The following is an actual
recollection by a dude who was employed as a monster in a couple
Halloween mazes from 1998 to 2001. As to who this guy is, there’s a good
chance it may be the same one who writes everything else on this
site--which is to say me--or not. For now he and his place of business
will remain anonymous.
I Was A Halloween Monster
To be honest, I don’t recall what inspired me to accompany a friend to apply for a job at a So Cal amusement park one day in September of ‘98. Peer pressure? Boredom? Lack of money? All of the above, most likely.
We were there to sign up to work as “Talent” in the park’s annual Halloween festival. During the month of October the park is decked out with skulls, cobwebs and all sorts of horror ephemera, and around a thousand people are hired to work as talent on the park streets (street monsters) and in the various mazes--actually rides refashioned into haunted houses for patrons to walk though and get scared.
My friend and I chose the biggest and most popular of the park’s mazes, a vampire themed funhouse. Before getting started, however, we had to endure the incredibly boring application process that for some reason took around three hours. A few weeks later we returned to the park for costume fittings, during which my friend got food poisoning and spent much of the day puking into trash cans and generally acting like one of the walking dead. Perhaps I should have taken that as an omen.
More waiting was in store during a late September orientation in which the park’s higher-ups gave us a lecture, the particulars of which boiled down to one hard-and-fast rule: NEVER TOUCH OR STRIKE A GUEST. I took that rule to heart upon starting work the second week of October (having been on standby the previous week).
The Vampire Maze: 1998-99
There was more waiting around on that first night, as there was every evening after. I reported to work as scheduled at 5:30 PM, and stood in line to get a pass which I then gave to the lady in the costume warehouse, who relinquished my costume. There followed an hour or so of down time until the park officially opened at 7 PM.
That first night was rough. I was punched and put in a headlock by a couple of asshole guests, and utterly exhausted after an hour or two of jumping out at people and chasing ‘em around my room. I also had to inhale the probably toxic mist that was constantly pumped into my room and put up with a suffocating rubber mask and a costume that by midnight was a sweaty, reeking mess. Worst of all, I was subjected to the maze’s theme song, Dead Can Dance’s “Host of Seraphim,” played over and over and over. I once liked that haunting tune (it’s played near the end of THE MIST), but not after hearing it blasted on a continuous loop!
My room was located near the end of the maze. I got to know this room, with its portrait of Vlad the Impaler and partially opened coffin, intimately over the succeeding weeks, and again the following October. During that time I got a strong education in all things scare-related, and learned some valuable lessons about survival in a Halloween maze, such as…
Never Touch or Strike A Guest…Unless They Ask for It!
Get In Several Really Good Scares Each Night
Make Time for the Haunt Groupies
Savor Your Break Time
Grow A Thick Skin
Such were the first two years. After that, sadly, the vampire maze was shuttered forevermore. The building where it was housed was torn down and replaced by a rollercoaster (which promptly broke down), forcing myself and my colleagues to find another maze in which to chase morons around.
The Clown Maze: 2000-01
I chose a new clown-themed maze, inspired by the flick KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE. The bad news is that in 2000 this maze was an open air walk-through whose slipshod construction failed to do its elaborate and imaginative design justice. The good news is that I got a plumb position near the front of the maze, and perhaps the coolest prop ever: a large rubber mallet.
I immediately knew what I wanted to do with the mallet, and, after a few days of trial and error, figured out how to accomplish my goal: I’d jump out from behind a corner and swing the mallet directly at the head of the nearest person, stopping it an inch or so before his or her face.
This was the closest thing I ever had to a can’t-miss scare, a nine-times-out-of-ten score that only went awry on one occasion. It occurred with a big guy who when I swung the mallet at his head grabbed its handle with one hand and with the other punched me in the face. I let the guy go, concluding that even if I got whapped I still succeeded in scaring the fuck out of the lug.
My second year in the clown maze was 2001, which turned out to be my last as a Halloween monster. Our late-September start date followed September 11 by a couple weeks, a fact that might have had something to do with the insanity that suffused that year.
Things started off on a sour note the first night, when the management made a boneheaded decision to limit employees’ soda consumption. As most of us relied on caffeine to keep us going throughout the night, this decree caused widespread anger. I witnessed several fellow monsters act out violently in the employee break area, screaming, stomping on the ground and throwing things. No surprise: within a few hours the limited soda decree was overturned.
Yet the craziness only expanded over the following weeks. The guests were wilder than any I’d encountered during previous years, with punching and shoving incidents spiking dramatically.
The clown maze this year was held in an indoor venue, and much better constructed than the previous year’s. It was also much darker lighting-wise, and so I didn’t see the twerp who approached me one night, although I definitely noticed when he began frantically rubbing his asshole against my right leg. I kicked him away, figuring he was up to something pervy…until I smelled the nasty fart he’d let and put two and two together. I immediately gave chase to the giggling shithead and his mutant pals but lost ‘em in the darkness.
The above was among the year’s more benign assaults. Far worse occurred as the weeks went on, culminating with a reported throat slashing in a maze next to ours. As I heard it, the incident involved a guest taking a razor blade and, with a few quick swipes, cutting through a monster’s mask and into the skin of his neck.
I never learned the reason for the assault (a gang hit was the speculation), nor if the victim survived. Regardless, I made it a point to spend much of the rest of that night in the break area. A co-worker, knowing of my aggressiveness with the mallet, told me “I wouldn’t want to be you tonight!” I didn’t either.
As it turned out, the only thing worse than the guests that year were my fellow employees. Clowning around on the part of the monsters was normal, and tended to get quite rowdy--we’d been banned from a nearby Denny’s the previous October after a ketchup bottle was thrown during a late night soiree. In previous years I’d happily joined in the silliness, but I sensed early on that this year’s pranks were out of hand. These so-called pranks included a new inter-maze rivalry in which a couple monsters from one maze would tackle a monster from another, and forcibly bind the latter’s arms and legs with duck tape.
The purpose behind this activity was never made clear to me, but it escalated until the break area became a hive of running and tackling, and culminated on the last night, when a monster in my maze had several ribs broken after being tackled by rivals. There was also a stink bomb tossed into the street monsters’ break area, prompting threats of retaliatory action against all the mazes (i.e. the street monsters put out word that they’d decimate every maze, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who park management will favor in a fight between the experienced and respected street monsters and us losers in the mazes).
The threatened retaliation never occurred, but the remainder of the night was quite unpleasant. I was unable to perform my standard final night ritual of surreptitiously changing into civilian clothing and wandering the park--going on the rides, observing the street monsters in action, etc--due to all the security guards who patrolled our maze, closely monitoring our every move.
When that night finally ended it was a relief, and I took stock of the particulars of my experience as a Halloween monster: the shitty pay, horrendous hours, uncomfortable working conditions and constant verbal and physical abuse, which in my view far outweighed the job’s positive aspects. In short, it was time to put a stop to my employment as a monster, and, ten years ago this week, I did just that.