Published October 28th, 2014 at 4:44 PM
Pulsing rock music pounds in your ears. Something brushes your shoulder, and you flinch. A bloody, demented-looking teen in a bathrobe creeps in front of you, making unblinking eye contact. Lights flash, momentarily skewing your vision. A pigtailed girl next to you sobs openly. The hooded Underlord raises from the roof of a building, his voice booming: “All you fear is here!”
This is Haunt.
Every fall since 2007, Worlds of Fun has transformed the park into a haunted maze of terrors after dark. Guests pay for access to the regular rides and attractions, but also for the experience of being scared. There’s even VIP access for those wanting to be extra-scared: RIP Fright Lane MAX. There are haunted houses and specific areas where scaring is concentrated, but even just walking through the park is dangerous for the scaredy-cat.
Near the entrance of the park, guests are in full view of two creepy dolls, a monkey with crashing cymbals and a hobgoblin named Bravehorn. These “screamsters” — as Worlds of Fun refers to its Haunt entertainers — work together to scare passersby. Mark Farrar, the screamster playing Bravehorn, described one of the most aspired-to scares: the ping-pong, where screamsters bounce the terrified guests from one screamster to another. When the guests turn to run, they’re stopped by another screamster right behind them.
“I’ve seen it go four or five (screamsters) long,” Farrar said. “There’s a group of us right in one area who just kind of bounce off each other.”
The ping-pong can be compounded to reach the holy grail of scares: the knock-down.
Farrar remembered a particular knock-down from a few seasons ago. He was stationed next to a trash can that was equipped with a pedal that, when triggered, popped out a body.
“I had three or four girls standing in front of me,” he said. “They didn’t see the people coming from behind them, so I hit the trash can, and they ran (away) and hit the (screamsters behind them), came back, hit each other and fell down.
“We love it,” he said. “It’s something to brag about.”
Another thing to brag about? When guests pee their pants. According to Farrar, this extreme fear reaction isn’t that uncommon.
The creepyness of the screamsters is so intense, in fact, that Worlds of Fun has pushed back the starting time of Haunt. It used to start right at 5 p.m. as the sun was setting and kid’s Halloween events were ending. Haunt now begins at 6:30, which gives children some extra cushion time to escape.
Not all kids, however, want to escape. Farrar’s toddler daughter loves visiting her dad at Haunt. Farrar attributes this to the fact that he and his wife love all things Halloween. Farrar’s wife was also a screamster at Haunt until their daughter was born.
“She’s come in for family pictures,” he said. “She was running around and hugging all the characters. I have a picture of her hugging me and giving me a kiss on the cheek.”
The power of makeup
In order to get Farrar and all the other screamsters ready to inflict fear on the willing guests, hours of manpower are dedicated to the makeup trailer. The trailer is full of airbrush makeup, prosthetics, creepy contact lenses and fake blood. A wide variety of tools are necessary to make each screamster Haunt-ready. The screamsters are men and women of different races from student I.D.–age to AARP–age.
Lindsey Doolittle, who has been with Haunt for seven seasons, is one of around 30 makeup artists that make the screamsters look truly terrifying.
She said that 25–30 makeup artists have less than five hours to transform 500 screamsters. She’s supposed to spend 15 minutes on an average screamster, and no more than 25 minutes on a specialty character, or “street freak,” like Bravehorn.
Doolittle heard the call for makeup artists on the radio and was immediately interested in the seasonal employment.
“I love being scared, but I love doing makeup more,” she said.
When Doolittle isn’t turning Farrar into Bravehorn, she’s working as an elementary art teacher at Nashua Elementary in North Kansas City, Missouri.
Her students are very interested in their teacher’s side job and will look for her in the park. Farrar said they’ll ask him where Doolittle is since they know that she makes Bravehorn up.
“The only time they find me,” Dolittle said, “is when we do blood runs in the park to check on the makeup at night.”
These “blood runs” check on the specialty characters and the characters in 10 different haunted houses: the Boneyard, Chamber of Horrors, Zombie High, Asylum Island, Lore of the Vampire, BloodShed, London Terror, Outlaws Revenge, CarnEvil and CornStalkers.
It’s sometimes hard to tell which house screamsters belong to, but they’re all terrifying in their own way. Behind-the-scenes, when they’re relaxing between makeup and the parade that kicks off the night, about half of the screamsters remain in character, even while they’re sipping Gatorade and texting.
Farrar said this downtime before the parade is essential because performing for the approximately six hours of Haunt is tiring.
“It can be physically exhausting, especially early in the season when it’s hot,” he said. “I like to chase people; I’m fast … I jump down off my little pedestal, and they just fall in fear or run screaming.”
If you’d like to be terrified by Bravehorn, this weekend is your last shot: Haunt is open through Nov. 2.