I’ve always loved haunted houses, ever since I was a kid.
All right, I’m lying, the first time my family and I went on the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland I screamed, cried, nearly pissed my OshKosh B’gosh overalls, and pitched a fit. I was not a big fan.
But ever since the age of thirteen or so, when my goth phase hit me full-force, I became a haunted house enthusiast. That’s not to say that I’ve been to very many. Long Island isn’t the kind of place that caters to sulking teenagers who don’t like to shop at the mall or avoid dating boys, let alone ones named Jimmy. The haunted houses I have been lucky enough to venture inside of have been, for the most part, frightening enough to make me yelp like a poodle left out in the snow. Take the Bayville Haunted Firehouse. I waited on line for an hour and a half which, at the age of fourteen or so, was a frightening prospect in and of itself. Once inside, my forced teenage apathy gave way to screaming like a little bitch. I vividly remember one darkened room that appeared to be filled with roaches. Underfoot there was something that gave off an unpleasantly realistic “crunch, crunch.”
My investment in this type of terror is not just ‘cause I’m a fraidy cat. Halloween is widely regarded as the second largest commercial holiday in the US, with seven billion dollars (“with a b,” as those chatterboxes on CNBC like to say) spent every year on costumes, activities, and dental rot. It seems that most people enjoy a scheduled scare, and in a world where we have a woman with the intellect of a pitbull wearing lipstick running for the second highest office in our nation, two wars being fought and forgotten, a global economic clusterfuck, and shows like The Hills actually being considered entertaining, well, dress me up like a sexy nurse and lock me in a warehouse filled with vampires. Or actors dressed up as vampires, whatever.
Haunting is big business, complete with formal membership associations, trade shows, and safety codes. Big, sticky amusement parks like Six Flags have events like Fright Fest ($39.99 when purchased online) and towns like Omaha have the Stalks of Terror Maze at Scary Acres ($5.00, excluding the cost of traveling to Omaha.) There are haunted house “consultants” who, for just shy of four grand, will spend a day evaluating the fright factor of your attraction. The cost of the 10-Hour Maze Design/Consultation package is what is truly scary. $2,500 to make my house easy to get lost in? I do that daily, and for free.
I’ve always figured that house haunters fell into one of two categories: carnies or actors. (Both are groups I would not like to spend a Friday night hanging out with.) It always seemed a little odd to me that people looking for part-time work would choose to spend a few nights dressed up like Marilyn Manson groupies, jumping from behind doors and turn teenage girls into dog whistles. What sort of a person has so little pride and so much time? Again, my answer turned to carnies or actors.
It turns out that it’s the less humble of the two, namely actors. Granted, a lot of house haunters in non-urban areas are the average group of young people looking for a fun way to make some money. But in cities like New York and LA, the prospect of scaring can border on pretentious. Catering to your favorite skinny waiter, the advertisements for haunted house help suggest that a background in acting would be helpful, as would expertise with stage make-up, and non-guild members are preferred. It’s funny considering that some of the stories from workers that I encountered included were less like Shakespeare, more like a Ying Yang Twins video. “I can’t count the number of times that guys tried to crawl on the table with me and grab me in inappropriate places,” recalls one worker who was employed at a haunted house in both the torture chamber and the coffin room. “When I worked both rooms, I found that some people are a bit sick and like to attack the actors,” she added.
Not all attractions are outfitted with strip club-level security. What they are required by law to have in place are a working sprinkler system, early warning smoke and/or heat detectors, emergency lights, fire proof materials, adequate electricity, and easy access doors. I suggest adding Mace to that list.
Scare actors are usually raking in the standard $8 an hour, though some places that are more high-brow offer samples for their portfolio, as well as the standard free food and parking. Sometimes the drawbacks outweigh the phantastic perks. Common complaints include headaches from the strobe lights, respiratory issues caused by smoke machines, bumps and bruises, overwhelming heat from costumes, and the general stress of being a human pretending to be a screaming dead body. Workers’ complaints generally boil down to it being scary to scare people. Personally, I would like to look at this as proof of humanity, but maybe it’s just that being paid under ten dollars an hour to be a macabre massacre is pretty standard crappy low-wage work.
But keep in mind these statistics (most of which come from the Nostradamus of finances, Forbes):
Nearly two-thirds of Americans celebrate the holiday, with 1.6 of those “with-a-b” dollars being spent on decorations alone. Some haunted houses cater to over ten thousand people, with 15% of our population visiting at least one haunted house attraction on Halloween this year. Lastly, the amount of money Americans are projected to spend on Halloween is equal to the gross domestic product of Nicaragua. And that’s not including the condoms, eggs, Bacardi, and ecstasy tablets. That amount of cash is nothing to boo at.
E-maul can be sent to AinsleyDrew at gee male dot calm. Keep it creepy. Thank you to everyone who donates, my gratitude cannot be overstated. It’s worse than those old Sally Struthers commercials, the sort of sappy impact you have. I’d send you a Polaroid of me buying a box of tampons with the money, but that would probably just cross some sort of line.
If you, or someone you know, is looking for a writing team to revamp any webtext, compose a press release, or rebrand a company, hit us up at Ministry of Imagery. We need work.
This causes far too much stress, but I do it incessantly anyway.
My better half:
Notes: The last image in this post is from a phenomenal B-movie called Spider Baby. It has a pretty cool history if you’re a film buff, and it’s fun to watch. Moreover, Jill Banner was incredibly hot in that nightgown.
Lastly, there’s a difference between a “haunted house” and a “haunted house attraction.” I was discussing the later in this post, obviously. The former is the real fucking deal.