Recently, I volunteered for a night at the latest addition of the Castle of Chaos franchise, the Carnival of Chaos in Riverdale, and through my experience I got a bird’s-eye view of the behind-the-scenes process.
First of all, some might ask, “Where do they find these people?” And although insane asylums and back alleys might seem like a possible answer, they obviously host auditions.
When I worked in Carnival of Chaos, it was on an open-volunteer basis, but you usually have to audition if you want a spot in the season. A lot of the auditions for most haunted houses usually take place during the late summer months, and the spots in the attractions fill up quickly. They want you to be realistically scary, so just being able to jump out at people and having a really good scream are not qualities that can guarantee you a spot.
Most of the time, the haunted house will have a theme, and Carnival of Chaos has two different haunted houses: Seven Deadly Sins and Carnival of Chaos in 3-D. Seven Deadly Sins follows the more traditional haunted-house vibe, with dark clothes and eerie faces. Each room had a specific sin, and I played the sin of Lust for the night.
Makeup took about 50 minutes. They had to airbrush me a into a Medusa hybrid who lured unsuspecting victims into her chamber, only to feed them to her pet snakes.
The 3-D house actors wear wild, neon-colored clothes and faces that stand out with the use of the participant’s 3-D glasses. These colors are usually used in most 3-D haunts, and give a person the urge to reach out at a floating face design that might not be there.
In the Carnival of Chaos, a lot of good scare opportunities were already built in for the actors. In the Seven Deadly Sins section, each room has a walking timespan of about 30 to 60 seconds. You have that amount of time to create a sense of discomfort within the room before you send them scurrying out. Of course, things aren’t always going to go according to formula.
You have to deal with huge groups that come in the room, making it less intimate and harder to cover your creepy bases, especially if you’re running the room by yourself. I had to be in charge of the Lust Room without any other actors in the beginning, and let me tell you, it’s really hard to strike fear into the hearts of a pack of teenage boys when they keep trying to ask for your number.
There’s also the problem of choosing how to tone the act down for small, frightened children, and how to get people who keep trying to strike up a conversation with you to keep moving.
Now, let me say from experience that scaring comes down to the actor, the coordinator of the haunted house and the head makeup artist, and plenty of the veteran actors agreed with me. You can only jump at people so many times before they expect it. Also, it doesn’t matter how decked out you are; if you can’t commit to your gruesome character, you’re going to get a lot more snarky comments than screams.
But it’s those moments during the night when you cause someone to flinch, scream like a small child and accidentally let slip a few obscenities that seem to make it all worth it.