clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

A scary job

It's almost pitch-black. Somewhere in the distance, you can hear what sounds like either screaming or hysterical laughter. And as you stumble your way through the darkened passages of one of the valley's numerous haunted house attractions, you run smack into a ghoul who's every bit as frightened as you are.

Spook-alley spooks getting spooked? Believe it or not, it happens a lot more often than you'd think."I'm a chicken. I even freaked myself out last night," admitted Sheryl Maxwell, one of the volunteer monsters at the Salt Lake Rocky Point Haunted House location, 3400 S. State.

For the next month, Maxwell is spending most of her evenings in Rocky Point's "Polka Dot Room," clad in a black-and-white spotted costume that "camouflages" her while she awaits her next victims. But the 17-year-old West Valley resident said she barely made it through the pre-opening walk-through tour without losing it.

"I went through the tour myself and got pretty spooked," said the first-time haunted-house performer. "I would never go to one of these haunted houses if I wasn't in it - they just scare me way too badly."

Most of Maxwell's fellow "frighteners" aren't so squeamish, though they admit to getting an occasional case of nerves.

"There's nothing you can do about it, even if you've done it for years," said Angela Dublino, another of Rocky Point's "monsters." "It's a totally scary thing for you." And Dublino has more than six years of "haunting" experiences at Rocky Point and at the now-defunct Alien Encounters.

Even the most experienced haunted-house performers often take at least a few days to "get into" their characters, she explained.

"By then you know how to scare people and where to scare them," Dublino said. "But for me, the butterflies in the stomach never completely go away."

Of course, not all of the performers are there to scare you. Some face the much more daunting task of making the patrons laugh - or actually keeping them off-balance for what's coming next.

"Last year I was setting them up to be scared. That's much harder," said Scott Litton, 20, who won Rocky Point's 1996 "Actor of the Year" award for his performance as Uncle Fester. This year, Litton is scaring customers while made up as Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Mr. Freeze" character from "Batman & Robin."

Still, haunted house organizers say they'd trade a case of cold feet for the day-to-day nightmares that accompany producing something of this magnitude. The valley's largest haunted houses - the two Rocky Point productions and the Institute of Terror - feature rotating casts of hundreds between them.

"The nervousness doesn't last long in most of the volunteers, but for me the whole experience is nerve-wracking," said Troy Barber, producer for the Institute of Terror, 300 W. 1300 South. "I mean, seven months of my life goes into making a month's worth of shows - that's a lot of time and energy.

"What's really terrifying is looking out at 6:45 on opening night and sometimes nobody's there," Barber said. "But within minutes, they start showing up in droves, fortunately. That's how it usually happens."

Cydney Neil, who organized this year's Rocky Point programs for both the Salt Lake and Ogden locations, compared the experience to that of putting on a Broadway production - without the benefit of a dress rehearsal or a trial run.

To their credit, Rocky Point and Institute of Terror do give some acting "lessons" and tips to their monsters. But Neil and Barber say they are not able to rehearse on a par with Salt Lake Community College's annual "Nightmare at the Grand."

"I'd like to have just one (dress rehearsal), but it's downright impossible," she said. "We're dealing with volunteers who are giving a lot up just by being here every night."

For the attractions that don't own their sites, like Rocky Point, the real work begins during the summer - giving them as little as five months to design, construct and script the entire production.

And that's nothing compared to the gimmicky effects and new attractions the houses use in order to one-up their competitors, which sometimes don't work as they should - and sometimes not at all.

During Rocky Point's opening night last week, a laser effect failed to fire, and some spring-operated surprises didn't deploy. Worse, the bungee cord that Matthew Boyle used to pounce down upon unsuspecting victims kept coming undone.

"I'm really sore. At times it felt like the cord was going to break," he said. "But we've had it checked out by an expert, so things are squared away. It sure makes it exciting, though."