It's easy to spot the Reverend Fish Crackers when he's roaming around Arizona's Original Scream Park out in Scottsdale during the Halloween season. Just look for either a crazed dude in a straightjacket with a birdcage perched on his head that's ranting and raving about his missing parrot, Petey, or someone wandering about in a faded and dirty pink bunny rabbit costume.
That is, unless the reverend finds you first. After all, the 37-year-old veteran haunted house actor, who prefers to go by his madcap moniker, loves to stalk Scream Park patrons throughout its expansive courtyard and waiting area and proceed to frighten and confuse them with his bizarre and terrifying antics. He might even get them to laugh, if they aren't too terrified.
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"I always throw some comedy into it, because you can't always scare everyone," he says. "And if you can make 'em laugh and enjoy it, they're always going to enjoy the show."
And Reverend Fish Crackers has been making people both laugh and scream for going on 25 years now. A native of Kansas who moved to Arizona back in the late 1980s, he's worked as a haunted house actor for more than two decade's worth of Halloweens.
These days, when the reverend is scaring people out at the Scream Park, one of the top haunts in the Valley, it's usually as one of three different characters he portrays. There are his aforementioned mental patient and pink bunny personas, of course, as well as a macabre maintenance man dressed in blood-spattered coveralls and a work shirt.
"It usually depends on what type of mood I want to be in. If I'm in a fun mood, I'll throw on my straightjacket and the bird cage on my head and I'll start searching for my bird Petey. I still haven't found him yet," he says. "And when I wear the bunny suit, that character tends to be very sloppy and disgruntled."
Like many in the business, the Reverend Fish Crackers started out acting and working at haunted houses as a teenager and became addicted to the thrill and fun of the job.
"I'd volunteered at a couple haunted houses and had some fun and saw an ad in the paper that one house was looking for actors. I got the job and got hooked," he says. "It's just so addictive and so fun. I mean, you're allowed to get in people's faces, you're allowed to threaten them, they don't press charges and you get paycheck. It's awesome."
It's also taken the Reverend Fish Crackers through some of the Valley's most infamous haunts and fear factories, enabled him to travel to the other side of the globe, and even will help him achieve his dream of someday owning a props and effects shop. Plus, he also met his wife, a fellow haunted house veteran who goes by the stage name Bug, through his pursuits.
While he's has been at the Scream Park, the longest running haunted house in the Valley, off and on since the days when it was known as Darkside in the late '90s, its far from the only place he's worked as either cast or crew.
Ask Reverend Fish Crackers about his history of dressing up as kooky and spooky characters while terrifying teenagers and he'll rattle off a list of famous bygone local haunts that he's appeared at over the years, including Panic Park, The Nest, Bedlam Manor, Alice Cooper's Nightmare, and Silo X. And several years ago, he got to travel down under to work at a haunted attraction at Warner Bros. Movie World in to Australia.
Its one of many interesting stories that Reverend Fish Crackers told Jackalope Ranch during our recent interview. And believe us, he's got a lot to tell.
There's the tale of how he became an actual ordained minister through the Universal Life Church ("When I did it like 15 years ago, it was back when you had to mail in your stuff, you couldn't just get it over the Internet") and well as how he got the moniker of Fish Crackers. ("It was one of the first names I got while working at a haunted house," he says, "I would run up to people and started sniffing 'em and go, 'Do you have my fish crackers?'").
And he may or may not have his own cult.
"After I got ordained [and] was up at a haunt in Salt Lake, I cracked a joke with the cast about it. 'Yeah I have my own cult, its called 'Children of the Fish. And I showed them my tattoos, which are actually Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers," he says. "So anyone who's a member of my cult has one of these tattooed on the back of their neck. And some actors actually had some fish crackers tatooed on their necks. I was like, 'Sweet, they're in my make-believe cult now.'"
Then there are his stories of scaring certain people so much over the years that they've had an accident. For reals.
"It's kind of gross," he says, "But it does happen."
In fact, Fish Crackers says that the old Darkside haunted house used to give out something called the "D.U.S.T. Award" (as in, defecation, urination, spit, and tears) to the cast member who could spook patrons strongly enough to cause the emission of all four bodily fluids in a single season.
And while the award hasn't been given out officially for years, and isn't endorsed in any way by the Scream Park or its management, the reverend took it upon himself to unofficially resurrect it, rewarding $50 to one of his fellow actors who pulls off the unpleasant feat.
Its one of many things we discussed with Reverend Fish Crackers during our interview, which also covered how he gets some of his strange and unusual outfits, a new character he's currently working on, and what sort of things truly scare him.
What are you wearing out at the Scream Park? I'll probably be doing the "Petey" character. It depends on how my day goes. I got the straight jacket after looking around and looking around and finally found a company that sold them. The birdcage I found in a trailer. And the worst part about it was that it was covered in cat pee, so the first time wearing it, my head stunk of cat urine.
How did you get your bunny suit? I actually bought that because I was going to this bar called The Monastery [in Mesa] and they were having a Hugh Hefner birthday party and the flyer said to show up as your favorite bunny. So I showed up in the bunny suit and they were like, "That's not what we meant." Wearing that suit is just fun. I'll wear it in mid July walking around Wal-Mart and go over to the produce section looking for carrots.
Where do you usually shop? I keep checking around Goodwill and finding weird stuff.
What was the last item of costuming you bought? It probably was the plain work shirt for my maintenance man character. I bought that a few years ago. It's like a blue mechanic shirt [and] it's all torn up and covered in fake blood.
What item of costuming do you covet the most? I've got a new character that I've been contemplating and rolling over in my head, trying to find the right thing for it. I need to find me the cheesiest 1960s blue leisure suit. Its going to be a very odd duck when its [ready], like imagine this kinda disco/car salesman/psycho preacher. It will be silly.
What are five things every haunted house actor should have in their closet? 1. Fake blood. 2. Something totally bizarre. Believe or not, I have this girdle I found at a Goodwill. I haven't worn it yet, 'cause I'm trying to find the right time and the right reason to wear it. 3. Makeup. A lot of being in a haunted house has to do with makeup. 4. Dark socks. That's one of my major pet peeves, when I go through a haunted house and I see an actor with white socks because of the black lights. It's almost a dead giveaway to people that you're right there. 5. Skeletons. You've always got to have a few skeletons in your closet.
What's a haunted house trend you can't stand? Other than teenagers? Nothing. I like 'em all.
Um, aren't teenagers your bread and butter? Yeah, but they're also victims waiting to be gotten. Its kind of one of those things that when you know you're going after them, you get it set in your head that you don't like 'em and you're going to get 'em.
Do you have any advice for haunted house customers? Don't wear open-toed shoes to haunted houses because it drives the actors crazy and give them a target to go for. When I see customers with open toed shoes, I'll just drop down on the ground and start going for their toes and they're jumping and skipping and running away. I just pretend to go for their toes and that scares people, especially women. They don't want some psycho blowing on their toes and trying to get 'em.
So what is the "D.U.S.T. Award" that you give out? It stands for "defecation, urination, spit, and tears." If another actor can get the customers to do all of that in a single season, then I give them an award. And it has to be confirmed, because I've had actors try to fake it before. Most of the haunted houses don't do it anymore, so I started it back up and its a $50 bonus out of my pocket that I'll pay any of the actors, so long as its confirmed.
We imagine that its not officially endorsed by the Scream Park. No, not at all. Back when I was doing haunted houses like Darkside, which was on the same property [as the Scream Park] back in '98 and '99, they had the D.U.S.T Award and I won that four times in one season. And once Darkside left, that was pretty much it for that award, so I started bringing it back and giving it out on my own.
So how do you verify things? Isn't that sort of gross? It is very disgusting; I'll give you that. But, as an actor, when you're in that room and you're scaring that person, they sometimes will drop and just get up clutching their butt and just waddle out of the room. "Oh gosh! Oh gosh! Oh gosh. Then you have this stench that just lingers. And the tears, that's just a common one. Everyone cries in a haunted house. Every actor will probably get 5 to 10 criers every year.
But then there's spit, that's a hard one to get. You actually have to get people so angry and so scared and so pissed off that they're willing to spit on you and run away or spit when they scream. And then the urination, you'll usually find a puddle afterwards.
What's the scariest thing you've ever encountered? Being a parent. That's just scary. Like, 'Am I doing this right?'
Can you give us a childhood memory of you and haunted houses? I don't really remember how scared I was, but I remember going to a haunted house when I was younger. It was done by a church group and they had taken a old mattress frame and stripped off all the fabric so there was just this wire frame. And they put it against this doorway and there was this crazy guy behind it and he came bouncing into that thing and I remember that vision. It just stuck with me.
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What's one piece of fashion advice you have for haunted house actors? You've got to be willing to trash whatever you bring. Because if you go out and buy something brand new, that doesn't work in a haunt. You've got to dirty it up. You've got to get it wet, roll it in the dirt, and get it nasty.
Arizona's Original Scream Park opens at 7 p.m. every Thursday through Sunday until November 1, and on Wednesday, October 29. Admission varies.