Haunted houses: screams behind the scenes


Photo courtesy of Wiktor Wądołowski

A ghost hangs in the forest at Haunted Trails.

Ariane Apigo and Oliver Hopcroft

We’re all familiar with the feeling of what it’s like to be in a haunted house – the suspense of stepping into the glowing fog or the chill that runs up your spine when a masked murderer jumps out from the darkness. Not many people know, however, what it’s like to be the one behind the mask, waiting in the dark to strike fear into the next unsuspecting victim.

This year, at Haunted Nightmare, a haunted house at the Nile Shrine Golf Course, junior Kinney McKinney arrives hours before doors open to prepare for the night.

McKinney takes on a role as a ghost that greets visitors as they enter the haunted house. “I’m the only actor that actually has a script because I essentially read the rules,” McKinney said. “‘Don’t touch the actors; the actors won’t touch you.’”

About seven miles southeast is Bastyr University’s Haunted Trails. Last year, senior Lillybeth Held arrived hours before doors opened to prepare for the night.

Held worked as a makeup artist. “Earlier in the day, [Bastyr] does younger kids’ stuff, so like princesses,” Held said. “Then it goes into the scary stuff. So I would do princess makeup, and then gashes and bruises, and then I would go on the trails as an [actress] as well.”

Senior Caleb Ryden said he anticipated working at the Haunted Trails for the first time after hearing about it from Held.

“Knowing my friend Lilibeth, she’s really into that morbid kind of stuff,” Ryden said. “So she’ll probably ask me to be like some weird doctor that’s cutting her up or something.”

Due to inclement weather, Held and Ryden did not have the chance to make their plans a reality. Bastyr University came to a last minute decision to shut down both weekends of Haunted Trails this year.

“They cancelled opening weekend because of the storm,” Ryden said. “The second one, I’m assuming that they cancelled it because one weekend wouldn’t bring in that much money.”

The anticipated storm also closed Haunted Nightmare.

“We have a ton of trees,” McKinney said, “and the scenes happen outside, so we were worried about it – our number one priority is keeping our actors safe.”

Anyone willing to help support Haunted Trails or Haunted Nightmare is allowed to volunteer. At the Nile Shrine, the actors range from elementary school kids to elderly citizens.

“We actually have a lot of small kids,” McKinney said. “I think our youngest one is six. She’s honestly one of the scariest scares.”

Held said young children are not just entertaining as actors; they are also some of the most memorable visitors.

“There was one kid who came through,” Held said with a laugh. “We were waiting behind the bushes, waiting to come out, and we hear him and he’s going, ‘I’m not gonna die, I’m not gonna die. I have a long life ahead of me. I’m only ten years old.’”

Children are not the only ones who feel frightened within the walls of a haunted house.

“We had some scares so big, they actually broke our set,” McKinney said. “The group [of visitors] backed up into a wall and knocked down the wall. [The actors] did it again with a larger group, and they actually hit the wall so hard that the wall went flying and knocked down one of our lights. So we had to shut the scene down early.”

McKinney said that interactions like these are just as much of a surprise to the actors as they are to the visitors. This year, however, the only surprise to the actors at Haunted Trails was the sudden cancellation.

“It’s very sad — it’s sad because I love working for them, I love the experience,” Held said. “Halloween is my favorite time of year, so it’s a bummer to me.”