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Behind the scenes at a haunted house

The warm-colored leaves mark the end of yet another summer as fall awakens once again, branching out to a diverse world of people with different ways of appreciating the season. Some prefer to spend the fall in a low-key, cozy manner by enjoying hot cider and quietly carving pumpkins indoors. On the other hand, there are the thrill-seekers to whom a month dedicated to Halloween appeals. Those who are enticed by zombies and ghosts beam at the prospect of watching horror movies and becoming a walking replica of their favorite creepy characters on Halloween night. This particular crowd of people with such interests includes those who design haunted houses and open them to a public hungry for such excitement.

If you have ever been a brave visitor at a haunted house, you may have wondered what kind of time and effort went into the attraction while walking through a maze of self-induced vulnerability. The answer may be as surprising to you as a high-impact scare brought on by a lunging otherworldly creature. While a haunted house may be fun for both patrons and its actors, its construction and management involves blood (no pun intended), sweat and tears. NeXt got a closer look at this type of work from Alexx Argen, a member of the creative department at Final Fear.

NeXt: What year did Final Fear start operating?

Alexx Argen: 2001.

NeXt: And how long have you worked for Final Fear?

AA: This is my fifth year.

NeXt: How has business grown or changed over the years?

AA: Audiences are looking for something newer and different. We always have to be ahead of the curve to try and scare customers.

NeXt: And how have customers changed over the years?

AA: They want scarier things; stuff that scared customers 10 years ago does not scare people today.

NeXt: Yes, true. On an average night how many customers come through?

AA: On a busy night, a couple hundred customers visit.

NeXt: How long does it typically take to prepare for the haunt?

AA: A couple months of solid work.

NeXt: How big of a crew do you work with?

AA: About 10 people altogether.

NeXt: What is a typical work day like?

AA: It’s all over the place; some days are just building, because you have to build a haunted house; what with painting and electrical, it takes up a large chunk of time. The fun part is to go through the houses and select themes for each one.

NeXt: Do you guys get any inspiration for themes, such as movies or trends in horror?

AA: Well, we always watch the latest horror movies and what’s scaring people these days. Like I said, we try to stay slightly ahead.

NeXt: On a regular night of operation, about how much time does the crew spend ensuring that all is in order?

AA: Well, at least before we even open the doors, we are at the haunted house for a couple of hours getting everything running. There are things we have to fill, such as fog machines, as well as make sure everything is working in the correct manner. And throughout the night, we’re always checking on everything because certain things will stop working their correct way, and we would have to fix them.

NeXt: And how do you obtain props?

AA: We have a various bunch of sources; there’s several companies all over the country and lots of catalogs that make props such as body parts, bones, fake bricks … all kinds of props.

NeXt: What sort of criteria do you have for hiring actors?

AA: You have to make sure that the actors are comfortable working at a haunted house. I mean, some people just can’t work in the dark with loud noises going on all around them.

NeXt: And have you ever been scared in your own houses?

AA: Oh, of course. When I work late nights here, it can be really scary because it’s a big building and there would be only one or two more people working with me. And we have a bunch of haunted props that we are putting in one of the houses this year; we do have a lot of props that we have acquired over the years and we believe that they are actually haunted.

NeXt: How have you gotten those props?

AA: We know several people. There are a lot of props that were actually given to us from people; for example, we have haunted pictures. People had those pictures in their own houses and some weird occurrences happened. Those people passed it on and on before they finally gave them to us because they knew that we would use them the right way.

NeXt: What does it take to scare you?

AA: It takes a lot to scare me, but if I go to another haunted house and if I am amazed at how it looks and feel like I am in a different place, then somebody can sneak up on me just to distract me enough to get a good scare out of me.

NeXt: What is your best experience and worst experience working here?

AA: My best experience was when we opened for Christmas last year; I got to change all the music in the haunted houses and play all this goofy Christmas music. It was really exciting to open a haunted house for Christmas; it was so cheerful that it was scary. That’s what I liked about it. And my worst experience was during my first night ever working for Final Fear. They were going to have me act as Leatherface for the night, and I had a chain saw. It was a really cool chain saw, but the problem with those is that they break all the time. I spent so much of my first night messing with the chain saw and trying to get it to work. It was just a pain, and I felt bad because I was trying to fix it when I should have been running around with it.

NeXt: And what does a horror fanatic such as yourself do during the off season?

AA: I work for another company that builds haunted houses all year round. I’ve also made movies and helped out on TV shows. But I recommend that people come out this season and see what’s new. We’ve made a lot of changes, and it will be worth it.

Casey Baun is a senior at Orchard Park High School.