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Every Halloween around 3 million Americans willingly pay money to be scared shitless at a haunted house. No longer just a Halloween hobby, haunted attractions have evolved into a million-dollar industry and full-on experiences, including covering guests in blood, strapping them to hospital beds, or promising $20,000 to those who survive. While I personally will never understand handing over your hard-earned cash in exchange for being traumatized, there’s certainly an art to creating a truly terrifying experience. The set and scenery play a crucial role in creating the environment, of course, but the real scare factor is courtesy of the actors doing the lurking, grabbing, and spooking, all with a face of makeup that’s the stuff nightmares are made of.
Creating a successful monster goes beyond simply creating a horrifying look (although that’s definitely a huge part of it), but the makeup also must last through several hours of sweating and screaming, and be easy enough to remove at the end of the night. While some scare actors (as they’re called in the biz) do their own makeup, most large haunts have a whole team dedicated to creating dripping wounds, rotting flesh, and terrifying teeth night after night.
While scrolling through Instagram is a great way to get inspired, if you want to know what products really get the job done, turn to haunted houses. We spoke to six scare actors and makeup artists from the best haunted attractions in the country on the products they rely on season after season.
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“This a classic exorcist meets ghoul face that is the base of a lot of our more human looks,” says Aryn Fox, makeup manager and actor at The Dent Schoolhouse in Cincinnati, OH. Fox is a self-taught makeup artist who got her start playing with special effect makeup as a goth kid, but has being doing makeup at the Schoolhouse for 10 years now. For the above look, she uses Mehron Celebre Cream Color in alabaster for a “ghoulish base,” and she loves that it stays on through heavy sweating. For the veins and texture she mixes the European Body Art SFX Alcohol Palette with 99% alcohol, and to create the black drip she mixes Ben Nye Character Powder in charcoal with the alcohol to “mimic black ooze and blood.” To finish off the look she adds colored contacts and tooth color, “nothing makes me more ready to scare than some added tooth rot!”
“It’s so fun to dress up as something that isn’t particularly the norm, and making monsters out of regular people is an art form that I think is vastly underrated,” says Bailey Gettemeier, an actor at Creepyworld Scream Park and The Darkness Haunted House in St. Louis, MO. “I’ve been playing with special effects makeup for years, but really got into the more intense and dramatic looks about a year ago. A really amazing makeup artist in the haunted house industry, Bryce Alexander, helped teach and inspire me.” For most of Gettemeier’s looks, she depends on an airbrush, European Body Art Airbrush Paints in white and black, and Wolfe FX Water Based Makeup in black. “The airbrush white is my base, followed by contouring around the entire face with the airbrush black,” she says. For the drips and splatters, she simply mixes the Wolfe Water Based Color with a little water, and drips it on.
Nicole Weaver, makeup artist and scare actor at The Haunted Trail of Balboa Park in San Diego, CA, has loved Halloween since she was a kid, but decided to make it her career 13 years ago. “I was hired on as a scare actor at first, but one day I came into work with a full makeup look I’d applied myself, and the boss saw me, and offered me a dual position as actor and makeup artist. The rest is history. Bloody, gory, fun history.” For her Bloody Mary look, Weaver starts with Mehron’s Clown White Lite, which is a more lightweight texture than traditional white bases but still packs a punch when it comes to pigmentation. The Skin Illustrator American Horror Alcohol-Activated Palette is a must-have in her kit. “I learned early on in my scaring days that most makeup wouldn’t stay on me all night since I sweat enough for three people,” she says. “Alcohol-activated paints are very near waterproof and don’t run when you’re dripping sweat…or rain….or blood.”
To set her makeup, Weaver mixes Kryolan Translucent Setting Powder (for staying power) and Coty Airspun Powder (it “smells nice”) to add a little depth to the stark white base. PPI’s Green Marble Sealer also helps keep her makeup on all night by beading sweat on top of your makeup instead of smudging it. She uses NYX Full Throttle Lipstick on an eyeshadow brush to shade after her powder, which she loves so much she wears it even when she’s not scaring. She adds an extra creepy touch with the Gothika Contact Lenses in Scarecrow, which she swears are the comfiest contacts she’s ever worn.
Bethany Michel started doing makeup while working for the Defense Intelligence Agency over nine years ago, but didn’t start doing haunted house makeup until five years ago when she moved to Atlanta to pursue special effects. As a makeup artist at Netherworld Haunted House, she now creates looks like this one on the regular during the Halloween season. She always has ProAiir Airbrush Paints on hand, which she loves for their staying power, but notes are easy to get off at the end of the night. For the above look she used various MAC and Ben Nye eyeshadows and applied them with Bdellium brushes, which she “absolutely lives for.” For any look she does, she uses Skin Prep Pro by Mehron, and Ben Nye Final Seal. “Using these as bookends to makeup really helps keep everything on throughout the night. Actors get really sweaty!”
“I’ve been doing haunted house makeup professionally for nine years, but I have loved horror movies my whole life,” says Tammie Castagna, special FX makeup manager at Terror Behind The Walls in Philadelphia, PA. “I attended cosmetology school but quickly discovered that working in a salon was not the place for me.” After working on film and learning everything she knows from special effects artists, Castagna landed at Terror Behind the Walls, where she manages a crew of 23 makeup artists nightly at an actual haunted prison. For the base of this zombie nurse, she used European Body Arts Airbrush Paints, which she loves because they dry instantly and don’t crack. “I use the Fetid Flesh color to pale out the complexion and Decayed to set back the natural contours of the face. I also use colors like Rancid, Contusion, and Liver to add mottling and bruising. Adding soft, sheer accents of pigments found naturally in skin tones helps to liven the look.”
She likes to use a cream like the Ben Nye Bruise Stack on eyelids and other delicate areas to avoid irritation, as well as to add texture, and in this look used them for lipstick. To add dimension she layers powders from the Ben Nye Pressed Theatrical Eye Shadow Palette on top of the creams. “I use powders to soften contours, and hit it with a little black or dark brown to really create contrast between highlight and contour. Using a loose brush or blush brush to mottle around the hairline and in the eye sockets gives you a crusty, dirty look that I just adore.” She uses Ben Nye Neutral Set Powder between every layer of makeup to ensure it stays put all night long.
Marie Cruz is a makeup artist at Blood Manor in New York City, where she’s been doing haunted house makeup for a little over five years, but has been into special effects makeup for 10. She grew up drawing monsters, and now she gets to bring them to life. She always has the European Body Art Alcohol Based Palettes in her kit, because they stay on your skin for long periods of time. Cruz says Liquid Latex is a special effects essential, because “you can do anything with it. With some tissue, you can make fake skin, with cotton balls, you can really big gashes, so it’s a great base for any character makeup you want to do.” For looks like the above, she uses the Make Up For Ever Flash Color Pallet, which she likes because it can easily cover a large area or is great for details. And, like any good Halloween lover, she always has fake blood on hand: “You can buy the cheapest blood, it doesn’t matter what kind, since you can always modify it by adding either chocolate syrup or instant coffee to give it a darker blood look. I love doing this because most blood we buy can appear too red and not dark enough to look real, so it’s a trick I do all the time to make it look more realistic.”