interview with a haunted house cast member

For Halloween, I talked with someone who worked in haunted attractions for more than a decade, both as an actor and a makeup artist. Here’s our conversation.

First, tell me a bit about the work you did.

I started working for a large haunted house in my early teens and continued until my late 20’s on and off. I worked in one haunted house for 6 seasons and four others for 1 season each. I am a trained practical effects artist so I helped out with make-up and getting everyone ready for the evening, as well as doing some construction work in the off-season, but primarily I was an actress. I played a variety of roles, but I was mostly a “possessed girl”, a ghost, a victim, and for one lovely and memorable weekend they gave me a chainsaw.

Every haunted house was run a little bit differently. For the most part we would have a couple weeks of training in July/August, then we would start working weekends in September, before opening most days in October. Some haunted houses were open sign-up, and other ones you had to audition for. A typical night involved people showing up starting at four or five pm, getting our assignments, and getting into our costumes. Some people were routed nightly, but others were kept in the same “room” or area every night. About 30 minutes before we opened, we went to our assignments. The older people would train people in our area if they were new. Almost everyone would do a quick run through of their room to make sure nothing was broken. When people would come through in groups, each room performed a small loose skit that was assigned to their room.

What did you do with the chainsaw?!

Everyone does things differently! Obviously you’re going to get scared if a big guy runs at you with a chainsaw. I’m a very petite woman and lacked that intimidation factor, so I would wait until the group was going around the corner into a longer hallway and had taken their attention off me and then would sneak up behind them and start it.

Would you tone it down for certain audiences — like if you saw a little kid come through, would you intentionally be less scary?

Haha nope! The haunted houses I worked at were recommended for audiences 13 and older and you were told that when you bought tickets if you were bringing in younger children. If people were really freaking out we would get them out the emergency exit but people didn’t tone their act down. Part of this was for logistics. You rarely get to see your group until they are most of the way into your area so it can be hard to stop going or change directions once you start. Plus it’s not fair for the rest of the audience if they are in a group that happened to have kids in it. You paid to get scared, so you got it.

Did you ever see anyone have a really surprising reaction as they toured the haunted house?

Oh man, people would lose their minds! It was so hard to keep a straight face. I had a young man just run through a wall. People would actually wet themselves. Crying was normal. My favorite was a man who threw his wife at me and screamed “take her, take her” before fleeing! (I hope he enjoyed his time sleeping on the couch).

OMG what! Can you tell me more about what people found scariest in these haunted houses? I must know more details about this. (The ones I’ve been in haven’t been TERRIBLY scary so I am really fascinated.)

People really hated that chainsaw! That seemed to produce the most screaming, wife throwing, and panic running. Rooms with doctor themed stuff seemed to set off a lot of triggers for people. A lot of people don’t like clowns and most haunts now seem to have a plethora of them now. We had a hallway that was inflated like a bounce house but it was super narrow and you had to squeeze through and people HATED that. The main attraction I worked at had people working outside while people were waiting in line so that atmosphere was already there and people were already keyed up going in. I also think it was just a lot. We had everything timed so there was constantly something going off or something going on and I think that much loud noise and stimulation is super overwhelming for people.

Any theories on why people enjoy being scared to the point of crying? Or in some cases, do you think they didn’t enjoy it and regretted going in?

I mean if I’m going to pay $45 for something I better cry too. But I do feel like the people who really, truly enjoyed themselves allowed themselves to get worked up. It was better for everyone; the cast had more fun and interacted more with the groups that were reacting and scared then the people who just shuffled through wordlessly. But some people probably pushed it a little too far and got way too worked up. I’m sure some people regretted going through there. But I think getting scared like that, in a place where it’s all in good fun, is an adrenaline rush.

What was the best thing about this work?

I loved being able to be creative and entertain people! You really could react and mold what you were doing as the audience reacted to what you were doing. And you really have the most passionate coworkers you could ever have.

What surprised you about it (or what wouldn’t you have predicted about it when you started)?

I was shocked how many people are completely comfortable assaulting strangers. Obviously sometimes people would react by pushing their hands out if someone jumped at them (and that’s fine!) but it was so wild to me that people would intentionally kick, slap, punch, and grab the actors and actresses in the haunt. And not that they would know this, but many, many of the performers are pretty young (teens and up) so people were slapping kids around. I was punched and kicked multiple, multiple times.

That is horrible! What the hell?! Was your sense that they thought it was somehow “all in good fun” (which would be a profound misunderstanding on their part, obviously, but I’m trying to find some redeeming quality in these fellow humans) or just open hostility and … what, taking advantage of the fact that they could? Agggh.

I don’t like to stereotype but our biggest problem group were younger white males in say the college age category. I think there were a couple things happening there. I think open hostility might have been one of them. I also think they were showing off. They didn’t want to seem scared (when OMG you paid for this) so they instead acted aggressively. It’s also depressingly easy to not see haunt actors as your fellow humans when you decide to act that way. And I guess why not; we’ve sat through an hour of make up and a couple weeks of training to make sure you don’t see us that way.

Did anything ever happen that seemed legitimately scary/creepy to you? (Aside from horrible people assaulting staff — I mean eerie/ghostly.)

Oh yeah it’s very easy to creep yourself out! You are in a dark area designed to be really scary and a lot of times you’re by yourself. You see things, you hear things, and some of the veteran cast would tell new people that the whole place was built on top of a graveyard. We had one attraction that was wooded and we had the most awful soundtrack that played throughout the entire forest. I was in an area off away from the rest and I think I spent half the night jumping at every sound. At another house part of my skit was being hoisted up into the air using a pulley system, and I was up in the air with a group in the room and a real live bat flew into the room and started circling around the ceiling above my head (I wish I was making this up). The group was very impressed but I almost fell out of the system because I really did not want a bat in my face.

Did you ever think one of your castmates went too far in scaring people (and if so, what happened)?

I wish I could answer this but to be honest I have no idea. The way our haunt was set up, and how many are set up, is that each room was very much in its own little world and you don’t often have any idea what the next room or area is doing unless you have the time to leave your space and on busy nights you really didn’t. Haunts are also notoriously hard to staff so you were mostly performing by yourself. I’m completely sure it could happen. That’s why I don’t like the “extreme” haunts like BlackOut or MacKamey Manor. It’s too easy to go beyond and think something is in good fun when someone is having an actual issue.

But again, people are also paying to be scared. Unless someone was having a legitimate medical issue, which did happen, most of the time you were told to not back off because they are getting their money’s worth. I’d like to believe that most of the cast members I knew and worked with used their better judgement. If I saw that someone was really struggling, I kept my skit going for the rest of the group but I stayed away from the person who was losing their marbles because a lot of times that’s how you got smacked.

What do you think makes a really good haunted house? Are there any “secrets to success,” so to speak?

I think to make a really good haunted house, you need enthusiastic workers, great timing, and something that makes you unique. They are great seasonal money makers and it’s really easy to hammer together something that looks like tetanus come to life, round up a few teenagers, and take some inspiration from a hot horror movie and make yourself a quarter of a million dollars and call it good.

But the most effective ones that I’ve been to are only open Thursday to Sunday. That might seem like something small but working at a haunt is really a lot on your body and if you want all your employees to keep it up, they need a good long stretch of rest. Then they follow a pattern but not an incredibly obvious one. Having scare after scare is great, but if you want something really special, giving people some downtime to catch their breath is essential. One of my all time favorite haunted houses has a room that totals a quarter of an acre in size. It has no path and it’s very foggy and set to look like a forest. The actors in the room will run past you at a distance but never approach you. It’s low key compared to the rest of the house but it really allows a lot of panic to set in.

Your mention that working at a haunt is hard on your body makes me me wonder if it’s ever hard on you mentally. Is there anything about dwelling in this dark fantasy night after night that puts you in a weird or difficult mental space?

Not really. I don’t want to speak for every single person who works at a haunted house but many, many of us love horror, love the spooky and the macabre, and are totally living to get to do this every year. You might have to go to some weird spaces to get into character, but if you’re having difficulty in a spot you are in, you can always move or change your setting in a way that makes you more comfortable.

It’s actually a little therapeutic! You know those rage rooms? This is basically a six week long rage room. You get to scream, throw things, act like a wild animal; do things that you’d probably never get to do in polite society or at any other work place.

Can you enjoy haunted houses yourself now, or are you too familiar with the behind-the-scenes?

I enjoy them in a different way now. I don’t think of it so much as “I’m going to be scared” but more of “I’m going to have fun.” I have definitely been to some that are amazingly well done that I really admire, and I have been to a couple scary ones since getting out of it. It does really depend on who you go with though! I’ve been with other people who I worked with myself and honestly, it’s a little boring since we both know what to expect. But I’ve also gone in larger groups of people who think the whole business is scary and I have a LOT more fun.

{ 260 comments… read them below }

  1. Eldritch Office Worker*

    I can’t stop laughing at the wife thrower.

    I don’t like haunted houses, personally, but I would love a job that gave me a chainsaw…

      1. Ariaflame*

        I’d hope so, because throwing someone towards the person with an apparently active chainsaw is ewww. (I really hope they were props with noises because there’s just so much that could go wrong with a real one)

        1. Agile Phalanges*

          When you take the chain off of one, you render it inert (except as a heavy object, of course), but it still makes the exact same noise. Bonus if it’s actually been used to cut up a bunch of wood so it emits that smell along with the exhaust fumes. :-)

          1. Pants*

            Yup. It’s not necessarily obvious that the chain is off in a really dark room, which adds even more to it.

          2. Double A*

            In my experience with chainsaws they’re a pain to start up, so hopefully they had a prop one that was easier than a real one! Also burning gas all night in a small room doesn’t sound great for the actors.

            1. Letter Writer*

              I’ve worked with both. Most gas powered chain saws are for outdoor actors or people who have rooms leading to the outdoors.

            2. Juggling Plunger*

              It depends a little on the saw, and a lot on how hot the engine is. Once it’s warmed up most aren’t hard to start, and without a chain on you wouldn’t worry at all about doing a drop start.

      2. random person*

        Maybe not. I haven’t been to any haunted houses in years, but when I did go, I had an unfortunate tendency to push a companion or two toward some of the scariest actors – a slightly more aggressive version of hiding behind them, lol. (None of the actors had chainsaws though!)

        I guess that means I’ll sacrifice my fellow man when the chips are down???

      3. Stinky kitty*

        Not necessarily…I was an actor in a haunted attraction for several years and have seen many guys hand over thier SO, or just flat out run and leave them standing there with me…The ones left behind were NOT happy.

        1. curly sue*

          I had the absolute CRAP scared out of me at a local haunted house some years ago, and I remain very proud that my instinctive reaction was to grab my husband’s hand and pull us both out of there at a speed approaching supersonic.

          I will also remain forever grateful to the zombie who steered us towards the emergency exit. I hope I gave them a good story to tell later.

      4. Wednesday*

        Probably not! We were at a dinosaur event at a museum and they had shadows of dinosaurs moving around the room. One was angled so it looked like a velociraptor jumping down at you, and my husband was so startled he jumped behind me and held me in front of him like a shield!

      5. hbc*

        I was at a haunt walk through the woods with my kids last weekend, and some strangers in our group absolutely freaked out when some ghouls started tailing us. Their solution was to cut into the middle of the pack and leave my 9 and 11 year old in the rear to deal with said ghouls. It was definitely not a joke–once that survival instinct kicks in, most of us are capable of some pretty unheroic moves.

  2. Odyssea*

    What a great interview!
    I was lucky enough that my theater program in high school put on a “Haunted Forest” for two years while I was there, and it was a hoot! My first year I was the snake lady (no real snakes, just plastic) and my second year I was a plant, in that I went through the first maze section with a group, then got snatched out of the group by another actor in a werewolf costume. One time someone actually tried to save me by grabbing onto my legs and pulling back! We had to tell her it was part of the act and to let go.

    I enjoyed being a scarer, but not a scaree!

      1. Hannah Lee*


        I had the same thing, at first I was wondering “What does a werewolf want with a ficus or snake plant”

      2. Warrior Princess Xena*

        Oh dang, yeah. On my first read through I was imagining something like a giant Venus Flytrapnor something

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          Oh and I totally would have tried to save you too! I mean, next time it might be me and I want someone to save me!!!

      3. Lady Blerd*

        Joining the choir because I thought Odyssea was playing an Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors type of character.

      4. Marion Ravenwood*

        Yeah, I was initially envisioning like a scary tree or something. So Odyssea’s face was painted to match the bark, and their arms in the branches, and they waited until the group went by and then went ‘boo!’ and tried to grab an audience member or brush again them etc.

  3. More Questions for Haunted House Worker*

    1) Are you as a haunted house worker allowed to touch the guests, or is the rule always that you cannot touch anyone?

    2) What are some effective scares that are NOT loud jump scares? I feel like a lot of low-budget haunted houses over-rely on people jumping out and screaming at you.

    1. Odyssea*

      For #2, our maze had a blacklight strobe room, which was black with polka dots painted in blacklight paint so they glowed. People wore black full body spandex suits with the same polka dots and stood up against the walls so they blended in, then once the group of people got in the room, slowly detach and start coming towards people. It was slow and quiet, but it freaked people out!

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, me too. I don’t have PTSD or anything, but I do have a very strong startle reflex. Luckily I’ve never had people trigger it at work, except accidentally (in food service rather than an office), but an ex had a friend who was a bit of a bully, and he’d startle me every chance he got, in spite of (or because of…) me showing my displeasure very clearly every time it happened. Until the time he grabbed me from behind and I unintentionally threw a cup of vinegar in his face, when we were cooking and I was making vinaigrette. He spent much of the rest of the evening rinsing his eyes out. Thankfully my ex just laughed at his friend’s red eyes, although I admit that I was very disappointed that he never said anything when his friend startled me with no consequences except my reaction… That said, that was the last time the bully was invited to any parties I was co-hosting for as long as we were together, and I told my ex to go to the bully’s parties without me.

            So I don’t like jump scares much, but this would work for me. Creepy psychological thrillers are pretty much the only kind of horror that I can tolerate or even enjoy. Jump scares are exhausting and I don’t really find them enjoyable. I can handle non-gorey violence, because I know it’s all fake. But too much gore just makes me feel sick to my stomach, even if I know well enough that it’s just as fake as the action movie non-gorey violence is.

            1. whingedrinking*

              I’m with you, I also startle easily and my reactions are unpredictable – every so often the adrenal dice roll “fight”. I’ve only ever actually punched someone once, but once was enough (somewhat milder reactions have included elbowing, pushing, or stomping). The last time I went through a haunted house, I firmly gripped my friend’s arm – not out of fear, but because if an actor jumped out at me, that made it less likely that would happen again.

          2. wilma flintstone*

            My friend was jump-scared at one haunt, and he reacted with a flinch and a blurted ‘Jesus Christ!’ Credit to the actor who responded with a creepy growl “He’s not here….”

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        There was a haunted house when I was a kid that had a checkerboard room, black and white, with the people also in black and white. And strobe lights. They’d jump around, but I like the idea of the polka dots that glowed, with people slowly moving closer.

        1. Double A*

          I did a couple of nights at a haunted house in high school, and I was in this type of room! It was fun, but after a few hours in strobe normal life looks really weird for awhile, almost like it’s running in fast motion.

          1. Worldwalker*

            The one I worked in, we had a strobe room. Unfortunately, it gave me migraines; I had to avoid it. When I was taking a tour through, I’d abandon them there and duck out the far side, and wait for the strobe room crew to chase them out to me.

          2. arthur lester*

            I learned from strobe rooms that if you blink really quick, you can make it look like the lights are just off. Took a lot of focus, but relieved some eyestrain. Or at least caused a different type of eyestrain.

    2. Letter Writer*

      Hello! I’m the letter writer.

      For the first one, it depends on the haunt. I never worked at touch haunts because I don’t feel safe working with or going to them. The ones I worked at, you were not allowed to touch guests and guests were not allowed to touch you.

      Jump scares are the bread and butter for most haunted houses. More elaborate skits tend to be effective but they can be complicated and difficult to do.

      1. Pants*

        The bounce-house room would be really cool if you could make it so people could be on the other side of the wall, silhouetted zombies trying to get out. You’d need to widen it a little so people aren’t touched, I think. That would be amazing!

    3. Happy meal with extra happy*

      There are haunted houses in my area, and I’m sure it’s not uncommon elsewhere as well, where you have the option of allowing workers to grab you/touch you, made known by wearing a glow stick necklace or something similar.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        That’s a good solution, in that it allows people the chance to withdraw consent halfway through, at least if they have the presence of mind to remove the thing halfway through.

    4. ecnaseener*

      I just saw a good non-jump scare in a behind the scenes video about a haunted house! (on the Tom Scott Plus youtube channel) They had a hallway filled with fog, with a green laser illuminating the fog from above so you couldn’t see the floor. People can rise up slowly out of the green fog, very creepy.

    5. Another_JD*

      I got to do a haunted house in college. The fog machine was triggering my asthma, so I stood outside the back exit to catch my breath. People would come out then scream seeing me in costume because they had already let their guard down thinking the haunted house was over. It was such good fun.

    6. Anon Supervisor*

      I won’t go to the ones that allow the workers touch the guests anymore. I went to one a few years ago where the guy went too far, IMO. He was a big hulking guy that separated me from my group and was backing me into a dark corner. I tried pushing him away, but he was just a brick wall. I absolutely thought I was about to be assaulted and had a panic attack. You just shouldn’t do that kind of scare to women in this day and age.

    7. ScruffyInternHerder*

      2 – Eons ago when a bunch of teens in my neighborhood put together a haunted house, with zero budget other than what funds we pulled from the washing machines at home, and things limited to what we could create ourselves from cardboard shipping boxes, spray paint, and what we could find around the house…

      …I was “Death”. With horrifying makeup in the daylight, much less under blacklight, and of course someone found a blacklight and someone else a strobe. I said NOTHING. I simply swung what appeared to be a deadly weapon (it was not, it had a plastic “blade”). Apparently the fact that I was soundless was even scarier.

    8. Worldwalker*

      I volunteered in a charity haunted house once when I lived in the LA area — we had makeup and sets done by some guys whose day job was doing effects for movies, so it looked really cool. One very bad decision by *someone*, though, was “Cold Hands” — this college girl who kept her fingers chilled by holding ice packs, then ran her fingers down the back of the neck of the last person in line. Then we had an unexpected stand-down to deal with the paramedics and the cops, because one such person was very jumpy, and just whipped around and cold-cocked Cold Hands.

      So, yeah, someone had a sudden rush of brains to the head and decided that touching the customers was a bad idea.

      (I’m not sure if Cold Hands was actually a part of the original plan or she thought up the idea herself, but it did not end well)

    9. Middle Sized Manager*

      For #2: I just went to a haunted house this weekend, and they would stare me down while walking straight toward me. Even though I know logically they couldn’t touch me, it was still incredibly unsettling to have some guy in rabid scarecrow makeup “block” my path.

    10. arthur lester*

      Our most effective one was a hallway with strobe lights and the entire thing covered in pages torn from books. There were people who would hide along the hallway, also covered in text, who would get out and slowly follow people– it was a super cool effect!

    11. AbruptPenguin*

      I went to one where someone followed you through the haunted house. We could hear footsteps behind us but it was so dark and shadowy, we couldn’t see anything. The footsteps would speed up and slow down according to how fast we were going. SO CREEPY. At the very end, they chased us and we ran out screaming! This was almost 20 years ago and I haven’t been to a haunted house since.

  4. EPLawyer*

    We did Field of Screams one year. The rooms where you had to push through stuff and couldn’t see well were the WORST for me. At one point Hubby had to take the lead and guide me by the hand. After the first building, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do the rest, especially any enclosed ones. But I made it through all 4 set ups, outdoor and indoor. Although by the last, the hayride with people jumping on it and scaring you, I just had my hands over my ears and chanted “leave me alone.” They did.

    There were also RULES about not touching the actors. They could touch you (but obviously not hurt you or sexually assault you) but NO TOUCHING THE ACTORS for their safety. I was very much okay with that Rule.

    1. Jackalope*

      I did a haunted house where you could buy a “defense wand”, and if you got too scared turn it on and say something like, “Away from me!” And then the actors would back off and lead you alone. I never used it but it made me feel much better just having it with me.

    2. Rebecca*

      I had college friends who worked at scream town; actors were regularly getting assaulted by guests. Guests were often drunk/hyped up, and didn’t see the actors as people. It was awful; they didn’t go back for a second season

  5. Somebody Call a Lawyer*

    This person is the best and I want them to be interviewed for everything. I mean it. From toilet paper reviews to reactions on the latest dumb celebrity news.

    Alison — did she ever clarify whether the chainsaw was real??? I’m having trouble imagining it was because so many things could go horribly wrong, especially with wife throwers and aggro college dudes in the mix.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Hello! Haunts tend to use either prop chainsaws, or real chainsaws with the blades removed. I prefer the prop ones. Good prop ones are more expensive but they start more reliably. Nothing more embarrassing that standing there in front of a group struggling to get the stupid pull start going.

      1. hamsterpants*

        I was wondering about this! Two stroke engines like most real chainsaws are so unreliable, lol. Not to mention the clouds of sooty smoke!

        1. Felis alwayshungryis*

          Indeed, how many of us learned many fascinating new words from listening to our dads try to start the lawnmower?;-)

    2. Merci Dee*

      It’s possible it was a real chainsaw, but with the cutting chain removed. The motor would still make the noise, and the guide bar (the metal part that the chain goes whizzing around) would still be in place, so it would be a recognizable chainsaw. Just without the whirling circle of death.

  6. Phony Genius*

    Please tell me that the guy who ran through the wall left behind a person-shaped cutout hole, like in cartoons!

  7. Butterfly Counter*

    Oh gosh.

    I went to a haunted house when I was 12, had a full panic attack, and was one of those escorted out quickly.

    Nope. Never again.

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      I took my kids and my daughter was terrified. There was a “chicken run” which turned out to be an escape route. My daughter absolutely wanted to leave, and so her brother and cousin had to come because I couldn’t let them go on by themselves, being minors.

    2. name*

      I was ~14. A creepy clown was in the waiting room, and I was visibly freaked out by him. So, he followed me the whole way through. My “friend” told him my name, and he got all of the other actors in on saying it all the way through. After, he followed me around and I literally sprinted to the car crying, while asking him to stop.

      It was too much. I’ve never been to another one.

      1. allathian*

        Ouch, that’s awful. The only haunted house I’ve been to is the one at Legoland in Denmark, and that’s for kids so it isn’t really scary for an adult. I was still a bit freaked out by it, more so than our son who was 7 at the time.

        I’ve also been to a Scarey Tunnel, where you sit in a carriage in the dark and scarey puppets come towards you. But I feel that it’s less scary with puppets than with human actors, because the puppets are computer controlled and can’t deviate from the script, unlike actors. Well, at least not as long as someone doesn’t hack the system…

        I have a slight clown phobia to the point that I’m somewhat relieved that they don’t have a life-size Ronald McDonald at every McD restaurant anymore.

    3. BubbleTea*

      I know myself well enough to never even consider going to one of these. I wouldn’t do an escape room. I don’t even watch scary films. But I still enjoyed this interview! That’s spooky enough for me!

    4. Wendy Darling*

      Yep, except I think I was 10 and just clung to my friend’s mom for the rest of the haunted house because she was the only adult with us. Never gone back, not my jam! (Person with an anxiety disorder hates to be scared, shocking!)

      Also I throw fists if I’m startled too badly and feel trapped. It’s not intentional or voluntary but I cannot guarantee I wouldn’t take a swing at a haunted house actor who grabbed me from behind when I was in a bad way already. Which would be a good reason not to go to a haunted house if I wasn’t already giving them a skip!

      1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

        I could have written this! I have severe anxiety disorder combined with a heaping dose of C-PTSD. I absolutely blank out and *will* throw and *have* thrown fists without even realizing I’m doing it, if my fight-flight-flee instinct kicks in. Literally have no awareness or memory of hitting someone until it’s done. Mind you, I’ve never hit someone who didn’t earn it. I stay away from situations that I think will trigger me, so the only people I’ve punched were men who were *trying* to trigger my panic reflex because they thought it would be funny–“weird” how women and femme AFAB’s never try to harass me–and these men didn’t respect my boundaries when I said stop. Plus side, they always leave me alone (physically, at least) after that. But it should never come to “that” in the first place. :/

    5. Anonymosity*

      In high school, I went through a haunted house where an actor reaching out from a wall accidentally hit me on the leg. Their arm was covered in fake blood and it left a stain on my jeans. I had fun later explaining it was a bloodstain.

    6. Marion Ravenwood*

      There’s a chain of scare attractions called the Dungeons in the UK that’s loosely based on historical facts and aimed at, say, ages eight and up. I went to the one in York as a kid (I know I can’t have been older than seven because we’d moved by then) and remember having to be taken out of the side door because I was just hysterically crying. Never been in a haunted house or anything like that since!

      1. Splendid Colors*

        I wonder if the same chain opened the Dungeons of San Francisco on Fisherman’s Wharf back in the Before Times? (Probably 2014-ish). The Haunt crew that I hang out with went as a group and we were impressed with the production quality.

  8. Education Mike*

    It seems pretty intuitive to me that if you lunge at someone with a chainsaw, they might reflexively kick, shove, or punch you. Obviously, ideally they wouldn’t, but people’s reflexes still exist even if they know cognitively know that the threat is not real. IMO management should have planned for that and dealt with it rather than pretend it’s a really out there response.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Hello! It’s definitely pretty easy to tell someone who is acting reflexively rather than just attacking you. Unless our role called for it, we did keep our distance from people to avoid getting hit on reflex. But they were definitely different from the people who came towards us and attack/assaulted us.

      1. Pants*

        Yeah, I’m a reflex fighter, which I found out walking through a haunted house, unfortunately. It was ages ago – like 30 years (omg) – so the actors were allowed to touch you and amazingly, no one groped. However, there was a short, pitch black corridor at the end with people lined up on the sides, above, and below you. That’s where I found out I’m fight before flight. I somehow wound up coming out with a chain attached to my shoe.
        When I got outside, I yelled apologies to the actors inside. I hope they heard me. Haven’t gone into another once since.

        If there was one that was all the mental stuff – strobe rooms with polka dot people moving – and no real jump scares, I think I’d be okay with that one. I’d make sure I was surrounded by a group of friends, just in case.

      2. Stinky kitty*

        YES! When I was doing it, I was lucky enough to be able to see them coming and gauge how they would react. The ones acting like the tough guys didn’t get my best effort. The ones that were “live” got the most effort, but were the ones to watch for reflex punches and occasional kicks. Worst one I ever got was a kick to my guy parts. Completely accidental and they apologized profusely after helping me up cuz it dropped me to my knees. All I could do was laugh and tell the group that the leader killed the cannibal chef and they got a free pass.

    2. Lab Boss*

      I have also worked some haunts of varying size and intensity- I can say that there’s a HUGE and obvious difference between an instinctive and deliberate response. I was punched squarely in the face full-force by a guy who looked mortified afterward- I’d slipped out behind him and he spun on pure instinct. I had no problem with that guy, vs the ones that hit me much less painfully but were clearly trying to act tough.

    3. Critical Rolls*

      Please give our Haunter the courtesy of believing that she knows the difference between someone reacting instinctively and someone using the situation as an excuse to hit a haunter. She was clear about the difference in the interview, and this response is really patronising.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        I am not a Haunt actor myself, but I hang out with some, and yes they know the difference between “high school d**kheads” and someone with a fight reflex.

  9. Becky*

    This is fascinating!

    I don’t really do haunted houses–the last haunted house I went to was more than 20 years ago in high school and it was “The Haunted Crack House” which was a don’t drink/do drugs scare tactic? Like show you a mangled car wreck to scare you into not driving drunk. The last bit of it was an actual traditional haunted house and there was this one last actor, dressed as a grim reaper, as you exit to the parking lot who would scare you just as you thought it was over. We were a bunch of teenagers on a church activity to this thing and so my mother was with our group as chaperone. The grim reaper scared all the girls in our group and they all scattered screaming, and then my mother just turns around and asks the guy about how some part of his costume was made :D.

    One of my favorite Youtubers had something similar to this for his Halloween video! Tom Scott did a behind-the-scenes walkthrough and interview in a haunted house (though I am pretty sure it was recorded earlier this year – the haunted house he went to is open year-round) and got to do some scaring himself. One of their VERY SENSIBLE rules: No scares on stairs!

      1. Lab Boss*

        I worked at a major haunt that shall remain nameless and was assigned to scare people directly at the top of a narrow stairway that was filled with fog and laser lights. ended up holding back and trying my scares after they’d passed me, so they were back on solid ground- never forgave them for that idea.

      2. triss merigold*

        The only haunted house I’ve ever been to was in caverns, and the chainsaw grand finale was immediately after a steep flight of concrete stairs. (or maybe it was before, and people clambered to get up the stairs, either way, the stairs were RIGHT THERE.) I don’t think anyone ever got hurt, but it wasn’t the only questionable decision made at that attraction…

        1. Splendid Colors*


          Besides being an OSHA nightmare, they’d be an ADA violation. (Local Fire Department has always inspected us for safety and accessibility, at least in the decade I’ve been associated with a haunt.)

    1. Anonymosity*

      There used to be a well-known haunted house in my city called The Nightmare. It was run by a church, with rooms showing bad outcomes like the drunk driving scenario you mentioned. They did put a content warning on their website for tableaus like a very realistic suicide, which, obviously, some people might want to avoid. Despite that, people absolutely loved it. The line went around the block every year.

      My boss at the time was going with her adult son, and she knew I liked scary movies, so she invited me along. The only room that scared me was a Cenobite Hell that featured some very intense actors. My boss and I walked out of that one holding hands like little girls! When we reached the exit, a niche in the wall lit up and a guy dressed as Jesus blessed us as we left. I’m not religious (my boss was) and thought he was a little hokey. but it was well done overall.

  10. Alex the Alchemist*

    My senior year of high school I volunteered for one of my friends’ haunted forests (he lived right next to the school and every year his family put on a big production). I played someone running away from a zombie horde and I was supposed to beg the group of visitors for help and then get dragged away by zombies. My dad came on one round to support me, and I’ll never forget that his response to my demise was to start laughing uncontrollably. I still tease him about it to this day, almost a decade later.

    1. Letter Writer*

      My parents came through one year and got stuck because they refused to go through the inflated hallway.

  11. Office Lobster DJ*

    This is fascinating! I’ve always wondered about the toning it down thing. Was there a line where the cast would back off an individual? And if you are a big scaredy cat who finds yourself in a haunted attraction, is there a way to signal that you’ve had enough and are just trying to get to the end, please leave me alone?

    1. Letter Writer*

      Hello! As hard as it is, the best thing you can do if you are really freaking out is approached a worker, or have someone in your group approach them, and calmly tell them you need to get out. Unless someone was actively having an asthma/anxiety attack, people, it is really hard to tell between people who are actually wanting to get out compared to just a normal customer.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        I’m curious how this works — do you then drop your act and escort them out, or does some non-costumed staff take them out? Thanks for being active in the comments!

        1. Letter Writer*

          We don’t really drop character but we just quietly escort them out. There was an emergency exit in most of the rooms.

        2. arthur lester*

          I would drop character if it was a little kid who needed help getting out, because kids have less of a good sense of the difference between fiction and reality. Adults just got quickly and quietly walked to the exit.

      2. Sorrischian*

        Having been on the other side of that equation as a young teenager, yeah. It was a low-budget local one, they slammed the door behind us as we walked in, and I just collapsed, wailing something about how I couldn’t do it, please let me out. I was too distraught to really pay attention how the employees reacted but I know they didn’t step in to guide us back out until my much calmer friend asked them to.

        No blame to them, they were super nice once they were clued in to the level of distress I was in, but I’ve also never been to a haunted house since. I keep thinking about going to one that does daylight or kiddie tours, just to see the sets and costumes, but I’ve been too embarrassed.

        1. Letter Writer*

          Some haunts will do “happy tours!” They aren’t very widely advertised because it kind of defeats the purpose. And a lot of them charge full price so it’s kind of a waste.

          1. Oryx*

            Yeah I’ve seen ones do a kid-friendly trick or treat version where they can come through and trick or treat the haunted house with lights on and all of that. We went to a lights-on event when my sister was little and wanted to experience the haunted house but didn’t want to be scared.

            1. Stinky kitty*

              The one I worked in had “Mother Goose land” where little kids that lost their bravado could go chill and someone dressed as Mother Goose (usually my grandmother) would read stories and nursery rhymes to them.

          2. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

            The haunted house near me does a lights tour each year and heavily advertises it- I think it’s pretty popular with kids and people who might be interested in what a haunted house is like, but aren’t interested in the scares. Personally, I’d be interested in doing that- the actual haunted house isn’t interesting to me, but seeing the concept of it (I live very close to it, so it’d be nice to just see what it’s like inside) and the detail would be cool.

            1. Letter Writer*

              I was always so sad in some haunts because they put a crazy level of detail into everything and then dim the lights so much it’s hard to see it.

            2. L.H. Puttgrass*

              Me too. I’m much more a fan of “creepy” and “spooky” than “scary,” and my idea of the epitome of haunted houses is Disney’s version. So most regular haunted houses, with jump scares and gore, are very much not my thing. But I always did kind of want to see the “set dressing”—just without the cast interaction, please.

            3. Mallory Janis Ian*

              I would pay full price to go on a night where the scares wore more moderate (like maybe a level 3 scare, with the haunt described by LW as an example of level 5). That wouldn’t be a waste to me; it would keep it in the range of fun-scary, versus not-fun scary.

              1. Splendid Colors*

                The charity Haunt crew that I work with has an evening kid-friendly mode (spooky characters doing skits, sometimes as part of a “quest” type plot) until about 8:30 and then switches to “adult scare” haunt mode after 9:00 with the jump scares, noise guns, chasing, etc.

                We’re the only kid-friendly haunt in the area and it works really well now that we partner with a school district’s fundraising Pumpkin Patch. We sell tickets only on the day of the event, each school in the district hosts a Movie Night with some spooky kid-friendly movie, and all 5 tour times sold out every day of our run this year (often in the first 20 minutes the box office was open). Extremely successful fundraiser!

        2. Stinky kitty*

          We never really dropped character unless it was necessary. If someone was having a medical emergency, we would call for security to get them out and we had EMTs there for them. Otherwise, if you were scared, that made you priority one. The more afraid you seem, the worse it gets for you. Some of the best scares were when I could slip up next to whoever the victim was with and get them to tell me the vics name without them knowing it. Then you slip back over to the vic ,and in a low gravely growl, whisper the name. Then chaos ensues.

          1. Office Lobster DJ*

            “Otherwise, if you were scared, that made you priority one. The more afraid you seem, the worse it gets for you.”

            This is so interesting! Why is that?

            1. Stinky kitty*

              Because that’s what they paid for and honestly, it fun. If someone comes in and they aren’t afraid, you may get them with a jump scare, but that’s all you will get out of them. The ones that stay scared offer the most entertainment to me and the other, unafraid vics. If they ran, I was hot on their heels It’s all part of the act of a murderous cannibal chef.

              1. Office Lobster DJ*

                I can see your point about their reaction adding to the atmosphere for the other guests, although doing it for the fun of the employees feels kind of gross, if only because you can’t tell if you’re pushing someone who is having fun or on the verge of a panic attack.

                To my mind, guests have a responsibility for their own well-being and made a choice to put themselves in a situation that could cause some distress, but I would phrase it as what they paid for is entertainment, not terror.

      3. Office Lobster DJ*

        Thanks, LW! That makes sense and I can see how it would be nearly impossible to tell. I see you mentioned downthread that at your attraction there was an emergency exit in nearly all the rooms. I wish more people knew about that! Thinking back to my last haunted house experience, mumblety years ago as a 12 year old, I might have felt more in control.

        Instead, I figured the only way out was through, so I pushed to the center of the group and cried and hyperventilated my way through. This house had also stationed one last cast member for a final scare after you had exited to “safety,” and let’s just say I ended up yelling incoherently at that poor person.

    2. Jackalope*

      I mentioned this above, but I went to a haunted house last year that had a wand you could buy for a couple of dollars that you could turn on (it had a glow light in the middle) if you were too scared and say something like, “Away from me!” They would respect that and leave you alone. I bought one and never used it, but felt so much better having it with me. I think that’s a really good compromise for those of us who get spooked easily. (In my case, my husband loves spooky and scary stuff so I decided to try it out with him, but knew it might be a bit rough.)

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        Someone above mentioned a slightly different set-up where a glowing necklace meant you were okay with the cast members touching you, which is good, but I like this idea even more. Give people the option of a little light up whatsit that can bridge the gap between enthusiastically taking part and needing to get out NOW.

  12. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

    “We had a hallway that was inflated like a bounce house but it was super narrow and you had to squeeze through and people HATED that.”

    There is a scene in the movie Nope that is reminiscent of what you’ve described, and I know a lot of folks who say it was the thing that made them most uncomfortable/scared/terrified about the film. I won’t say anything else because of spoilers, but if you’ve seen Nope I think you’ll know exactly what scene I’m talking about.

      1. Patty Mayonnaise*

        I agree with you but I also think people are bothered by different aspects of that scene. I saw a behind the scenes pic of how they filmed that scene on FB, and it made me feel better – it’s all pretend after all! But some people commenting on the picture said they did NOT feel better and I think the squeeziness contributed to that.

  13. Delta Delta*

    What a great interview! This person sounds like a whole lot of fun!

    I went to a community haunted house this weekend and it was the right kind of scary. People jumped out and it was all very startling. But it was the kind of scary that made me scream and then laugh because it was startling more than frightening. It seemed like the actors were having fun, too.

  14. Happy meal with extra happy*

    I love this because I would never ever go to a haunted house/haunted attraction, but I love reading about them/watching reaction videos.

    One year, I was offered a free ticket to a well known haunted attraction in my area by two different people, and I was like, lol nope no thanks.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Same! I think I would have enjoyed working at one but I just cannot go to a haunted house. Our neighbors did a good backyard one aimed at older kids for years and while I loaned them some props a few times, I never could bring myself to check it out.

      This interview was great though, so fun to read!

    2. Double A*

      This is how I am about horror movies: I don’t want to watch them, but I DO want to know what happens in them, so I have read summaries of most horror movies on wikipedias and read every Buzzfeed horror movie listicle.

      Horror is tough because 75% of the time I can watch it just fine and then 25% of the time it haunts me for life.

      1. Somebody Call a Lawyer*

        Samesies! Though sometimes I then put the movie on in the background (so I’m not really watching it directly) out of curiosity of how they exexcute the plot.

      2. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

        Ha, I am like this but more so (read a plot summary on Wikipedia a month or two ago of a recent horror movie & THAT is haunting me now!) It’s a shame because I think horror is smart and cool, I just stopped being able to endure it when I entered my 30s.

    3. UKDancer*

      Same. I don’t think we have them in the UK but I wouldn’t go if we did because I don’t like jump scares. But it’s fascinating to read about and I think the OP sounds like a really interesting person so I enjoyed the insights into their work.

  15. Hydrangea*

    I worked in a haunted house once! I was a scary clown. My friend was the faculty advisor for the drama club at a local high school, and they had some arrangement where if you showed up and said you were with that high school, the drama club got donations. So I showed up and said I was with that high school.

    It was almost entirely staffed by teenagers, or possibly some very early 20s people, which was a pretty interesting dynamic. It’s the kind of job that people returned to every year, so you could move into a lead role while still in high school. The people in charge were obviously in charge, but also obviously still teenagers with all the lack of frontal lobe development that goes along with that age.

  16. Liz*

    I volunteered in a haunted house in high school & a bit in college too and it was great! It’s still in operation today, and I’m wondering if this is the same one because my God the description is near exact.

  17. hodie-hi*

    I worked a rural haunt in my late twenties. It was at a camp in the woods with a series of small cabins. I was a guide, keeping everyone in the groups together and moving through the scenes. The last cabin was a mad scientist/torture scene, where the actors would grab me and “throw” me on table. I’m a good screamer, so that was fun.
    In my early forties, I took my teenaged niece and her friend to a big-city haunt. The girls were amped up, and I was just along as their driver. I am sure I was putting off some chill, jaded vibes. As we got close to the entrance, a very tall dude wordlessly approached and put a neon green wristband on me. The girls were sure that meant I’d been singled out for special torture, and it did put me on edge a bit. The haunt was all the typical stuff I’d seen plenty of times before, all really loud and not all that scary. For me, that wristband was the most effective “scare” of the night.

  18. Scaredy Cat*

    This was so interesting! The older I get, the less I enjoy being scared for some reason (maybe because real-life is scary enough, but I digress), so I don’t go to haunted houses anymore. I’ve always had a dream of working in a haunted house though and scaring other people that are paying to be scared still sounds kinda fun, minus the whole being-attacked-by-customers part.

  19. aubrey*

    I loved this! Thanks for doing this interview.

    Once time my mom hid behind me while screaming in pretty tame haunted house (like, ages 10+) and the cast member laughed. We never let her live it down that she tried to sacrifice her preteen daughter to a zombie…

  20. looking for a new name*

    This was super interesting and reinforces my belief that I should Never. Ever. Ever. go to a haunted house.

    1. londonedit*

      LOL, same – really interesting to read but it sounds like something I’d absolutely hate. I don’t do well with not being in control of the situation and I also don’t do well with humiliation – I hate the idea that I’d end up screaming or crying or whatever and other people would be thinking OMG look at her screaming her head off. People actually wet themselves? No thank you! I don’t think I’ve seen a haunted house thing like this advertised anywhere near me, so maybe it isn’t a big thing here – but maybe that’s just because I wouldn’t ever consider going and any advertising wouldn’t be targeting me!

      1. MJ*

        Not a Halloween haunted house, but the London Dungeon has similar features with a historic London theme – Sweeney Todd’s barbershop, Mrs Lovett’s pie shop, a torture chamber, a plague doctor’s lab, the streets of Whitechapel, etc.

        I went with friends from my amateur theatre group, but being into the backstage, technical aspect of theatre I spent my time figuring out how they did some of the effects.

        The funniest bit was when another member of the tour grabbed onto me for dear life, then shrieked when she realized I wasn’t her friend. :)

        1. londonedit*

          You’re right, they do – I’ve never been there either! I had no idea the whole haunted house thing was as massive in the US as it seems to be from reading the comments here. I guess we just have the London Dungeon and maybe the odd scary attraction at places like Alton Towers?

          1. Happy meal with extra happy*

            Yup, I would say that this comment section is an accurate depiction of the US as to the popularity of haunted attractions. :D There are all different levels of them in terms of extravagance. Similarly, I would wager most places that have hayrides at pumpkin patches also do haunted hayrides at night.

          2. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

            I went to a temporary haunted house thingy in London in the late 90s/early 00s as part of a travelling fairground – it had a weeping girl and a dude with a chainsaw who chased you out (thus also being a scary trailer for the people queuing). But yeah, not so much of a thing in the UK. (Also very much not my thing but this interview is fascinating! Maybe even more so as a glimpse into a world I wouldn’t normally have anything to do with.)

          3. UKDancer*

            Yes. I think we have the London Dungeon and there used to be another attraction called “The Tombs of London” near London Bridge which used to have actors outside dressed as zombies (not sure if it still does).

            I did see the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussauds is re-opening after many years of being closed. I went to that as a child and it scared me so I had to be taken out. It was the reality of it all that scared me, the death masks of Louis XVI and the models of execution methods (the guy being executed by garotte gave me nightmares). I don’t know if they’re going for the “London Dungeon” approach with actors and jump scares or going for the old models of murderers and executions. I think the latter is more frightening because it’s more realistic and showed what happened.

          4. Marion Ravenwood*

            The Dungeons is like a mini chain rather than just London – they’ve also got one in York (which I had to be taken out of hysterically crying as a seven-year-old because it scared me so much), plus Warwick Castle and a few other places.

            Thorpe Park was advertising Halloween nights this year as well. So I think there’s more of these types of attractions than we might think there are here, but definitely not to the same level as in the US.

      2. bicality*

        Same (lack of control/humiliation). Even just the going from room to room and sometimes not knowing exactly the route from entrance to exit is enough for me to nope out. The scariest part for me is looking like an idiot (real or perceived)! Yeah, I’m fun at parties.

  21. Sabrina*

    What a great interview, thank you both!

    My office did a haunted house once and before we opened our health and safety managers said they needed to walk through. They went though once with all of us acting as a dry run and then turned the lights on to go through again to look for tripping hazards. They went through the entire thing with us jumping out and doing our acts completely stoned faced, didn’t react to anything. I was dressed as a scarecrow that looked fake but waved at people when they got close, they didn’t flinch. Then when the lights were on they came over and started to adjust a foot light, I leaned over to help. They jumped a mile screaming, they thought my waving was mechanical and hadn’t realized a person was in the costume.

    When we opened I changed how I moved to look more wild, many people freaked out.

  22. hamsterpants*

    What a great interview! I could never go to a haunted house because I’m such a lightweight around horror but it sounds really cool and fun for the right personalities!

  23. Kaiko*

    The only haunted house I’ve been to was KillJoy’s Kastle, which was a lesbian feminist haunted house that made the rounds in Toronto about a decade ago and it was NOT scary and it WAS awesome. I will take my haunts in the form of satire and elaborate art projects.

  24. H.Regalis*

    “You paid to get scared, so you got it.”

    Seriously! It ‘s supposed to be scary. Don’t go if you don’t want to be scared. I hate shit like this, so I don’t go.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Agreed. We had a lot of people who would come through and act bothered that people screamed or jumped at them and I always wanted to know why they were there.

      1. Tundra dog*

        They’re probably there because they were pressured by friends to go and didn’t want to look like wimps? I mean, I’m in my 50s now and would just say no way and not go another care what they think…but as a teenager who wanted to fit in? Yeah, I’d probably go and hate it.

        Seems pretty obvious to me.

      2. Hydrangea*

        Guess it depends on whether they knew what they were getting into. The first (and last) time I went in one as a customer, I was there bc I thought it would be creepy, spooky scary, not jump-y, scream-y scary.

    2. Auntie Matter*

      As someone who went to one at 18 and was so terrified they let me out a side exit midway thru, I can answer for myself: I went because my friends talked me into it and I had a crush on one of my friends who was going. Never made that mistake again. I love the idea of haunted houses but they are way too scary for me.

    3. Dwight Schrute*

      Well I can answer that. I went as a teen because I love horror movies and none of them really get to me, or at least they didn’t at that time. I went to field of screams and was absolutely terrified and hated every single second it. I still have nightmares. So for some people you go thinking it will be a lot of fun and it turns out to be something you hate

  25. CLC*

    I haven’t been to one since I was a teenager(?) and I don’t think I’ve ever been to a good one, but I always remember them as just being sensory overload. I hated the feeling of being enclosed/trapped, like it’s not always obvious how you get out, and even if it is it’s a room with a lot of people or whatever, which is what stresses me out more than the actors and the scares. On top of it it is SO LOUD with chainsaws, screams, sound effects, etc. plus I’m super smell sensitive—I hate the smell of make up! All of this said, I love to read about the logistics of “productions” and everything that goes into a show or an event or even just logistics of boring jobs, so I found this quite an interesting read. It must be exciting for the actors and crew each night getting into make up and doing their part to bring it all together.

    1. MEH Squared*

      I didn’t even think about the sensory overload aspect. I mentioned elsewhere I want to go through the Philly Pen haunted house because I think it would be so cool, but in actuality, I probably would be severely overloaded in the end.

      Letter Writer, thank you for doing this interview and engaging in the comments. It’s been informative AND entertaining!

  26. Hen in a Windstorm*

    I used to live in Philly, and hands down, the best Haunted House I’ve been to was the one at the former Eastern State Penitentiary. It’s an actual, old, abandoned, crumbling, flaking-paint prison.
    Even going on the regular history tours is a little creepy, but having people lunge through the bars
    – or step through them – at you is totally different.

    The only downside is it’s so popular that there’s basically a never-ending line of people walking through, so you know that something scary is coming when the people ahead of you start screaming.

    1. Letter Writer*

      I can’t imagine. We had one night that we had 4,000 people come through in one night. Everyone wanted to cry at the end. Several did.

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        The customers or the staff?

        That does sound miserable, though by my math at $45 a ticket that’s also $180,000 before taxes so I can see why it went that way!

    2. MEH Squared*

      I had planned on flying out to Philly to visit my BFF and go to this Haunted House….in 2020. Needless to say, SOMETHING (pandemic) got in the way and the next year something else (medical crisis) got in the way. I’m still hoping to make it one day because it sounds uh-mayyyyyy-zing!

  27. 1-800-BrownCow*

    Very fascinating! As an older adult, I no longer enjoy being scared or freaked out, so I can guarantee I would not choose to go through one of these. I’m also hesitant of ever letting one of my kids to go once they’re teens. One of the popular, well-known haunted houses near me has quite the reputation for young, attractive, female participants getting sexually assaulted going through. Multiple stories of the young females being groped by the actors and when complaints are made to management, these accusations are brushed off and people are told it was part of the attraction and complainers misinterpreted what was going on. Ironically, males going through have said they weren’t touched by actors at all while the females with them were often grabbed multiple times by the actors. I’m sure this doesn’t happen at most places, but it is sad to hear these stories as it ruins it for all those who do the right thing.

      1. 1-800-BrownCow*

        It’s unfortunate to have one bad seed amongst all the places that do an honest business. And I do believe almost all places would not put up with that nor would want that reputation.

    1. Anon Supervisor*

      I went to one where I legit thought the guy was going to assault me. The worker outside of the room was very sympathetic and concerned, but it was crickets from management when I complained.

    2. Splendid Colors*

      Whoa. That’s horrible, and the management is horrible for tolerating it.

      Any actor who did that at our Haunt would be 86’ed and blacklisted. (Ours is supposed to be no-touching in the first place. Though sneaking up in an “I’m not touching yooooou!” way is permitted, and a pervert could figure out how to use that to be a sexual creeper.

  28. Raw Flour*

    “Rooms with doctor themed stuff seemed to set off a lot of triggers for people.”

    Oh, I can attest. Went through a haunted house recently where touching guests was allowed (this was in the waiver), but the vibe was “eerie” rather than “violent”. I was unaffected by various corpses, revenants, and the Ghost Dominatrix who threatened me with a paddle and used it on select other guests. As soon as I met a kindly-seeming doctor who gently placed his hand on my back, I was screaming, I was blubbering, I was very close to running for the emergency exit myself!

    1. The OG Sleepless*

      The idea that there can be doctor themed rooms in haunted houses just finished off any desire I have to ever go to one. I am scared to death of doctors.

        1. The OG Sleepless*

          Ha, I meant haunted houses. Can’t really avoid going to doctors, at least not totally.

    2. Elliot*

      If the kindly doctor had tried to use outdated methods like the BMI to measure health I would have been crying and screaming too!

  29. Spooky*

    OMG I’m like 99% sure I know this haunted house and have been there a bunch of times. A few things in the post feel very familiar. If so, it truly is one of if not the best haunted house in the country.

    If OP is reading this, is it perhaps located in the outskirts of a midwestern city?

    1. Letter Writer*

      Yes to the second one, but I wouldn’t agree that it’s one of the best haunts in the country. It used to be a lot better but it’s gone downhill due to recent management.

      1. Spooky*

        Well I haven’t lived there in about 6 years so I guess I got it when it was still at its peak!

        But that’s so wild what a small world haha I wonder if you ever chased me with a chainsaw.

        1. fika*

          I was totally doing the same thing reading this haha…. if it IS the one I’m thinking of, last time I was there was probably 2011 and it was AWESOME. And again if it is the one I’m thinking of, the buried alive room knocked my damn socks off

  30. ChemistryChick*

    Oh I love this. I spent four summers working for Busch Gardens in Williamsburg and end-of-season meant we also got to work Howl-o-Scream. I did crowd control/in-maze monitoring and while I refuse to do haunted attractions as a patron, I loved working them.

    As far as touching the actors goes, I was witness to/involved in one incident and the a-holes were drunk “tough-guy” types who thought it was hilarious. They weren’t laughing when the police met them at the end of the maze and they were banned from the park for five years.

    1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

      Not directed at ChemistryChick, but f*ck Busch Gardens Williamsburg. It was fine the first few years I lived near Williamsburg in the 00s. But for the past decade (the first incident was in 2012), literally every single time I’ve gone to that park, I’ve either gotten groped in the crowds–not accidental brushes, I’m talking full-on “left a bruise” a$$ squeezes, or have been physically assaulted in non-sexual ways. The last time I was assaulted, some woman gut-punched me and threw me to the ground so she could cut in line in front of me. She did this in front of about half a dozen park employees. Who laughed at how hard she hit me, did not help me at all, then threatened to kick *me* out because I told them off when I could breathe and stand again.

      Thankfully, I wasn’t the one driving home because I could not have done it. I actually spent three days bedridden from my injuries. Lots of people told me I should sue the park, but I just did not have the bandwidth due to dealing with that trauma.

      During Howl-O-Scream, the recurring complaint among my friends is that the scare actors all but ignore the guys in the group while harassing the women and femme AFAB’s nonstop. Given the park’s apparent stance on women/femme AFAB’s being actually assaulted is “LOL,” I’m not surprised. I get extremely annoyed at not being able to just walk from Point A to Point B without having a chainsaw revved in my face ten times by a ghillie suit wearing sneakers.

      Again, f*ck Busch Gardens Williamsburg. It’s a shame, because the actual park is very beautiful and far cleaner than other parks I’ve been to.

  31. Oryx*

    My hometown has a small, local haunted house that I LOVE. It’s maybe 20-30 min to get through, and has been around for 50 years and while they rotate the scenes in many rooms there are also standards that show up year after year. (And only $15 for an adult, I think.)

    But that’s about my limit. I cannot handle those huge warehouse style multi floor haunted houses.

    (Also I went once when I was in college and as we were leaving one of the scenes the actor in costume said “Bye, Oryx” and to this day I still have NO clue who it was but they clearly recognized me)

    1. Letter Writer*

      Oh yeah I regularly go to a big warehouse style haunted house that I’ve been stuck in for over an hour and those get me!

    2. bicality*

      We have a small one in the town nearest to us, too. Just $10/person, 15-20 minutes to go through. It’s run by a community org (think Lions/Kiwanis type service group) and they raise tons of money that they give back to the community the rest of the year. I helped park cars this year and was amazed by how many people came from 90+ minutes away! We went through it at the end of the night (and the actors knew we were helping) so it was a tame version and I was really impressed at the quality, considering it’s done by a bunch of volunteers.

  32. Mr. Cajun2core*

    Letter-Writer – Do you ever have people go in that just aren’t scared no matter what you do?

    I am a 54 year old male. I went to one last year. I took it as a challenge not to be scared! Of course, I was startled a couple of times and I jumped and maybe an “Oh SHEET” once or twice but overall I was not scared. I was able to convince myself that it is all fake and that there is no way I would get hurt. (I have been able to do this a couple of times on roller coasters). The one I went to was a good one, most people were screaming, but my friend I went with (52 year old male) also wasn’t very scared. I didn’t go to one this year but maybe next year, I will go to the next larger town where they supposedly have much scarier haunts.

    I know some people say that trying not to be scared takes the fun out of it but I guess I am just weird. I find it fun “beating” the haunt and not getting scared.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Yep! Some people just don’t find it scary. And that’s totally fine. As long as you aren’t a jerk, no one blinks an eye. You’re in and out of a room in 30-60 seconds so it’s not a big deal.

  33. ThursdaysGeek*

    When I was a kid the local Campus Life group put on a “Scream in the Dark” every year – you had to be 12 to enter, and it involved lots of strobe lights, with different rooms, like the one where a mad doctor was hacking away at a patient’s leg (carefully put through a hole in the table, and a cow bone replacing it); the checkerboard room, where the walls and the people blended. It never scared me, but it was fun. One year I got there really late, and the cavemen were already starting to take off their costumes. I politely asked one caveman if I could have some of his chest hair, and he obliged. Then when I got home, I told a wild story of the caveman lunging towards me, I grabbed his chest hair and pulled, and he screamed and leaped away! It was believable – I had the chest hair to prove it.

    1. StarHunter*

      I worked at the Campus Life “Scream in the Dark” when I was in high school as various monsters and as the warewolf’s victim. It was a blast! One year I was a lady in a coffin (yes, a real one!) that was murdered by her husband. He would tell everyone I died of the black plague but then I would pop up out of the coffin. That would send people off screaming into the corner where the Phantom of the Opera was hanging out. All he had to do was say “Boo!” and people would run out of the room really fast. Our auditions consisted of how loud you could scream. I always had a good blood curdling scream.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        I had older siblings that got to work there, and they tried to describe it in a way that was scary. But I’ve always been the person other people in the group cling to, the person comforting the ones who get scared.

        Although, the movie they showed to the lines of people waiting to get in — the one I remember was pretty disturbing! I’m not going to watch it now, but what movie has people digging up corpses and making it into cat food and then people’s pets start attacking their owners now that they’ve developed a taste for people?!

        1. StarHunter*

          Maybe The Corpse Grinder? It’s about a cat food company that uses people parts in their food and then the cats attack their owners. Not that cats need an excuse :-)

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            That’s got to be it. I remember lines wrapped and blocks long, and when we got close enough, then we could also see and hear the movie.

            Thank you to Letter Writer – that was an interesting interview!

  34. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Oh I love your interviews with people! I’ve never gone into a haunted house ride (I got triggers for days) but I really admire the amount of talent and sheer stamina of being a performer in one.

  35. Sydney Bristow*

    I can’t bring myself to go to one! As a kid, I was absolutely terrified in the permanent haunted house in the amusement park Enchanted Forest in Oregon. Never going in one again. But this was a fascinating interview!

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      I’ve always been curious what the Enchanted Forest was. I’ll have to find time next time I’m in that part of Oregon. (Yeah, I know, I could google it.)

  36. SJPxo*

    I worked in a Halloween scare attraction in the UK and I had very very similar experiences as the Interviewee did…
    Really enjoyable fun if you’re in to acting and love spooky scary stuff

  37. fullaboti*

    Thank you so much for sharing! I’m slightly tempted to do a haunted house (though not one of the extreme ones!), but I just don’t think I could handle it. I have a higher startle response and can get overwhelmed easily. Heck I’ve accidently hit (not hard) my husband if he accidently startled me at home, so I have no idea how I would react in an haunted house. I would feel so bad accidently hitting an actor. It blows my mind that people will purposefully go in there and use that as an excuse to intentionally hit or kick someone!

  38. Deanna*

    My brother was part of a local drama group that did a zombie run in a local park on Halloween night a few years ago. You be in a group with a tour guide and zombies would pop out of the bushes and give you a fright or give chase or whatever. My brother was one of those zombies crouched in a bush, and while waiting for the next group to show up, stood up to stretch his legs and the moment he did so, he heard a woman scream near him and looked to see a jogger bolt it back the way she came. He didn’t even notice the poor woman approach!

  39. Sherm*

    I went to a haunted house at a church, run by the church, and it was completely scary and macabre! At one point there were these two kids made to look like they were decapitated heads on a table, pleading with you. And this wasn’t an “alternative” church — it was thoroughly traditional!

  40. Ann O'Nemity*

    Thank you to the letter writer! This was a really interesting article. That said, I had to stop going to haunted houses as a teen. I loved being scared but got tired of getting groped!

    1. Letter Writer*

      I am sorry to hear that. I hate that it’s a thing that sometimes happens because it gives all of us a bad name and ruins people’s experiences. I always worked at no-touch haunts because I didn’t like that line being crossed.

        1. Stinky kitty*

          Yeah, there are some asses that will grope strangers in the dark and even the characters themselves. I’m a guy and have been groped and propositioned by women who were into some weird things…I dont judge, just not my thang.I’m sure it’s even worse for the women characters. In one scene,there were 2 women and myself and I tried to watch out for them. They were less mobile and I had a meat cleaver.

  41. Certaintroublemaker*

    “Actors in haunted forest attraction stalked by actual monster/killer” sounds like a fantastic horror movie plot.

  42. OperaArt*

    What happened when guests assaulted actors? Were the guests immediately escorted out? Were they banned? Did security or police personnel meet them? Was there a panic button the actors could use? Or was it all just ignored?

    Thanks. This interview was fascinating to read. I love behind-the-scenes stories.

    1. Letter Writer*

      It depended. You were kind of in your own island and even though managers frequently went through, they couldn’t catch everyone. We’d try to send word through that someone was coming through and if we could, we’d get word to security and they were thrown out. Or one memorable night a particularly nasty guy was going through grabbing women’s chests and he was locked in the porta-potty by two clowns while it was violently rattled.

      1. Myrin*

        “he was locked in the porta-potty by two clowns while it was violently rattled”
        I’m sorry but this is almost more hilarious to me than the wife thrower! (Not that the reason it happened in the first place is funny, of course, but you sure do have a way with words that leaves me cackling!)

      2. The Prettiest Curse*

        Clown-delivered justice! I really hope that the groper was scared of clowns (or that at least he is now.)

  43. Bureaucratte*

    This was GREAT! I can’t imagine choosing to go to a haunted house let alone work in one and that’s what made this so interesting for me to read!

    1. Letter Writer*

      I actually worked with a surprising amount of people who hated going through haunts but loved working at them! It was funny.

  44. Elliot*

    Wow, thank you so much for sharing – this is so interesting! One big question I have – if guests assault you, can you remove them, press charges, etc? I feel like a good employer would have an action plan for if/when this happens and make sure that employees know their full options, including legally.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Yes we did have security out there and if they were going around being aggressive they were removed.

  45. squidsss*

    A few years ago a friend of mine got left behind by a terrified group at an outdoor event. He walks slowly because of a disability. All was not lost, as he and his wife then jump-scared several of the actors.

  46. Lab Boss*

    LW, how often did you see people bringing visibly distressed children through and encouraging the staff to keep focusing on the child (even once they were in full-on meltdown or tears)? We seemed to have about one of those a night and it was the only time I’d break character, just went deadpan and told them to move along.

    1. Letter Writer*

      I had a lot of parents that would come through with their small children and just constantly and loudly tell them it was all fake. I found that more annoying than anything.

    2. LilBean*

      Good on you for not playing into it and pushing back when it’s clear the parents are just being awful to their kids.

  47. Irish girl*

    Oh My, this was great to read. In college we did a haunted golf cart ride through the campus which actually had 3 grave yards on it plus a huge amount of woods. It was so much fun scaring people which included the tour driver getting pulled from the golf cart and someone else jumping in and taking off like a bat out of hell.

  48. Saffy_Taffy*

    Thank you so much for this! What a great read.
    I ~love~ haunted houses, particularly the intense, “full contact” ones, but I get genuinely scared around the chainsaws every time. I’ve been rubbed with them enough that I know they don’t have chains on them, but my brain doesn’t seem to care. I’m convinced I’ll be injured every time.

    1. Letter Writer*

      I was at a haunt a few years ago and one of the guys with the chainsaw spanked by backside with it. I think I leapt 5 feet in the air.

  49. Budgie Buddy*

    This affirmed that haunted houses are not for me. I don’t like people getting all up in my space and since jumping out at people is the “bread and butter”of the experience —that’s a nope!

    I couldn’t get off on causing others distress but I guess there’s a market for it from the other side so … good for you? People breaking down and even losing control of their bowels seems so weird and extreme.

    I do like cool sets and costumes so non-scary tour for me! I don’t care if it’s “not in the spirit” of haunted houses. I get the weird feeling after reading the interview that some people who work there can be purists about their right to do everything but legally assault the guests… I ain’t paying to have strangers be weird at me.

    1. Sloanicota*

      It must be tough to walk the line between clients who “want to be so scared they cry or wet themselves” which is way, way to far for me (but presumably not others) but not so scared they attack people, which seems like a pretty logical reaction if you’re actually freaking out!

    2. Letter Writer*

      The nice thing about Haunts are there are categories all across the board. There are ones meant for young/milder audiences and there are ones were people will legit beat on you. The one I worked at for a majority of my time was more extreme, but those were the audiences I liked to cater to. I did work in a more “theatrical” one as well and really enjoyed it. But if it’s some place you want to work, then you kind of have to just pick what’s available to.

    3. Saffy_Taffy*

      The thing is, lots and lots of people enjoy intense sensations. I always draw the parallel with spicy food: it might hurt your mouth, and it might even hurt your GI tract, but it’s a safe non-injurous “hurt” that also has a lot of pleasure in it. Some people love roller coasters, some people love driving too fast, some people love BDSM. All of those things allow you to experience something intense, and afterwards you’ve got an endorphin high that feels absolutely wonderful, plus the knowledge that you “made it through” something difficult.

      1. Letter Writer*

        Yes exactly. There’s a very popular movie in theaters currently that people are supposedly throwing up and passing out watching. Some people like that feeling.

  50. Patty*

    Great interview! Thank you for validating me crying through a haunted house as a young adult! (I don’t think it would have been considered that scary by most but I am a major scaredy cat… I thought I could get my guts up and have fun but NOPE!)

  51. Rocket Woman*

    I love these interviews! I go to a haunted house/corn maze every year with my friends that has been voted #1 in my state and I am a MAJOR scaredy cat. It’s fun to read about behind the scenes, and I agree the downtime between scares really let me reset and I’d get scared so much more after downtime!

    I did hit someone, but it was one of my friends who thought it would be funny to sneak ahead and hide to scare me. He jumped out and grabbed me and I was terrified and confused because the actors are not allowed to touch you here so I flailed rather pathetically and did smack him lightly. All the actors do a fantastic job but usually don’t get closer than maybe a foot from you.

    1. Letter Writer*

      I one time went through on a night off and since everyone recognized me, I got grabbed, carried off, and other just fun things but the two women in a group with me were TERRIFIED. They kept screaming that they thought they couldn’t get touched or grabbed and I thought they were going to panic. It was too loud to have a conversation but once we got out I explained that I worked there and they were very much relieved.

      1. Stinky kitty*

        That’s a good gag though. I went through one with some a couple friends and at one point, we came upon a woman that was alone and a little scared. She said she got separated from her group and was afraid to go through the next scene alone and if she could hang with us. Well…being 3 big strapping middle aged guys, we agreed she could be in our group. A few scenes later, a character charges out of a hidden door and grabs this woman, throws her over his shoulder and runs off! We stood there slack jawed wondering what the hell just happened and should we give chase or what? Finally figured out it was a gag, but dang, for a minute there, they had us.

  52. Oofandouch*

    One of the many reasons I don’t go to haunted houses (including the main fact that I don’t like to be scared) is that I don’t know how I’d react if someone were to scare me. Like there’s a 75% chance I try to hit or punch an actor out of pure adrenaline and fear, which would be very not ok of me. I grew up really close to an insane haunted house type attraction and had many friends in high school who would work there. They’d come in with all kinds of bruises because of people shoving or kicking them

  53. Cat Wrangler*

    Many full moons ago I was involved in a number of amateur haunted houses. My two favorite stories are…

    I was laying in an open coffin as part of a funeral scene, a patron fainted when she saw the “lifelike corpse mannequin” (me). I sat up to watch as the crew aided her – she came to, saw me, and fainted again.

    Another time I had to wear a deliberately lame spider costume – patrons relaxed and laughed, rounded the bend and saw the next cast member – with a >6 foot live boa around her neck. The bigger the guy, the higher pitched the scream. (Snake and handler were safe and protected – I wouldn’t be comfortable with them using a live animal now, but this was almost 50 years ago).

    Least favorite guests – young white guys with dates. Favorite guests – Black teen girls, the best.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Oh my gosh that’s wild about the snake! There is a haunt I’ve gone to a few times (recently!) that had a crocodile and a live snake in there.

  54. Stinky kitty*

    Letter Writer, what would you say was you best scare or favorite reaction that you got from a good vic? Are there any that stand out as particularly funny?

    1. Letter Writer*

      The guy throwing his wife was among a top favorite. I had another man that apparently had just had enough and came crawling into my room, half laughing and half freaking out. I don’t know why that stood out but it was just hilarious to watch this man crawling on that dirty floor.

      1. Stinky kitty*

        It’s so hard not to laugh at the folks that lose their minds. Best scare I ever pulled was on a middle aged woman who came through wearing a fanny pack full of mini bottles of booze. She was pretty tipsy, and I saw her take a shot from her pack so I got a zombie (graveyard scene in a real graveyard. Several zombies and I was the Reaper) and told him to follow my lead. We dropped character on approach and I said “Ma’am, is that alcohol you have?” She replied with a “Yeah, you guys want a nip?” So I said “Ma’am, we’re undercover officers with (local police department). Its a felony to use or possess alcohol in a public setting. We’re going to have to place you under arrest.” Now we weren’t cops, and I don’t know the actual law, but she had drunk enough to believe us and started crying and wailing that she didn’t wanna go to jail and she was sorry…the whole nine yards. So we read her the Miranda rights, and perp walked her to the end of the scene where we let her off the hook with a “Happy Halloween.” She said it was the most afraid she had ever been and laughed her butt off with relief.

  55. Allison K*

    Loved this! I can’t hack haunted houses or horror movies, but I did love Sleep No More – it’s an immersive theatre experience themed around Macb-th and Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, and the combination of amazing performers and incredibly detailed, somewhat creepy rooms is wonderful.

  56. arthur lester*

    I miss working at a haunted house!

    I was never jumping out at anyone (mostly I was a monster under the bed who pulled an actress pretending to be a little girl underneath), so the frat boys were actually my favorites– they could only see my arms, and never wanted to get close enough to risk me grabbing their ankles. Hearing them scream in terror and shove each other to try to get away from lil ol’ me… Oh, that was a good time.

    (I did have to walk a child out who got overwhelmed by my room– I thought it was important he see me come out of the bed and drop character so he knew I was safe, but he was also *really* little, and presumably scared of the monster under the bed already)

  57. Princesa*

    I know a girl who is obsessed with haunted houses, and she takes selfies with the cast members when she is going through them. Is that normal? (And she’d be smiling too, not looking scared at all!) did you ever have people like that come through?

    1. Letter Writer*

      It was more normal for the “line monsters” or the people outside. We didn’t allow cameras inside the attractions.

  58. ken*

    So true about college age white dudes. I worked as a mascot through most of high school and college. I had frat bros walk up out of nowhere and tell me they were going to kick my ass on more than one occasion. I doubt they would have said anything if they knew they were threatening a 19-year-old 120 pound girl, but the costume gave them some sort of blinder to there being an actual person inside. I actually said something back to one of them and boy did he get embarrassed when he realized I was “a chick.”

    1. I&I*

      Evidently not quite out of childhood when it comes to understanding the difference between ‘real’ and ‘pretend’…

  59. coldfeets*

    Thank you so much for this interview. A lot of really interesting information, and it was great to see a discussion of different types of haunted houses (that foggy forest room sounds AMAZING).

  60. Eff Walsingham*

    A few of our friends from theatre have recurring haunted house gigs every fall, and it just sounds straight-up exhausting to me! I don’t think I could spend that much time marinating in secondhand adrenaline. But then, maybe it would be preferable to the other forms of jobs I’ve had where I had to deal with the public but wasn’t allowed to menace them? Could be kind of cathartic, maybe…?

  61. Metal Librarian*

    An ex of mine used to work at a haunted hotel – similar to this except people would stay overnight!

  62. asteramella*

    What a fun interview, thank you Letter Writer!

    I don’t react well to jump scares and would never want to accidentally hurt a performer (I was a volunteer performer at a church haunted house as a teen and got kicked and stomped on—don’t wish that on anyone else!) so always assumed I could never attend a haunt as a patron, so I’m excited to learn some do “happy tours”—hope I can do one next year.

  63. A F*

    I went to my first set of haunted houses this year. Neither of them scared me but it was pretty fun.
    For the second one, I happened to be in my mad scientist costume, which includes a plastic hacksaw and a very fake-looking butcher’s knife.
    I would like to sincerely apologize to the performer who caused me to discover that my instinctual response to someone dressed like a demon jumping right in front of me was to go for the fake knife. I didn’t actually *touch* him with it at all but I definitely pulled it out of my apron rather close to his face.
    Sorry, sir. You were a very good demon!

  64. Reluctant Mezzo*

    I was in a Jaycee Haunted House for several years (courtesy of two Rather Large rubber snakes found at a vendor near the Indiana Jones ride in Disneyworld), but my husband really got into it (the year he was a four armed gravedigger he had fun with some rubber rats). Then there was the Dr. Giggles set which became worse every evening (thanks to contributions from the local slaughterhouse). The top act, though, was a chapter president with an axe, and his girlfriend, who had lost of her arm in a car wreck some years prior. I leave it to the readers’ imagination how that could work out, especially with the fake part of an arm for relish.

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