Halloween in Salem, Mass. is New England’s Mardi Gras. People dress up, party in the streets, and partake in crazy ritual behavior. While there’s no beads-for-peeps exchange in Salem, there is a seasonally unique quid pro quo: actors get paid to scare the bejeezus out of people, while their victims derive great pleasure out of the experience.
Normally it’s one-sided fun. But during the month of October, dozens of haunted house attractions around the region dust off their animatronic manikins, call in their best Freddy Kruger impersonators and rake in the dough. Enthusiastic guests stack up deep in lines, waiting to venture inside the labyrinthine house interiors and run screaming away from actors pretending to eat their brains.
The actors, however, call themselves “haunters.” They work in the “haunt industry.” To them scaring people is an artform. It takes dedication, skill, and ceaseless energy to induce the perfect adrenaline rush and ebullient nervous laughter from their guests. Above all else, it takes scare tactics.