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Weird October

Posted in Preludes and Nocturnes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2016 by bluefall8

It’s been several years since I visited so few haunted attractions during the month of October. The season started normal enough on Saturday, October 1 with a trio of stops at Shawhaven Haunted Farm, Awaken and Jackson’s Underworld. A pair of weeknight outings organized by the Michigan Haunters Association then brought me to Rotten Manor on Tuesday, October 11 and then Clio Manor and Exit 13 the following night.

Due to my budding love affair with SIN, an already streamlined haunt schedule was blown to bits by the second week of October. A return to the beloved Bloodview was dashed along with would-be maiden voyages to Haunted Elementary and Bates Haunted Saw Mill. Psycho Path was shutdown by the City of Flat Rock over safety concerns and was relegated to hosting a hayride — that put a serious damper on a night that included other nearby haunts, Woods of Darkness and Hush.

But perhaps it was all written in the stars, 2016 was a season of change. I found a second family at SIN and while I’m disappointed I didn’t get to visit a bunch of new and exciting places this fall, I don’t regret my decision to commit to SIN. It was a blast and I’ll cherish the memories.

The lack of trips did leave me hankering for some post Halloween fun and lo and behold an opportunity presented itself. Tomorrow night we’ll drive to Cincinnati for an overnight trip headlined by The Dent Schoolhouse where a most intriguing and timely event is set to take place — Lights Out: Clown Edition. If time permits we’ll then make a break for Middletown, home to Nightmare Manor and Land of Illusion Haunted Scream Park.

Hot Box

Posted in SIN Chronicles with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2016 by bluefall8

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Saturday was a long, exhausting night at SIN. I’d estimate that we had more crew members than any other night thus far. Zack, the male cheerleader, from last weekend even returned with his tall friend to volunteer — the pair worked the dining room and Zodiac respectively. We would need all those crew members too because the bars in Wyandotte were hosting a zombie pub crawl and those drunken meat bags shambled into SIN.

I’m not sure what time the house began to get busy — 8pm maybe 8:30pm but once it started it didn’t stop until Midnight. Haunt zero was packed with warm bodies and as the temperature rose I began to regret my decision to wear two flannels. I did venture outside from time to time to cool down and steal some fresh air but the vast majority of my night was spent with the horde of patrons just inside the doors of SIN and what an interesting amalgam of humanity they were.

FREAKS, FRIENDS & DEGENERATES

There several different types of guests at a haunted attraction and I think I witnessed the whole gamut last night. There’s those who react predictably, that is too say frightened and nervous such as a pair of petite Indian women who snickered and cowered any time I was nearby. These people are harmless and want to be scared; the consummate customer.

There’s also people I’ve found who are genuinely pleasant to interact with but I don’t know that until I’ve conducted one of my various ice-breakers. Usually, once I’ve got a vibe from them I downplay the creepier elements of Vermin and allow more room for comedy or relatively lighthearted banter. Such was the case with a young couple from Grosse Ile (yeah, we’re getting a lot of folks from Money Island). The young man happened to be wearing his girlfriend’s varsity jacket — a point that both myself and Daffodil took issue with. There was also a younger sister or friend with them named Emma and she was frosty for most of the wait in line but did eventually warm to Vermin. They seemed like good people and I was legitimately sad to see them disappear through the entrance of the haunt.

The same can be said of a young woman named Cassidy who I interacted with on several occasions while she and her lone friend waiting to enter the attraction. These people aren’t so different from the first group really; they want to be scared too. The difference is that they’re entertained by both the character and the person behind that character. It’s a nice change of pace actually, it’s exhausting trying to creep out and scare every last guest. Typically, when I’m confronted with these kinds of groups and individuals I like to crack jokes and flirt. It’s good clean fun.

There’s a third type that’s simply enamored with the whole experience. They’re more likely to give a character a hug than to be startled or scared; these people want to work at a haunted attraction and I’m always on the look out for them because the act must be adjusted for these people. The more you try to freak them out, the more they will latch on to you as their new best friend.

There was a sweet 13-year-old girl named Logan in line with a group of friends and she fit the profile perfectly. She deflected all of Vermin’s strangeness with a serene smile and spunky attitude. Indeed her colorful braces and plentiful freckles made for a face so adorable only a true maniac would want to see her so much as frown. She asked to braid my hair, she asked for a hug, she asked if she could work at the joint. The girl was fearless and I admired her for it.

Unless I’m doing the creepy smell-my-hair bit I don’t encourage customers to touch me, it can be a slippery slope. But Logan really wanted to braid Vermin’s hair and the kid had a heart of gold so I allowed her to put that braid in my hair. It’s all improv when you get down to it and I try my best to keep people entertained. I love to see people smile.

Another guy who fell into this category was Kramer, yeah, his parents named him Kramer. He was there with his sister Avery and a couple of her friends. Kramer seemed quiet at first perhaps even a bit of a stick in the mud but then he lit up like a Christmas Tree and engaged in a series of out-of-the-blue masturbation jokes. Never to be one caught off guard, Vermin went right ahead with the conversation and it was a bit of fun that we revisited a couple of times while Kramer remained in line. He even presented both of his hands at one point, palms up and discussed his relationship with each. I informed him that he was indeed a brave soul to hold his hands in such a fashion beneath a black light; a line that drew much laughter for all involved.

OTHER ODD AND INTERESTING DUCKS

There are others of course who fall into the various categories or even over-lap into several; most of them too are enjoyable to interact with in their own way. I had a conversation with a young guy who worked construction in Ohio, his name was Darryl. He was curiously accompanied by a gaggle of attractive Russian co-eds, not sure what that was about but probably an indication of good things for Darryl. He and Vermin worked out a deal on cement shoes and agreed to keep the whole thing hush-hush. When he passed Vermin again later he reiterated the deal and then at nearly the same time we each placed an index finger to our lips, conspiratorially. You can’t plan that kind of stuff, it just happens.

Yet another interesting pair came in the form of Zombie Pub Crawl participants. A young, skinny dude was dressed as undead Elvis while his friend was a sprite of a man who sort of resembled Popeye or maybe Popeye’s less impressive cousin. They were both drunk both not obnoxious drunk, just drunk enough to act foolish and have a good time. Pint-sized Not Popeye informed me proudly that his name was Typhoon Tommy, he even produced a credit card as proof. That credit card read: Typhoon Tommy. The hell? I later learned from Grace who was again stationed in H.H. Holmes that the duo tried to playfully chomp her. Some people, man.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

There are a few other types I want to touch on, but this entry has gone on long enough so I’ll save those for a separate post. Just to whet the ole whistle, that future post will concern combative, rude customers which is something anybody whose worked with the public has dealt with from time to time. But perhaps more interestingly, it will also address how I like to approach physically imposing guests who are a unique challenge altogether.

Mackinaw Manor Automatonapalooza

Posted in 2016, Mackinaw Manor, Review with tags , , , , on October 15, 2016 by bluefall8

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In late August I went on vacation with my family to Petoskey and while there we decided to take a day trip to Mackinaw City. Mackinaw Crossings is a modern shopping district with a quaint atmosphere, one of the businesses featured there is a fully automated haunted attraction called Mackinaw Manor. The chance to visit a haunt in August was too great to pass up and at just $7 a head it was a no-brainer. As fate would have it the original trio was present — my brother, Jason, good friend, John and myself — the fabled Haunt Trinity.

Jason was out of practice and it showed as he was startled and spooked on several occasions. Beginning with the first room where a seance had commenced, a pneumatic prop emerged from beneath the lid of a crate and gave my big brother a proper jump scare. John and I shared a laugh at his expense and would enjoy several others as we progressed through Mackinaw Manor.

Near the halfway point of the attraction skeletal remains swung down from the ceiling and flailed helplessly while upside down; this too got a rise out of Jason. Soon we forced our way through a womb of doom and found ourselves on the threshold of  a child’s bedroom where sinister forces were at work. A girl laid prone on the bed, her head secured in the oversized hands of some kiddie snatcher. I think I saw her draw a few shallow breaths while voices swirled around the room. Behind us a closet door burst open and a miniature maniac darted in our direction with a mad glint in his eyes and a knife in hand.

Mackinaw Manor was brief and as a fully automated attraction featured no live actors but it was fun and a good value. The first and last rooms in particular where executed well and served as highlights of our trip.

Rating: 3 stars

Blur the Line

Posted in SIN Chronicles with tags , , , , , on October 14, 2016 by bluefall8

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It was another slow Thursday at SIN punctuated by a large group that was a mix of elementary aged children and young teenagers. Their reactions ranged from amused to frightened and that’s about how it should be in a group that size. One of the poor kids dropped a $20 somewhere in the attraction and by chance I spotted it under the black light of haunt zero. Vermin may be a creep but he’s an honest creep.

I ran all of my usual bits inside and outside of the haunted attraction, without incident. It was a fairly uneventful night by haunted house standards, but one passerby made sure that it wouldn’t stay that way. I had a message from the chairperson of the haunted house this morning which stated that a complaint had been made about Vermin. I often wander outside of the haunted house when it is slow or dead to interact with people who happen to walk by the haunted house and tempt them into buying a ticket. One of my standard bits is to simply say, “Hello, what is your name?” Which is exactly what happened during the incident in question.

The pair of women who I judged to be in their early 20s never broke stride and when they were probably 10-15 feet away I called after them bemusedly, “What? Your mommas didn’t give you a name?” That was the end of the interaction, but in the age of social media things are easily and often exaggerated. Apparently, one of those young ladies was so unnerved she couldn’t get the moment out of her mind all night and characterized the figure in question (myself) as “rapey.” A flood of comments and laughable moral outrage ensued by a cavalcade of brave souls who weren’t even there to witness the non-event, of course.

There is without a doubt a fine line that haunt actors walk and I take pride in walking it very well. I read body language constantly and I have often backed off of a patron when they seemed indifferent or simply not into the experience. I understand that not everybody is in love with haunted houses like myself; a lot of people are dragged to these attractions by friends or significant others. I want them to have a fun experience and I want to enjoy my interaction with them. If that isn’t happening I move right along to the next person. But I’m not going to apologize for being effective in my role and I’m sure as hell not breaking character because someone fails to recognize context clues.

It’s October. You’re walking in front of a haunted house. Creepy guy. Funny accent. Yeah, context clues. Had I used profanity or been vulgar I’d understand the complaint. Had I invaded their personal space or blocked their path I’d understand the discomfort. But when the interaction outlined above is characterized as “rapey” it’s time for some people to be reminded of context clues and common sense. It’s also worth note that no one else, either inside or outside the haunted house has complained. Does the act creep some people out? Absolutely, that’s what it’s supposed to do. But if all you have is a strange looking guy outside of a known haunted attraction asking your name you don’t get to take to social media and stir up baseless faux-outrage. What you need to do is grow up.

Cold Ash

Posted in SIN Chronicles with tags , , , , , on October 11, 2016 by bluefall8

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Sundays are much slower than Saturdays in the haunted house industry; that is an indisputable fact. That alone was enough to alter the vibe in the house but we also had noticeably less staff members than the previous night. In fact, aside from a couple of queue actors; we had just enough to place one person in each room. It’s amazing how much that can impact the dynamics of the show, but with that said it wasn’t a bad night.

By the end of the night we had double the amount of customers who had toured SIN on Thursday, so when framed in that context I suppose those numbers aren’t so bad for the second weekend in October. We had one group who had patronized the haunted house on Saturday return on Sunday, led by a goofy but likable young man named Zack. He was particularly taken with Vermin and Daffodil. His enthusiasm was unaffected even as we insulted him and offered backhanded compliments after he proudly revealed that he was a male cheerleader. He even performed a back flip on the sidewalk outside the building. He took the ribbing in stride and seemed to genuinely enjoy the entire experience just as he had on Saturday night.

Another notable group was in town from Philadelphia for the Lions/Eagles game; apparently it was one of those rare instances where the Lions didn’t find a way to lose. The father in the group had lost money on the tilt; information that was joyfully relayed to me by his niece. She elaborated that this was the second straight year in which her uncle had lost money on the game and I just couldn’t resist the urge to turn the screw. He was a good sport about it though and I really got a kick out of interacting with some out-of-state visitors.

Around 9:15-9:30pm a group of three teenagers pulled up to the curb outside and inquired about closing time. A conversation ensued, the female driver seemed curious, if not amused by the proceedings, a male passenger in the front of the car was quiet. From the back seat a scrawny male served as the peanut gallery. Things were well enough at first but then he began hurling insults at a co-worker that were tinged with just a little too much vitriol for my liking. There’s a difference between going back and forth with the character in front of you and harassing the person beneath the face paint or mask. You see the same thing at sporting events all the time when some drunk or wannabe tough guy takes liberties with a team mascot.

I don’t suffer the ignorance of fools lightly so as Vermin I turned up the heat a bit and insulted him with a volley of barbs that clearly got under his skin. His friends in the front seat seemed to enjoy every minute of it which served as a good tool for me to be sure that I hadn’t crossed the line from theater to reality. I think that’s important for haunt actors to remember. You can target and ridicule one person in a group as long as their company is laughing and generally enjoying the interaction, but if what you’re saying or doing seems to have put an entire party in a bad mood then you need to back off.

The kid was obnoxious and rude and possessed little to no understanding of social cues or context clues. Near the end of the exchange he was so delusional as to say, “I don’t think you know who you’re talking to.” I managed to stay in character but the laugh I issued was purely authentic. I reiterated several of my earlier insults and then bid the group farewell; after all if they wanted any more of a show they needed to come inside and purchase a ticket. Plus, I had no intentions of going to jail.

House of Fire

Posted in SIN Chronicles with tags , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2016 by bluefall8

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I arrived at SIN last night around 8pm and shortly thereafter the house would be rocking for the next three and a half hours. There were so many instances of quality interaction that it’s hard to keep them all straight so I’ll plunge into the highlights momentarily.

But first, a few notes on the cast and crew. When I arrive, if possible, I like to go through the house and get a feel for the vibe. As with any volunteer effort there can be a fairly significant change in crew from night to night and week to week. It is typically during this walk through that I release Vermin and I will interact with everyone as that character. If I’m not familiar with someone I might introduce myself (as Vermin of course) or else I’ll take the opportunity to mess with them.

There were a few new faces throughout the haunt but each seemed excited to be there and committed to the act. I never did get a good look at the kid in the dining room, so I’m not sure if he was new or not, but he was a frenzied ball of energy when I escorted a trio of jumpy ladies though the attraction not long after my arrival. The hallway following the Gacy room featured several notable additions which included a green laser, a neon-colored sign that read “Clown Lives Matter” and of course, public enemy number one: clowns. Three or four big, intimating dudes considerably shrunk the available space and transformed a boring transitional passage into a high-water mark of SIN.

THE SHEARING OF THE SHEEP

I learned a lot of names last night, discovered where people lived and found that the vast majority of people I smelled had a pleasant scent. For some reason a lot of people ask if I’m wearing a wig and when they do so I encourage them to touch my hair. Sometimes I even offer them a smell although most decline the opportunity it doesn’t stop me from expressing my interest in smelling their hair and that is something that a lot of people are pretty uncomfortable with.

One quartet was from Monroe, a place I’ve lived at two points in my life, so I drew on my familiarity of the area and cracked tasteless jokes about the Custer Statue and the heroin epidemic that has plagued the county. Yeah, Vermin has no shame. I try to make a point to introduce myself to every guest waiting in line and due to wait times I generally have the opportunity to interact with the same group two, three or four times which requires a lot of improv and on occasion it affords me the opportunity to elaborate on Vermin’s checkered past.

Sometimes, I like to slip in facts about my own life to lend more authenticity to the performance and boy does that work like a charm. If you watch the body language of people and the position of their eyes, it will reveal a lot. I love to see a change in their demeanor when I go a little bit darker, cut a little bit closer to reality. You can almost see the gears in their head turning, wondering how much of this is purely shtick. It amuses and pleases me to no end to have so many customers seek clarification on my position within the haunted house and question whether or not I officially work there.

No doubt the highlight of the night came when Daffodil appeared and we worked haunt zero in tandem, we would later be joined by Dr. Giggles as well and then we really had the room jumping proper. Some teenager playfully insulted Daffodil and the no nonsense, Brooklyn girl brought her grievances to Vermin who promptly and angrily confronted the young man. I wouldn’t say the kid was scared but he was undoubtedly uncomfortable as I delivered my demands with force. We isolated him in one corner of the room and made him apologize which he did quickly, too quickly. He was then told to drop to his knees, it was there that the apology would be delivered.

There was a pregnant pause in the room, all eyes were on this poor bastard by now. He hesitated to comply and every second he delayed was further fuel for either Vermin or Daffodil. One of us was going to shred this kid in front of the whole room so I watched and waited while I blocked his path back to his friends and that’s when Daffodil went for the jugular. Without remorse, without even a hint of speculation she stated as fact that the young man should assume the position in which he undoubtedly had spent so much time. The room exploded with “oohs” and “aahs” like it had suddenly transformed into The Jerry Springer Show. Daffodil snapped her neck, popped her hips and watched that kid sink to a knee as he kissed her offered hand as an apology. A superbly timed scene that may have caused me to hide my smile behind my long locks.

SAY WHAT?

In my mind, Vermin has a New Orleans accent and some people have commented on how convincing it is, but others have compared it to a long list of celebrities and fictional characters which I find interesting, amusing and, at times, disappointing. Last night alone the voice was compared to Bill Clinton, Forrest Gump, Christopher Walken and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in Tombstone.

I think the Walken comparison is a stretch although I can see where someone would make the link. Clinton and Gump do sometimes come through with certain phrases and I try to limit that, but the Val Kilmer one stuck. I hadn’t thought of that myself, but I was okay with it not only because the cadence was undeniable but also because Doc Holliday was one cool son of a bitch in Tombstone.

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Posted in SIN Chronicles with tags , , , , , , on October 8, 2016 by bluefall8

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I wasn’t able to get out to SIN and drop into Vermin until 11pm last night but I made the best of a short night. I arrived to find Daffodil, an adorable and spunky clown armed with a Brooklyn accent and sharp wit, entertaining guests out front. I joined in and after a lot of convincing we coaxed a pair of women out of their car and into the house. However, as per the bargain we stuck, Daffodil and Vermin were made to escort the pair through the haunted house.

It was a fun bit of interaction and those ladies really loved my hair, but another strangler wasn’t so fond of me. She refused to even entire the building with the rest of her group and professed her discomfort with me despite the fact as she put it, “…you’re not even wearing a costume.” For those interested, the primary dress for Vermin is an old pair of ripped up jeans and a flannel — that’s it. The thrust of this character comes through my body language, cadence and words. I do pride myself on the ability to mess with guests in the same clothes I arrived in.