I consider myself a true fan of Halloween. I love to dress up in costumes, I never shy away from a "Friday the 13th" movie marathon, and I generally feel at home among people wearing fake blood. But last week I did something I've never done before: I took a behind-the-scenes look at Blood Manor, one of the bigger haunted houses in New York City. And let me tell you, peeling back the curtain of a haunted house can be even freakier than walking through the finished production.
Blood Manor (now in it's sixth consecutive year of operation) is located on the west side of Manhattan, near the Hudson River, and is billed as "New York City's Premier Haunted Attraction." People line up well before the doors open, waiting as long as two or three hours for a roughly 20 minute experience through a total of 19 lavishly scary environments.
Of course, for die-hard haunted house fans, the wait isn't just two hours. It's nearly 11 months, since the spooky attraction is only open for 35 days per year. So what makes this place so special? Is it the creepy actors? The crazy technology? I went behind the scenes to find out what keeps scare seekers coming back for more.
I inched through the sea of monsters, vampires and demons to Guy DeMatties, the jolly cast coordinator and actor-manager. DeMatties has worked at Blood Manor every year since it opened. What makes Blood Manor so unique, he told me, is not just the over-the-top decorations, animatronics and room themes, but the dedicated actors who bring it all to life. This season, DeMatties hired 57 actors, 42 of whom are working each night. Much like a small town haunted house, he said the production started with most roles being played by horror freaks and volunteers. But over time those folks were replaced by professionals who can scream for hours on cue and put their trained skills to use scaring the pants off of unsuspecting visitors.
As he explained this to me, a bewildered actor named Matt dashed up in a frenzy. "Guy, do you think I look too clownish? I'm just not sure I'm feeling this," he said. I looked over and nearly had a heart attack as I came face-to-face with the scariest Nosferatu costume I've ever seen in my life. "You look pretty good to me!" I blurted. I was impressed with his concern for looking scary enough. Guy took a step back and surveyed Matt's head. "Maybe you could add some shading over the orange," he suggested. Matt diligently went back to the dressing room to wait in line for a make-up artist. Clearly, this staff wasn't playing around.
So what kinds of people want a gig at Blood Manor? To find out, I rounded up a few guys who looked like they had a few minutes to kill: Nosferatu, Freddy Krueger and some sort of laboratory monster. In excited voices they all told me how much they look forward to being part of the haunted house every October. "This is like Christmas for us!" exclaimed Freddy Krueger, his face looking like a pile of burnt rubber.
I asked if any of the cast ever felt badly about scaring people for a living. "Definitely not!" they all laughed, practically slapping five. I was told that all of the cast members, including those with kids, share the goal to scare people as much as humanly, or inhumanly, possible. In fact, the actors exchange notes at the end of the night to ensure that the next night will be even scarier.
Still curious about how this whole production came together, I chatted up one of the owners, Jim Faro. A friendly man from Long Island, he confessed a 20-year love of haunted houses. "It all started when my wife and I threw a Halloween party, and I thought, 'Next year's will be even better!'" he said. From there, it spun out of control, eventually consuming his life from August through October. In August, he would begin exchanging his living room furniture for the props and decorations stored in his home's seven sheds. "Did you see the coffin downstairs in the lobby?" he asked. "It was in my apartment for years."
Finally, it was time for me to test my own nerves and experience the Manor. After hearing so much about everything from hired suspension artists who hang from metal hooks to a room filled with (fake) dead pigs dangling from the ceiling and covered in blood, I hoped I wouldn't turn into one of the frightened patrons who use the haunted house's many "chicken exits" each night. Thankfully, I can report that I came out intact and with dry pants, although it was definitely scary to walk through alone. I tried not to take offense as I listened to my gory new actor friends tell me they wanted to hear me "squeal like a pig" as I "prepared to die." And for a moment, I envied all the fun they were having.
That said, I don't think I'll be joining them anytime soon.
Blood Manor is located at 542 W. 27th Street in New York City.
Blair Koenig is a freelance writer who wishes Halloween came twice a year. She lives in Brooklyn and is terrified of the Burger King mask.
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