My Haunted Hills experience: how I scared 2,000 people with dad jokes

Posted 10/28/20

If you’ve visited Pittsboro’s new Haunted Hills Terror Drive or enjoy people-watching, strap on in. This fittingly spooky topic comes from weeks of gathering notes on haunted house human …

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My Haunted Hills experience: how I scared 2,000 people with dad jokes

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If you’ve visited Pittsboro’s new Haunted Hills Terror Drive or enjoy people-watching, strap on in. This fittingly spooky topic comes from weeks of gathering notes on haunted house human behavior.

I am the creepy old woman grilling body parts, and I have stories to tell.

To develop my character, I researched every possible pun that she could make, including: “It’s an old family recipe,” “I could use a hand,” “I’m just pulling your leg,” and “Wasn’t that humerus?” During opening weekend, I offered these puns and more in quick succession, eliciting groans and cringes from nearly every car. That’s right — if you can’t scare them, give them second-hand embarrassment and hope it sticks forever.

During an early night, a child noticed the grilled arm and screamed out the car window: “I had alligator once!” Another child opened their minivan side door and yelled, “Come and get me!” But the bravest children were the ones who looked me square in the face and said: “Hello. How are you?” Even when their parents tried to offer them as a sacrifice. That is gumption.

The adults also had many clever comebacks, such as “Dang, those pajamas look comfortable.” Since I’ve mainly worn sweatpants in 2020, I had plenty of time to prepare. The adults also frequently called me their girlfriend, wife, mother or grandmother. I can only hope that this never gets back to the actual ladies in their life, because my character is not someone you would aspire to be.

I had some guests who loved Halloween to the point where they dressed up in creepy masks for the ride. If you’ve taken it upon yourself to bring your own plastic arm and wave it at me, maybe you should just be in the haunted house. I signed up to scare, not get scared — although I did realize that the howling noises were not from the provided audio files but from real, nearby coyotes.

By the fifth weekend, my fellow actors and I had our scare tactics down to a science. Based on whether I heard screams, laughter, or “OH $#@+” from the previous scene, I would tailor my own scariness accordingly. I can’t give my tactics away quite yet, but let’s just say movement variation works astonishingly well. My favorite guests are the ones who can shift from laughing to screaming in a matter of seconds.

At the end of each night, it takes a few seconds to adjust back to the person I really am. I am not a creepy old woman grilling body parts; I am merely a millennial ready to go home and dig into some fun-size candy. It is rare that I walk alone at night without feeling scared for my own safety. I’ve known the very real terror of being followed down Franklin Street or by a car in my own neighborhood. So, there is a certain power in knowing that I am the scary one, even if only for a few hours.

Rachel Horowitz resides in Chatham County and works in Pittsboro. She is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media and can be reached at millennialmusings.nc@gmail.com.

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