SALT LAKE CITY — Gabe Allred was 3 years old when he found himself face-to-face with a mummy.
Unable to find a babysitter, his mom had opted to bring Allred along for a meeting at the Rocky Point Haunted House in Salt Lake City, where she worked as a graphic designer. Things got out of hand when her toddler wandered a bit too far and wound up in the Mummy’s Tomb.
“They had left the compressor on for the animatronics. I walked past these mummies lined up against the wall, and then they all just fell forward out of their little alcove and I started screaming and yelling and my mom came running in. It was excellent,” Allred said with a laugh. “I think that trauma was actually what started my fascination with haunted houses. I was never able to go through them. I was always kind of fascinated with them and just really loved … getting behind the scenes.”
Sixteen years after his first encounter with a mummy, Allred can be found behind the scenes at Salt Lake City's Fear Factory, the towering haunted house attraction that looms off of I-15. But around those parts, he’s known as Uncle Dizzno the clown. The 19-year-old has played this role at Fear Factory since he was 15, and while he has given people some good scares over the years, for him, the job is more about entertaining.
“Whenever I see somebody jump or scream and then, as they round the corner going out of the little area I’m in, they start laughing, that’s always the best,” he said. “My goal isn’t to traumatize anybody — my goal is to entertain them.”
But there's plenty of haunted house workers who do take pride in their scares. The Deseret News spoke with some scarers to hear their best stories in all their glory — and not to worry, they're not gory.
Poppy the Clown
By day, Taylor Morgan does software for a tech company. At night, she’s Poppy the Clown.
When the day job’s done, Morgan steps into a black-and-white striped jumpsuit with splashes of bright orange, pink and green. She teases her hair to get that “Beetlejuice” look and sprays it orange. And then comes the best part of her costume — the unsuspecting key to all of her successful scares at the Fear Factory.
Hot pink roller skates. Two neon yellow wheels in the front, two in the back. They’re flashy, but quiet.
“It’s insanely easy to sneak up on people,” Morgan said. “I have a really good advantage; I can scare the same person multiple times because I can cover so much ground in a short amount of time.”
But a few weeks ago, it only took one scare to do the trick. As a group of teenage boys entered the Fear Factory gates, Poppy the Clown had her eye on one boy in particular.
“This boy was just talking so much, he was like, ‘I’ve been here before, I’m not scared at all, I’m great at haunted houses' … just talking this big game,” Morgan said. “And I snuck up behind him and scared him, and he jumped so high that he landed and I guess forgot to use his feet because he fell flat on his back and just laid there and screamed.”
The boy’s friends formed a circle around him — but not for protection.
“They all had their phones out and they were Snapchatting. They thought it was hilarious,” Morgan said. “He was just screaming in the fetal position and he actually turned around and (left). I think the count now is up to eight people that I’ve scared them and then they turned around and left. They realized, ‘I can’t do this. I’m not even in it yet and I’m already scared.’”
The maniacal doctor
Genesis Paez refuses to let her height keep her from giving a good scare.
This Halloween season, Paez, who stands 5 foot 2 inches, has traded in her Converse shoes and patched-up clown jumpsuit for a pair of oxford shoes and slacks — topped with a bloody doctor’s coat and a “grotesque-looking face.”
To reach Paez, one must walk through the Fear Factory’s catacombs, enter a torture chamber and climb up a tower. Then you’re in the Infirmary Zone — but you’ll likely hear Paez before you see her.
“I have this crazy maniacal laugh, and it gets (people) every single time,” said Paez, an accountant who is in her second season with the Fear Factory.
The maniacal laugh more than compensates for Paez’s height. In fact, her laugh recently shocked some men who towered above her at more than 6 feet tall.
“They had these serious faces and they were just trying to play it off like they’re being tough,” Paez recalled. "I kind of crouched down … and I (told) them, ‘I’m not scared of big guys like you,’ and pushed them up against the wall so they had that touch of fear. Watching them scream was the most rewarding thing ever.”
A spooky selfie
It doesn’t always take a creepy laugh to give a good scare. For Taylor Lewis, silence was his friend.
At about 11 p.m., Lewis was ready to close up shop after a long night of scares at Insanity Point, Cornbelly’s haunted attraction. The last wave of people had come through his circus tent known as the Big Top Terror — or so he thought.
He spotted a couple he thought had left earlier — a couple who had seemed more interested in each other than they were their spooky surroundings.
“They were gettin’ a little handsy, so I left them alone,” he said. “I didn’t want to be a part of that.”
But as he walked through the large tent once again, pushing through the plastic, opaque curtains, Lewis, a clown whose pale makeup was by far his eeriest feature, saw the lingering couple getting ready to do something he knew would make for a great scare — take a selfie.
“I was going through and I heard them talking. … I parted the plastic a little bit and I peeked through and saw them standing next to each other, (the guy) holding up the phone in landscape mode,” he said. “I was right behind them, so as he clicked the button, his phone screen went white at the flash, and I poked my head out in between their two heads.
“What they saw was them together with nothing between their heads, a white screen and then my face between theirs,” he continued. “And they just lost it, like pure panic and flipped around. I had already gone behind the plastic and disappeared. … I was gone, nowhere to be seen. They ran as fast as they could, they were bouncing off the walls, just couldn't even handle it.”
That happened seven years ago, when Lewis was a freshman at Brigham Young University studying film. To this day, he regrets not getting a copy of that photo.
“It was just the best scare because if I had been writing a movie, that's exactly how it would’ve happened,” he said.
‘The eye in the sky’
Picking the best scare at Nightmare on 13th isn’t exactly a simple task for Jake Mabey. On a weekday, he watches hundreds of scares. On Fridays and Saturdays, that number rises into the thousands.
From his perch behind a group of monitors, Mabey sees stone-cold faces transform into wide-eyed expressions. He sees jaws drop. Some people drop to the floor and then curl up in the fetal position. With about 70 cameras under his control, he doesn’t miss much.
“Not to sound like a creep or anything, but I can pretty much see people from the moment they approach our property,” he said. “(I watch them go) all the way through the haunted house and get into their car and leave. I’ve pretty much got eyes on them the whole way through.”
The cameras aren’t just for security purposes. As “the eye in the sky,” Mabey helps move the line along and assists the haunted house actors in getting their scare timings just right.
But when asked to pick the haunted house’s best scare, Mabey points instead to his favorite feature: A mirror illusion that’s found in the upstairs den.
“The actor is behind a mirror … (that is) invisible to the eye — we’ve done the lighting in the room just right,” he said. “When the customer walks into the room, it appears to be empty. … (And then) our den ghost just pops out of nowhere swinging his fake ax. … It’s always a hoot to watch that room.”
Mabey’s held this position at Nightmare on 13th for a few years now, but watching people’s reactions never gets old.
“I just love this job,” he said. “It’s been the best job I’ve ever had, and I’m going to keep doing it as long as I can.”