Learn What Happens Behind the Scenes at a Haunted House

Corey Stephens talks about how he crafts a perfect scare .

COREY STEPHENS SPENT two years building Abandoned Haunted House Complex along 1-94 in Mount Pleasant. In the nine years since, it’s been featured in The Wall Street Journal for its terrifying ghouls, and on weekend nights in October, the line stretches far out the door. We spoke with Stephens about staging night after night of fright.

What goes into preparing all the characters at Abandoned?

We have around 100 actors. Before each season, we hold Ghoul School, a training seminar in character development and interacting with people. Simple things like, instead of walking upright, hunch over or lean to the side. It freaks people out because it just doesn’t look right.

What about costuming and makeup?

We have our employees go to Goodwill and get regular clothes, jeans, flannel shirts, old business suits. We take scissors and cheese graters and moss and distress the clothes. We fray all the edges and put in dirt and blood. We have five makeup artists doing 100 people in about three hours; each person gets seven to 10 minutes. We use mascara brushes and latex for scarring and texture on the face – to make it look like, for example, a zombie’s skin is peeling off.

 

 

How much effort goes into set-building?

My designer, Matt Berg, is amazing. He can make a room look 150 years old. He gives me a layout for a room, and then I do the construction. He’ll go in and paint it and distress the walls. I collect old props to put in the rooms. For instance, our morgue has real porcelain embalming tables and embalming machines and fluid bottles. It keeps the rooms authentic. People get lost in the scenes.

What makes a good scare?

A scare doesn’t have to be just jumping out and yelling at somebody. It can be interactive. It can be gross. It can be funny. A lot of good scares come from distractions. We put caskets in some rooms. That’s exactly where people think the scare is going to come from. But we’re scaring from below your knees, we’re scaring from above your head, from the front, from behind.


 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s October issue.

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Archer is the managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Some say he is a great warrior and prophet, a man of boundless sight in a world gone blind, a denizen of truth and goodness, a beacon of hope shining bright in this dark world. Others say he smells like cheese.