Theme Park Ranger
October 16, 2009
The trademark sound of Universal's Halloween Horror Nights isn't a blood-letting scream or a roar from Dr. Frankenstein's monster.
It's the deafening whirrrrrrrrrrrrr of chain saws.
The Chainsaw Drill Team, bloody, brutal and brutish, has been a part of every Horror Nights since the beginning, but this is the first year it has had its own dedicated scare zone to terrorize passers-by.
Universal allowed me to walk in the shoes of these performers one night. What I learned: Making horror is exhausting, fun and a little difficult to wash off.
Before hitting the streets of Hollywood, there were instructions about safety (don't touch the guests) and chain saw operation (pull string with one hand, pull saw away with other). I'm issued a costume of plaid shirt, ribbed tank top and stained jeans.
Then a 15-minute makeup job for airbrushed bruising and assorted bloody gashes on the face and arms. Apparently, my role on the team is Klutzy.
Backstage, I meet other Chainsaw Drill Team members, several of whom are repeat offenders. They are big, burly guys — bigger than bouncers — and they work in two shifts of 12 people. Some are so menacing they don't need a noisy prop to strike terror. When I stand with them, it's like the classic Sesame Street ditty, "One of These Things Is Not Like the Other." I am the 98-pound weakling of the set.
Show director Michael Roddy suggests that I create a backstory for my character, possibly as the "smarty" drill team member. Or the nerd, I suggest. We think about adding bloody glasses to the ensemble, but after I say " Harry Potter-style" the idea quietly dies.
Other scare actors tend to give the chain saw gang wide berth, even though the guys are laughing and remembering past Horror Nights. "You are going to have the time of your life," one tells me.
The big guys share frightful tips plus bandages to tape up my trigger fingers. We line up for shift change with a crew already working the scare zone called Lights, Camera, Hacktion!!! — which purports to be a set for the upcoming feature film The Chainsaw Drill Team Massacre in 3-D.
Cue the transformation. The team appears to go ape, aggressively "attacking" sheepish passers-by and scare actors whom I can only assume are portraying key grips and gaffers. Hey, it's frightening. They've worked this street before.
I scan for likely victims: the quivering guests and those pulling a nonchalant act. The latter has been my coping mechanism as a guest, and now I'm shocked by how ineffective and stupid it looks on the other side of the chain saw.
Then there are the smart alecks out to spoil the fun. One rightly points out that our weapons have no chains. Another says "Hey, zombies don't have chain saws." I scowl at each and rev the loud little engine.
Eventually, I go equal opportunity, taunting grandparents, gangly teens who are just asking for it and folks in wheelchairs. I skip the cowering 6-year-old in favor of his mother. (A friend recently told me he was traumatized by the SeaWorld mime as a child, and I don't need "nightmare source" on my permanent record.)
Another woman attempts to bypass the zone by walking along the sidewalk near the buildings. I try to lure her with a come-hither wave of the saw. No dice. So I walk parallel to her several feet away down the block. She squirms and laughs finally until her companion tries to shove her my direction. (This is why there are T-shirts that say "Boys are mean, throw rocks at them.")
Elsewhere, the carnage continues. The chain saw vets are adept at cranking the motor and spinning into horrific action in a single motion. Not me. It turns out, I may be the least menacing team member in Halloween Horror Nights history. I suspect that's why several people stop to take pictures with me. This is not going to look good on my resume.
After two 30-minutes shifts, my running amok has run out of steam. I'm released from duties and get professional assistance removing my corn-starch-based gashes. In the distance, I hear the whirrrrrrrr. And for once, I don't think of Hurricane Charley.
Dewayne Bevil can be reached at 407-420-5477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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