elionwyr: (watch horror movies)
"What do you MEAN I need to show you ID to get on the plane?!?!"

The flight attendant looked at me as if I was the most stupid person she'd ever seen. "Yes ma'am. I need to see a state-issued photo ID."

In the face of her determination, I did the only logical thing I could do.


Surprisingly, that worked.

Not surprisingly, this was pre-9/11.

Security - oh wait, I mistyped that. "Security" has tightened up since a few planes hit a few buildings and brought terrorism to America. Now, it may be true that I've since used crying to get on planes when the last name on my ticket didn't match the last name on my official-type ID, but there's no way to avoid going through the TSA luggage checks and scanners. Which should, in theory, keep us safer. Because they're all highly trained and know what sort of troublesome things to look for, yes?

Allow me to take you back to somewhere around 2006. It's March in Chicago. TransWorld, an annual haunted attraction trade show that always happens this time of year, is starting to close its doors. We've been hit by a snow storm,flights are delayed, and the airport is full of tired haunters who've been in town.

I rarely check luggage, choosing instead to cram as much as I possibly can into a carry-on suitcase. I know the rules for what you can put into your luggage. I've never been stopped or looked at twice.

Until now.

"WHAT is THAT?" I hear a screener yelp, staring at his monitor.


Several people pull my suitcase aside and unzip it, revealing a juicy looking skull snuggled in amongst my clothing. And all hell breaks loose.

Apparently exactly one person got the memo that the haunters were in town, as a single TSA employee remains calm and asks, "TransWorld?"

I nod. "If you look, it says, 'Made in China' on the back."

He nods back. "No problem," and declines to check.

Having ascertained that the skull belongs to one Mr. Bucky, a gentleman well-loved by the haunted attraction community, the TSA employees start to do schtick about my luggage.

"Man! She has my cousin's SKULL in her suitcase! Hahahahahahaha!"

It was at this point that I lost control of both my mind and my tongue.

"Would you like to lick it?"

The laughter stopped.

Four sets of eyes stared at me, stared at the skull in question, and - without any further words spoken - my suitcase was handed over to me.

And so, Gentle Readers, I offer you this opinion: If crying and offers of skull-licking can get you past airport security, we here in America have a travesty of a security system.
elionwyr: (write hard)
I am a PASSIONATE believer in the lack of necessity of using live animals in haunted attractions.

I've been preaching this opinion for years.

I've heard all kinds of reasons given as to why some haunt owners feel it's important to use living critters. Their customers expect it. They're more impressive than fake animals. It's a cheap way to get a scare.

Let me tell you about Grisly's "rat hall."

This was, hands-down, the scariest area of our haunt. People screamed. They froze in place. We frequently had to have people ready to get behind groups and push them through just to get them the heck out of there.

And what caused that terror in this more-or-less S-shaped length of maze?

1. A series of plastic tubings run through pieces of 2X4s and screwed to the walls at about ankle level.

2. Sporadically placed fake-fur-covered blocks of wood, screwed to the wall.

3. A recording of rats squeaking and scraping.

4. Absolutely no light.

That's it.

No actors. No animals. No special effects. No animations.

As silly as it sounds? It was, without fail, the best darn scare we did.

If you can get the mind to buy the fantasy of what you're creating? You don't need lots of money and you sure as heck don't need to torture animals to make a few bucks.

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elionwyr: (write hard)
(Seems like a good subject to talk about at the moment. *eyeroll*)

Working in a haunted house is many things - challenging, fun, pretty, creative, funny.


You are dealing with people who are paying you to scare them.

And you have no IDEA how they will react to being scared.

Some will totally buy the fantasy that this is real, you are truly dead, and you are going to kill them.

Others will freeze in place.

A lot of people will take a swing at the monsters. A staggering amount of those people will ask, before they go inside, "Can I hit the monsters?"

(The answer to that question is always ALWAYS, "Hell NO." Just in case you wondered.

So some people are just a**holes. They want an excuse to take a swing at someone, or to destroy someone else's property. I'd say the percentage is about 50/50 as to motives for throwing a punch.

As a haunter, you have to be prepared.

I didn't take this as seriously as I should have until a visitor punched [livejournal.com profile] annachria square in the face after being inside Grisly for less than five minutes. I didn't even see what happened. Her reaction was swift and angry: she grabbed the guy, dragged him outside, and literally threw him out of the haunt.

His friends were as confused as the rest of us, I think. "What just happened?" they asked their guide, Mari.


"Well. You were all told to not touch any thing."

"But she scared him."


"Did you forget you're in a haunted house? Now. Shall we continue?"

Lesson learned: Never underestimate the public's ability to be needlessly stoopid.

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elionwyr: (write hard)
My first year of working at Grisly, I was also volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation center. I lasted for two years, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity I had to work there. I learned many wonderful things, such as what an incredible diversity of wildlife that exists in the Philadelphia area.

I also learned that when going to pick up a Canada goose, you really REALLY want to make sure you have those wings under control.

At night, you see, we brought in the injured wildlife that spent the daytime outside in varied enclosures. (If you leave an injured goose outside, you’re just setting the table for the local carnivores.) And while my zookeeping training focused a lot on the proper and safe way to pick up varied types of exotic animals, I was never shown how to carry a Canada goose.

This resulted in my getting socked in the nose by a flailing wing one night.

..ow ow ow ow ow..

Now, I didn’t Allan well yet. I adored him pretty much at first sight, but I can’t claim to actually knowing him. I went to the haunt after work that night, and upon seeing me, Allan exclaimed, “Oh! I didn’t expect to see you tonight!”


“How are you?”

“Well. I got punched in the nose by a goose.”

Whereupon Allan started giggling.

Lesson learned: If Allan’s laughing? Someone’s gotten hurt.

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elionwyr: (write hard)
Despite my unintentional Lorena Bobbitt impression, I was allowed to return to the role of Erzabet at least one more time that year.

Same scene, as I've described. Erzie's room is the first room of the show. I'm set to leap out of a coffin and wave a knife at my "victims." And, um, not stab anyone in the crotch.

I'm hiding in said coffin, sans glasses, as Janice (one of our very best guides) comes in with a group and goes into the spiel.

Erzabet the bride, yadda yadda yadda, cuts out their hearts, yadda, looking for the heart of the man who betrayed her.

Cue the strobe light.


"OH HOLY CRAP AAAAAAAAAAAUGH!!!" yelps the group.

*Ka-THONK* groans the coffin as it tries its dang best to kill me by falling over.

And the group? Runs back out of the house.


"Holy poop, what just happened?"

"ERZABET YOU EVIL BRIDE!!! (you just scared them back outside) GET OUT OF HERE! (go hide somewhere)"


I scampered out of the room entirely as Janice went to gather up her group and bring them back into the room.

Lesson learned: People do many stoopid things of all sorts of varieties when they're scared.


Don't throw coffins at your haunted house visitors.

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elionwyr: (write hard)
“...So we were at the haunt last night, and this group pig-piled..”

“What does that mean?”

Bazil looked at my husband in disbelief. “You don't know what a pig pile is?”


“Ok. Imagine this. You have an entrance on one side of a room. There's an obvious exit on the other side. And there's a scare in the corner opposite the entrance.”


“Now, if you come into the room and someone scares you, which way are you going to run?”

“Towards the exit.”

“Wrong. You're going to scream, jump on top of everyone else in your group, and knock down a wall, thereby creating your own exit.”


"Like this!" And Bazil proceeded to take a flying leap on top of Jason, knocking him to the ground.

That's a pig-pile.”

And that, my friends, is what haunting in Philadelphia is like.

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elionwyr: (write hard)
So I’ve written about how exactly I came to be a haunt actor. One of the things that makes me eminently useful in a haunted attraction is that I can also scream my head off all night and not lose my voice.

Yessirree, I’m a screamer. Makes me SO popular with the boys, too!


ANYWAY. One of the roles at Grisly that was often difficult to fill was that of Erzabet Grisly. Many haunts incorporate the idea of a cursed bride into their storyline. We handled the plot point a little differently. Some years, Erzabet was cursed because she was interrupted during her wedding preparations, and her bloody reflection pulled her into her mirror. Other years – most years – she found her groom in a compromising position on their wedding night with Raven the chamber maid, and in a fit of rage tried to cut out his heart.

(We did this sans gore. Because that’s the way the Grislys roll, y0.)

The biggest issue with the role of Erzabet was that she needed to be able to let out a quality shriek without blowing out her vocal cords. It’s a little surprising to me how many women actually physically cannot scream.

I do not have this problem.

One year, Grisly was set up in the basement of a farmer’s market. Erzabet’s attic was positioned directly underneath the fish market portion of said location, and just about every night there would be a puddle of slimy fish water in the room. One of the first things on Allan’s agenda, therefore, was to make sure that water had been dryvacc’ed up and removed from said room.

Usually he remembered to do both parts of this task.


So here I am, in a wedding gown, sans glasses, getting ready to leap like a gazelle from a coffin at a group of visitors.

I wait for the cue.

I leap, screaming.

…Annnnd I hit that bucket of fish water.


Thus was Erzie the Fish Bride born.

SLOWLY I turned after the group had left my room and, holding the dress as far away from me as I could, I went off in search of Allan.

Who looked horrified and walked backwards away from me, stuttering out an apology.

“Just make sure this thing gets cleaned by tomorrow night,” I said through gritted teeth.

Lesson learned: Always have a back-up costume. Just in case.

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elionwyr: (write hard)
([livejournal.com profile] adelheid_p has come to my rescue with a back-up computer! I feel like I have a lot of catch-up to do. We'll see if I can actually manage that.)

Grisly Gothic Gables was a very theatrical, Addams Family-esque haunted house. No gore, lots of pretty. We conducted tours though the manse, telling tales of varied family members and triggering cues for our scare actors.

Sometimes we found it necessary/helpful to have a person follow behind a group to keep the group together. In most haunted houses, groups tend to merge into one huge conga line of people; in Grisly, because of the scripts and the sizes of the rooms, we really needed to keep people contained into groups of 6 to 10 people. And so the position of the back guide was created.

Not our best move.

Because you see, once someone became a back guide, they were apparently only really good for herding jobs of varied types.

I can sorta understand. It was perhaps the most fun job to have, because you got to see people’s reactions as well as what your fellow haunt actors were doing, and you really didn’t have the pressure of performing or – well – actually working.

[livejournal.com profile] cussingeorge put together a song mix one year that included varied quotes from our guides dubbed over a song by Primus. Perhaps the best part of said song was the use of a back guide’s repeated instructions to, “STAY with your GUIDE!” I wish I had that available RIGHT NOW so y’all could hear it. It’s fabulous.

We also found that – as odd as it sounds – a volunteer staff was vastly better than a paid staff. Over and over, it was proven true that once you paid people to come in and act, they were there more for the paycheck than for the love of Halloween. Conversely, it is – obviously – much easier to fill a haunt with cast if you’re offering them even a token paycheck.

My official transformation into becoming a haunt actor happened out of necessity. Our cast had dwindled quite a bit, and because I was a huge fan of the show, I’d watched enough videos of tours to have learned the general script/spiel.

The black lace dress was swapped out for a ruched mostly-red Ercoli gown. My hair was back-combed like crazy. And when I’ve watched Minion on video (sadly, I don’t have that available online to share right now)..man was she mean. It’s very disconcerting to watch a video that you know is of you and to really not be able to see yourself there.

(This is probably further proof that I’m not really an actor.)

Guiding at Grisly was a constant challenge. How do you control a panicked group? How do you project so everyone can hear you over the ambient sounds around you? How do you keep up the energy to give your tiny audience a good show each and every time? How do you keep yourself and your fellow cast mates safe?

Sometimes Grisly was too much of a challenge. I’m not convinced that, had I stayed in Philadelphia, I would have continued working in the haunted attraction industry. But damn, I loved that show, and I loved that core cast, and part of me still not-so-secretly wishes for the day Allan puts out the word that we’re raising the family home one more time.

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elionwyr: (write hard)
(Because that topic seems damned fitting right now.)

One of my goals at Grisly was to be able to fill in any role, just in case someone needed a break or had to leave or anything of the sort.

In our mad scientist room, we had a Frankenstein's Monster table that was designed for people of a certain height to be able to control by lying across it and, with a slight kick of their legs, make the table pivot down, cautiously launching the "monster" off the table and into the lab so he could "kill" the doctor.

On the night of which I write, I'd told my "monster" to take a break because I thought we had enough of a gap between breaks that he wouldn't be needed.

I was wrong.

"Crap! Quick, get me on the table!" I gasped to the mad scientist of the evening, who helped hold the table while I pulled a monster mask on and climbed aboard.

I am, however, MUCH MUCH MUCH too short to control this table. My weight is distributed wrongly, and I hadn't a hope in Hell of keeping the table balanced until I was ready to be moved by the table from a prone to an upright position.

This means that, no sooner had the scientist removed her hand from the table, I was being flung across the room and into the opposite wall.


But oh CRAP that group is almost here, and I was crying behind my mask but I was bound and determined to get back up on that table, and so I did, sobbing, "Ok..just..hold it as long you can and please GOD don't let me die doing this..."

Clinging to the sides of the table, I looked up through my tears to see my "monster" looking down at me with a puzzled look on his face.

"Is there a problem?"

"GET ME THE HELL OF THIS THING!!" He and the scientist peeled me from the table and I scurried off behind a wall as the group turned a corner and came into the scene.

Lesson learned: I have my limits. Dammit.

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elionwyr: (write hard)
So my standard dress at Grisly for my first year was a black lace dress. Generally speaking, it did exactly what I needed: it looked vaguely Victorian, and was generic enough to allow me to blend into wherever I needed to be in the haunt.

Outside of sometimes playing the part of a homicidal cackling clown, my job during hours of operation was to make sure my little cherubs were in their spots and doing their jobs, and to give people breaks or drinks as needed.

We were working in a stable, which was in general pretty cool, so the actors wore a few layers of clothing to keep warm. Halloween night that year was unseasonably warm. One guide passed out. Everyone was wicked uncomfortable. And I was worried about the person playing our mad scientist for the evening, because she had on a few too many layers.

I didn’t know the role well enough to jump in for Nicole, and we were too busy to stop the line long enough to give her time to go get undressed. So I shadowed a group going through the attraction and as soon as they had left the lab, I attacked Nicole and started tearing off her clothing.

“WHAT the…what are you DOING?”

“Quick!” I hissed. “We’ve GOT to get you cooled off! Take off anything you don’t need to be wearing!”

Oh, yes…grace and poise at all times.

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Blogathon update:

Someone who's sorta new to the Blogathon lists - but has been blogging all day - is [livejournal.com profile] aurora_lamour.

She's raising money for the Oklahoma chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America. She's also fielding questions about lupus, fibromyalgia, thyroid disorders, and more. :)

Take a moment, pretty please, and go over to see what she has to say!
elionwyr: (write hard)
[livejournal.com profile] shadowwolf13 wanted to hear about my best and worst con experiences.

Worst Con Experience:
Some of my memories about this story are hazy – perhaps deliberately so.

In the late 1980s/early 1990s, I was active in Philly-area “Doctor Who” and “Blake’s 7” fandom. (Trivia: I wrote B7 episode reviews and have had one piece of Who fanfic published.) I think this story involves a “Blake’s 7”-esque con…I had volunteered to help work the con with and for some friends in New Jersey.

And I came down with a horrific cold. The kind of cold that wraps your brain in cotton and turns you into a snot-zombie.

I know they took me with them anyway, and I am very sure I did absolutely no useful work. I have vague collections of – I *think* - being leaned up against walls and trying desperately to breathe but mostly being in a near-coma-like state all weekend.

I can’t even remember how I got home..

Lesson learned: Know your limits, and stay the hell home if you’re sick.

Best Con Experience:

The thought that comes to mind first doesn’t entirely count because it was at a trade show, not a convention – but this hits a bit of the request from [livejournal.com profile] hughcasey(?) to tell tales about the haunt industry.

In 1999, I attended my first TransWorld Halloween and Party trade show. The show was in Chicago and was so large and overwhelming to country-mouse-me that I had to take breaks from the trade show floor. Descriptions will not do it justice – but imagine a convention center filled with party store vendors and costumes and make-up and props for haunted houses, and – off in a corner – someone is selling lightning-making machines that sporadically whip out lout CRRRACK!s of lightning…my first few years of TransWorld were amazing, surreal experiences.

And because I can’t resist a volunteer job, I raised my hand and found myself on a board of directors working to create a haunted attraction association. Which I may write about later today.

This story, however, is about my third year on the board. I had headed up the nomination committee for elections for the new board, and had been put through hell the weeks leading up to our annual meeting at TransWorld. A haunter was trying to get himself on the ballot and hadn’t been nominated, so was trying to strong arm me into adding him to the list.

He didn’t know we had already discussed him, both on the board and on the committee, and not only did we as a group choose to not nominate him, I’d had people tell me, “If he gets voted in, I quit.” 0_o I tried to be kind and not tell him this; as a result, I suffered through a three hour phone conversation with him where he tried to persuade, sweet talk, and then bully me into doing as he wished.

Going into the meeting, I was terrified. Absolutely terrified. I was convinced he was going to make good on his threats, storm into the meeting, and denounce me in front of the entire membership. I wasn’t a haunt owner. I was a haunt manager, actor, constructor…but not an owner. What right, really, did I have to be here?

What I learned that night is that I had as much right to be there as anyone else did. I was valued enough that the membership actually put a bouncer by the door whose only job was to make sure that my naysayer did not in fact cause a scene. I had a room full of my peers who made it very clear that they accepted me, embraced me, and valued me. (Indeed, one later told me I was his hero because I hadn’t allowed my naysayer to chase me out of the industry, as others had in the past.)

It was a pretty amazing experience.

And this, I’d say, was hands-down my best con experience. :)

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elionwyr: (write hard)
[livejournal.com profile] adelheid_p asked me to talk about the back stories to my haunt characters.

I shamefully confess that I don’t actually have histories. I wrote something up for my Grisly Gothic Gables character several years ago, but I only have a vague recollection of what that story was. So instead, I’ll just talk about how my two main characters came into being.

At Grisly, I went by the name of “Minion.” I didn’t start out at Grisly as an actor. All I ever really wanted to do was help build things, but there was a need for someone to work in the costume room and manage the actors, so that’s where I ended up. I didn’t have a costume or a character, but I did have a long black lace slip dress that I work so I could be somewhat neutral but look like I fit in so I could jump in to cover just about any role or scare when needed.

One night, I showed up at the haunt on a night I was scheduled to be off. The owner, Allan – the man I wish was my father – looked over at me, extended a hand, and said, “Come to me, my minion!”

And thusly was Minion Grisly named.

(Trivia: There is, somewhere in [livejournal.com profile] annachria’s artistic creations, a painting called “Minion’s Minions,” wherein Minion calls in the monsters and beasties that populated the manse.)
When I started working for Castle Blood, I was determined to not have Minion be assimilated into the MacCabre clan. I played a witch my second year at the Castle and was asked to name the character.

Being a writer, I decided to use the name of my at-the-time-favourite font, Charme. I assumed it would be pronounced “charm;” Ricky assumed it would be “Sharm-ay.”

Which quickly led to, “Don’t squeeze the Charmay.” Which was not-so-happy-making.

I’m not sure that the witchiness of my character was ever really understood by my fellow cast mates. Most of the characters in that particular haunt are vampires, but the one time I tried wearing fangs while dressed as Charme just didn’t feel right to me. Conversely, I rather enjoyed joining my friend Peachey in the very tiny ranks of the non-vampiric.

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