Welcome To Hell Fest and Other Haunted Attractions

The U.K. poster for Hell Fest

Hell Fest hit theaters in the U.S. on September 28, 2018. I didn’t go see it during the opening weekend, so it was into October by the time I saw it. I had snuck in some Jim Beam to pour into my cherry Pepsi and I was ready to go. When it got to the first kill scene and they did not cut away from the impact of Gavin’s head exploding like a Gallagher watermelon underneath the hammer I knew I was in for a modern throwback to 80s slashers. I walked out feeling like the Halloween and horror season had officially begun. 

Hell Fest was directed by Gregory Plotkin and written by a team consisting of Seth M.Sherwood, Blair Butler, and Akela Cooper writing the screenplay with the story written by William Penick, Christopher Sey, and Stephen Susco. The soundtrack is full of electronic music that ranges from eerie to party sounds by Bear McCreary, John Massari, Brendan McKian, and Crisis Couture. 

The film stars Amy Forsyth as Natalie, Reign Edwards as Brooke and her boyfriend Christian James as Quinn, Bex Taylor-Klaus as Taylor and their boyfriend Matt Mercurio as Asher, and Roby Attal as Gavin. The movie gets some extra genre cred and a nod to horror fans with Tony-friggin-Todd as The Barker at the show. Stephen Conroy plays the killer, known as The Other. 

Hell Fest was filmed in Atlanta at Six Flags White Water with many of the actors and characters in the beginning of the film are from Netherworld Haunted House in neighboring Stone Mountain, Georgia, one of the Top 10 haunted attractions in the U.S. Many of the set decorations were borrowed from Six Flags Over Georgia Fright Fest in Atlanta. During promotion of the film, the production team designed haunted houses for Six Flags in L.A., St. Louis, and Chicago. 

With the vibrant colorations, interactive setting, and bold music, if you alter some of the dialogue and take out the cell phones, it plays like an 80’s campy slasher at its core. The group of friends planning to have fun at a party or some sort of event then it takes a turn as they’re picked off one by one by a masked killer. We saw this in movies like Terror Train, Prom Night, and Happy Birthday To Me. Most of all, it takes cues from Tobe Hooper’s 1981 film, The Funhouse. In The Funhouse, four friends decide to be funny and secretly spend a night in a funhouse at a carnival where they witness a murder and are then hunted by a deformed man in a Frankenstein mask. Hell Fest goes as far as playing off of the tagline for The Funhouse which is “Pay to get in. Pray to get out,” and put “Fun getting in. Hell getting out,” on their posters.

While our characters aren’t shelled out enough to give us a Final Girl by the more standard definition, we do get two survivor girls, including one that’s POC. It’s such a low bar for movies to pass the Bechdel test and have characters of color who survive and yet so many movies fail to reach it.

The haunted attraction industry might only appear for a few months a year (not taking into account the weeks and months of planning and building behind them), but it makes bank. According to Forbes, there’s an estimated 4,000 haunted attractions operating in the U.S. that make up an industry that brings in about $300 million dollar per year. It’s estimated that 100 countries around the world have some sort of haunted attraction that they put on during the Halloween season. Behind the attractions, there’s businesses and groups The Haunted Attraction Association and the International Association of Haunted Attractions, tradeshows and expos, magazines, evolving technologies, and more to this professional industry. 

The opening kill in Hell Fest shows a young teenage girl getting killed inside of a haunted attraction at the Orange Grove Community Fair Horror Night and her body being left displayed along with other dead body props inside the attraction. The main characters later bring this up as something that sounds like an urban legend but “actually happens” because it happened in Orange Grove a couple of years prior and the girl’s body wasn’t discovered for three days because everyone just thought that she was a prop. 

Have people actually been “splatter movie killed”, splayed, and displayed inside of a haunted house? No.

But, it is true that people have died at haunted attractions due to accidents. On multiple occasions, actors have put a noose around their necks, intent on it being fake and scaring patrons, but the actors slip and fall and the rope either breaks their neck or constricts their windpipe long enough for them to die. In 2016, at Disneyland Paris, a worker was electrocuted and died while performing maintenance at Phantom Manor. Later in 2016, in Missouri, a pick-up truck collided with a tractor that was pulling a trailer for a hayride and killed three passengers, including two children. In September 2017, a 21 year old surnamed Cheung was struck by a part of moving machinery at the “Buried Alive” maze at a Halloween event at Ocean Park in Hong Kong. Investigators believed that “entered into an area for mechanical operations that was not open to visitors and was hit by a mechanical part” and Cheung was later pronounced dead at the hospital. 

In September 2015, I attended Horrorhound Weekend in Indianapolis. During one of the after hours parties, I met Alice, who was dressed up as Beetlejuice, striped suit and make up and all. In the following years, Alice would be the first to greet me on the convention floor, usually already in full costume. During Horrorhound Weekend 2018, Alice was in her asylum costume that first day and the downtown Indianapolis hotel was full of unsuspecting guests, including the San Francisco 49er’s football team, who were in town for a preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts. 

Recently, Alice was gratuitous enough to talk to me about some of her personal experiences as a seasoned actor in a haunted attraction. 

How many years have you worked as an actor in a haunted attraction? How many different ones have you worked in?

Alice: I’ve been a haunter for 8 years of my life. I started as a volunteer actor at a local haunt called Barn of Terror or something like that. Then the rest of my career was spent at Indy Scream Park in Anderson.

What led you into working at a haunted attraction? 

I always wanted to be a haunter from my first experience in a haunt with my family. The actors would always ask me to join after we went through. It made me so happy to realize I could scare people as a job.

What sorts of characters have you done? How long does it usually take for you to get dressed and made up each night?

The first year I was a vampire and was responsible for my own makeup and costume. It was very simple and didn’t need much effort to get the job done. My beginning years of Scream Park I worked in Bedlam 3D the clown attraction. There were lasers and dubstep and neon colors. The makeup was blacklight paint which I would do the base for, the makeup team did the rest (sometimes very badly) so i would have to touch it up myself. Getting in full costume, hair, makeup, contacts probably took around 30 to 45 min. When I moved to Brickmore Asylum in my third year costume and makeup was much easier and faster. Instead of multi piece clown suits, we all mostly got a patient’s jumper, sometimes a straight jacket and maybe pants. I of course spruced it up as the people eater with white or red contacts and extra sharp teeth. Over the years I added a certain amount of upgrades like knee pads, joint wraps, and eventually made my own costume so I could take it home and wash it each week. By far Brickmore was where I felt most at home. Turns out going feral was my calling.

How much of a physical toll does it take on your body? 

It is without a doubt the most physically demanding job I’ve ever worked. Each season you were guaranteed at least one broken or fractured bone, one debilitating respiratory infection, and one assault by a customer. Most of the time you’d get more than one. I’ve broken fingers, slammed my spine on a butcher’s block, stabbed my hands with metal or shattered porcelain, been tripped or body slammed by customers. You name it.

The killer in Hell Fest targets teens who make catty and sarcastic remarks to the actors. How many times a night would people come through and be disrespectful to the actors?

Oh yeah, Anderson is mostly rednecks and shitty teenagers so we would get at least 40% disrespectful customers. And our park served alcohol in the midway so you can guess how many of those were intoxicated people. On our busiest nights security couldn’t even keep up with it and we would lose half the customers who had been reported.

Have you or anyone you’ve worked with been injured by the acts of a customer? Is it a frequent occurrence? 

Yeah, everyone gets hurt by customers unless you are in a safe spot like a cage or drop window. There was a girl one season who got punched in the face almost every weekend and had to go home. Drunk rednecks are nasty.

What would you want to tell customers on behalf of haunt workers everywhere?

In a perfect world, the customers wouldn’t drink before the haunt, they would never touch the actors. I never understood why people would pay $30 a pop just to fight actors or insult the park… if you’re not scared that’s fine. Shut the fuck up and keep moving. Don’t touch things or ask the actors for their phone numbers. Stop trying to get the actors to break character. And Dont bring your 3yo into the haunt unless you’ve raised them to handle it.

To see more of Alice’s cosplays and creative works, you can check out her Facebook and Instagram pages below:

https://www.facebook.com/Alicesmonsters

https://www.instagram.com/mysticmothersketchbook/

Maybe we’re not going to have haunts to go through or movie going experiences this fall, but until then, we can watch Hell Fest with a giant bowl of popcorn because this fits right in with campy slashers for the season. 

And when we are able to go back to haunted houses, don’t be an asshole and respect the workers. 

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