The Faces Behind The Woods of Terror
Children chase each other around the midway of the woods while their parents watch closely from the picnic tables. Teens stare at their phones while scarfing down their funnel cake. Everyone feels safe.
As the sun starts to set at 7 p.m., a car begins to rev. The sound gets louder and louder, but it is nowhere to be seen. Everyone turns toward a wooden gate where the frightening noise is coming from.
The gate opens, revealing a casket car and a horde of monsters. Clowns, vampires, zombies, every terrifying creature imaginable. They scream and howl as they parade through the midway.
Children run toward their parents. Teens watch anxiously while pretending not to be scared in front of their friends. Their sense of security is gone.
Two hours earlier, more than 100 actors were getting ready for work Friday at Woods of Terror in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Woods of Terror is a haunted house theme park sitting on 30 acres of woods. Visitors enter through a series of haunted houses, each one with a different theme, like vampires or clowns. Tickets range from $15 to $50, depending on the day and the type of admission. The theme park is open from Sept. 15 to Nov. 4. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and it typically takes an hour to go through all the haunted houses.
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Behind the gate is an area where all the actors put on their costumes and makeup. Everyone chats and laughs as they prepare for the night’s haunt.
In one corner, three women attempt to slide a Freddy Krueger mask onto a man’s face. In the middle of the picnic area, a bloodied-up woman holds a huge snake around her shoulders. Next to the costume trailer, a woman splatters herself with fake blood.
In the makeup shed, an artist carefully paints a line on the face of Eddie McLaurin, owner of the Woods of Terror. Half of his face is painted to look like a skull, the other half is left bare. His long half-red and half-black mohawk is covered in hair gel to keep it straight.
McLaurin said he opened the theme park 26 years ago when he saw that people could make a living off of Halloween. He visited them and did his research to get Woods of Terror to where it is now. During the off-season, McLaurin visits 15 to 20 haunted houses and goes to conferences to get ideas on how to scare his visitors.
“Haunted houses are a natural high, and it’s not illegal, so you can do it over and over and over,” McLaurin said. “It’s like a rollercoaster ride.”
Jerry McPherson is sitting on a bench next to a bucket of lollipops. He wears a blood-splattered straitjacket and a black bowler hat. His face is painted white with black eyeshadow and black lipstick stretching from cheek to cheek. He begins to get into character.
“You cute little boy, uh, do you want to be my friend?” he said. “When you get inside, you meet me on the other side of the barn. I have something sharp for you.”
McPherson plays Charlie, a clown who spent a good part of his life in asylums. After Charlie began working at a circus, he had an issue with leaving all of his friends behind. So he killed them, put them in his trunk and took it everywhere he went so he would never be lonely.
“He goes from place to place, and if you become a friend of his, you become a part of his trunk,” McPherson said.
McPherson, who works as a pastry chef during the day, is the main greeter at the entrance of the Woods. His job is to scare people into second-guessing whether they want to go through the attractions.
“You really have to look at your guest and play off their emotions, and once you feel that emotion, you know what to say and do, what buttons to hit,” McPherson said. “When you can take somebody and scare them so much that they can’t go through the entrance door and they’re ready to go home, that’s a point for me there.”
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Underneath the makeup shed, Mona Taylor blends foundation onto an actor’s face. Taylor began working here as a makeup artist to conquer her fears.
“I’m not scared of clowns anymore,” Taylor said. “I saw a clown here running. The clown ran so fast, he ran into a tree and that took my fear away.”
Taylor, who works at a day facility for adults with disabilities, said she typically does makeup for five or six people every night and takes about 10 minutes for each person. She said zombies and makeup for girls are the easiest for her to do.
“My hardest would be a clown because I’m not really into clown makeup, but that’s one of my biggest challenges, especially on a guy,” Taylor said.
Taylor continues to apply makeup on Kristine Daniel, who plays a seductive vampire named Alessandra in the Blood House attraction. Daniel, a stay-at-home mom, said she helps guide people into the house, which comes with some improvised lines.
“I will rip out your heart, and I will eat it in the palm of my hands, right in front of you and watch you die,” Daniel said.
After Taylor finishes Daniel’s makeup, Daniel goes to the costume trailer, where she is responsible for giving everyone their assigned costumes. Despite working at a haunted house, she still finds herself scared often.
“Trust me, I walk through the woods on employee walk-throughs, and—holy crap—I’m the biggest scaredy-cat here,” Daniel said. “Clowns are pretty crazy. They’ll get up in your face.”
In the Third Dimension, the 3D clown house, everything is painted in bright fluorescent color. Rainbow skulls align the walls of a narrow path where clowns jump out at every corner.
Near the end of the house is a spinning room. The walls are lined with mirrors and in the center is a cage with a swing. Wyatt Rada’s character, Wizz Bang, holds onto the wall and spins the room while tormenting its visitors.
“Last weekend, I dislocated my shoulder when I was in the cage. People were coming through the room, so I had to act through it with my shoulder popped out,” said Rada, who works at Zumiez when the season is over. “I just look at everybody, and I was like, ‘Boom,’ and I popped it back in place and used the pain to get more anger out.”
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As the time approaches 7 p.m., McLaurin gathers everyone underneath a steel tent. Everyone is in costume now. Last minute makeup is being finished up. The night’s scares are about to begin.
McLaurin has a routine: he thanks everyone for their time and commitment to Woods of Terror, gives a motivational speech and then prays that Jesus will protect his customers and employees during the frights.
Everyone lines up for the parade behind the gate, and McLaurin ends the routine the same way he does every night.
“Are you ready?” McLaurin said.
“Who are we?”
“Woods of Terror!”