Lessons Learned From A Haunted House

Ah, October! Season of so many things dark and horrific! Everything that is beautiful! The one holiday I adore! How it makes me reminisce, back to my younger days, working in a haunted house. And the things I have learned from it.

After transitioning high schools, adjustment was tough. I was friendless again, and trying not to make all the stupid mistakes I’d made in junior high. So, what was a poor girl to do? Be nice to everyone, rule number one. Second, try to join some clubs. Through my short-lived association with the drama club that year, I found out that the local haunted house needed actors. Well, having been a fan of suspense and horror for the last couple years, I was quick to fall for the idea.

Haunted House

Yes, the haunted house in question looked just like this.

At the meeting I was directed to, however, were not a bunch of drama geeks. Nah, these were the kids I’d always been afraid of—and admired a bit. The rebels. The goths and emos. And there I was, probably the only person not wearing black!

But I got in with ease, and devoured the cast manual. Though I failed in my first role as an asylum patient, I was given a new role within two weeks. Zombie.

And that was when I met her. My haunted house role model. A very short goth in her early twenties, who didn’t take crap from anyone. She was the queen of that room, and we all appropriately worshiped her. Her motto, which I instantly absorbed? “Suck it up and deal with it.” Or, sometimes, “Go hard or go home.”

I only got to work with her a few weeks before my throat gave out and I had to be transferred to a quieter role, but those weeks formed my perception of my work at the haunted house. According to the owners, I became one of the best, most versatile actresses they had. I didn’t whine if I wasn’t given the role I wanted. And I did my best, every single night of every single season for five years. I got bruised, cut, groped, suffered allergic reactions, and lost my voice repeatedly. It didn’t matter. I sucked it up, and dealt with it. I emulated her take-no-crap attitude.

Since then, of course, I’ve learned. You can’t always suck it up and deal with it. Sometimes, you can’t give your all. But sometimes, you can. And when you do, you shine. Heck, you’re freaking made of moonbeams!

As to the other lesson in the plural title of this post, you know why I love horror, even though I’ve now got a pretty permanent fear of the dark? It’s looking that fear right in the face. Acknowledging it. I’m facing something that’s meant to scare me, and staring it down. Telling it that it can’t. Proving I’m stronger than that. Pushing back against my fear with everything I’ve got.

Beyond anything else, I think those were the most important lessons I learned in those five years.

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My Love Affair with Horror

Horror. Horror! Oh, the horror!

Scary stuff. Fear. Things that go bump in the night. Something under the bed or in the closet. The monsters of reality and our imaginations. Of course, here, the Kingdom of Under The Covers isn’t safe.

Muahahahaha!

Moving past that.

I’m a horror junkie. I love seeing if I can be scared, and I love scaring other people. Acting in a haunted house was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done.

For me, subjecting myself to horror movies is challenging myself not to be scared. Seeing how fearless I am. Moving forward when others shrink away.

When someone is afraid of you, you have power over them. They’re the prey, and you’re joined in a complex dance. And it’s a wonderful, addictive feeling. Why do you think so many people have fed off of it? When someone is afraid of you, you can control them. Make them do what you want. If you know a person’s fears, you can manipulate them. And being able to do that is quite the thrill.

For instance, think of how often men are manipulated because of their male ego. A fear of not being masculine.Now, I may not be a good person, but let me straighten this out—I’m not a horrible person, either. I promise, I’ve never killed anyone, and I’m a relatively good little Mormon girl. I’m just pointing this stuff out because it’s interesting to me.

I think my love of horror stemmed from wanting to prove what a little badass (forgive the language) I was. Step away from the whiny, sensitive crybaby image. I read Dracula when I was ten, and I watched Stephen King’s Rose Red the same year. Both terrified me, of course. Particularly Rose Red, which is still near the top of my favorite horror movies.

At eleven, me and my dad started going to see horror movies together. Like Darkness and White Noise, both of which also gave me nightmares. I tried reading  Dean Koontz’s Hideaway that year and The Voice of The Night the next. Both were too adult for me at the time. And then, of course, my sister read Koontz’s Lightning, and warned me off his books, saying he was “a sex maniac.” Well, she was only thirteen or fourteen.

So, staying away from Koontz, I read The Shining in eighth grade, Bag of Bones that summer. Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot during freshman year, I believe. Sometime around there, my dad decided to show me Night of the Living Dead, which I couldn’t watch all the way through because my mother had made greasy, flavorless chicken for dinner, and that combined with watching zombies eating intestines made me sick.

Sophomore year I went to my first drama club meeting, where they were requesting actors for the local haunted house. I decided to try it. And that, let me tell you, is where my true love of horror came from. My inability to scare easily. I worked in a haunted house that was really haunted. How much scarier could you get?

So, after that season, I started expanding my horizons with Silence of the Lambs and Resident Evil. I picked up another Koontz book, and found myself hooked. I started watching most of the horror movies I could get my hands on, though I avoided most of the classics and the slashers, because they looked stupid.

And after four more years of working in that haunted house before retiring, as it were, I think I know my horror pretty well.

My Top Ten Horror Movies:

  1. Insidious—Made me jump, even in the height of my cocky horror-movies-don’t-scare-me phase, and wasn’t in the least what I was expecting.
  2. Dead Silence—Scared me so badly I had to go sit outside in the sun, and I still didn’t feel safe!
  3. The Rite—A good possession movie for those who don’t watch R-rated movies, but still want quality. Can’t get better than the great Anthony Hopkins!
  4. Rose Red—One of my classic favorites, terrified me for days on end the first time I saw it. The best in haunted house movies.
  5. Devil—Some good jumps, but the story is the best part.
  6. Stay Alive—Atmosphere, baby! Horror game that’s for reals? Erzebet Bathory? Heck yeah!
  7. The Woman in Black—Saw this with my sister and my best friend on my birthday. Sister doesn’t do the horror thing. Her reaction was the best part, but it’s a good, creepy story with some satisfying jumps.
  8. 1408—I like this one mostly for the story and the concept, although it has a few good jumps and some fun twists.
  9. White Noise—A favorite from my younger days. Still has the power to make me jump, besides being a good concept.
  10. The Devil Inside—That woman is seriously disturbing. That’s some quality acting, right there!

I’d add a list of books, too, but it’s so incredibly rare for a book to scare me. They very rarely have the same power over me as movies.