What it’s like to work at a haunted house

They say face your fears.

So that’s exactly how I ended up hiding in a makeshift cavern, costumed as a voodoo priestess, and trying my hand at scaring people who were making their way through a haunted house.

It was, for me, an epic Halloween-themed role reversal.

For years, I’ve been going to haunted houses. And, I hate to brag, but I’m the best kind of haunted house guest. I scream. I coil back in fear when a creepy character pops out of a corner. I almost always trip during the chainsaw chase at the end. I’m legitimately frightened, and for some reason, I seek out that adrenaline rush year after year.

I thought it would interesting to go behind-the-scenes of a haunted house. The 13th Floor Haunted House in Denver (which, after years of research, I contend is the scariest one in Colorado) graciously entertained my request and I wrote about the experience for The Denver Post.

(Here’s a promotional video for the 13th Floor’s experience this year. As you can see, it’s frightening! Like, really, don’t watch if you’re easily scared.)

I embedded myself in the deep, dark underworld of haunted houses… where the chirpy actors listen to Disney music, snack on candy and tell jokes while transforming into creepy clowns and monsters. What an unexpected juxtaposition!

First, I got my costume assigned to me. Then, I sat down in the chair and my makeup artist transformed my face in about 10 minutes. (She was speedy!) I actually scared myself when I looked in the mirror after she finished.

Here’s before my makeup:


Here’s after my makeup:


In haunted house acting, there’s a pecking order I quickly learned. Some costumes are more coveted than others. The more experienced actors get to be the ones that go out in the parking lot and mingle with the crowd. First impressions matter, even at haunted houses!

Instead of simply shouting “boo” or “aargh,” an experienced actor costumed as my counterpart (a voodoo priest), told me it’s more effective to mumble something inexplicable or change up a nursery rhyme. Example: “Eenie-meenie-miney-mo, I’m going to chop off your toe.” If all else fails, just breathe heavily and follow the scare seekers for an uncomfortably long time.


The make-up team also shared some tips with me that you can use this Halloween to do a last-minute boo-tiful makeover. A red lipliner used instead as an eyeliner adds to the scare factor. You can find creepy colored contacts at a costume store and give your eyes an almost transparent look. And, if you got some eyeshadow or contouring powders, be extra liberal with it and give your cheekbones a sunken look.

Once it was showtime, I took to my position. I had a button I could push that prompted a large animatronic dinosaur to let out a distracting wail so that I could jump out and execute my scare. I was nervous: Would my scares be good enough? After all, people were paying to shake in their boots, and I needed to give the people what they wanted!

A couple came through, holding hands, and I was a tad to over-enthusiastic on my first scare. But, it worked. The woman literally jumped and screamed.

And, out of habit, responded: “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!”

Rookie mistake!