know, the works!). You'll always come in contact with people who realize you can't touch actors at 90% of haunts. It's mostly for safety. Some customers get "touchy-feely" and as a line actor or an actor in a house, you'll have code words to help out in case this happens. Always remember the words and try to stay as safe as possible, but also HAVE FUN!
8) Don't Forget To Have Fun!
Working there and/or attending a haunt is something everyone should cross off their bucket list of things to do in their life at a young age. The people you meet to the experiences you have, you forget sometimes that it's a job. The time moves faster because of this.
And as customers you get so immersed in the experience, you forget that it's all just props and human beings that are there to make your night fun. So to jump into a world where your fears and imagination take you away is something to explore in the fall that you won't regret (unless you get scared easily, then don't go!)
The Haunted Attraction industry is growing every year. It's officially made its permanent mark in the world as now a tradition that 1 out of 5 people attend each and every Halloween season. The industry is booming and new things are coming out that shape the way the next season will look for each haunt across the United State.