Working at Scarehouse is a great way to “exercise” your demons. And your body.
“It’s like CrossFit,” says Scott Simmons, co-owner of the Etna-based haunt. “You’re crouched down hiding, you jump up in this explosive movement with lots of speed and energy and you’re doing that every 30 seconds all night long.”
ScareHouse, which kicks off its 19th season on September 14, is an ever-changing nightmare world that employs hundreds of part-time monsters each year. Because it takes a cursed village to raise the dead here in Pittsburgh.
Katie Dudas, a self-described “office lady” with no acting experience or interest in horror movies, decided to earn some extra money by playing a zombie years ago. The part-time gig was so much fun, she kept coming back. Now she’s the full-time director of sales and marketing.
Halle Mathieson, a 20-year-old dance and fitness instructor from Gibsonia, plans to reprise her role as a demon this year. Before tackling the job last year, she did research, basing her character on Anneliese Michel, a woman who underwent 67 exorcisms in the mid-1970s. Mathieson studied photographs and audio recordings of the spiritual proceedings.
“A lot of my mannerisms while scaring actually match that of exorcism scenes from movies and things that were described about Anneliese’s case, which made things much scarier than if I would have stood behind a wall and jumped out,” says Mathieson, whose flexibility allows her to contort her body into unnerving positions. “The psychological scare is definitely my favorite.”
At ScareHouse, frightening people has always been a family affair.
Simmons, who started ScareHouse with his dad, Wayne, grew up in the South Hills spending every October braving haunts organized by community groups. Although rudimentary and riddled with safety hazards, the spooky places sparked his imagination — as did director George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.”
As a lifelong Pittsburgher, those grainy, black-and-white images of flesh-eating ghouls are ingrained in Simmons’ DNA.
“’Night of the Living Dead’ had such a huge influence on me,” he says. “It is sort of the ‘The Blair Witch Project’ of its day.”
In honor of the flick’s 50th anniversary, ScareHouse is resurrecting one of its most popular attractions: Pittsburgh Zombies.
Since January, crews of diehard workers have been transforming sections of the century-old building into an undead wasteland which, much like the horror classic, is infused with humor and social commentary. Details are top secret, but visitors should keep an eye out for nods to Romero and his minions.
Because the intricacies of each set can be hard to see in the dark, ScareHouse offers behind-the-scenes tours. Guests can spend a leisurely afternoon strolling through Pittsburgh Zombies: Reanimated, Infernal Darkness and Nocturnia 3-D with the lights on.
For people who want more of a shocking experience, there’s The Basement.
The 18-and-over event, not recommended for pregnant women or people with heart or respiratory problems, features high-voltage effects, lighting that fluctuates between low and complete darkness, tight spaces, strong scents, water, violent scenarios and big-impact scares.
Kevin Poelcher, 32, of Edgewood, became assistant manager of The Basement last year, but patronized Scarehouse as a teenager and has been an employee since 2013.
“The advice that I would give to anyone considering to work at a haunted house would be to give it your all and don’t have any expectations,” he says. “Just go with the flow and let your guard down. You don’t know what your potential is until you challenge yourself to do the best you can. I’ve seen a lot of people in our industry overcome personal struggles and anxiety because they were able to find acceptance within a group of diverse individuals. It’s like being a part of a family and they all have a passion for the same thing: Halloween and the art of scaring people.”
Auditions began last week with additional tryouts this Friday and Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m. Other paid positions include makeup artists, customer service agents and security team members.