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Behind the Scenes of Working at a Haunted House

Scare actors face workplace hazards you’ve only seen in your nightmares.

Scare actors—creepily costumed employees lurking in haunted attractions to strike fear into our hearts this month—may suffer more than the patrons they terrorize. “You’re putting on a one-person show every 30 seconds,” says Danielle Look (pictured), who practiced her craft at Thornton’s Haunted Field of Screams last year. “People don’t realize how physical it is. You’re wiped out by the end.” And while Look says the sadistic delight of frightening her victims fuels her, the job still presents a nightmarish range of workplace hazards that would make even a real-life ghoul wince.

Under Your Skin
Builders work fast to fabricate the gruesome operating rooms, cursed jail cells, and other disturbing sets guests encounter as they tiptoe through venues. But sanding smooth, say, a prop coffin doesn’t always get done, Look says, subjecting her co-workers to stakes to the heart (er, thumb) in the form of splinters.

Rigor Mortis
For working monsters lying in wait, the element of surprise is paramount. But even the youngest patrons know to expect a spook. Regaining the upper hand can require some creative—and uncomfortable—calisthenics, like the killer workout Look endured when using a mechanic’s creeper (a wheeled platform that slides garage employees under cars) to pop out from beneath a bed.

Bumps In The Night
Look is often too in the zone to notice when her body is taking a beating. At her first gig in 2015, she hid behind a window with a fake pane of glass that dropped when she pushed a button. “I was flinging my torso through the window, and I didn’t realize how much I was bruising my ribcage until later,” she says—making the next day all the more grueling.

Scream Queen
Shrieks and wails shred your vocal cords faster than Freddie Krueger can rip through a bedsheet. Lemon tea will soothe that raw tissue, though Look’s inward scream (a technique that involves inhaling and tightening your throat to make a croaking sound) preserves voices best. “What it lacks in volume, it makes up for in eeriness,” she says.

Eyesore
Wearing contacts involves its own set of itchy-eye horrors—and that’s before artificial fog (practically ubiquitous in Halloween attractions) and FX contacts (the costume lenses that lend pupils inhuman colors like devil red). “Maybe it’s just me,” Look says, “but FX contacts dry my eyes out so much.”

Heart Pounder
“If a scare actor stays in one place, they’re being lazy,” says Look, who adheres to her three-scare rule: Surprise the brave leader of each group, get up close and hassle the cowards in the middle, then sneak up behind the suckers bringing up the rear as they leave the room. All that movement, though, can leave a fear-inspired thespian gasping for air.

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