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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Carefully crafting a perfect scare

Photo by Courtesy of scare actors from Screamin’ Acres
Scare actors pride themselves on getting the shrillest screams and most dramatic reactions.

The room is dark. Images of spiders, snakes and everything you fear cover the walls. As your heart begins to race, you turn the corner, seeking the quickest way to get out. Out of nowhere, a clown pops out of the shadows with a chainsaw in hand. He screams insults and threats into your ear. This is your worst nightmare.

Demands for more terror in haunted houses have increased over the past two decades, forcing haunted houses to unleash even more horror than what they had before. Scare actors are a method of heightening the haunt. By jumping out of hidden doors, wearing scary costumes, screaming threats and more, scare actors have the ability to take haunted houses to a new level.

Dan Decker, a scare actor at Screamin’ Acres Haunted Houses in Stoughton, Wisconsin, is known as “Hawk the Madman.” Decker takes on the persona of an “escaped mental patient” clown in the haunted house. He said that his favorite part about taking part in the haunt is how he affects the customers that walk through it, as well as the people he works with.

“I love to see the customers get so enveloped in the character and scene that they believe it to be absolutely real,” Decker said. “And second – just as amazing – is to see the camaraderie and family that develops amongst the haunters. We literally call it our ‘haunt family’ and it surpasses the location of the haunt.”

Matt Stone is also a scare actor with Screamin’ Acres Haunted Houses. Known as “The Stalker,” Stone got into scare acting because he has always had an eye for horror and wanted to become a role in scaring people.

To scare actors like Decker and Stone, the most important part about their jobs is to achieve “the perfect scare.” In order to reach this goal, Stone said that he likes to target the weakest links of groups that enter the haunted house.

“The best way to get a good scare is to read your crowd and then you go for the weakest one. The one who doesn’t even want to look at you, let alone hear your voice or even be in the same room as you,” Stone said.

Decker said that a lot of preparation takes place to be both physically and mentally ready to create the perfect scare. For Decker, a lot of pre-haunt rituals involve hanging out with his coworkers.

“We pump each other up as you would see a football team getting ready pre-game. Laughing, joking, talking about the night coming up and just mad s**t talking. We push each other to get psyched up and ready to make people urinate and defecate,” Decker said.

Even though haunted houses can be a demanding and draining experience according to customer surveys, something about the scare keeps people going back. Rev. Ryan Duns, a professor at Marquette University, credits this concept to the feelings and emotions that horror brings to people.

Duns, who is a long-time fan of horror movies, said that he can be picky about what horror movies he likes and what he dislikes. He said that he prefers horror stories that make him question his life. 

“For me, then, it’s a well-crafted story that matters most,” Duns said. “Tell me a story that forces me to question the way I see the world, the ways I think I’m safe and secure, and I’m hooked. Get me to wonder about my own sanity and I’m a fan.”

Duns hopes that people recognize the importance of horror movies and events due to the conclusions that people come to after experiencing them.

“Contrary to popular belief, horror is not for sickos and weirdos.! I think horror is a great genre for getting viewers to consider deep questions,” Duns said. “To my mind, horror is at its best not when it grosses us out but when they leave us wondering … leave us fearing … leave us looking over our shoulder just in case the monster we saw on the screen, or the evil force we just read about, is in the room with us right now. “

This story was written by Phoebe Goebel. She can be reached at [email protected]. Aiyona Calvin contributed to this article.

Update: This story was updated to correctly attribute the photo to Screamin’ Acres and fix the name of one our sources.

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Phoebe Goebel
Phoebe Goebel, Editor of Diversity and Inclusion
Phoebe is the Editor of Diversity and Inclusion at the Wire. She is a junior from Hinsdale, IL studying journalism. In her free time, Phoebe enjoys thrifting and can solve a Rubik's cube in less than one minute. This year Phoebe is looking forward to covering a different section at the Wire.

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