Halloween is my favorite holiday. And it had always been a “bucket-list” item for me to do something “big” for Halloween. I already had master-minded dozens of neighborhood haunt festivities, and even lurked throughout the neighborhood in ghoul attire each year.
So this year, at the age of 58, I decided to be a zombie.
No, not just a costumed zombie on Halloween. A professional one, for 6 weeks.
I signed on to work at a local amusement park, Great America, in their Halloween Haunt. This annual fright fest is known far and wide, and features some 500 zombies, fiendish clowns, escaped mental patients and other horrific evil doers.
I hired on, went to “scare school” to learn the tricks of the trade, got professional make-up and was unleashed into a scare area known as “Evacuate”, kind of a “Walking Dead” theme with crashed cars, zombies galore and lots of lighting effects and fog. A creepy good time for all. I was so happy.
The first night I didn’t know enough to pace myself. I jumped out at people, screaming liberally, contorting my body into a hunched back, flaying creature. My character was “Zombie Mom”, complete with my undead baby in my arms… 10 pounds of baby, a strobe light, and bloody blankets. You wouldn’t think carrying just 10 pounds for 7 ½ hours would be so hard on your back…but by the end of the evening, I thought I had made a huge mistake.
Maybe I was too old to be a professional zombie! Most of the other zombies were high school and college age. My feet had blisters, my back ached; I was sweaty under a full prosthetic mask. Oh, and the pore cleanse I got as they pulled off the mask? To die for, seriously.
I didn’t get home until after 1am and then spent ½ hour “de-zombie’ing”. No matter what cleanser I used, the adhesive had seemingly become a part of my skin forever. A glass of wine did help. The next morning (luckily I could sleep in) I could barely move. As a writer, I’m not used to 7 ½ hours of walking and jumping around. I felt miserable, completely exhausted; and frankly, just a bit embarrassed by my sorry state.
I spent the entire day recuperating after a hot soak and a few hours of hot pads on my back. I greased my face with coconut oil. I basically stayed motionless, off my feet; glaring at my baby zombie.
I could now relate to the walking dead, literally.
I dreaded the passing of time…In a few hours I had to prepare to do it all again! Three long nights in a row, each week, for 6 weeks. How would I survive?
My pre-Haunt preparation started with another soaking, hot bath. Then, I slapped 4 stick-on pain relief pads on my back. Next I applied moleskin around my two blisters and my “soon to be blisters”. Just to be sure, I took some Advil (and brought a few with me for later). I was ready for day 2.
When I arrived at makeup I smelled like Ben Gay. Once in my costume I was horrified to smell myself; my costume smelled of strong sweat already. What can I say; it was very hot and my costume had a sweater. They gave us disinfectant to help with the odor, so I sprayed and sprayed…and sprayed. Now I smelled like a combination of Ben Gay, Lysol and sweat.
For Day 2 I decided that I wasn’t going to be a screamer. Everyone said I looked creepy and loved my “creepy baby” (lovingly named Norman)…so I decided to just growl menacingly and talk in a creepy voice.
Scaring was awesome! We have a move called, “ping-ponging”, which is when multiple zombies track a guest and one by one creep up and scare them. Just when they think they’ve already had their scare (right at the precise moment when they stop screaming and start laughing), the next zombie strikes. As people stopped to look at Norman, my fellow zombies could come in for the kill.
Scaring is definitely an art. I loved the couples where the guy would see me first and give me the hidden pointed finger at his date (“scare her” permission).
Families were fun, and I think I’ll be a popular Facebook “selfie” post, “YouTube” and “Instagram” sensation.
Because I was carrying a baby (even baby zombies have a “cuteness” factor, apparently)…many people interacted with me about the baby. “What’s his name” was asked at least 100 times over the first 2 nights... I am considering starting a Facebook page for Norman.
The hard scares were the groups of guys, all ages. You could see the true terror in their eyes as they braved their way through some of our scary best. We had “sliders” who actually had special equipment so they could slither up to people at ground level on their knees. Freakishly scary. But once in a while you caught even some of these lads off guard, creating a frenzied laugh among their group. Major zombie win.
So three nights later, what have I learned about scaring? It truly is about playing a role. I was creepy and scary for those that loved that, springing out and cornering people with a growling plea to let Norman have a helping hand (to eat, of course). I was a mom with a baby for those that needed that softer scare. I stared into the eyes of 6 ½ foot men, who were trying to dismiss me, and pursued them until they at least acknowledged Norman or laughed. Laughter is still a zombie win; it means people are having a good time.
As I woke up the morning after night 3, with blisters and sleep deprivation; a sore back, behind on my “real” job and feeling a bit of guilt over disappearing from my marriage and friends every weekend for 5 more weekends, I wondered what I should do. Maybe I’m too old for such a job.
My conclusion? I’ll be out there again next week. I’m going to buy more blister pads, fake blood and Advil. Oh, and new batteries for Norman.