‘Boo!’ Behind: How The Haunted House Cast Scares the Guests

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What would it take to scare someone off candy corn? Artists at two of New York’s hallowed haunted attractions reveal the secrets behind the shocks.

Angie Hansen knows what she wants: energy, professionalism, a gift for the ad-lib. “And then someone who really likes to scare people,” he said cheerfully.

as creative director Blood MansionA 10,000 square foot haunted house nestled inside a TriBeCa skyscraper, Hansen brings together 60 artists a year, most of whom are Blood Manor veterans. It divides newcomers into appropriate roles – clowns, murderers, corpse brides, victims with weeping silicone wounds. In just three or four days of rehearsal, he teaches how to scare the nearly a thousand guests who enter Blood Manor every weekend night, a Halloween staple since 2005.

About two hours north, headless horseman In Ulster Park, NY, David Berman runs acting workshops for seasonal scare actors. Because it takes more than horrible makeup and vibrating vocal cords to get ticket holders to scream.

“Jumping out of a closet and just shouting doesn’t do anything,” Berman said.

This type of haunting – the industry term for various haunted attractions – became popular in the 1980s. President Spencer Terry Haunted Travel Association, a trade group estimates there are about 1,800 professional haunts in the United States this year. While horror now evolves in various forms, these destinations are something completely immersive, offering a 360-degree experience that viewers can play through in their worst nightmares.

Even as professional filming moves towards more extreme effects – animatronic monsters, falling elevators, rippling walls – much still depends solely on the human body’s potential. (Well, the human body and some spooky face paint.) “Yes, you can scare people by jumping or even blowing air,” he said. Beth Kattelman, professor of performance at Ohio State University. “But the characters people really remember are the special things people do.”

Before Michael Jubie opened Headless Horseman nearly 30 years ago, he worked as the commander of a mounted police unit in Kingston, NY. “Oh, I was scared,” he said. “Oh yes.”

In the weeks leading up to Halloween, we spoke with some of the actors from Blood Manor and Headless Horseman, who run a very scary corn maze on 65 acres of escape rooms, haunted houses, and amid the hustle and bustle of New York City. an hour’s drive from the nearest train station – about how they realized these fears.

While some haunted houses employ trained players, many fill their ranks with enthusiastic amateurs. Before the pandemic, candidates would come for interviews and auditions. Now they usually scare the camera by auditioning remotely. What makes a great haunting actor? “There has to be at least a little something about you,” said Will Szigethy, a longtime Headless Horseman actor. But not too closed. Most do infested background checks.

Scott Taylor, a packaging engineer at Avon by day, worked on Headless Horseman for 10 years, nine of which he spent playing a very disturbing clown. “You can tell people in your heart,” he said. “And you can just tell the people here for the paycheck. These people usually don’t last very long.”

Veterans take first timers under their wing, helping them build their personality and teaching them how to scream without tearing their throats. (Trick: Howling from the diaphragm.) Over the course of a season, newcomers will evolve the characters according to their environment – a morgue, a cemetery, a side show – by finding different ways to move, scream, use a chainsaw, or use a chainsaw. an ax They will also find their rhythm: a kind of horror on comic timing, a scream instead of a punch.

Shamia Diaz, a regular at Blood Manor, plays the Bride who escaped from the mental hospital. With blood-stained hands, the role includes shaking too much, screaming too much, encouraging many participants to read scriptures from the book of Satan. “You have to find your own mojo, your own air,” he said. “Because once you find what works for you, you can’t be stopped.”

For Dominique Peres, who joined The Headless Horseman five years ago as a painfully shy teenager, mojo meant creating a character named Jacket, who enthusiastically takes on a psycho killer. “Jacket is crazy, he has an axe, he’s rambling, he likes naps, he likes making friends,” he said.

Some artists specialize in jump scares that pop out of unexpected corners. Others prefer more psychological intimidation, standing near ticket holders and whispering in their ears. (Before Covid-19, some haunts allowed players to do more than whisper, but Blood Manor and Headless Horseman have always maintained strict no-contact policies.) Others are more versatile. Amateur psychologists change fear according to the mood in the room.

Playing Jack, the masked serial killer of Blood Manor, Jose Torres adjusts his stance for each new group. “It’s just a connected energy that comes between you and the people walking by,” Torres said.

This energy, however connected, can be difficult to maintain. A theater actor may perform once or twice a day, while a haunting actor may repeat the same scene 10 times an hour, six to eight hours apart. “It’s physically exhausting,” said Meagan Donovan, who manages a haunted house on the Headless Horseman property. “You’re swinging an ax all night or hiding in a small area, loud.”

But the burst of adrenaline screaming one after another continues to shake the performers. “It’s better than a roller coaster,” said Hansen, who played the victim of Blood Manor for years. “Better than sex. Better than the best meal you’ve ever had. The feeling of scaring someone makes you want to do it over and over.”

This brand of acting rewards actors in other ways as well. Putting on makeup and buying a fake gun gives them a sense of freedom and restraint they wouldn’t otherwise feel. “For me, the experience has been very empowering,” Diaz said.

Many also view the haunting act as a form of stress relief. “They’re using it as a kind of therapy,” said Berman, who plays a villainous character named Dewey Tewey on Headless Horseman. “You can’t tell someone in your day job that you’re going to rip off their arms and legs and throw them in the woods.”

Every now and then an actor goes too far and continues to intimidate a ticket holder who is obviously already petrified. But most know when to resign, or even how to lend a hand covered in blood, kick people out of a room without spoiling their character. Also, many artists say the best fears are the ones they really have to work for.

Nicole Borbone and William Burton, recent college graduates reenact a scene in the nerve-stained morgue of Blood Manor. They begin with a jump scare, then move on to a sequence in which Borbone’s corpse suddenly rises from the table and begs the participants to help him. Burton likes to make eye contact with customers who seem hard to intimidate; Borbone tends to make moves for them. Usually he gets the reaction he wants.

“When I screamed and knocked a grown man to his knees,” he said, “I did my job.”

surface coating A column that explores the intersection of art and life, produced by Alicia DeSantis, Jolie Ruben, Tala Safie and Josephine Sedgwick.

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