Confessions of a Middle-Aged Haunt Actor

My life as a zombie at a theme park

Getting ready for our close-ups. (Image courtesy of author.)

Halloween is now over. We discard the Jack-o’-lanterns and pack up the Halloween decorations. We notice some stray pieces of candy on the sidewalks and even see Christmas trees begin to flicker in some windows. Like many people on this site, I was sad to see Halloween go. I had a unique experience this year that I hated to leave, and I want to share it.

I worked as a haunt actor at a theme park this season. I won’t disclose where, as I haven’t cleared this article with the management. I’d always wanted to do this, and when I saw flyers at a horror convention advertising an audition, I had to go. Before the audition, I looked around the room and noticed I was a lot older than most of the other people there. Like, old enough to be their mom. I was nervous about whether I would be selected and how this would fit around my day job. I had not auditioned for anything since a community play at age 14.

I won’t give away what they asked of applicants at the audition, but I was offered a spot. Thrilled, I began to complete the official paperwork. I was still concerned about what October would look like with me working all week with my 9-5 and then working at the haunt on the weekends. But what an opportunity! I was determined to make it work. So, I drove to the park on Friday afternoons, worked Friday and Saturday while staying in a dorm at the park, and drove back home on Sundays. All the things I didn’t do on the weekend, I had to do on Sunday evenings. Laundry, food prep, shopping, etc. I decided I would rest in November. When there is a will, there is a way!

A calendar with weekends in October almost completely full. Other events are marked out, almost all weekends are labeled "Haunt."
A haunt actor’s plate is full in October. Image courtesy of the author.

Haunt School Is in Session

After hiring, we had a general orientation and a haunt talent orientation. It was interesting after decades of professional salaried work to be told what to wear and how to punch in and out. It was honestly refreshing. Monday through Friday, I handle very heavy tasks associated with others’ mental health and well-being. On the weekends this October, I attended to my own mental health by screaming at people and didn’t make any major decisions…or so I thought.

But actually, I was making split-second decisions the entire shift. I was making judgment calls about whether to jump out at someone, whether to scream at them, lunge at them, or simply let them pass by so I wouldn’t get punched. Some people come to a haunted attraction and don’t want to be bothered. (I don’t understand them.) While I was acting and interacting, I was in the moment and mindful of the present. You do have to assess the guest in front of you quickly and determine whether they are intoxicated, their mood, and whether you are going to interact with them.  I wasn’t worried about a client meeting the next week or whether I had completed a certain form. I was just a monster in a theme park scaring the hell out of people and loving it. Then, I clocked out and went to the dorm to eat a bowl of Ramen, write, and sleep. I wasn’t worried about what was going to happen at the haunt the next day or stressing about whether I had forgotten something the last shift. I was at peace.

I Met a Lot of Great People—Other Monsters and Park Guests

My co-workers were amazing, and I won’t forget them. I will remember the little things, like one of the gravediggers making “Cornholio” sounds whenever a guest asked for directions and a young person naming me “Gruenow,” like a gentleman who is retired and comes out year after year to haunt as a zombie. We hated going on breaks because we enjoyed our ‘work’ so much! However, state laws mandate that workers must take breaks. It was a job, and they were actually paying us to do this!

We all learned and cultivated scare techniques together. I made a new friend who stepped out of the shadows in a dark building to scare guests after I had lured them inside to have a look. For some reason, I developed a terrible cockney accent in a shrill voice for my scare character. (Think about the Pythons when they impersonated females and you’ll have an idea of what I tried to emulate.) It was the best cockney I could summon through the filter of a somewhat suppressed Appalachian accent. I developed some behavioral tics that went along with my cockney screeching.

During all of this, I learned about what is involved in a major production like a theme park haunt and what it takes to get hundreds of monsters recruited, organized, scheduled, in makeup and costume. It takes a ton of time and a lot of coordination. I’m sure management felt like they were herding cats sometimes. I would rush to the monster zone, clock in, rush to get my costume, then awkwardly put it on over my tank top and shorts and then wait in the makeup line. Makeup was mostly airbrushed for COVID safety and for efficiency. Each artist put their own spin on a particular monster, and I enjoyed trying different artists to see how I’d turn out. I never looked the same twice…and I really didn’t care how I looked. It didn’t matter if my hair was sticking up or frizzy. I was supposed to look weird, and I did. It wasn’t ‘me’ on shift anyway. It was the character.

Sometimes, I’d Forget How Freaky I Looked

I’d walk to the bathroom and kids would run away in terror. Showering after the shift was interesting as some of the makeup didn’t come off easily. Some nights the shower stall looked like a scene from Psycho. Haunt acting takes a toll on one’s body if it’s done enthusiastically. A person doesn’t just stand around saying, “Boo!” My feet and legs really hurt after standing, bending, lunging, and stalking for hours at a time. Latex and thick fake blood may tug at your fine hairs. Some makeup is more difficult to remove. I learned that the dish soap used to clean wildlife after oil spills is also useful for removing body makeup. I also learned that nail polish remover takes away what’s left after that. It’s very harsh, though, so maybe don’t try this at home! After the makeup is removed, you start to see the real bruises you have. Sometimes haunting is a contact sport. Also, after my first night of scaring, I had nearly lost my voice. After two nights I was definitely hoarse. Screaming and screeching for hours is hard on your voice. I rested it as much as I could and drank hot beverages to feel better. Each weekend, my voice was strained from the haunt.

Hot, spicy instant soup and a cold water bottle. Both helpful for strained voices.
2 AM hot noodle soup and hydration are good for over-worked voices. Image courtesy of the author.

There were also some…side effects to screeching in a cockney accent and acting weird for hours at a time. Sometimes the character is hard to turn off. That sounds weird, but it’s true. I’d catch myself talking to my GPS like a Python between shifts: “Ohhh, lovely. Yes, I’d rather like a Starbucks. Ohhhh, that’s right nice.” I caught myself thinking about whether a person coming around the corner at Target would be a good scare target. Of course, they were not, and I didn’t jump out at random people outside the haunt. On Mondays at work, I’d growl at an email.  It was humorous.

There were other side-effects as well. One was being unable to visit other haunts. I missed out on a lot of Halloween and Spooky-Season-themed events during the weekends I worked. I took a Saturday off for a community Halloween event in my hometown. I enjoyed time with my friends, but I missed haunting. I was invited to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show with friends but was already scheduled to work. I saw my friends’ fun-filled photos on my break. I was having fun also, just a different sort. My already strange sleep cycle got weirder. I didn’t leave the park until close to 1 AM. By the time I had showered and had eaten my soup (good for irritated throats) and was winding down doing my writing, it could easily be 2:30 AM. That isn’t compatible with the 9-5 world, so Monday mornings required lots of coffee.

Haunting is also hard on your skin and hair. My hair was teased up and fogged with hairspray to make me look even more feral and unnatural. I spent extra time in the shower detangling it after the hairspray finally washed out. One’s skin takes a beating with all the makeup and makeup remover. After using makeup wipes, dish soap, body soap, and nail polish remover as the last resort, I had very dry, flaky skin on my face. Take extra nice care of your hair and skin during the weeks between your weekend haunt.

The Guests

I met some great guests who got scared, then congratulated us on a “good one!” I met a mom who used a dark building to help her very young children face their fear of the dark. I didn’t jump out at them. Some guests made a wide arc around me to avoid interactions. Some pointed out their friends who were scared already, inviting us to jump at them. We learned that teenage girls and tweens are the best, and they can also be the worst. When we saw several young girls walking together in a group, clinging to one another, we knew it would be a guaranteed scare. Others would film Tik Tok dances, oblivious to any monsters. Other people would be scared, scream, and then become angry and tell us we weren’t scary. We heard others curse at us, some threaten to punch if anyone got near them, and yet others ask us for our phone numbers. Some of us were punched, both purposefully and reflexively. We met grown men who screamed like little girls. We saw runners of all ages. One kid I jumped out at probably set a speed record as he ran away out of my sight. Another person actually jumped out of her shoes.

The Last Night and Beyond

My last night was so much fun and also very sad. I sat in the makeup chair for the last time and asked the artist to try to make it waterproof because I would probably cry. I had a few brief moments that evening. I tried to soak up the evening and take it all in like a sponge. I looked around at the gravediggers and zombies who had become my friends.

The shift ended and the manager signaled for everyone to leave their spots and go clock out. As I walked through the park that last time, I did start to cry. I took off my makeup, handed in my costume, then clocked out. There were a lot of hugs and promises to stay in touch. I spent Halloween night at home because of a work presentation in a town several hours away the following day. I thought about my haunt family as I handed out candy and knew they were having the tears I had the night before as they all said goodbye to the haunt and one another. How can one develop these feelings about a side gig and people you’ve worked with for a total of maybe 10 nights? It’s like a weird little family that shares a love of Halloween. It’s a common experience that is pretty unique. I can’t wait until next year. I wanted to keep a part of the experience with me, so I got a tattoo of a little ghost to remind me of the time I haunted at a theme park. It was amazing, and I hope to haunt again next year.

Small sheet ghost tattoo, black outlines with blue highlights
This ghost gets to stay and remind me of all the fun I had this year! Image courtesy of the author.

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“The Fascinating World of Globsters”

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Written by Sarah Sigfried

Sarah Sigfried hails from the rural mountains of Virginia. She has enjoyed horror movies and ghost stories since childhood. A mental health clinician by day, she spends her leisure time creating nightmares. She dabbles in makeup special effects and horrifies her friends and neighbors each Halloween. Sigfried is an emerging author and is an affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association. She dominates pub trivia on horror-related topics and especially enjoys classic horror movies and 1980’s horror comedies. She lives with her spouse and their cat, Sam in a home originally built by a family of morticians.

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