I pull into the parking lot at Haunted Field of Screams at 7:30 p.m. sharp. By 8:15 I’m one of them, one of the hundred-or-so actors who come here Thursdays through Sundays in October to scare the hell out of anyone foolish enough to walk through a ghoul-infested corn maze after dark.
The maze is haunted, all right, mostly by teenagers skilled at terrifying their parents in typical adolescent fashion. But before we get to all that, there’s a layover in the blood-spattered makeup trailer where artists Tim Weiss and Ann Lykins — she’s known as “Mom” to the other actors — are waiting to assault me with some really stinky cosmetics.
Mom dabbles in children’s face-painting in the off-season, and she keeps a running tab of the number of times I curse. Up until now, all of my experiences with latex have been positive, if not somewhat clumsy. Weiss assures me that “all of the makeup is FDA-approved.” He’s a deputy sheriff in the real world, so I have to listen to him or he’ll arrest me.
But then Mom starts painting zombie skin under my eyes, and the foam-like latex product – the same stuff they use on actors in The Walking Dead – violates me in too many ways to describe. “Is that cat urine I’m smelling, Mom?”
“Could be ammonia,” Weiss answers.
“The stuff they clean up vomit with in elementary school?”
“You bet. Now,” Weiss says, “I’m going to need you to hold your breath, close your eyes and look up.”
My first mistake is breathing while the metal airbrush contraption is spraying something called “hybrid airbrush paint” all over my face. My next mistake is agreeing to let Mom stain my teeth with Mehron ToothFX and subsequently biting down on one of her “blood capsules.” It’s amazing the things you have to do for people who aren’t your real mother.
After a tickly and nauseous 45 minutes with Weiss and Mom, I’m looking un-freaking-believable as I step into my bloody pink prom dress and become a real zombie prom queen. Then Haunted Field of Screams co-owner Joe Palombo comes into the makeup trailer to give me my acting lessons.
The last time I acted was in the sixth grade, when I starred in a college film student’s short The First Time. I’m pretty sure having my own IMDB page means I’m already a professional actor, but I decide to humor Palombo anyway.
“You don’t have to talk too much,” he starts, sounding like most of the guys I’ve ever dated. Palombo says I can try groaning, growling or gurgling, but quickly retracts that statement after hearing my attempt at a scary gargle.
“Let’s just move on to the scares,” Palombo says. There are three types; since I’m not ready for “verbal interaction” or a “startle scare,” Palombo assigns me to “movement interaction.” That’s haunted-house lingo for “Walk beside somebody and look creepy,” explains Palombo. Thankfully, I’ve already been doing this for decades, so I won’t need much training.
Haunted Field of Screams draws thousands of guests nightly. Since it's a busy place, Palombo assigns two of his employees to play lookout; they’ll let me know when guests are approaching the station I’m haunting, a mock high-school hallway constructed between rows of maize.
When I get the cue for my first scare, my heart beats so fast I wonder if I’m having a coronary episode. I tense up, botch my walk. One of the maze-goers laughs, and I’m faced with the realization that my acting career might have peaked in middle school.
But wait — not so fast. There are two other haunt actors nearby, ready to help me.
“You’re too stiff,” says the girl in the mask, a high-school student and part-time waitress. The actors at Haunted Field of Screams range in age from 16 to 65; between scares, my new colleagues give me pointers and help me develop my haunt voice, too.
Under the auspices of high-school students, I make my third and final mistake of haunting too hard — as evinced by the giant bruise on my right palm, sustained after repeatedly banging on a row of lockers.
Injuries, I’m told, are par for the course for haunt actors. One of my high-school friends pulls up her costume to reveal a gash on her shin from a nasty spill that she took. She lifts her mask, and we look at each other with knowing eyes: My hand will heal — so will her leg — but the twelve-year-old we made cower during my second scare will have nightmares for years to come.
Despite feedback from, um, everyone, I’m feeling pretty confident in my innate acting ability. I’ve perfected my limp walk, crooked neck and nails-on-the-wall scratch. Against Palombo’s better judgment, I’ve even promoted myself to the next level of “verbal interaction” and am stealing my seventeen-year-old co-worker’s line, “Can I use your intestines as a jump rope?”
A dozen scares later, dressed like the dead, I’m feeling more alive than ever — and that’s when our cameraman tells me that he’s ready to wrap things up. Typical: Just as I’m excelling at something, it’s time to go home. Palombo asks if I want to go through the maze as a guest before I leave. Heck, no. What kind of weirdo do you think I am?
On the car ride home, I finally have the opportunity to try a “startle scare,” which my husband, Ben, says is “extremely dangerous” on the highway. Ben wouldn’t let me wake up my kindergartner, either. He’s always been a bit of a party pooper, as you can tell.
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So I begrudgingly rip off my zombie skin like a Band-Aid and let the rest of the makeup melt away in the shower along with a few spare layers of skin. It’s common knowledge that once wild animals get a taste for human blood, that’s all they want to feed on. I totally get it.
There I was, a normal human again: a normal human with a taste for haunting.
Haunted Field of Screams is located at 10270 Riverdale Road in Thornton. It's open Thursdays through Sundays through October 30 — and on Monday, October 31, of course. Find out more at hauntedfieldofscreams.com or call 720-408-0006.