Secrets of a Halloween Scare Actor

They get assaulted, they get covered in fur, and they get high-fives from their bosses when guests pee their pants

Go to a theme park after dark in October and you’ll likely come face to face with a zombie. Or maybe a werewolf, a monster or some other ghoul. Those are performers paid to jump out of bushes and sneak up behind you. Disneyland keeps it genteel (think Mickey with vampire teeth), but Magic Mountain, Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm, and the Queen Mary pour buckets of blood into their Halloween spectacles. Mick Ignis is an actor who works with the Cinema Makeup School to bring foam and latex creatures to life. He spent two seasons (2012 and 2013) working Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood and reveals the truth about the life of a “scare actor.”

1. Violence Comes With the Job
“Everyone I know has been assaulted in some way. People get punched in the face all the time. I know a girl who popped out of a maze and got kicked in the chest. It can get dangerous. People pay a lot of money to go to this event to get scared. Then they get upset that they got scared.”

2. So Does Urine
“Some guests are runners. Some will cower in the corner. That’s the worst thing you can do; that means we’re all going to surround you until you get on the floor and curl up in a ball. Then all six of us would hold hands and dance around them until we saw a puddle on the floor. We’d get a high-five from the supervisor if somebody pissed their pants.”

3. Enough With the Selfies
“A lot of guests would get upset when the actors wouldn’t take selfies with them. Remember that you’re walking into a live performance. Would you stop actors doing Hamlet and say ‘Hey, would you take a picture with me really fast?’”

4. It Requires Technique
“You can follow these people around and freak them out as much as possible. Sometimes I would lean into people’s ears and speak Latin, but usually there’s no time, it’s just a quick burst scare.”

5. Victims Aren’t Chosen at Random
“We try to go after the ones that are in the middle of all their friends. That one person is going to give you the best scream. If you show fear, you’re going to see something.”

6. It’s A Thrill
“There are a lot of aspiring actors. I do creature stuff for film and TV, but a lot of people have the most boring jobs you can imagine selling insurance or something and save it all up for horror nights. They look forward to it all year and do the most fantastic job.”

7. You Have to Learn to Save Your Voice
“There are some roles where you’ll have someone screaming or speaking, but if you’re constantly screaming your voice is going to be gone the next day. I had a very loud, high-pitched scream I worked on that I could do night after night. The scream got a lot of scares and my voice held out until the very last night.”

8. Navigation Can be Difficult
“Sometimes you have almost no vision but a lot of the action is choreographed. You almost develop a sixth sense.”

9. It Requires Lots of Understudies
“You always have multiples of the same character. One year we had eight girls of similar height and similar facial structure playing the same part on constant rotation. She appears in multiple places in the same maze.”

10. Diversity is a Blessing
“Monsters come in all different sizes. Extremes are a big thing for this. I get a lot of work because I’m tall and my slender frame allows people to build anything off of me. They call me the human armature. I know a lot of little people who are very popular and former pro wrestlers who do this sort of thing.”

11. It’s Hard Work
“It takes a lot of physical dexterity and strength. It’s a monster workout. Everyone I know who works for the haunts loses 10 to 15 pounds.”

12. It’s Authentic
“For the Alien Vs. Predator maze we recreated all the characters from the original molds from that film. They’re the same suits you saw in the film. It’s as close as you can get to walking on to the original film set.”

13. It’s Intense
“Some costumes are more intense than others. There was a guy in the circus area wearing a bear suit with a hooked claw running around; he was covered in fur and wearing a fat suit. It’s 90 degrees in L.A. in the early days of our season. A few nights later they said ‘No more bear.’”

14. It’s Hard to Eat
“When you’re in full prosthetics with lips glued around your mouth you can’t bite into a giant cheeseburger. Recently I played a creature with a huge animatronic head and I’m completely locked inside this thing so they had me sucking a Jamba Juice smoothie through a straw in this creature’s neck.”

15. There’s a Fraternity of Ghouls
“We always go out to dinner after the event. We turn in our costumes but if you go to Bob’s Big Boy at 2 a.m. and see dozens of people that look exhausted with black paint around their eyes, those are the performers after horror nights.”