By Kristina Valdez | Arts & Life Editor
The Halloween season welcomes oversized bags of candy and children dressed in Party City costumes to your front door. For Arkansas freshman Avery Croswell, it brings an opportunity to work at Waco Haunted Houses and transform herself into her favorite undead character.
For 28 years, Waco Haunted Houses have been terrorizing Central Texas, with two full-sized-scare haunted houses, “Deadzone” and “Texas Chainsaw Nightmare.” Croswell has only been working inside the “Deadzone” haunted house for two weeks.
“I went to the half-priced [tickets] weekend, and I saw the sign for help,” Croswell said. “I applied, and I got the job. I went to Goodwill stores and Walmart to create my costume.”
In high school, Croswell was in theater, so it is easy for her to paste on the ghoulish makeup that hollows her eyes and thins her face. She becomes a gothic undead girl in a matter of minutes. For her first job in a haunted house, Croswell was excited and nervous to be working at Waco Haunted Houses.
“It is something that has always been on my bucket list,” Croswell said.
Croswell works from 8 p.m. to midnight, standing behind a glass mirror screaming at unsuspecting guests as they walk timidly through the houses.
“It’s difficult to stand and scream for four hours straight,” Croswell said. “But we have runners who go through the houses and make sure that everyone has water.”
Croswell said she doesn’t get scared easily, her friends pushing to her to the front of the pack when they first visited the Waco Haunted Houses. Croswell only breaks character to help groups who get lost at dead ends or those who can’t find their way out.
“If people get lost, I have to get out of character and explain where to go,” Croswell said. “I giggle to myself, but that’s it.”
Along with the wonderful adrenaline rush, Croswell said she loves working at the haunted house. October reminds her of her father and sister, who both have birthdays during the month.
As buckets of fake blood that ooze from the walls, Waco Haunted Houses brings Carter Blood Drive out for visitors to donate a pint of their real blood. Manager Danea Anderson, also known as Dr. Frenzy Rigormortus, loves Waco and the monsters who work for her, including Baylor students like Croswell.
“We just love Waco,” Anderson said. “It was fun; people were really receptive. I have so enjoyed the people who have been with me as monsters each year.”
Anderson and her former husband John Anderson, also known as Johnny Darkness Walking with the Undead, who owns Waco Haunted Houses, brought fright to Waco in 1990, after owning another haunted house in Fort Worth. With about 40 monsters who scream and terrorize haunted house-goers, Anderson said they have built a community.
“They have a spot in my heart,” Anderson said. “Some people stay with me for years and years. It is a place to belong, especially with teenagers who are looking for something to belong to. The camaraderie out here is amazing.”
Along with the typical movie monsters like Freddie Kruger and Jason, Anderson said her monsters develop their own costumes and have refined their makeup skills over the years.
“We encourage them to come in character,” Anderson said. “We have several girls and guys who have developed makeup skills over the years … I have been absolutely amazed at some of the quality of the makeup that they come up with.”
Anderson’s own character, Dr. Frenzy Rigomortus, curator of the [Deadzone] museum of horrors, has been developed since Waco Haunted Houses first opened in 1990. Anderson found a head piece at a five and dime store and developed a character around it.
“I wanted to have a character that I could wear tennis shoes and comfortable clothes,” Anderson said. “So, I wear a lab coat and I found a prop of a severed arm that the fingers move.”
Going into the “haunting business” was a strange route for Anderson, unlike John, who created his own haunted house in his basement when he was 6 years old. After a sixth-grade haunted house terrified her, Anderson didn’t go to another haunted house until she was 20 years old.
“I always enjoyed the theater and it was a way for me to be a star in my own little realm,” Anderson said.
For Friday and Saturday, Waco Haunted Houses will be hosting a Caritas Food Drive. If visitors bring, two canned goods, they will get $2 off their ticket. Waco Haunted Houses are located North of Waco on I-35 and exit 345. For those interested in applying to be a Waco Haunted House monster, Anderson gives a piece of advice.
“It’s really fun,” Anderson said. “I tell people even if you just try it one night and see if you like it because you will have a story to tell for the rest of their life.”