Diary of a Madman

The bright side of scaring the bejesus out of people

"This was still fun three nights ago," Josh said, his voice muffled through the rubber of his mask. "Now it's just a job."

Haunted-house work is tough on roamers and character players alike. Roamers are in constant motion. Characters must remain alert and stock-still for long periods of time, and the Haunted Attraction's owners have hidden security cameras to make sure employees stay in position. Shifts are six hours long, with just one 10-minute break. The maze's interior is a sweat box, if you're wearing a costume (several customers complained of hygiene problems among the Haunted Attraction work force, prompting a manager one night to remind us to take showers; "If you scare them before they see you, that's a problem," she said).

The work can be hazardous as well. Some customers, especially mortified children and drunk or tripping men in their 20s with spiked-in-the-front, long-in-the-back haircuts, respond with violence when startled. My only injurious encounter, though, was with one hysterical, middle-aged woman, separated from her group, who I surmised has more than one Tae Bo video in her workout collection. When I came at her with a curved plastic knife in the Giant Spider room, she front snap kicked me in the groin.

Kris Johnson doesn't want to hear it from the Bloody Hand Thing.
Paolo Vescia
Kris Johnson doesn't want to hear it from the Bloody Hand Thing.
The author and his tool.
Paolo Vescia
The author and his tool.

The week I worked the Ultimate Haunted Attraction, employee turnover and no-show ratios were high. Foreseeing this, managers had overstaffed the haunted house with roamers, who stepped into character parts as they came open. This was how I lucked into the role of Chain Saw, indisputably the best role in the production (the namesake implement, by the way, is rendered mostly harmless via the removal of its chain).

Working Chain Saw wore on me, but I was never bored, as the screamers and the Vivarin kept me on a fine point.

My first night on break, I hung out with Maggot, 19, whose mom is Baroness something or other in the SCA. Earlier in the week, Maggot had been on Chain Saw when a woman fell and broke her finger. She said Maggot pushed her. He said she just wigged out when he fired it up, turned, tripped and fell.

Maggot popped two caffeine pills, washed them down with a Pepsi, then took a drag on his smoke with practically postcoital satisfaction.

"It's good, isn't it?" he said. "Scaring people?"

I said yes, it is.

Maggot and I listened to the thumping, the crackling, the scattered choruses of screams.

"Fear's the greatest aphrodisiac," Maggot noted. "Guys are gonna get lucky tonight because they brought their dates here. That's what we're here for -- scaring little kids, and getting guys laid."

Contact David Holthouse at his online address: dholthouse@newtimes.com

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