A behind the scenes look at the haunted house actors at The Hill Has Eyes
Cannibals, demonic carnies and mutant hillbillies play games just like you.
But, while you're trying to beat your brother at "Apples to Apples" or "Cards Against Humanity," the horror professionals at The Hill Has Eyes in Franklin are playing games that are meant to improve their ability to terrify you.
"Our goal is to bring these actors out of their shells and get them into a comfort zone that might not exist with an event like this," said Scot Johnson, director of customer experience for ROC Ventures, which puts on The Hill Has Eyes.
The Hill Has Eyes, which just opened for the season and will run through Oct. 28, has 120 actors for its five attractions that span 45 acres.
One exercise the actors do is like a darker and verbal version of charades. All of the actors line up in two parallel lines facing each other. Each pair of two walk through the line while acting out a scene. Johnson said a scene could entail an actor being bitten by a zombie and then slowly turning into one, or being chased by a demon-possessed dog. The other actors have to guess what's happening. All 60 pairs get a scene to act out.
This is horror professional Shaun Marks' favorite game. "It gets people out of their comfort zone and makes them do things they never thought they'd do before," he said. He joined The Hill Has Eyes during its first season, seven years ago, because of his love for Halloween.
For another game, Johnson said all of the actors are divided into groups of about 10. One person holds an imaginary knife and throws it at another. That actor can catch it and throw it at someone else or get hit by it and act out the process of dying. Johnson said this exercise is meant to improve body movement.
There's also a twisted version of "Telephone." But, instead of words, actions are used. Actors circle up around a theater instructor. The leader does a short outburst or action, like being attacked or dying. One actor copies the action and does it toward the person next to them. That actor does it to their neighbor, and the chain continues.
"It evolves as it goes along," Johnson said. "That exercise brings out people's personalities." He said this game helps the staff determine where to place actors within the haunt.
Who makes the cut?
While about 60 percent of the actors are returning scarers like Marks, others auditioned at one of the three job fairs The Hill Has Eyes held in September.
Johnson said everyone who auditioned got a part. "We have no interest in killing ambition or turning them away," he said.
After the audition process, the actors attend a four to five hour orientation/training, where they learn the back story of the haunt, which is that the hill is an abandoned trailer park where the government dumped chemical waste, Johnson said.
Then, they get into the games and exercises. The following week, the actors are brought in for two more sessions to go through similar activities and their scripts.
"By the end of the process, a lot of these actors are completely transformed," Johnson said.
For the first two years Marks was involved, he played a clown with no lines. He became Junkyard Ray, a lead character that's the face of the haunt, five years ago. "It was really cool to move up to that role and make it my own," he said. "I build on it every year to make it better and better."
The actors follow a script that has both words and actions, which was created by a staff member, Johnson said. Improvisations have to be pre-approved. While each of the five attractions have their own script, they're all connected to the hill's back story.
"They're not a boo or a scream," Johnson said. "They're actual story lines that we'd like to take through the entire haunt. It adds to the experience."
Marks said it took him about two weeks to get his script down the first year he was in a lead role.
While all five attractions receive updates from year to year, Containment, Failed Escape and Hunger Hollow have been redesigned for 2018.
"We don't want things to get stale," Johnson said. "We have a serious passion for this."
The haunt starts with Containment, which Johnson described as "Wisconsin's gateway to terror." He said bureaucrats decided it was in their best interest to cover up that there was ever a trailer park community on the grounds. Then, guests move into Failed Escape, where they meet Junkyard Ray and the mutant community. From there, they enter Hunger Hollow, which is cannibalistic with super mutated people and butchers. At the end of Hunger Hollow, guests go through a mutated church and onto the Scare Lift. Finally, they reach a death carnival, Carnivore.
Admission ranges from $30 to $53, depending on the date, and includes all of the attractions.
It takes about two hours and numerous artists to create all of the creatures wandering about The Haunt at the Ozaukee County Fairgrounds in Cedarburg.
The Hill Has Eyes
ADDRESS: 7900 W. Crystal Ridge Drive, Franklin
PRICE: $30 to $53, depending on the date
HOURS: 6:30 to 10 p.m. Thursday and Sunday, and 6:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Other things to do in the southern suburbs of Milwaukee that week:
- The West Allis Players will be putting on "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," at the West Allis Central Auditorium, 8516 W. Lincoln Ave., West Allis. Performances are at 7:30 a.m. Oct. 5-6 and 12-13, and 2 p.m. Oct. 14. Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and students, and $8 for children 12 and under. For more information, visit westallisplayers.org.
- An Oktoberfest with live music, children's activities and food vendors will be held at Konkel Park, 5151 W. Layton Ave, Greenfield, from 1 to 8 p.m. Oct. 6. For more information, visit bit.ly/greenfieldoktoberfest.
- Fall Family Festival at the Market will have trick-or-treating and kids crafts from 3 p.m. to dusk Oct. 4 at 1101 Milwaukee Ave., South Milwaukee. For more information, visit bit.ly/fallfamilyfestmarket.
- The 28th annual Downtown West Allis Classic Car Show is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 7. Cars will be parked on Greenfield Avenue, from 70th to 76th streets, and adjacent side streets. Admission is free. For more information, visit downtownwestallis.org/events/classic-car-show.
- Oktoberfest at Three Cellars, 7228 S. 27th St., Oak Creek, will have German music, food and beer from 3 to 11 p.m. Oct. 5 and noon to 11 p.m. Oct. 6. Admission is $5 and includes a beer. Families are welcome until 6 p.m. For more information, visit threecellarsoakcreek.com.
- China Lights: Panda-Mania at the Boerner Botanical Gardens, 9400 Boerner Drive, Hales Corners, continues through Oct. 21. It's open from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays and closed Mondays. Tickets are $20 for adults, $12 for seniors 60 and over and children 5 to 17, and free for kids under 5. VIP tickets are $30. For more information, visit chinalights.org.