After not being able to hold Scarywood in 2020, what is new and exciting about Scarywood this year?
After not having it in 2020, I think a lot of people were just ready to enjoy October. Because October around here is awesome. I mean, the weather has been just amazing, the fall colors, and then the tradition of haunted houses.
Being able to hear screams again is music to my ears. We say two types of people come to Scarywood: the type of people that want to be scared and the type of people that want to laugh at their friends being scared. We want to make sure that that our haunts are set up so people are screaming throughout the entire thing.
This year, we especially looked at Pharaoh's Curse, which we added in 2018. After every visit, someone gets a survey from us if they bought an online ticket, and we really analyze those surveys. Traditionally, Pharaoh's Curse was getting routinely graded as one of our worst overall haunts in terms of scare factor and entertainment factor. So we really took a deep dive into Pharaoh's Curse and redeveloped it. We added some some different scenes that you walk into, like we have a scene where a guy's embalming a mummy. It's just more creeping people out and setting that vibe. We have a live sacrifice where a heart gets ripped out of a guy. It's creating this wow factor that allows these pop scares to actually work. You have these distractions that are allowing for the person to be built up in the story and immersed in the story, and now they're ready for something to pop out and scare them. We didn't have that before. I was just analyzing our surveys this weekend, and Pharaoh's Curse is now our No. 2-rated attraction. So we're really happy to see that things are working.
What's the top-rated haunt?
No. 1 is Blood Bayou. And then Pharaoh's Curse and Planet Zombie have been going back and forth between No. 2 and No. 3.
So in Scarywood parlance, what's the difference between a haunt and a scare zone?
Scare zones are the pathways throughout the park. So how we look at it is the scare zones are the veins of the park. If you look at it in terms of a body, they're delivering the people to the haunts. The scare zone's real job is to continue that energy throughout walking through the park to the next haunted house. Because the last thing we want is someone to leave a house and then be walking and have nothing to scare them, so their energy goes way down and they're not pent up with that fear factor in them. We want them on edge all the time.
We call the haunts the vital organs. They're the ones that are keeping the whole park alive.
What is the design process to get ready for each new Scarywood season?
So, right after the season ends, there's a group of us that they get together and just really look at each haunt. What worked? Is it fitting into the overall program that Scarywood is delivering? What can we change?
Then we go to TransWorld, which is the largest haunted house convention in the world. That was in St. Louis in May [this year]. So we went there with the intention of looking for stuff for Pharaoh's Curse to really develop that haunt. We bought some new costumes and some new noisemakers for the scare zones.
Once we got back, I drew up what we wanted to do to add to this attraction, and then my graphic designer did a storyboard of it. We got it approved, and then from there, maintenance starts to build that in August. And we just continue to fine tune in as we go out through the season.
After auditions and Scare School, we do attraction training, and then we're live. For some of these people, it's their very first time doing any sort of acting. Acting in a haunted house is way different than acting on stage because you're in an environment where people are walking around you and interacting. It's grueling, but it is invigorating too.
So what goes into Scare School?
Scare School is four hours long, and it is going into just our basics of the do's and don'ts; how to generate fear in an environment where people know we can't touch them. It's an interesting complex where you're trying to scare people and create suspense when it's not real.
So our acronym F.E.A.R is False Environments Appearing Real. That's how we we deal with everything. We need to immerse them so much and confuse their senses so much that they actually think that this is real. They suspend reality and allow themselves to really be in the haunt.
So we work on decoys and what that looks like, and how to create suspense and tension, and then finally the startle scare. We have over 200 haunters, and we continue to hire throughout season, because it's not for everybody, so some people drop off and we add people. And then we also triple our security presence.
Do you have to keep up with horror trends? Like this thing seemed scary a couple years ago, but now it feels kind of bland and this new horror theme has bubbled up?
There definitely is [that thought process]. Like when we added Planet Zombie in 2017, zombies were all the rage. Walking Dead, Z Nation and all these TV shows hyping up the zombies. But at least in the last couple years I've been to TransWorld, it's been more about the paranormal and possession and more things like that. So it is you start to see some trends. Looking at he reality that we're in now, any sort of like psych ward or pandemic-type of haunt could be coming in the next couple of years, because that's the reality that people are living in, and you create your fear out of people's fears in reality.
What's your nightly routine look like with Scarywood?
Our first call times for makeup come in at 3 pm. We have a backstage manager and a makeup manager, just getting wardrobe and getting people into makeup. During that time, I walk through all the haunts and make sure all the maintenance is getting done. Then I come back and have a sheet that shows where our staffing levels are for each haunt, so we're moving people around to make sure that we're feeling complete and whole in all the haunts.
We do stretches and vocals and fun giveaways for our actors. I mean they're here 15 nights, you know? This is not a full-time job for anybody, so it's designed to be fun. If you're not having fun, it's not for you, because you're not making a career out of scaring people.
During the night, a lot of just line management. Making sure that the lines aren't going out of control and we have to just conga line for an hour just to get people into this thing. And then walking through each haunt and making sure that our actors are hitting their spots. If they need any help, we will sit with them for a good 10-15 minutes, and just watch them and show them this is what you do.
And if we're light in some areas, I'll throw a costume on and go out there and scare people, which I really enjoy doing. Especially at the beginning and the end of the night, because people are really primed at the beginning of the night and then at the end of the night they think everybody's gone, and then you scare me one last time, and that's the last thing they remember.
Do you have a favorite scary costume?
I love being in a ghillie suit and hiding in a bush. It's the most unexpected. I mean, it's like a 95% hit rate on scares. They don't see you at all.
Every once in a while you'll scare a guy in a group and he'll be like, "Oh! That was the first time all night they got me!" And it's like, "Yes, we did it!"