Going to a local haunted house attraction is an annual Halloween tradition for many families. But you're not the only ones gearing up for a big scare: Year after year, actors dressed up as demons are tasked with the job of scaring you silly. From terrified guests to the tricks they use to really get under your skin, these actors have witnessed every spooky scenario possible. We took a look through a few to find out the secrets of being a haunted house actor:
1. They'll do whatever they can to get a scare out of you. "The gym was set up like a giant, indoor cemetery. A lot of families went through the haunted house and the kids were horrified by the zombies," explained one Reddit user who ran a haunted house. But in order to mess around with the customers, he set up a fake exit that led into the next room of the attraction. "It led to another part of the building but it looked like an exit. So I put a sign on it that said 'Thanks for coming! Please exit quietly!' so the kids would be relieved and they would run for the door. They'd push it open and Leartherface would blast his chainsaw right in their face." Um, yikes!
2. You can sometimes scare unsuspecting passersby. "I worked on a haunted train and was wearing a gimp mask while waiting on the platform for the next round of customers to board. The platform is directly across from a restaurant with outdoor seating and there were two women having dinner and facing the train station. I stood directly across from them and just stared with the mask on. They were talking so they didn't notice me for a couple of minutes. Waiting paid off, because one of them finally saw me and screamed at the top of her lungs. Everyone else at the restaurant looked to see what was happening. The other girl was laughing [hysterically]. I waved and boarded the train."
3. Sometimes customers get so scared they attack the actors. "I had one girl, maybe 90 pounds soaking wet, come at me as if I was the thing she hated most in the world. It was a complete fear reaction on her part. We refer to it as fight or flight."
Another commenter chimed in, admitting he had attacked a haunted house worker before: "I'm not a haunted house worker or actor...but I went to one when I was twelve, and some dude ran on all fours out from under a curtain, while making some ungodly noises, and before I could think, I kicked him in the throat and ran away."
4. Working in a dark room makes keeping track of workers—and time—tricky. "I noticed that the flow of people had slowed to a trickle, then stopped completely," explained one former haunted house employee. "I figured that they had closed temporarily for something, since I didn't think it was too late in the evening. Turns out, it had closed for the night, and everybody forgot I was still in there. I stood there, by myself, in an uncomfortable radiation suit, for over an hour before somebody realized I never came out."
5. The actors will learn your name and call it out to scare you. "I worked at a 'haunted hotel' style haunted house, and we had the front desk do 'check-in,' where people would give their names. As they made their way deeper, the front desk guy would run down to the basement (the most disturbing, people creeping around in the dark bit) and I would scrawl "I see you, [name]" or something similar on the wall in fake blood. The reactions were brilliant."
6. Not everyone is afraid of monsters. "I wasn't the worker, but once at Knott's Scary Farm, I got to witness a monster jump out to scare the girl in front of me in a maze. She stared at him for a bit and then whispered to him, 'Hey, so can I ask how much you guys make here? I'm interested in applying.' The then monster answered back (in his completely normal voice), 'not a lot, but the hours are flexible.'" Good to know!
7. Many actors are asked to improvise. "I volunteered for a local haunted house one year and made a girl pee herself. Literally all I did was stand right on the other side of the door and put on the [most evil] grin I could conjure up. I was dressed as some kind of crazy blood-soaked mailman or something. They didn't give me any lines or directions, they basically just told me to be scary. So, some poor girl walked in, and screamed so loudly that she just wet her pants right there. Her boyfriend just kept pushing her through my room and into the next. It was an interesting experience."
8. Heart attacks are a real possibility, and the staff must prepare to handle this type of emergency. "The first heart attack I caused was in '10. The ax I had was very real, but blunted. I had spent an hour at the hardware store dragging different axes up and down the aisle to find the one that made the perfect sound. I had been following this guy off and on since he entered the structure, dragging the ax. He ended up collapsing. Emergency stop. All lights on. Call 9-1-1. We had several people with CPR/first responder experience who jumped in and took charge. He survived with no ill effects thanks to their quick thinking. We inspected the maze, reset, and continued on."
9. Their job is to scare you, but sometimes they know they've gone too far. "I am the sole person responsible for years of therapy for a young child... He didn't say a word, but his entire body spasmed. It looked as if his skeleton was doing its best to rip its way out of his soft tissues."
10. Workers will target people who try to act tough. "We'd occasionally have an actor or two go feel out the line and pick out the 'tough guys' in a group. Then the person feeling out the line would go back to the cast and say 'Okay, there's a guy in a gray sweatshirt. He kept telling his friends that this wasn't gonna be scary.' So a few actors who...go in the group and touch the guests or mess with them would decide to mess extra hard with that one guy. I'd say about 8 times out of 10 the tough guy would be screaming and running out of the path as fast as he could. On the flipside, if somebody looks already super terrified we wouldn't mess with them as much."
11. Sometimes the guests are scarier than the workers. One haunted house actor explained that a group of teenagers came equipped with knives to try to scare the workers. "They all pulled [the knives] and one shouted at me 'Who's scared now?' To which I promptly said, 'That would be me.' I backed against the wall and the group walked past me. A few minutes later the on duty police officer came by and asked how I was, and I told him what happened. When my shift ended 30 minutes later I found the officer helping the kids that pulled the knives on me into his police car."
12. They're more likely to go off script later in the season. One worker explained that they're likely to bend the rules right before the attraction wraps up: "I worked at Universal Studios Orlando for Halloween Horror Nights and was a zombie in the streets near Mummy's Revenge. My favorite story was towards the end of the season when we more or less stopped caring. We had this lady being pushed in a wheelchair though our zone. One of my coworkers zombied up to the person pushing the wheelchair and gave them a look to say 'give me the wheelchair and don't tell the person.' So my coworker began pushing the wheelchair without the lady noticing. He pushes her probably 50 feet and she turns to say something to who she believes is pushing the chair. She screams and runs out of the chair [and] out of our zone."
13. The real fun happens when someone you know walks in. "When I was 16, I worked a couple of nights to get some volunteer hours. My room was mostly dark with glow in the dark masks from the movie Scream painted all over the walls. I wore all black and the same mask. They'd walk by, you'd scream, they'd scream, and then everyone would move along. About halfway through the first night my cousin came through with her friend. Instead of the usual scream, I slowly moved up next to her and whispered her name in her ear. She screamed and hit the ground. They had to carry her out, she refused to move. I still giggle a bit when I think about it."