An insider look at haunted houses


Southeastern alumnus Taylor DuBois prepares for his role at the Rise Haunted House
by having makeup applied to his teeth. Bloodred eyes, green-tinted powder and greasy,
matted hair complete a zombie’s wardrobe. When he does not portray a zombie, he often
can be seen as Sebastian the Butler. Courtesy of the Rise Haunted House 

After I’ve been assigned a spot, I pull on a tattered dress and take a seat before one of the makeup artists. I tell them I’ll be working a drop panel tonight, and ask for extra blood dripping down my mouth and eyes. After a pep talk from the zone leaders, I grab a bottle of water and make my way to the cemetery, creeping through a hidden entrance leading into the actor station. Finally, I hear my cue: “Help me! I’m alive in here! Let me out!” I peep through the hole in my panel and wait for the sound of footsteps. A group is coming, and it’s my job to scare them. 

I’m a volunteer actress at the Rise Haunted House, a family-operated business in Tickfaw devoted to terrorizing the masses in celebration of Halloween.  

“We became interested in the haunt industry after we did a small backyard haunt for my son and his friends,” said Mindi Plaisance, co-owner of the Rise. “Everyone had to come in costume in order to enter the haunt. The turnout for the small haunt was great, and we had so much fun doing it. This led to us touring local haunted houses, and eventually Rise Haunted House came to life.”

The story of the Rise Haunted House begins with the loss of the wealthy Henry Risewell’s wife and son. He hired Bartholomew Stinger, a scientist specializing in the field of cryonics, to conduct experiments in an effort to bring life to the dead with the goal of resurrecting Risewell’s family. After picking the local cemetery dry of its bodies, Risewell opened a faux bed and breakfast to lure people into his house, where he would murder them and use their bodies for research. Though they were able to animate bodies, they are only a shell of what they once were. Those who rose from the dead were brainless, driven only by the instinct to devour flesh. Risewell and his research team were eaten alive by their own creations, leaving behind a house full of undead with a voracious appetite.

Each actor plays a strategic role in order to yield the most terrifying results for customers. I play a “basic zombie” in the beginning of the cemetery. My signature move involves sticking my head out of a “boo hole,” which is typically used by sticking one’s arm out at passing customers and screaming. My head is slumped toward the ground so that I look like a prop. After two or three people walk by, I jump up, hissing and growling. Distracters, such as the crying girl who sits on the cemetery ground across from my station, draw attention to themselves so customers do not expect the “big scares” waiting to happen. Once the group passes the “boo hole,” I rush to another part of the station to my drop panel. While customers are comforting or mocking the crying girl, I release the hatch and jump out, drooling, growling and clawing at them.

Though most actors at the Rise are zombies, some more experienced and talented actors play their own distinct characters, such as Sebastian the Butler.

“I’m a queue line actor,” said Taylor DuBois, a Southeastern alumnus who also serves as assistant marketing coordinator for the Rise. “Basically, when people are waiting in line to go into the haunted house, I’m the entertainer, whether I’m scaring your socks off or making you laugh hysterically.”

Before the haunted house opens, each actor must choose from a myriad of costumes to suit their role. Costumes vary depending on where the actor will be working. Actors in the experimentation room will likely be wearing lab coats or bloody, tattered shirts, depending on whether they are the experimenter or experiment. Those in the hospital will probably wear either a hospital gown or a straight jacket. I always wear a ripped floral dress caked in dirt. 

Once a costume is chosen, actors make their way to the makeup station, where makeup artists perfect each person’s character. Zombies are sprayed with brown paint to look like dirt, and red paint is used for blood. Latex is used for texture; it can make someone look like their face has been ripped off, or it can make a young person look old. Ghosts are sprayed with paint to create a bluish tint, and contacts often complete a character for an extra creepy effect. 

“My favorite thing about being a makeup artist at the haunted house is it’s something different,” said Meranda Plaisance, daughter of two of the owners of the Rise. “It’s really fun to turn normal people into the monsters of the house. I mainly do basic zombie makeup, but last weekend I learned how to work with latex to make my zombie makeup really stand out. I think latex will be my favorite thing to use from now on.”

The actors love scaring people so much they work for free, but acting in the haunted house industry isn’t all fun and games. Screaming and growling at customers sometimes does more than simply damage one’s voice. The Rise frequently has to remove customers from the premises for attacking actors throughout the house. 

This may be explained by the psychological phenomenon of deindividuation, explored in famous psychologist Philip Zimbardo’s prison guard study. The concept of deindividuation suggests that those acting in a group no longer act as individuals. Rather, the group has a mind of its own, altering a typically “normal” person’s behavior. 

A key element in the process of deindividuation is anonymity. In Zimbardo’s study, students meant to be prisoners were addressed by numbers instead of their names, and students meant to be prison guards were given sunglasses to hide their eyes. This helped to shield participants’ identities and make it easier to immerse themselves in the hive mind. 

This is exactly what happens when an actor puts on a costume. To some customers, actors are no longer individuals; they are fictional characters. It’s easier to take a swing at a zombie than a person.

However, if customers can keep in mind the person behind the mask and keep their hands to themselves, the Rise offers several attractions for Halloween enthusiasts. 

“Rise Haunted House is a traditional haunt with over 10,000 square feet and 32 rooms,” said Mindi Plaisance. “We also have a 7,500 square foot cemetery. It takes approximately 25 minutes to walk through the haunt. In addition, we have a separate attraction called ‘Operation Deadly Assault Zombie Paintball.’ Individuals board a trailer and sit behind a mounted paintball gun. The trailer is pulled into the Town of Riseville. The zombies roam through the town, so one seeks them out to shoot them. Both of our attractions are great for all ages.”