Ever since my first visit to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Orlando in 1997, I have wanted to become a scareactor. A scareactor (pronounced like “character”) is derived from the words “scare” and “actor” (obviously) and is the name given to the actors that fill haunted houses and scare zones with the goal of filling park guests with fear. On and off for the past twelve years, I have repeatedly reminded myself to audition to become one of these actors as I couldn’t think of many jobs more fun than scaring the wits out of tourists and locals in a theme park.
Of course, in helping to launch and run Orlando Attractions Magazine over the past two years, my role as creative director and videographer has evolved into one of the most fun jobs on the planet, allowing me to frequent the best attractions in Orlando in an effort to share them with the world. As luck would have it, my current job and my previously-desired job became one in the same last week when Universal invited us to become Halloween Horror Nights scareactors for a night. So although I never did actually audition for the role as I had been telling myself to do for so many years, I was finally getting my chance to experience one of my favorite annual events from a whole new perspective and I was beyond excited to play my part (that’s me on the left in the above photo).
This is the third consecutive year that Universal Orlando has invited local media to take part in what they call “Boo Camp.” While becoming a scareactor ordinarily requires auditions and training, Universal allows reporters on one special night to hop into a make-up chair, get fitted with gory silicone prosthetics and some fake blood, put on a costume, and after only ten minutes of instructions, head out into a scare zone to try to frighten Halloween Horror Nights attendees.
For this year’s Boo Camp, we were to step into the world of the Containment scare zone. Before I offer my thoughts on how much fun becoming a scareactor was, here’s a video showing the whole transformation process as well as an explanation of the scare zone:
While I have watched numerous making-of features showing Hollywood actors getting made up with all kinds of intricate and gruesome make-up and appliances attached to their faces, this was the first time I had a chance to experience it for myself. The silicone prosthetic boils and pustules that were attached to our faces are made in-house at Universal Studios, allowing them to go through as many as they need each night. They are attached using a silicone gel and then painted with an airbrush using alcohol-based paint (which is quite cold when applied). After layers of red, orange, and white paint are added and mixed for realism, a final layer of KY gel keeps the prosthetics looking fresh and moist. The whole makeup process took around 10 minutes.
As you can see, the make-up style is designed to be somewhat over-the-top. It’s not quite the same as a Hollywood shoot where subtle make-up can go a long way. In a dark, foggy scare zone, the makeup needs to be instantly visible and obvious as each actor will generally interact with a park guests for a mere few seconds.
I found it interesting that the artist that applied applied my makeup has never been a scareactor. He told me that he prefers to stay behind-the-scenes, having been a Horror Nights makeup artist for six years.
The costumes featured in the Containment scare zone are rather simple, consisting of ordinary clothes covered in fake blood and pus. I was handed a button-down shirt and a pair of polyester pants, which is not a terribly unusual outfit for me to wear. Of course, trying to fit into the character of a working man who had suddenly become infected and confused by a disease, I decided to walk around with my shirt half untucked. Matt Roseboom, our editor, was given a more urban outfit with baggy jeans, a t-shirt, and a light blue hoodie to go on top. Luckily for him, it wasn’t terribly hot out that night.
As simple as the costumes were, they still helped to complete the transformation. It only takes a small amount of fake blood on a shirt to change someone from an ordinary park guest into a scareactor, which makes it quite clear why guest are not allowed to wear costumes to Halloween Horror Nights.
Containment is one of the easier scare zones to be trained for. We were told that almost anything goes in trying to scare guests walking through the area. Since the concept of the zone was that a bunch of people were leading their normal lives until they were unexpectedly quarantined and are now quickly turning into mindless zombies, we basically could react however we think we would if that happened in real life. Acceptable scare tactics and actions included confusion, limping, stumbling, screaming, running, crying, asking for help, acting like a hungry flesh-eating zombie, and just about anything else imaginable.
However, a couple basic rules do apply to all of Universal’s scareactors. First and foremost, touching of guests is not allowed. Scareactors can come as close to guests as they would like but are not supposed to actually touch them. Second, keeping an eye open for drunk or otherwise amped up guests is smart. Guests can react to being scared in a number of ways and punching scareactors is certainly an unacceptable (but possible) one, so all actors should be watching. There is, however, a difference between a guest pulling their arms up as a defense and putting up fists to throw a punch and actors need to be able to shrug off as much incidental contact as possible.
After those brief instructions, we were asked to let out a big scream to get ourselves ready to head out into the streets and do some scaring.
Inside the Scare Zone
If I had to choose two words to describe what being a scareactor is like, they would definitely be exhilarating and exhausting. The act of seeing a guest react in horror as I walked or ran up to them is truly like no other. Show director Michael Roddy described it as the same feeling you get as a kid when leaping out of a closet to scare your grandmother, times a million – and I’d say that’s a fairly accurate description.
The most effective tactic that I found for creating the most screams was based on the fact that my costume was rather ordinary-looking. I would lurk off to the side of the street, hiding in the fog, and pick out a potential victim – someone who looked like he or she could use a good scare. I waited until they got within a few feet of me and casually start walking ahead of them, with my back turned toward them. To the guests, I must have looked like just another tourist slowly walking through the scare zone. After a couple of steps I would quickly spin around to face them, show off my gruesome pustule-covered face, and scream, “Help me!”, within inches of their faces. At the very least, this tactic resulted in a startle. At best, it resulted in a group of girls screaming in terror as they jumped and ran past me.
Throughout the night, I came to find out that while the no-touching rule seemed rather simple, it proved to be difficult to follow. While I never intentionally touched any park guests, I will admit that I accidentally bumped into quite a few while running up to them to get a scare. It was always light contact but it’s something that I would definitely have to work on if I ever decided to get a job as a scareactor. Of course, while walking around at Halloween Horror Nights last week, I also accidentally bumped into a guest causing her to spill beer down her shirt, so perhaps it’s simply hard to avoid contact in the crowded Halloween Horror Nights streets. Or maybe I just need to watch where I’m going.
In the total of 60 minutes we spent inside the scare zone, I probably scared somewhere around 40-50 people. There were times when I would wander the scare zone for several minutes and not find a single victim. But there were other times when large groups of guests would pinball their way down the scare zone, screaming at the sight of every scareactor they came across. I did also encounter a few “tough” guys who purposely bumped into me, one girl who held a fist up in a “don’t you dare” sort of way, and one guy who cursed at me for startling him (he seemed like the type to never get scared). But for the most part, it was a light-hearted group of guests all looking to have some fun while getting scared.
In the end, the experience of becoming a scareactor was even more fulfilling than I expected it to be. The act of scaring guests was even more thrilling and exciting than most other attractions in Orlando. The two thirty-minute shifts we “worked” flew by as if each were only a couple minutes long – a sign that I was having a blast. On the other hand, I think I put so much into those sets that if I were to work a normal shift (45 minutes on, 45 minutes off for several hours), I would probably fall over from exhaustion.
As a result of the Boo Camp experience, I have a newfound appreciation and respect for the scareactors of Halloween Horror Nights. While I am rarely scared while walking through scare zones, I will definitely make more of an effort to acknowledge the actors’ hard work next time I am at one of these events. And to all you “tough” guys out there: don’t be rude to the actors, they’re just doing their jobs.
One final note: A big thanks goes to Jeff Lange from JeffLangeDVD.com for taking pictures and video of us inside the scare zone.
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