Facts of the Job
Job Title: Haunted House Actor
Average Pay: £6.50-10/hr in the UK
Qualification/Experience Needed: Acting experience preferred but not necessary
Got a penchant for smearing paint and prosthetics on your face and making people cry? Do you get told to stop traumatising the neighbours’ kids every Halloween? Well as long as you can be trusted not to get too carries away, it looks like we might have the perfect way for you to get a bit of extra moula next October.
A better name for a haunted house actor would be a professional scarer, because that’s essentially what you’re being paid to do. People who are looking for something a bit more authentic than curling up on the sofa watching the 17th instalment of the Saw series on Halloween, pay to walk around a dark set while actors try their best to scare them into submission. If you’re not familiar with these sort haunted houses don’t think you’ve fallen out the loop, they’re not all that big in the UK right now, but in the US the phenomena is rapidly expanding. The combination of increasingly realistic make-up and stagecraft with an increasingly desensitised population leads to a sort of horrifying, scare-off arms race, where haunted houses compete to provide the most extreme, terrifying experience. This wonderful concoction means that demand for haunted houses is higher and higher year after year, with thrill-seekers desperately searching for the next big fright.
In 2014 one in five of the adults celebrating Halloween in the US planned on doing so with a visit to a haunted house according to the National Retail Federation. Those are some impressive numbers and the 2,000-odd haunted houses now charging admission in the US reflects that. This small town’s-worth of haunted houses offers a varying array of scariness and realism to choose from. From a comically silly vampire’s manor to a graphically traumatising depiction of torture intended to scar you for life, every ‘scare-level’ is catered for here.
Stories from even the more ‘mid-level’ haunted houses can be fairly shocking; one guy broke through a temporary plaster wall to escape a scarer, leaving a human shaped shaped hole in it because he was so scared. This sort of reaction seems pretty extreme, but it’s not unheard of for people to even have heart attacks because of how scared they’ve been. The actors are almost entirely responsible for evoking such extreme responses and that’s no surprise given the lengths they often go to to reduce grown men to quivering puddles of tears. At one haunted house, an actress in a full body harness, hidden under their clothing, would stand amongst the other visitors in line for the haunted house, often with her friends or making conversation with strangers. Out of nowhere one of the big male actors dressed as leatherface would grab the handle from under her pony tail which was attached to the body harness and drag her screaming into the darkness, much to the horror of everyone in the crowd. So commitment to the job is absolutely essential.
Responsibilities and Duties
Due to the massive variance in the types of haunted houses out there, there’s not explicit standardisation in terms of what’s expected of you and how they are run more generally. So, as the workers haven’t unionised (yet), it’s pretty much up to each individual location as to how they go about their business and what you’re responsibilities are there.
The high-end haunted houses, where they produce more of a nightmare-inducing, avant-garde, immersive theatre production (and you have to sign a waiver before entering), will only hire professional trained actors. Others, of the more traditional haunted house variety, will prefer experienced scarers who have played their roles every Halloween for the past few years. Some may give you a bit of training, a Scaring 101, others will throw you in the deep end and just see what happens. So your responsibilities could vary from delivering entire monologues and learning carefully choreographed routines to simply shouting ‘boo’ when a customer walks past your spot.
Things like your whole character that you play could be down to you, from the costume and props to the weird limp and bad Scottish accent. This could mean you having to buy and provide all the material yourself or choosing between a selection that the haunted house has in stock. At the same time, everything could be just as easily chosen for you, with none of your input what-so-ever, so you’re always going to get something a bit different depending on where you end up. What will be consistent however is your duty to scare the bejeezus out of people and not break character while doing it, unless it’s an absolute emergency.
Due to the nature of walking around with props scaring people and the prevalence of heart attacks when doing so, emergencies are an accepted part of the job. So responding in a fast, calm and professional manner is key to make sure that when emergencies do occur, they are controlled without a hitch.
Should You Become a Haunted House Actor?
You will get punched. More than once. It won’t be every night, or even every week, but it seems like the actors performing the main scaring duties are all fairly accustom to being hit. This is is just the fight or flight response to being scared out of your mind and forgetting that you’re surrounded by actors, fake blood and dry ice. It seems like it’s no big deal for the actors who are used it, often padded by layers of latex and foam to dampen the punch, but it’s still a work hazard you will have to prepare for if you choose this career path.
On average you’ll end up working 2-3 nights a week, but depending on the house it could be up to 6. Times also vary massively, some places could be open from when it gets dark until 2am, but most close up at midnight. Usually this will last throughout October, with everything finishing up on Halloween itself, haunted houses rarely operate into November. Over the season, working average hours for average pay this could net you around £300. Now, to many this won’t seem like a lot over a month, but most scarers end up going back year after year because they absolutely love doing it. It’s a great little cash boost just before Christmas and the hours don’t interfere with other work you might be doing. When you look at it, the money’s comparable to what you’d get from a part time bar or restaurant job, but here you get to have a lot more fun. Also, if you come back year after year, start to build some experience and get real good at it, then you can start to get better paid at the more up-market houses.
If you’ve got the time and need the money then it might be worth looking into. If you get started looking and applying in September then you’ll be ready for the scaring season in October. As I said earlier, the industry isn’t quite as big in the UK, so finding a local haunted house may be difficult for a lot of people, but if there is one in your area then give it a shot. Though you should first make sure that the bonus for causing a heart attack is fairly substantial, you can’t be wasting that talent for nothing.