The Art of Fear: So You Want to Work a Haunted Attraction

To many acting in a haunted attraction is viewed as doing something fun and simple. Actually, almost everyone starting out thinks that way. It will be easy and fun scaring people. As people quickly find out that is simply not the case. It is a very difficult job on many levels. It’s physically demanding…it strains the voice…and if you don’t know what you are doing its nerve wracking. That’s why most people that try it don’t last. Pro haunters that have been in the game awhile they have learned to almost sense it in the newcomers. You either have it or you don’t. Even those that have the natural talent to adapt to this style of performing still are lost at the beginning. We all were, but we learned and adapted. Let’s take a look at some advice I would give someone that is just starting out.

Acting in a pro haunted attraction is a great experience with a different level of fun experiences. There is no better joy than seeing a person run away from you screaming. The adrenaline rush is defiantly unique. One the other hand it sucks. It really does. When you first start out you are usually put in a spot or set for the night, or depending on the haunts policies for the season. It’s physically demanding to the point you will be sore when the night is over from the constant moving and jumping around. You will get hurt. When you are moving especially when it gets busy and the lines seem to never end you will clip the end of a table or railing…something banging some part of your body. You will get the idiot customers that like to taunt and get you angry for their sick amusement. Sometimes they will even take a swing at you. Your voice will be shot because you haven’t quite learned how to use your voice correctly or you just get caught up in the night and when it’s over you screamed your voice away. You may find you are allergic to latex or the makeup breaks you out and dries your skin. When it’s all over you stumble home too tired to shower so you pass out only to wake up to find the makeup and blood has stained your pillow case. You will struggle night after night to find your character and what to say. At times you won’t really scare anyone and will feel you just can’t do it. These are just some of the drawbacks of acting in a haunted attraction. The ones no one really tells you about, but they will happen.

So, you are still here? Didn’t get scared away yet? That’s great because from my perspective the pros outweigh the cons without a doubt. Acting in a haunt is the most unique experience you can ever have. You become a character. Your a monster…a mad person…anything you want to be from the genre of horror that pretty much every haunt actor fell in love with and what drove them to the haunt in the first place. You shed your fears and self consciousness. You get the chance at one of the best self expression style performing there is. The rush you get knowing that those people running and screaming are doing so because of you is addicting. You feed your creative side and learn to experiment with different ideas and concepts. If your haunt does special fx makeup you get to learn to create and change your face, your look, your appearance in wonderfully horrific ways. I could go on and on so hopefully you get the idea.

Now starting out you will be clueless. You will think you know what to expect, but you really don’t. Your first night you will suck at the job. We all did. It’s not about how good you do right out the gate it’s about how you learn and adapt. Those in charge are not expecting you to be their top performer right away. They know you will be terrible at it. What they look for is your effort at what you are doing. If you listen to their instructions and advice. If you try. I guarantee your first night…the first group that comes through you will be horrible, but if you have what it takes to work in the haunt that last group will be a huge improvement. When I ran acting departments that is what I looked for. Not how many scares you really got, but did you put forth the effort. So, if this is something you really want to do just do it…try…experiment…watch others and listen to their advice and adapt it to what will become your style of acting.

Prepare yourself for the cons. Expect a long night and the aches and pains. Stay focused on how you use your voice. Expect the frustration and everything I listed above. However, don’t go in unprepared. Watch the horror movies you love, but this time watch the little things. How the characters move or what sets up a tense scary scene. Store all that in your brain and when you get put in your first set take a few moments to explore it and think of those little things while figuring out what to do. A common question I get from people starting out is “what do I say?” It doesn’t matter to a point. Jumping out with a scream or a boo is totally taboo. Don’t do that, but does it really matter what kind of dialog you come up with when in actuality you are only face to face with a customer for a few secs on average and the music and noise is just as loud as your voice? Movie lines, song lyrics, anything you can think of can work in almost any situation. Rule of thumb is you try to pick something that fits your character or the room setting your in, but everything happens so fast don’t try any huge monologues. Some simple because it’s not what you say it’s how you move and say it. Which brings me to my personal pet peeve…movement.

Nine times out of ten just standing there barely moving in the shadows looking like the chick from the ring doesn’t work. The key in my opinion is movement. For example, when I work a set I take a few moments to survey my surroundings. I look for things like how the room is set up an lit. I learn the dark spots and where the lights hit. So when customers come I plot a way to emerge from the shadows into the light in ways other than just a slow walk. Pay attention to your stride so you know how fast you can move from one spot to the next with as few steps as possible. Use your whole body don’t just walk like normal. Plus don’t forget facial expressions. Remember your a monster…a creature of the night. At a seminar I used footage from movies showing different effective ways to move and walk. One example I like to use over and over again is Vincent D’Onofrio from Men in Black as Edgar the bug.

Now even though this movie is a comedy and not horror it is a perfect example how every movement and facial expression made the character what it is. I ask you this…would this character be so good without all that? Of course, not because THAT is what made the character great. On a side note this also proves you can learn different things from all movies not just horror…even dialog. So learn to move as your character. That will be a huge first step.

There is so much to cover and learn and I’ll be doing more of these for sure, but for starters I wanted to cover some basics for those first starting out or thinking of working a haunt this season. The plan is to write these in an order starting at the beginning for those new to haunting and they will get more complex as we go. For this though let’s sum up. You have been prepped for the pros and cons and assured that the first season is a learning experience, but you can succeed if you watch, learn, and try. We answered the main question I always get about dialog. Plus, we covered what I feel is the first and most important key to master and that’s movement and facial expressions. Don’t get me wrong though this isn’t all to learn…it’s a start. There is so much more to cover and that’s why I want to do the series of articles. However, like I said getting mentally prepared for how difficult it will be and having a few bits of information to build off of is the first step to becoming a good pro haunter.