Who ever said that horror sequels always have to suck? On a dark stormy night in 2014, I was a teenage ghoul when I went undercover as an actor at the 13th Floor, a San Antonio haunt that will break down even the bravest souls. Now, years later, I conquered my fears and returned to the place nightmares are made of. As a young adult ghoul, I knew that I would be wiser in my scare tactics and braver in the quest to harvest screams from mere mortals looking for an adrenaline rush. Admittedly, when I went uncover the first time, I didn’t exactly make the Scream’s List at scare school, but now (spoiler alert!) I can safely say I graduated from the University of Horror with a degree in Fearology and a minor in the Macabre.
It was, again, a stormy night when I passed underneath the demonic dragon perched on the wrought iron fence, keeping watch of the unholy grounds, as I made my way to the transformation chamber. When I arrived at the dressing room, party music that would fit in at the club filled the room already buzzing from the energy of actors-turned-monsters dressing up in their death’s day best. I also observed that the choice haunt drink was Monster Energy, a fitting toxic green goo to get the ghouls pumped for scares. As I was bestowed with a bloody button down for my character “laser swamp monster #3” I knew that I had to make the haunt proud and not regret letting me experience the art of scaring (or in the worst possible case, the failure to inspire a single goosebump). When I made my way over to the makeup chair, I knew what I had to do, and veteran 13th Floor dark makeup arts master JoeAnna “JoJo” Delgado with a flick of her airbrush gun and dabs of fake blood, transformed me from a timid human into a bloodthirsty corpse. I had midnight blue veins seemingly pulsating throughout my chalky face and neck, cheekbones higher than the flames of hell, and sunken eyes that gave away my state of rigor mortis: I came alive as the undead with only one thing on my now maggot-infested mind – to scare.
After I became more monster than man, the primal urge to cause fear kicked in as I descended into the labyrinth of trapdoors, secret corridors, and eternal darkness, led by the whole operation’s dark overlord known to the monsters as “mama,” or to the outside world as performance manger Melissa Espinales. As I stalked into my lair, a new addition to the haunt that creates the illusion of a mutant-infested swamplands using green lasers and heavy fog, I met two fellow ghouls, newcomer to the scare scene Rai and seasoned haunt actor Rebekah who both taught me how to navigate the swamp and, of course, how to be the scariest version of zombie Shannon. After a few successful screams, and a lot of failures that would inspire giggles (not even the nervous kind) instead of horror, it was show time. Even though the mood music was blaring, when the screams of humans started echoing throughout the maze, I knew I had to ready myself to scream, pound the walls, and stalk my way to success. After the first group passed by in a “conga line” as the haunters described it, I felt unsuccessful to elicit any spine shivers, but I did not give up, and as more thrill junkies passed through, the scarier I became. Confidence is key, but looking at my ghoulish peers working even the bravest of the group into a cold sweat, I felt honored that they accepted me into their domain even though I was spooky-impaired.
After my haunting hour was over and I was escorted from the underworld back to the land of the living, I realized that what makes the 13th Floor special isn’t just the hellish Disney-quality animatronics, stellar costumes and makeup, and immersive creepy atmospheres, as the pulsating heart is the talented people who put it all together into a cohesive, thrilling nightmare.
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