(Continued from page 53)
At the time of her injury, she was lying
on her stomach, playing a member of the
undead in the Zombie Graveyard.
“Every time I’ve worked the haunt,
I’ve gotten punched in the face or had
my boobs grabbed,” she says, laughing. “I
get in a lot of people’s faces, and it usually
But it’s worth it. “I went to a lot of
haunted houses, and this is the only one
that scared me,” says Izzi. “This is where
everyone goes to get freaked out.”
Most of the paid actors first come to
the attraction as customers or volun-
teers. Connor Lenahan has participated
on and off for 11 years. He loves Brighton
Asylum’s ability to play upon the fear of
the unknown. Customers are given little
hint as to what lurks within Brighton
“Some of the best haunts are just one
place,” he says. “You go through and you
don’t know what you’re in for.”
Each room is meticulously decorated
according to a theme. A butcher shop is
adorned with human body parts hanging
from the ceiling. A padded cell is wall-
papered in bizarre, hand-written notes.
Elsewhere visitors encounter shelves of
big-eyed dolls with cracks in their porce-
lain; jars of fermented organs; paintings
with eyes that follow you; and plenty
of snakes. If you have a phobia, there’s
a good chance Brighton has devoted a
room to it.
It’s make-up time. The actors are being transformed into their spooky alter
egos. For my costume, I choose something unusual for a haunted house, but
well within my personal wheelhouse. It’s
a yellow ball gown modeled after Belle’s
outfit in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
It’s unconventional—and I don’t get many
opportunities to wear a ball gown.
Heidi Sigler, a make-up artist from
Fort Lee, has worked professional gigs
in print, television and film. Brighton’s
methods are slightly more improvised.
Hours earlier, there had been panic: no
make-up sponges. An actor held up a
near-empty jug of fake blood and a bottle
of baby powder and offered to cobble together a solution.
“We fly by the seat of our pants,” Sigler
says. “We really are like a nuthouse.”
Sigler envisions me as a decaying
swamp princess. She applies boils to my
cheeks and colors my skin in green and
black for a lovely rotted look. The whole
process takes about 40 minutes. When
she finishes, I am almost unrecognizable.
BEFORE THE CUSTOMERS ARRIVE, I
need Scare Training and Touch Training. Ciccone, the general manager, runs
through the scare basics. There are rules.
First, no one is allowed
to say “Boo!” Second,
actors are discouraged
from shouting, “Get
out,” a staple of most
haunted houses. Ciccone says the phrase
becomes tiresome if
it’s being screamed in
each successive room.
“We want them to be
here,” Ciccone says,
“so why would we tell
them to get out?”
are told to be subtle. Use a growl or a rel-
evant phrase or a laugh. Ciccone cites one
actor who spends the haunt in a room
decorated as a library. She loudly scolds
guests for disturbing her reading.
Another reminder: Always scare
forward. Meaning, don’t scare the first
person of the group. They might stall
or move backwards, delaying the next
group and clogging the works. Instead,
Ciccone advises targeting the middle of
the group. That compels them to move
deeper into the haunt.
Each room contains an exit, partly
concealed by a red felt curtain. The doors
provide an escape for guests who get too
spooked as well as access for actors assigned as “roamers”—my role for the evening. I’ll be popping in and out of rooms,
following specific groups, or relieving
actors who need a break.
A fellow roamer, who asked to go by
his character’s name, Pappy the Clown,
relishes his role. “I run around the haunt
and am able to get multiple scares out of
the same group,” he says.
Richard Gonci, Brighton’s CEO, provides the touch training. Some of the burly actors are able to pick up guests and
carry them across the room, but Gonci
says light touches are creepier. Sneaking up behind someone to scratch the
top of their head or graze their earlobe is
guaranteed to unsettle. Stealth is crucial.
Letting patrons think they’re alone, then
clutching them from behind, always
elicits screams. When grabbing a person
from behind, Gonci says, always drape
one arm across the customer’s sternum
and clutch their shoulder with the other
hand. This way, the actor has control of
the customer’s movement, and there is
less risk of doing harm—like accidentally
cutting off the customer’s airflow.
It’s important to be spry. Jump back, I
am told, before the customer reacts.
THE HAUNT GE TS UNDERWAY. I have
become the swamp princess. With a
demented drawl, I ask around for “my
prince.” I hide in the dark corners and
latch onto unsuspecting groups, politely
saying hello when one of them notices
my presence. I wait in the hall until a
group passes a doorway, then jump in
screeching, “WH Y WON’ T YOU LOVE
I’ve been told it’s often the toughest-
looking men who are first to crumble in
the haunt. It’s true. In the freezer room,
I spot a buff-looking fellow gripping the
shoulders of an amused woman. I ap-
proach him, but he reacts before I can
grab his bicep. He leaps back wards, and
in one swift motion rips off his glow
necklace and hurls it at me.
“It’s off, okay?” he shrieks. “You can’t
touch me now!”
Not bad for a cheerful writer who
stands just 5-foot- 3.
● IF YOU GO: This fall, the doors of Brighton
Asylum will creak open the last weekend in September and slam shut November 1. Brighton also
hosts events tied to less spooky holidays, including Santa’s Slay for two nights in December; Dark
Valentine on Valentine’s Day weekend in February;
and one-night-only themed events in March, April
and May. Check brightonasylum.com for details