Who Haunts The Haunter?

What it’s like being a corporate scareactor.

Image: Kevin Tao via Flickr

“Blair” [not her real name] is a veteran of over 10 years of working as a “scareactor” in a variety of corporate Halloween haunts throughout the country. I asked her what that’s like. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

“The auditions are like this: You go in as a group, maybe 30 at a time, and they’ll ask you one question. The answer doesn’t matter, it’s how you answer. “What’s your favorite scary movie?” You could say Goonies, Jaws, Hellraiser 14, but it all depends on how comfortable you are being put on the spot. If you’re awkward, they’ll cut you.

Then, you have a death scene. One time, a director went down the line with a finger-gun and went “bang,” and you fake your own death. What they’re looking for is not what you do, so much as the choices you make. If you’re screaming, are you blowing out our lungs? Are you unsafe? Are you throwing yourself on the ground, and damaging the costume or maybe breaking a bone?

The final step is they’ll play music, something that gradually builds, and the director will coach the room. “You’re walking, you feel sick, really sick, you fall over, die, you’re re-animating, you’re turning, you’re a monster, you’re starving, you’re ravenous!” They talk people down, and raise them up, and by the end you’re running like crazy. But if you make an unsafe choice, or look like you’re not having fun, or are laughably spooky, they cut you.

We’re not the scariest parts at these events. The guests are. More and more, as our sanitized corporate entertainment caters to the bottom dollar, we’re dispensable. They don’t want bad reviews, they don’t want bad press. But the guests get violent, they get aggressive. It’s a disturbing trend.

Last year, someone went through a maze with a can of silly string and sprayed it in the eyeholes of performer masks, and the company didn’t do anything. Another friend got his teeth karate-kicked out. Security detained the guest for 25 minutes while they went through the footage and saw, indeed, he kicked my friend in the face. But rather than kicking him out of the park or charging him for assault, they gave him a front-of-the-line pass and said, “We’re sorry we spent so much time looking at that footage.”

I’ve only been assaulted once, during my first year. A girl came up behind me, pounced on me, and threw me in a choke-hold. She started screaming in my ear, almost burst my eardrum, but she was pretty light, and I wrestled her off. She took off running, and they caught her, and she was like, “I just wanted to see what would happen.” They asked me if I wanted to press charges, I said no, but wanted her thrown out of the park, and they at least did that.

Those girls who are “victims” and lie on their backs as part of a scene? We have to wear earplugs now just to shut out the staggering amount of people that scream, “Rape her! Rape the shit out of her!” If I’m there for an hour, maybe forty people make a comment like that. It’s heartbreaking. So many people walk by without saying anything, or being supportive, like, “Let’s help her,” but it’s the assholes stand out.

Levels are so important for any haunt, because if you come at everybody full force, they tune you out. It’s important to have calm punctuated with moments of terror. But it’s evolved into, “We just need to get as many people through as possible.” It’s a factory, and they give the same note to every performer: “Aggression, aggression, aggression.”

Leave your children at home, for fuck’s sake! People bring their children. There are the monsters that love to go after kids and scare them, just to reinforce to the parents they shouldn’t have brought them. What a terrible choice to bring your child to an event like that!

The jobs are possible paths to full-time employment at the park. Like, “This is a reliable and responsible employee that works hard and is safe.” It’s an extra feather in your cap for an audition. But there are some people who live on Hot Pockets and dust all year, just so they can survive in Los Angeles long enough to work haunt season. It’s like they come alive that time of year.

You come in around three in the afternoon, and leave at three in the morning. You do hour sets or half-hour sets, it depends on the performance. They could be awful, 90-minute sets with half-hour breaks. Or, you may have a direct “twin.” You’ll be Satan’s Pianist A, and they’ll be Satan’s Pianist B. It’s great to have a partner like that. “Do you mind doing an hour-long set? I want to visit my friend or have a nap.” You really rely on each other.

Fake blood is thicker than real blood. Seriously. The best friends in my life have been monsters. These are people I really only see once a year, but it’s like being in the military, or serving a tour. There’s so much blood and sweat and tears, and basically it’s you versus them, with them being the guests. In the break room, we’re always swapping stories. It’s, you know, who has the biggest scaredick?

Repetitive stress motion is the scariest thing. God forbid you’re given a prop you can only use with your right or left hand. For example, there’s this woman that has her left leg getting cut off. So she sits in a special chair and puts her one leg behind the chair. But she has to move this stump around, and it only accommodates her left leg. She has to move that leg for eight hours a day, every day. Her knee’s going to be shredded by the end of the run.

Every night, you’re trying to entertain people that may or may not take a swing at you, and it puts your brain in a certain mode. It saved my life once. I was walking back from a party around 1:30 in the morning, and was in an alleyway, and this dude stepped out directly in front of me with a knife. He’s staring at me, twisting the knife in the light, watching my face. I should’ve been scared, but I’ve been around so many fake knives and fake scary people. And I also knew that when I pop out at somebody and don’t get the reaction, I know not to mess with that person. So, my brain instantly kicked into Horror Night mode. I rolled my eyes, and kept walking toward him, even walked faster. He looked so weirded out by that, like, “Oh shit, this girl is not stopping, she’s not scared,” and he stumbled back into the alley. I wonder what would’ve happened if I hadn’t had that training.

Most of us don’t get off on scaring people. We do it for camaraderie, and the intense love. For me, the best part is when you startle someone. You pop out, they scream or flinch, and there’s that little musical laugh that comes out immediately after. This giggle of relief. That gives me fuel for my entire haunt season. Making people laugh 30,000 times a night? That’s important work to me.”