Friday, October 4, 2013
KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando takes you behind the scenes of the Scream Zone for some haunted house auditions.
Last year, Halloween sales reached a record-setting $8 billion making it the second-largest commercial holiday, topped only by Christmas. This also means opportunities for seasonal jobs. In San Diego, one business conducts an afternoon of interviews for jobs that required a special set of skills, like screaming and being certified on a chainsaw.
"That’s correct," Jennifer Struever says, "We do have chainsaws throughout our attraction and we’re always looking for folks who have a passion for wielding a chainsaw while wearing make up and costume and just scaring the heck out of people."
Struever is the event manager for Scream Zone, a truly horrifying haunted complex at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. She conducts interviews inside the Scream Zone’s tented maze in a room that could be Leatherface’s kitchen, with a slab of meat hanging from the ceiling and impressive cutlery on the wall.
"We do ask people if they have any problems with chainsaw fumes, moving floors, strobe lights, loud noises — we need to know if they are allergic to stage blood or latex because they will be experiencing that in their costumes and make up," Struever adds.
Over at the haunted castle end of the Scream Zone tent, a huge green demon salivates over potential victims — I mean applicants — as they wait to be called into their interview. It’s so hot that multiple fans do little to help, and the heat feels like it could melt the flesh off the living dead.
Gerardo Figueroa reanimates for me.
"I’d like to be a zombie," Figueroa states, "It seems like it would be really fun especially with the new attraction that they are going to have."
Zombie paintball safari — that interests Autumn Maize who’s eager to display her undead expertise.
"Well since zombies can’t really breath or anything there’s not really much in the way of sound that they make except for maybe some guttural gases kind of like [gives example]. But you can make some great sounds with your mouth like chewing sounds [gives example again] that don’t require breathing so I get a little technical," Maize explains.
Maize is exactly the type of person Struever looks for.
"We’re looking for folks who have a passion for Halloween and any theatrical or athletic experience," Struever says.
Or lung power as Samantha Topacio demonstrates.
"You know I haven’t screamed in awhile cause no one really recreationally screams for fun, you know," Tapacio explains. She gives an example but her voice cracks a little. She performed better at her audition.
"I did one that was a victim type thing. And then the other one was more like a creepy antagonist type character," Tapacio says after exiting her interview.
The screams landed her the job and got her a high five from Ashley Amaral who’s been working at the Scream Zone for years. The petite, perky blond Amaral takes wicked delight in her job and the horror she brings to Scream Zone patrons.
"It is so awesome to see big burly men crumble to the ground, they think they’re so tough, they come in and “Oh you’re just a girl, please.” And they just crumble, they will run off and say, “Oh, blank, no, I’m outta here,'" Amaral says.
Each time someone flees for an emergency exit, it’s a bloody feather in Amaral’s or her co-workers’ cap. There’s a scoreboard where they keep a tally of victims who don’t make it through. Last year it was 523.
Owner Robert Bruce designs the scares for Scream Zone.
"You know who gets the most pleasure out of that are the actors. They like to keep track, you know they keep track out of how many people didn’t make it through, and it kind of gauges how scary your haunt is or how scary your actors are so the actors get great pleasure in somebody who doesn’t go all the way through or loses control of their bodily functions," Bruce says with a laugh.
Bruce and his team give a whole new meaning to customer satisfaction.
The Scream Zone (with its Haunted Hay Ride, House of Horror, and Zombie Paintball Safari) as well as The Haunted Hotel, Haunted Trail in Balboa Park, and the new kid-friendly attraction at Belmont Park are all run by Bruce and are open now through the first weekend in November.