Scaring is an essential part of haunted attractions. It has been for the past few decades now...and will continue to play a key role for decades to come. Executing a good scare is more than just jumping out and saying "rah!" or "boo!". It is about timing and delivery. Without these two factors, your scare is as good as flat lined, 'cuz that's the response that you'll get from your guests. In this issue, I'm going to go in-depth and explain some of the elements of a good startle scare that will leave your guests screaming in terror.

Before we begin, what is a startle scare? A startle scare is the most basic of all scares. It usually involves an actor hiding behind a curtain, door or just out of sight of the guest, then when the guest nears, the actor jumps out, startles the guest, then returns to his/her hiding spot. Sometimes a startle scare can be used several times on the same

group. This article will break down the different types of guests, as well as give tips you can use to enhance your acting skills.


1. Types of guests:
First off, we're going to cover the basic types of guests and their direct roles in haunted attractions.

Teenage/College Girls:
These guests are the easiest to scare and the most favorable among enthusiastic actors. They usually hide in the middle of the group or sometimes in the back. They almost always have at least one male in the front and this type of guest usually has their guard let down throughout the whole attraction, making for an easy (and often funny) target.

College Males/Middle Aged Males:
Most of the time, these guests go into the attraction with their guards up the entire time, expecting anything unexpected, making it harder to scare this group. Especially if they're with a group of friends. They feel the need to act tough and not be scared while inside the attraction. This category of guests are the hardest to crack, or scare. With these guests, you will more than likely have to work extra hard and come out lightning fast in order to get a favorable reaction.

From what I have witnessed, most families consist of the father in the front, the mother in the back and the kids in the middle, or sometimes just the father in the front and the kids in the back. In any event, the best way to approach families is to hit the father hard with the scare. "Why not the kids?" you say? Well, the answer is simple. If you come out as fast and as hard as you can and try to scare the father, whether or not you are able to scare him, you will be able to scare the kids with ease and possibly even the mother as well. If you are able to scare the father, then it's a bonus.

Intoxicated Guests:
This group of guests has the most potential for danger. When intoxicated guests come through, their senses are way out of whack and their perceptions of distances, the surroundings etc are distorted. There's a 50/50 chance that if you jump out to try and scare them, they will get very scared and try to get out of there as fast as possible. However, there's also a 50/50 chance that they will get violent, should you attempt a high-impact scare. The best way to try and attempt a scare with these guests is to scare them, but keep a safe distance away so that they cannot harm you. Judging what's a safe distance and what's not can be tricky and will have to be made using your best judgment. I would recommend a few feet away from them, just for safety reasons. These are the type of guests that many actors prefer not to have, simply because of their unpredictable nature.

Now that we've identified the basic types of guests, it's time to move on to the "nuts & bolts" of a startle scare. Starting with 2 of the most important factors involved: timing & delivery, without good timing and delivery, even the best scare can be extremely unsuccessful.

2. Timing:
Timing is an essential element in scaring. If you jump out too soon, you ruin the scare. If you jump out too late, again, you've ruined the scare. The trick is to find the happy medium between these two that works the best. I have found that there are 2 basic ways you can perform a startle scare: there's the most commonly used, "direct scare" and the way that takes a little bit of time to perfect, the "delayed scare". Both of these can work well. It's just a matter of finding what works best for you and being able to judge the group and determine which scare

would work best. Below, I'll get a little more in-depth as to what the "delayed" and "direct" scares are. I have found this technique to work best when the group is walking by you, as opposed to walking towards you (diagram A). While this technique can be good, many times, a delayed scare can work much better and I'll show you why in the next example.

The Direct Scare:
This is the easiest approach to startling guests and is the most commonly used, especially among rookie actors. The direct scare is when the guest (or group) is directly in front of you, you jump out at them trying to scare them. This

approach usually involves scaring the first 1 or 2 people in the group, then, if time allots, scaring the other half of the group.


The Delayed Scare:
The delayed scare is usually the preferred method among seasoned actors and has many advantages over the direct scare. The delayed scare is when you let the group walk past the point of where you would get them with a direct scare and then jump out at them (diagram B). The guest naturally assumes something's going to jump out, so you give them an extra couple seconds to walk past you. These extra seconds help the guest build on the idea that "maybe something won't jump out at me". When the guests feels as though nothing will jump out at them, they begin to let their guard down, making
for the perfect target. These scares are a little trickier to get right, as letting them walk too far past you can ruin the whole scare, but if you are able to successfully pull this off, the benefits are much greater than a direct scare.

3. Delivery:
Delivery is the other half of creating a good scare. You can time the scare all you want, but without a great delivery, your attempt at scaring will be half-hearted, to say the least. The key is to come out as fast as you can. The faster you jump out at the guests, the less time they have to realize what's happening. If you don't come out fast, the guest realizes that you are trying to scare them and many times has enough time to react to this by not letting their guard down, making it near impossible to scare. Noise is also a factor in your delivery, if you have some way to make noise, be it hitting a wall, slamming a door open or by other means, go for it. The loud noise and sudden impact of your jumping out have a profound impact as to whether or not you are able to scare guests.

4. The 3 G's:
Get in, Get your scare, Get out. With most startle scares, your main job is to startle the guest with a quick and swift scare, not to spew forth a menagerie of lines. So with this in mind, you want to jump out, scare the guest then return to your position or hiding spot. Another main reason for this is throughput. Many haunts have to continually have guests going through the attraction at any given moment, so in actuality, you don't have more than a few seconds (in most cases) to scare one group, then get ready for the next. Sometimes, providing it's not a super busy night, you may have time to scare each group more than once.

5. Mindset:
In order to really get into scaring guests, you need to become the character that you are portraying. Put yourself in a zone if you have to. One of the ways I use to show others how to 'become the character' is to tell them to think as the character. "You WANT to scare the guests; you NEED to scare the guests; you HAVE to scare the guests". By doing this, its gets them in the mindframe for scaring and many times the actors will become enthusiastic about scaring.

6. Distance:
Distance is also important to remember. Too far away can make your character laughable in the eyes of the guest, while too close can open the door for a potentially dangerous (and often physical) confrontation between the actor and the guest. This article utilizes the same theory explained by Sean and Adam Murry in "The Laws of Fear" (Haunted Attraction Magazine #36). There are 3 main distances in relation to the guests and actors.

Public Distance:
This distance is 12-4 feet away from the guests. If a guest can see an actor or scare more than 12 feet away, then he/she will usually put their guard up in advance, and begin feeling safer than they would if they had no clue what was lurking ahead. This distance should be avoided for attempting any type of scare.

Personal Distance:
This distance is between 4 feet and 18 inches away from the guests. This is usually the zone most actors enter when attempting a startle scare. It is close enough for you to be able to frighten the guests and make them feel uncomfortable, as well as safe enough for you to avoid most altercations, should a guest decided to have a physical reaction after being scared.

Intimate Distance:
This space is 18 inches and closer. This space is used when trying to make a guest feel extremely uncomfortable. Also considered the "in-your-face" approach. While this is good, especially if you're trying to psychologically scare the guests, it is also a danger zone for the actor, as a guest could easily harm an actor for getting "too close to them". Some, if not most people will not tolerate a stranger to invade this space, especially a "monster" trying to scare them.

7. Vision:
Vision is a very important factor, in being able to effectively time your scare, as well as keeping the guests and yourself safe. If you can't clearly see the group, then it's probably best that you assume the scare isn't safe and don't attempt it. I can't tell you how many times I have been on the receiving end of, and have heard stories from others on how a scare was misjudged because the actor couldn't see the group clearly and ended up colliding with a guest. Safety should be your prime concern. Not just the safety of the guests, but yours as well.

8. Confidence:
No matter what anybody says, you cannot scare every single guest that comes through. It's a proven fact. If you're good enough, you can scare maybe 80-85% of guests, but never all of them. You'll always have some smart-ass guests who come through acting all tough or making some stupid, rude or snide remark when you try to scare them. It doesn't matter if they're sober or intoxicated. These remarks can be a real confidence killer for actors. You can be having a great night and then you get one of these guests and they really bring you down. The best way to handle these remarks is to ignore them as best you can, regain your composure and get ready for the next group. While you may not have scared these guests, chances are, you'll have the next group screaming their heads off.

9. Growls, Yells and Screams:
If you ask Leonard Pickel, what you say isn't as important as the way that you deliver it, which is true for the most part, but dialogue can play a large role in whether you get laughs after the screams or if the guests continue screaming as they run into the next room. The most common stereotype is that haunt actors just hide in a corner then pop out and say "Boo!", which couldn't be further from the truth. The word "Boo!" should be avoided at all costs. It just gets laughed at and contributes to the false stereotype. When you come out, should you decide to use some sort of dialogue, think about what your character would do. Would a zombie say "HEY!" and then giggle maniacally? Probably not, so choose what you say wisely. Growls and screams are always generic forms that don't usually get laughed at, but sometimes, you can easily strain your throat by doing so. Graphic dialogue should also be avoided, unless absolutely called for by a scene. I have heard many customers complaining because an actor told their 8 year old that he was going to "pluck their eyeballs out and rip their head from their spine" or something to that effect. If you wish to save your voice, you can always resort back to the noise factor. Slamming a door or banging a wall can get as much of a startle as a loud menacing growl.

10. Enthusiasm:
Enthusiasm is what seperates the true actors from those who are just there to get paid or meet the opposite sex. if you give it your all and have enthusiasm, it will show in your scares. You'll find that scaring guests becomes more fun and easier along the way. It's the only way to stay positive while acting. In addition, the more you put into a scare, the more you'll get out of it.

11. S.C.A.A.R.E.
SCAARE is an acronym given to me by Allen Hopps, general manager of Terrain of Terror and a former actor of such events as Terror on Church Street, Skull Kingdom and Spookyworld, to name a few. SCAARE stands for:

Survey group/ select target
Catagorize guest type

Thats the acronym for a decent way of thinking about impacts in a haunted house. Let's break it down and go into a bit of detail about each step.

Survey group / select target:
Always have a way to view the group before you make your scare, it can be through a peephole, sneaking a peek at the group in the set before yours, or a pre-room scare in a stretch of hallway before your set, always survey the group. This is for two reasons.

1. saftey- look for guests who have their fists clenched and are ready to swing, plan your scare either behind them or out of their reach, look for small children who you may accidentally run over to scare someone because they are out of your masks' normal vision range

2. To plan your action, we all know that different kinds of people are scared of different things, so now is the time to check out your guests body language and plan your scare when the time comes.

Categorize guest type:
Who are you hitting in the group, always pick a target have a specific victim in mind when you attack. Body language is the key to this the guests body language will tell you every thing you need to know. Look for those who are really looking around for something to jump out, they scare easily, look for those who are only looking straight ahead at where they are going, they want to get out as son as possible and don't want to draw attention to themselves, look for guys who have their shoulders hiked up around their neck (that's a prey response when frightened to protect their throats), look for someone with their head turned the other direction for a split second, that gives you a chance to appear out of nowhere, there are a million things that body language will tell you its just a matter of recognizing the signs and using them to your advantage.

this is the most important part of this, be as aware as possible of the group in front of you, of the set they are walking through and of yourself. awareness on your part will keep everyone safe and having a good time. Here are some examples of what I mean, Be aware of the small children that i mentioned earlier, that the group before may have wet themselves and now the floor is slick, that the third guy in the group has a pen in his hand he plans to use as a weapon when you get close, that there is a nail popping out of the wall behind the group and you could scare them into it, that the hallway they run into after your scare is very dark and they may hurt themselves running into it, there are a million things that could go wrong or have a potential to go wrong for every group, you the performer are the best defense against all these things as no one knows this area of the haunt better than you do (or should).

After you have surveyed the group and selected a target, after you have categorized the guest type and become aware of all possible things, then you take your action. Your action may be lunging wildly at them, or leaning forward to whisper unsweet nothings in their ear. It should be well time and a sufficient distraction should precede it so the target doesn't expect it. There are two main kinds of startle scares, the appearing act, and the blizzard are my names for them, yes there are more kinds of scares, but every kind of startle is one of these two. The appearing act is when an actor appears out of thin air and his sudden appearance startles the group.

An actor hiding under a strobe light does an appearing act as he steps froward out of darkness, if he leans in close in the pitch dark and whispers something, then his voice appeared where once their was nothing, an actor hiding behind a door who suddenly swings it inward and scares the group is the same thing, appearing acts work really well and require little effort from the performer, they are easy to sustain and it really helps to have a set built for this scare, you can do an appearing act in the open but it requires good timing, an actor is in an established position from a victim (established by the victim seeing the actor there) when the victim turns their head enough for the actor to be out of their vision, the actor makes a dash towards the victim, their head moves back into position to locate the performer and bam! he has magically appeared right in from of them. This works best when the performer sees the victim locate him, and thinks the performer hasn't seen the victim, also a range of at least 10 feet away or more makes this much more effective.

The blizzard impact is just as it sounds, the actors comes at the group with all the fury of an angry blizzard, arms clawing or waving, head whipping around (looks best with long hair) and pure violence and energy come with them. It is best for the group to see the actor a full second before he attacks, the actor should focus and send an energy of hate at the guests as he approaches (sounds kooky but trust me it helps), the blizzard impact should make every person in the group move backward two or three steps. the blizzard takes alot of energy and takes a toll on the performer, he is the one who will twist his ankle, and or blow out his voice before the night is through. Its interesting to note that "statue" scares can work as both the appearing act or as a blizzard scare for different people in the group, as the actor stands motionless for a length of time some of the group will write him off as a mannequin, to them he does an appearing act because an actor just showed up where a mannequin used to be, to the ones in the group who knew he was real and was waiting for him to move, he did a blizzard impact because it was his flurry of motion and the anticipation of him moving that scared them. The two kinds of impacts can be combined but I will go over that in the next section.

Reaction during the scare is huge, as well as reading it properly by the actor. What you are doing during this stage is reacting to the guests reaction of your first impact. Look for someone who you werent targeting who completely lost their composure when you came at them, get a second impact on that person, look for someone who may have fallen and hurt themselves when you scared them, make sure not to scare anyone else on top of them if they are genuinely hurt. As far as doing both kinds of scares on a group, lets say you did and appearing act on the middle of the group, in your perifial vision you see the man in the back of the group flinch, thats his reaction, so now follow up with a blizzard attack aimed in his general direction. The impacts will blend together seamlessly and neither will seem out of character for any monster. Do not take more than four seconds with a group, the action should take two seconds, judging the reaction should take .25 or .5 seconds, use the rest to do your reaction impact, you may do more than one reaction impact, by lunging or reaching for different members of the group, but each seperate impact gets less effective. Remember that startle impacts are like earthquakes, if you are prepared for them and know they are coming then they are no big deal, its because they are unpredictable that they are a problem. and each tremor after the quake is less strong (partly because they already got the big one and are expecting the tremors). If your impact lasts more than four seconds then you will see the group start to compose themselves, they will no longer be afraid of you (If you were a real threat then they would be dead by now right?) they will look at you, they will slowly realize that there are six of them and only one of you, they will look at you and think to themselves "he is kinda short to be Michael Myers isn't he?" they will realize that the person in front of them is only 5'8" tall and is holding a rubber knife, so the jist of it is that more than four seconds is very bad for the scares and bad for your ego as a performer.

Escape is the second most important aspect of SCAARE. Escape is what keeps you from getting hurt, and keeps the guests scared of you. Back to the four second rule for a second , It takes a human brain about three seconds to recognize a threat and form an action and then execute an attack, only preconceived hits will get you (which you should look for in the awareness stage) if you aren't out there to long. Escape is vital, it is important to have a place to go, hopefully it is through a door, around a corner, through a curtain, or even just back into darkness where they can no longer see you. It is better for every guest to say "what the hell was that and where did it come from and go to?" than to have them say "he was 5'9" tall and he was wearing white sneakers and had on a mask that was white with clown makeup on it....." you get the idea, the less they see, the better. Unless you have mastered the art of tap dance and feel like giving a little show after the scare, then get out of dodge and hide. The best part of escape is that is lets you do it all again, just give the group enough time to regain their composure and get on their way and then nail someone else from a new angle.

While there's certainly many different ways to scare guests and different actors use different methods, there's no "one" right way to scare people, but as you can see, being able to know your victims, correctly time the scare and tailor it to each individual group will greatly increase your abilities to scare and help you grow better as an actor.


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