After working in the themed entertainment business nearly my entire life, I am convinced that the people who work in this business have the best crazy guest stories than any other line of work. You may have seen some crazy stuff while visiting a theme park or a haunted house, but until you have worked “down in the trenches,” you have no idea what really goes on.
So as I interviewed the owners and creators of these haunt attractions, it turns out there are some common elements you will find at nearly all of them. First, every haunt has a box of missing shoes. That’s right, as people get scared out of their wits, it’s not uncommon for shoes to become untied or sandals, flip flops just to come flying off. Many people will ask the management to go back and get it, but in an environment where it’s nearly pitch black and people are actively jumping around… your shoe has most likely been kicked all over the building by the end of the night. And many people don’t go back the next day to retrieve their footwear.
Some people just scare too easily. It’s in their DNA and they jump when the wind blows. If you are an actor at a haunted house, finding these types becomes somewhat of a hobby and an art. One day, Bud Stross, of Dent Schoolhouse, was roaming the queue outside as Charlie the Janitor, the haunt’s signature scaractor, and noticed a group of college-age girls – commonly known as easy targets. One girl in particular would jump and scream, no matter how many times Charlie lunged at her.
About an hour later, Bud saw them coming out of Dent Schoolhouse and chased them across the street to the parking lot. The jumpy young lady took the car keys and sprinted across the street and planted herself in the back seat and waited for her friends to catch up. A few minutes later, the other girls arrive with Bud, still dressed as Charlie, crouched behind the group. They open the trunk to put their purses and belongings in there… and Bud as well.
They all climb in the car, start it up and pull out of the parking lot. Just as they pull down the road Bud pushes down the backseat with a loud “Raaawwwwrrrrr!!!!,” making the jumpy girl scream louder than she ever has in her life. He crawls over her and jumps out of the car, which is at a stop sign and walks back down to Dent Schoolhouse. Best. Scare. Ever.
According to Bud, a haunted house isn’t successful unless you have the “5 P’s”: Panic, passing out, puke, poop and piss. And yes, in nearly every haunt across the country, all five of those things happen at least once a week, if not more.
At The Bates Motel in Pennsylvania, Randy Bates told me he actually takes pride in one of those P’s. According to Randy, if you come out of one of the haunted attractions and can find him and show him your new wet spot? You will earn yourself a free t-shirt that says “I pissed myself at The Bates Motel!!” One night, a local radio station was at the haunt broadcasting live and a DJ overheard Randy and a young lady discussing how she peed herself. So they brought her over to the broadcast booth and she professed her lack of bladder control live on the air to thousands of Pennsylvania. You just can’t buy that kind of publicity.
Another common thread in haunted houses is the first room exit. Many people are dragged to a haunt by their friends and it’s just not their scene. So they bail after the first room and go back in the way they came. Nearly every haunt in the country has a strict no refunds policy, including the Chambers of Horror in Atlanta.
Regardless of the policy being on signage and even the ticket, people ask if they can get one anyway. If the timing is right, Chambers of Horror will give you something even better than a refund. They will give you the option to freak your friends out. If the person is willing, they will take the scaredy cat and bring them about mid-way through the attraction. Once their friends arrive in a room, there is their buddy who chickened out in the beginning, being “tortured” and the scene plays out. This friend now becomes part of the show and is eventually dragged down the hallway to God-knows-where, while their friend’s jaws hang on the floor. A refund may be worth $22, but the look on your friend’s faces during that moment is priceless.
As many haunt attraction owners will tell you, guests are often not cooperative. Evil Dead The Musical in Las Vegas is a year-round campy musical revue filled with blood and guts. Audience members are encouraged to shout things out during the show to interact with the actors on stage. However, that encouragement with alcohol can lead to… how can I say this politely? Never shutting the hell up.
During one show in particular, there was a young woman whose mouth apparently didn’t have an off button. Luckily, she was sitting in the splatter section, where audience members are given a t-shirt and are guaranteed that they will get splattered with blood. The actors during the intermission got together and decided to come up with a solution to try and get this young lady to tone it down a little. Instead of starting the second act with the usual dance number, the actors came out and dumped a one-gallon bucket of stage blood directly on the girl’s head. Problem solved.
Probably my favorite story comes from the Erebus Haunted House in Pontiac, Michigan. This building is enormous, at just a little over 100,000-square feet. Edward Terebus, co-owner of the haunt, likes to dress up as an actor every once in a while and scare people in addition to running Erebus. One night, he scared an extremely large woman who, after she jumped and screamed, passed out on the floor.
After she came to, he was kneeling down by her side and as she was slowly realizing where she was, she passed out again. A few minutes go by and the conga line of guests had clearly stopped. An actor in the next scene comes over to see what’s going on and he sees Edward and this woman lying on the ground. Without thinking, Edward puts his palm up to the actor shouting “Don’t scare her!!!”
It’s at this point in the story you should realize that Edward trains his actors to show no mercy. The phrase, “Don’t scare them!” in their code means, “Go harder!!” So the actor lunges at her just as she’s coming to and…. ? Passes out again.
They finally get this large woman up and help her over to the nearest emergency exit, take her down the stairwell and into the street. Once there, Edward gets someone on his team to call an ambulance. The woman says she just wants to leave and be done with it… and seconds later? You guessed it: she passes out again and hits the pavement.
She comes to and manages to get herself up this time, crossing the street to get into her car. Edward follows, begging her to get checked out by a medic before she pulls out of the parking lot, even offering to drive her to the emergency room himself. Again, she refuses. The woman gets in her car, cranks the ignition and rolls down the windows. Edward, fearing this woman is having a heart attack, in full costume and make up, leans in the passenger window and grabs the keys out of the ignition.
As he is pulling away, the woman opens her mouth and bites his arm… so much so, that she actually takes a small chunk of flesh out with the bite. Moments later, the EMT arrives, spending more time checking Edward out than the woman, because her episodes had stopped by that time. For the record, Edward is fine, but still has a scar to prove it.
Many thanks to all the haunt owners to shared their incredible stories with me this Halloween season. If you have a great haunted house story, e-mail me at JoshYoung@ThemeParkUniversity.com and you may be featured in an upcoming article. Seriously, I live for these stories.