Being Employed at a Haunted House
People want to be scared so badly that they’re willing to pay good money for the experience. Or at least that’s the takeaway from my stint as working event staff for one of the largest haunted attractions in the country.
Working at a haunted house is (I’m sure) very similar to making a horror movie, or playing the role of an extra in one. The veil is lifted and you’re allowed to be a part of the magic. I had no illusions about what it would be like working for the wizard, ensuring the smoke and mirrors were in working order for our customers. For minimum wage, I got to experience the weird limbo of making sure the experience of being absolutely terrified was smooth for everyone.
It begins with cleaning blood-soaked masks.
My job consists of making sure the actors get what they need, managing the line, and overseeing that the patrons know the park rules and guidelines. Though people pay a lot of money for the haunted house attraction, a quarter of them often run out, telling me “Nope, sorry can’t do it. Thank you.”
I hear that a lot from customers when they leave an attraction, who find themselves wiping tears and laughing uncontrollably.
“How scary is it?” they ask.
“Really scary,” I answer, per protocol.
“Really, really scary?”
“Is there a safe word?”
“…Emergency exits are located under the bright red signs?”
So you do this every year?
This is my first year working for a haunted attraction, or any haunted attraction really. To be completely honest with you, I’m not a huge fan of horror movies. Sure, I enjoy watching them with friends, but it’s not something I particularly have a vested interest in. This attraction seems to have been running for several years, with many repeat customers. Naturally, they ask me if I’ve worked here previously, or weirder still: “So you must really like this horror stuff, huh? Live it and breathe it right?”
I really like making my rent at the end of the month, yes.
I hear screaming every night and do nothing about it.
Remember when I said working at a haunted house feels like working on a horror movie? This is especially true when I have a moment to just listen to what’s going on around me. Screaming people, whirring chainsaws, eerie music. If I responded how I do in the real-world to the sounds I hear nightly, I might be charged for willful negligence, or whatever charge a bystander who does nothing to prevent a murder would be given. It’s a very boring role to play in the larger horror movie narrative. Imagine all the plots that would end if people like me just called the police. “Hello? 911? Yes, there’s chainsaw noises coming from the creepy house up the hill. Thank you.”
Talking to monsters.
The actors are really fun people. You have to be if you enjoy sitting through make-up for hours just so you can get the chance to scare people and get pictures taken with them. I love talking to the actors, especially when they’re in full costume. For 95 percent of their night, they go around screaming, and yelling, and charging at customers to get the reaction they’re paid to get. For the other 5 percent of the time, I’m the person they talk to. “My costume needs to be re-adjusted.” “Call security, we have an aggressive customer.” “Can we have snacks?”
Turns out, it’s actually great being on a first-name basis with monsters.
A few straggling observations: Every night is a surprise. Young children come out of the scariest attractions disappointed, and a few grown adults hugged me and sobbed after “surviving” the attraction. That said, yes, it is still inadvisable to bring your one-year-old to a haunted house.
Despite how ridiculous Jurassic World makes it look, people still choose the least optimal footwear for a park that actively creates scenarios for running away.
Honestly though, I overcame a lot of my own fears working at a haunted house. Clowns, scary noises, the dark. These are things that come with a lot of baggage it turns out. Your fears become much less scary when the clowns have wardrobe problems, the sound machine stutters, and the lighting keeps screwing up. Time wasted is a missed opportunity for screams, and screams wasted is money wasted.
Matthew Kim is a California based writer and editor. He usually writes about moving collections of light: films, animation, and video games. The best way to contact him is through his twitter @LawofTD
Photo: Orange County Archives