Monday, October 22, 2012

HHN 2011 Memories

I am inclined to treat this spookhouse design as though it were intended for Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights, and the reason for this is the familiarity I have with the venue from working as a ScareActor back in 2011. Why was I cast for a role? My Substantial Beard. See, an Antarctic base full of Norwegians is a beardy, beardy place, and it turns out one of the spookhouse mazes they were producing involves the Thing prequel that was just released back then. Here is a recap of last Halloween Night.

First off: Wardrobe, Makeup, and Props at the ScareBase. It was Halloween, so all the Makeup and Wardrobe staff were dressed up as only genuine Hollywood pros can. I returned my pickaxe prop at the end of the night to a Snake Plisskin. I was devastated to be told that he had to explain who he was to some people.

Yes, it really is a monster of coordination just to get literally hundreds and hundreds of performers prepped in just a few hours every night. Now you know why ticket prices would be so high.

 O HAI!  Who's This?

Why, it's a "Nurse Rozetta" from the Alice Cooper maze! But what is she doing?

She's doing my makeup! U Jelly?

This is Lisette, and she is a terrific makeup artist. Over the duration of the event, several people would specifically request her. No, she did not dress like this on the other days leading up to Halloween, so you can factor that out of the equation.

This is as close as I will ever come to that Fabled Glamorous Life in Hollywood I keep hearing about.

The Final Result.  I heard people get cold just looking at me. But now there's a reason for that.

I PhotoShopped snow on the mountain in the background so the scene would look a bit more congruous. Frickin' Southern California, man, with its 80-degree Octobers.

I was plenty sore after the final five-day run. I was popping Ibuprofin like Dr. House gobbles Vicodin and I thought I should upgrade. What wasn't helping is that I inhaled a granule of that fake frost that peppered my beard and didn't think too much of the resultant protracted coughing. That is, until another granule dropped into a cup of water from which I was drinking, and it swelled to a gelatinous blob the size of an ice cube. So that nested in my lung until it threatened to gestate into a full chestburster. Fun.

That photo is not desaturated. That's all as you would see it in real life.

An aside regarding the wardrobe: Do you want to lose weight? Drop the expensive gym membership. Just get a parka, snow pants, snow boots and a thermal cap and jump out of a door every fifteen seconds with a pickaxe while screaming at people. Do that for an hour. Repeat after a half hour break. Boom. That's your diet plan right there. It is not unheard of for people working the Chainsaw Brigade in the ScareZones to drop ten pounds over the run of the event.

Now we move onto the "Thing: Assimilation" maze itself.

This is the exterior as seen from the queue line. It does look cold and creepy, doesn't it?

Oh, look. A frozen ham.

As we all know from our own photos, standard flash photography always goes horribly, flattening out the scene and presenting the scenic finish unflatteringly in unintended light, but it's necessary to pull some of the details.

The exterior of the maze itself is just a large black rental tent encasing the temporary scenic finished hallways, but your eye just gets automatically drawn to this façade, so strangely, you don't tend to notice the tarps.

This first room looks horrible only because of the flash. It's all glamorous icy blue lighting positioned so you don't notice that big gaping hole in the back where THIS bastard...

...pops out at you accompanied by a switch-activated roar and strobe. The ScareActor stands on a platform behind the wall so it looms over you like it's eight feet tall.

This is the Autopsy Room, where this alien corpse died in the process of assimilating a human. An actor in a half-formed flesh mask lies in there, lifting the chestplate slowly to reveal himself. While you're transfixed by that, another guy rushes out of the door with a grindsaw right at you. Hilarity ensues. And screaming.

You walk right past this, and there's no "velvet ropes" separating you from the exhibits. They pulled molds for these sculpts from the actual props from the prequel that was just released. Keep in mind, the producers of that movie allowed unrestrained access that included acknowledging that the Halloween Horror Nights event predated the release of the film by a few weeks, so they were graciously allowing "spoilers" of the creature. Essentially, they considered this to be just one more trailer to get one interested in the upcoming movie.

Now, this is the Rec Room where I worked. Notice: the door next to the curtained passageway just kind of blends in innocuously with the scenery. At least, in the low light (it's normally darker than even this) it certainly does. Then—

BANG! This crazy sonovabitch jumps through the door, screaming accusations about your Thinginess.

Look close. This photo was taken at the end of the night. See how the jacket is a bit darker along the ribs and elbows? That's sweat. Through the undershirt and parka. I didn't even know that was possible. Peeling off the undershirt at the end of the night was like crawling through a beached giant squid. It made me suspect I was an ammonia-based lifeform.

Here's the thing: This was not the worst costume to have at the event. Maybe, and let me stress it's only a maybe, a contender for a Bronze Medal, but the Gold Standard for misery was the Werewolf costume in the House of Horrors. Think of all the insulating layers for that: Underclothes. Prosthetic Foam Hump. Fur Suit. Torn but Complete Clothing. Latex Full Head Mask and Forearm-Length gloves. Fur on Top of the Mask and Gloves. And then, pull repeated shifts throughout the night, athletically leaping about constantly at guests. I saw firsthand one guy in full costume doing four-point loping across the floor and catching up with people he was chasing. I've got nothing but respect for the Werewolves.

Here is the main reason no one paid attention to that door in the first place. This is the other corner of the room, opposite the curtained passageway on the path of travel. Everyone would be looking at the person with an alien centipede merging with his face slumped in the chair. Many people would try to press up against the pool table to keep away from him which would only line them up to travel right at the door out of which I jump. It was especially effective when he would sit still enough for people to think he was a mannequin or animatronic, then he would lurch forward and grab at them. A nonzero number of people would then scream and rush back to the entry of the room, only to work up the resolve to run past him... right toward my door. I would then pop out and attack them, causing them to scream again and repeat the process. Sometimes, even more than once for the same person. Poor self-preservation skills, some people have. Working events like this will let you see this firsthand. It's fascinating how one would think all the reflexes that make a person drop to the ground when attacked would have been evolved out of the gene pool by now, only to be proven wrong again and again.

My other shift was at this steel-framed plexiglas window. I would stand back about three feet back from this, and the lighting was strategically placed and focused to obscure me only until I was pressed up against the panes. I would launch forward when people passed by and scream warnings at them in Norwegian such as "NEI! IKKE GÅ INN DIT! SAKEN ER I LIVE! KOM UT AV DET! KOM DEG UT!" One Friday I made a grey-haired grandmother in a white jacket hit the floor when I jumped forward to bang on the window and shout at her. I can't tell if this makes me awesome or evil. No. Wait. I enjoyed it. Evil. I also got a memorable scare for the "Thing" premiere after-party, where they had cast, executives, and contest winners go through the maze after the movie. That one looked like an executive's wife, and I swore they both looked right at at me and paused before I launched myself at the window and screamed at them, figuring, oh, well, this scare's ruined, sigh, might as well do it anyway. Well, apparently, no, they didn't actually see me, and I continued Sellin' It and Yellin' It as she did that clippity-clop high heels scamper all the way back down that hallway. All The Way. I call that reaction the "Full Reverse — BVR" (Beyond Visual Range). Yes, I have chronicled all the different varieties of scare reactions I got, because I am that much of a nerd.

This variant was for when other ScareActors had to do a "changeout" in the corridor behind me, so I would corpsesicle myself against the window to block the view. I would stop breathing so I wouldn't fog the glass, and just freeze until I could either see through a slotted eye or suspect that someone was moving closer to see if I was a mannequin or not. Then I would bang on the glass and shout. It worked less often than I liked, but when it did, you know that was the scare that they would tell everyone about. Or, more to the point, their applauding friends would remind them of it forever. Yeah, I'm talking about you, Guy in the Phillies Baseball Cap.

The Radio Room. A man would be cutting his throat at the console, and squirming centipede puppets would attack from the walls.

Outside of the kitchen, this burned, half-assimilated creature lies in the regretfully only noticeably air-conditioned space in the maze. I really could've used some of that sweet, sweet A/C.

This is the penultimate creature scare, which is seen right after you part the curtains leading from the kennels.

The performer inside is also raised up so that it looms above you, and the elongated puppeteered arms have about a six-foot reach. A kickplate-switch-activated strobe and roar accompanies its lunging.

This is the final manifestation of the Thing in this maze. This one has air hoses hanging down from its, I guess, face, which makes it twitch like spastic tentacles when triggered.

It was great during the final night's march through, when, after the last guest passes, all the ScareActors collect in each subsequent room and rumba through the rest of the maze. These last two creatures waved their arms in a Woop Woop, in the air, side to side like they just didn't care. It was a genuinely fond memory of farewell. You need to understand: I'm the type who will fixate on the practical implications of the loss of a paycheck opportunity and the postpartum depression of the severance from a schedule, but joining that scene of bloodied scientists and malevolent aliens parading through the corridors made me actually happy. Even though I know for a fact it's not true, whenever I remember those few minutes, I recall hearing the music of a carnival samba, or jazz from a New Orleans wake, or even the Nutley Brass covers of Misfits songs. I'm keeping that memory encased in amber.

ScareActor in alien form backstage.

Full-Body Jaw Creature backstage.

Closeup, no flash. More like the lighting you would see inside the maze.

These are stored near the snack table...

...As are these bits of Nightmare Fuel.

The mask in the foreground is used by the actor being assimilated/digested in the alien in the Autopsy Room. Alas, what you don't really see here is that the ear is translucent. Beautiful craftsmanship.

Clearer view of the character I worked with in the Rec Room. It's astounding how when I finally did see the movie prequel after working in this maze for a few weeks, I could tell beforehand what was going to happen to what character just from the way they were dressed. The costumes are that accurate.

You thought I was kidding when I said I chronicled all the different scare reactions I got, didn't you?

In case you're wondering to what I'm referring to by the "Amy Award," be sure to check out this:

And there's a sequel as well. Some YouTube commentators were expressing doubt that her reactions were genuine, and to those people I say: You have clearly never worked in a spookhouse.

And always remember: Your Screams Are My Nourishment.

Tomorrow: The Perimeter Wall

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