Deconstructing Fear

Deconstructing Fear

The science behind what scares us 

Advanced English: Journalistic Literature students 

My eyes are dilated and adrenaline is pounding through my veins. In that moment, I genuinely wanted to be almost anywhere else in the world. But the thing is, I paid for the experience.

The haunted house is designed to produce maximum fear. Every room holds a new horror. It could come from any angle. It’s sort of like when you use a toaster. You know that something is going to pop up and you can’t help but jump in response to the release.

Your friends are huddled in a group, skittering and tripping down narrow paths. I am at the back of the pack and I think I’m safe. I am wrong. I turn around to find a worker dressed as a zombie-clown hybrid inches from my face.

It is intense, terrifying, but most of all, fun.

Fear is a natural response for sentient entities. It is caused by the perception of a potential or definite threat. Fear causes a change in brain and organ functions, changing chemical body responses to a fight, flight, or freeze reaction. This results in hiding, running, or in last-ditch efforts, fighting against that perceived threat.

Fears are divided into both rational and irrational responses. Rational fears are fears deemed normal. A twig snapping outside your tent, for example. Irrational fears are generally regarded as abnormal. These are called phobias, and range from broad to very specific fears. This can be a phobia of social interactions, Social Anxiety Disorder, or a fear of dentists, a fear of Dentophobia.

Fears can be spread from individual to individual through empathy and sympathy. If one person in a group panics, the rest of the group may become panicked as well, or may try to calm that individual down. As Charles Darwin outlined in his theory of natural selection, our species looks out for itself, and fear is a direct result of this. Different reactions have been observed throughout history, with some more effective than others. The fight, flight, or freeze response usually follows shortly after the threat is perceived, with a selection between options made if deemed necessary. These choices make sentient entities more likely to survive.

Our relationship to the unknown produces a common fear. This is a broad fear that can cover many topics. A noise in the dark can trigger the fear reaction until the source is revealed. The imagination of the scared individual is doing all of the work, immediately identifying the unknown threat as a deeper fear that they have.

The concept of the uncanny valley was first proposed in 1970 by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori. He dealt heavily with robots with human-like features and expressions. The uncanny valley effect is a human psychological phenomenon in which figures appear that move almost, but not quite like, humans. The effect is to disconnect viewers and make them feel uncomfortable through the curiously unfamiliar material.

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But the uncanny valley does not always trigger fear. The phenomena are observable at many different levels of human resemblance. An image of an atypical human face could trigger the effect, but so could an image of an abstract robot. The perceiver will only be uncomfortable enough to be afraid of the image at a particular range of human resemblance. This range of points is at the bottom of the dip, or “valley,” that the name of the phenomena refers to. At many points on the range of human similarity, the image may just seem funny or cute.

This range of responses accounts for a human attraction to, and fear of, otherness. People are uncomfortable with the concept of the bizarre juxtaposed with a human feeling, experience, or instinct. The otherness that we fear lives in this valley. Take a human, but make it have rotting skin. Take a robot, but make it look almost like Steve Jobs. Take a woman, and make her a witch.

Witches are often regarded as a major Halloween symbol. The word “witchcraft” is derived from the word “Wicca,” meaning “the wise one.” Witches were once considered to be wise and knowledgeable. It wasn’t until 1000 AD that members of society began to declare the practice of witchcraft as evil or unnatural. This declaration largely stemmed from fear of the unknown. Many people were unsettled and fearful of what these “witches” were doing. Witchcraft was thus deemed anti-Christian and heretical.

Many believed that witches made pacts with the devil and engaged in practices such as flying, killing, and taming black wolves and cats to spy on people. As soon as churches began to condemn witchcraft, the hysteria surrounding witches ensued. Anything out of the ordinary, such as an unexpected illness, death, or troubling behavior, was chalked up to the work of witches. Commonly, the more unfortunate peoples’ circumstances were, the more likely they were to become targets. Women were targeted more often than men. In Salem, Massachusetts, fourteen women and five men were killed during the infamous Witch Trials.

Around the world, approximately 85% of those executed for practicing witchcraft were women, primarily due to sexuality. At the time, sex was viewed as sinful, and many women were unable to hide their sexual desires. If a woman were to wear something deemed too promiscuous or were to act outside of the realm of the acceptable female behavior, she could find herself accused of being a witch.

In colonial New England, women on trial for being witches were often examined in regards to their fidelity to their husbands, ability to cause impotence, and power to seduce men through the form of an apparition. Those accused of witchcraft were often accused of adultery, fornication, and other sexually related crimes. These sexual acts, whether rightly or wrongly applied to the accused, were so clearly outside of the realm of acceptability within Puritan society. Similarly, women had little power to deny the accusations. The result was witchcraft, an undeniable, catch-all claim easily dealt with and easily disposed of. The punishment, death.

While this lives in America’s past, women today around the world are still accused of being witches. Cambodia, Saudi Arabia, Papua New Guinea, and Tanzania are among the countries that still hunt and kill “witches.” The accused witches in Tanzania are often older women with red eyes. Red eyes are said to be a sign of the witch, but the smoke caused by the use of dung as a fuel usually leads to eye irritation. Albinos are also often targeted as being witches.

The history of Halloween dates back to the Celtic Festival known as Samhain. Originating in the 10 century, Samhain takes place from sunset on October 31 to sunset on November 1. The Irish tradition later spread to Scotland as many Celts migrated to the region. Celebrants believed that during the festival, spirits could easily pass into the real world. Many Halloween traditions are rooted in Samhain. During the feast, it was common practice for people to go door to door, dressed in costume, and recite verses for food. The festival lost its popularity with the spread of Christianity to the region.

The word “Halloween” derives from Christian tradition. Halloween falls on the day before All Hollow’s Day, more commonly known as All Saints Day. On All Saints Day, Catholics celebrate Saints and pray for recently departed souls to reach heaven. The Christianization of Halloween created some of the most recognizable Halloween traditions and symbols. In Europe, jack o’ lanterns were believed to be the souls of the dead. People lit fires to prevent the dead from invading their houses.

Anglican and Catholic colonists brought Halloween to the United States. The holiday did not receive mainstream notoriety until 1911, the year that the first reported example of trick-or-treating took place. By the 1930s Halloween costumes were mass-produced and the traditions were mainstream. By WWII, Halloween was celebrated coast-to-coast by kids and grown ups alike.

The tradition of dressing up as ghouls, vampires, and other “uncanny” creatures stems from the old world tradition of guising. The tradition of guising was first recorded in Scotland in 1895, but costume-wearing dates back to 1595. Originally, Halloween costumes depicted supernatural creatures. As the holiday became more commercialized, pop culture characters became woven into the Halloween costume market.


In Ancient Greece, mysterious ethereal beings haunted literary works. Spirits of the deceased make noteworthy appearances in Book 11 of Homer’s Odyssey as well as Old Testament of the Bible. Yet it was not until the 1st century A.D. when ancient Roman author Pliny the Younger would report an encounter with the supernatural that would soon be known as the first prominent ghost story. In his letter, Pliny describes a phantom resembling an elderly man with a long beard haunting a deserted house in Athens with the sound of rattling chains and a “beckoning finger.”

Fellow Roman Plautus is also credited with one of the earliest works featuring various haunts and horrors. His play Mostellaria, translated as ‘The Haunted House,” is defined as a comedy, yet it has become one of the earliest examples of the concept of a haunted house.

Far later in 9th century Germany a family recorded the first account of a Poltergeist (German for “noisy ghost,” a ghost responsible for physical disturbances). The Poltergeist was said to have inhabited a farmhouse, distressing residents by setting fires and throwing rocks. Poltergeists were also the focus of a 1698 London folktale known as Lithobolia, which describes a devil-like creature attacking the house of a family in a similar manner to the German legend.

While the ghost story itself may have its roots in Europe, there are multiple tales of ghostly presences in the Arabic collection of short stories One Thousand and One Nights, created and compiled during the Golden Age of Islam. The most prominent mention of the supernatural takes place in the tale of Ali the Cairene and the Haunted House In Baghdad, in which a house is haunted by creatures called Jinns, or Genies.

Paranormal beings are also included in a large portion of Chinese folklore. A famous Chinese ghost legend involves the spirit of an executed minister by the name of Tu Po seeking revenge on King You of Zhou, eventually killing him with a bow and arrow. Spiritual beings are also mentioned in the Ming Dynasty novel Fengshen Yanyi, translated to The Investiture of the Gods, with tales including demons, deities, spirits, and other paranormal creatures.

Some of literature’s most famous ghosts appear in the Renaissance works of William Shakespeare. One of Shakespeare’s most notable ghosts is introduced in the Tragedy of Hamlet, in which Hamlet is visited multiple times by the ghost of his father. Ghosts also appear in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which the character of Banquo visits and haunts Macbeth, “draining his manhood.”   Many of Shakespeare’s ghastly characters resembled those created by Roman author Seneca, whose found works sparked the revival of tragedy in the 16th century. Yet it wasn’t until the 19th century that modern ghost stories would reach their peak of popularity.

Historian Jack Sullivan cites the mid-1800s through the beginning of World War I as “The Golden Age of the Ghost Story” due to the rise in popularity of gothic literature. One of the most dominant American authors of the time was Edgar Allan Poe. Poe has been acclaimed for his mysterious and macabre short stories such as The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Fall of the House of Usher, all of which remain just as shocking to this day.

Yet while Poe sets his focus mainly on the bodies of the dead, ghosts are more often mentioned in the works of Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu and English author M.R. James. Many commend James as the most influential writer of modern ghost stories, calling his technique of storytelling known as Jamesian. Jamesian stories most often include an ancient European town or an English countryside, a gentlemanly academic as the main character, and an object attracting a supernatural being beyond the grave. Other noteworthy ghosts of this time period include those of Jacob Marley and of Christmas Past, Present, and “Yet to Come,” all seen in Charles Dickens’s classic novel A Christmas Carol.

It was also around this time in which French filmmaker Georges Melies created Le Manoir du Diable, the very first “horror film.” Translated in English to “The Haunted Castle,” Le Manoir du Diable is an 1896 silent film of the horror/comic fantasy genre, in which the protagonist encounters multiple phantoms and demonic beings. It contains a scene featuring a human’s transformation into a bat, so it is also occasionally credited as the first vampire film.

Ghosts in popular culture have come a very long way since the days of Georges Melies. Many people today still enjoy stories of the paranormal. We see this in the popularity of horror movies such as Paranormal Activity, The Grudge, and Poltergeist and TV shows such as Supernatural, American Horror Story, and the not-so-scary Scooby-Doo and Casper the Friendly Ghost. In addition to the popularity of fictional ghosts, reality TV shows portraying so-called “ghost hunting” have raised in popularity in the 21st century, with shows including Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters International airing on the Travel Channel and Syfy.

Pop culture’s obsession with ghosts does not stop at works of fiction. “Ghost hunting,” a method of investigating haunted locations, has come to great popularity in the past decade. Ghost hunters will most often search for signs of paranormal activity using an assortment of electronic gadgets including digital thermometers, audio recorders, infrared video cameras, and electromagnetic field readers. While ghost hunting has often been denounced as a pseudoscience, with little to no scientific background proving the existence of ghosts, our fascination with the supernatural continues to grow.

Commercial ghost hunting is a fairly modern phenomenon. Some attribute its popularity to films such as the 1984 film GhostBusters. However, the practice of ghost hunting has been in existence for quite some time. Author John Potts claims that modern ghost hunting has been pursued since the Spiritualist era in the mid 19th century. During the Industrial Age, people began to fine-tune their methods of searching for ghosts. British inventor Sir William Crookes claimed to have captured a spirit on film, inspiring Thomas Edison to create what he called a “spirit phone.” While some wrote off the “spirit phone” as a simple joke, inventor J. Gilbert Wright supposedly perfected it in 1959.

Another popular 19th century method of communicating with the supernatural was the séance. A séance is an attempt to communicate with the dead and receive messages from spirits. President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary conducted a séance to communicate with their deceased son, Hamnet. Many spiritualists would come to the White House attempting to contact the lost Lincoln. However, not everyone believed in the legitimacy of the séance practice. Many accused spiritualists of tricking their customers through staged illusions. In multiple instances, magician Harry Houdini tried to denounce many spiritualists for using his own magic tricks. Yet despite heavy criticism, society remained captivated by the supernatural.

Ghost hunting technology has greatly evolved since the days of séances and the “ghost phone.” Some of the more popular ghost hunting mediums include recording devices, photography, full-spectrum and infrared video apparatuses, and thermal cameras. Thermal cameras are used to capture the imprint of a ghost through various light sources. Many ghost hunters choose to communicate with ghosts through talking and recording words and recording their images on video.

Most of these techniques are used on the popular Syfy Channel show Ghost Hunters, which follows the Atlantic Paranormal Society and their investigations of supposedly “haunted” places. The Atlantic Paranormal Society, or TAPS, uses electromagnetic field readings and digital video cameras to capture ghosts in paranormal “hotspots.” They then attempt to communicate with the ghost while continuing to record audio and video. After a location is investigated, TAPS analyzes their findings and reports to the owners of the haunted location whether or not there is paranormal activity. Since their first Ghost Hunters episode, TAPS has recorded thousands of hours of video data, some of which, they claim, contains shadowy figures, moving objects, and strange fog.

Ghost Hunters premiered on Syfy on October 6, 2004, and continues to air to this day. The series has been so popular that two spinoff series, Ghost Hunters International and Ghost Hunters Academy, were created in response. Other shows, such as Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, have documented similar ghost hunting experiences. Yet the question remains: why are we so fascinated with searching for ghosts? What motivates groups such as TAPS to communicate with spirits? For most people, their own experiences with the paranormal drive them to hunt ghosts. While ghost hunting is often condemned as a pseudoscience, ghost hunters, in a similar manner to real scientists, are driven by curiosity. It is curiosity, and perhaps hope, rather than fear, that lead us to create such a fascinating bond between the living and the dead.

Forest Hills, a suburb of Indianapolis, was the Carmel of the 1920s.  The suburb was a buzzing community that reaped the full benefits and vices of the roaring twenties. Snuggled in a small neighborhood off of College and 56th Street, the seemingly family-friendly house harbored a dark secret behind the white brick façade and black shutters.

The house was a brothel by night. On the weekends, soldiers from Fort Bend would venture to the house to relieve stress the old-fashioned way and get away from their jobs. After the end of probation the brothel closed down and the house returned to anonymity, but the house’s illustrious history did not end there. The sins of the house lingered on long after patrons stopped visiting. The date is unknown, but the tragedy is. At some point during the time period of the 1940s through the 1980s, someone committed suicide in the basement of the house.

The house changed owners many times until 1997 when my parents, David and Jennifer, purchased it. The house was in a great neighborhood, was a great size, and most importantly was a good price for a family welcoming its first child. In reality, the price was too good to be true, and my parents would soon learn why.

It was my fifteenth birthday. and I was celebrating with my dad and a couple of friends at Fleming’s Steak House. It was a normal meal by all standards: we ate, we drank, and we told stories. One of these tales illustrated the history of the house on 1564 Guilford Street. I had asked my parents why we moved so quickly from that house, only to move into a house of the same size in the same neighborhood. But was never given an answer. Finally, after years of my nagging, my dad caved.

He spoke about the brothel and the suicide. He said that the reason that he never told me about the house was that I saw the ghosts. My parents were first informed of my “powers” when I pointed out that there was a person sitting in a rocking chair in the living room, when there was no one there. The living room would become a hub for paranormal activities. Here my parents smelled and felt dead and damp. Following the celebratory dinner, I had a feeling that there was more to the story that my dad was telling me, and I had to learn.

My mom was hesitant at first, and assured me that reason that we left the house was to accommodate a visiting cousin. But she caved after I told her what my dad had said. The first incident of paranormal activity she could remember was during the renovations of the house. There was a foul odor that protruded from my brother’s room. My parents tore the room up from inclination to carpet, yet the smell remained. The haunting of my brother’s room didn’t stop there. One evening, my mom laid him down for a nap in his crib, on top of the blankets. When my mom returned a couple hours later, my brother was wrapped in the blankets similar to the way a newborn is wrapped up in the hospital. This was just the start.

During the five years we lived in the house, we had many friends and family members stay with us. One of these visitors was my dad’s business partner, John O’Brian. O’Brian was a former Air Force pilot and fit the mold to a tee. One night at around three in the morning, my mom woke up to a noise coming from downstairs. Initially my parents had thought there was a robbery taking place, but after further investigation, it was John O’Brian running up the basement stairs. O’Brian recited in horror what had driven him up the stairs in such a hurry: there was a face melting in the wall.

O’Brian wasn’t the first person to be awoken through mysterious circumstances. One morning, my uncle Fred, who had been staying with us for a while, asked my mom if she had been walking around the house at night. Puzzled, my mom responded no. Fred had been awakened by the sound of a woman walking around the house in heels. Throughout the five years, my parents battled through the eerily cold rooms, feelings of sadness and depression, and the hauntings that took place in the house. But the last straw was the worst.

While my dad was out of town my mom was watching television in the living room. Out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw a figure pass through the mirror. She casually brushed it off and continued to watch her program. Fifteen minutes later, she saw a figure cross through the mirror again, and again. She couldn’t brush it off anymore, she turned to the mirror, and standing in the mirror was a man in a down coat with a brimmed hat. As soon as the image came, it left. My mom rushed up the stairs and brought my brother and me to sleep in her bed.

We put the house up for sale immediately after my dad returned from his business trip. I don’t know who bought the house after, or if my parents told them that the house was haunted. But what I do know is that the house on 1564 Guilford Street is no ordinary home.


Over time, the haunted house went from 1564 Guilford Street, a haunted residence, to Indy Scream Park, a $25 realistic haunted experience.

The tradition of paying for fear dates back to the Dark Ages, when people would go to see productions of biblical stories. They often enjoyed the scarier, more graphic parts. Later, productions of plays filled this void: the ghost of Hamlet’s father is surprisingly scary.

The walk-through haunted house originated in the early 1900s, often at amusement parks with “fun houses” featuring dark mazes with oddly shaped mirrors. The first recorded haunted attraction is the Orton and Spooner Ghost House. It opened in 1915 in the United Kingdom as part of an Edwardian fair.

These haunted houses became a widespread attraction in the 1980s. Haunted houses started to pop up everywhere. Today, these attractions are an essential part of haunted culture, and a popular aspect of Halloween. These houses are rooted in the fear of spirit-infested homes.

The “real” haunted houses are not nearly as popular or attractive as their modern counterparts, in large part because Indy Scream Park is run by actual human beings, not ghosts. But the actual haunted houses still exist.

People are willing to pay the fee to enter these homes, but unsurprisingly the owners have a lot of difficulty selling the homes. Legally, home-sellers must disclose information of a possible haunting. This might leave them with a tourist attraction, but never someone to buy the house.

Visitors can take “ghost tours” in hopes of witnessing the supernatural. One of the most prominent and notable haunted houses in the United States is the LaLaurie Mansion located in New Orleans. This mansion, originally owned by Marie Delphine Lalaurie, might look pretty, but it has a dark history. If the name sounds familiar, that is probably because the character Madame Delphine LaLaurie from American Horror Story is based off of Marie Delphine LaLaurie.

The house gained its “haunted” status after a fire broke out in the mansion 1834. Following the fire, it was discovered that LaLaurie was the owner of multiple slaves. She tortured and mutilated a large number of these slaves, resulting in the death of the victims.

After this was discovered, LaLaurie fled to Paris. She remained there until her death in the early 1840s.  Though much of the house was destroyed in the fire, the house was restored in 1888. The mansion remains in New Orleans as a landmark. People have reportedly seen apparitions and heard strange noises and groans believed to be the ghosts of the murdered slaves.

So, what makes a house haunted?

There are multiple possible factors that contribute. One of these is the building’s history. Generally, older buildings with a longer history of human habitation are more likely to be considered haunted.  This is because in buildings that are older the chances are much higher that a negative event could have happened in that house or to someone who resided in that house.

The occurrence of any gruesome or tragic event is the strongest factor in the status of a haunted house. These gruesome or tragic events are most frequently murders, but other circumstances can leave a house haunted. The ghosts are supposedly unable to move on from this world because they feel as if they have been wronged and deserve justice and attention before they move on from this world. So say the experts.

The business of fear brings in a surprising amount of revenue each year. A quick Google search exposes the community behind commercial haunted houses, with websites like and offering tips, business plans, and design consulting for wannabe “haunters.”

Commercial haunted houses, including Halloween attractions at major theme parks, bring in $300 to $500 millions dollar annually. Ticket prices have soared since the 1970s, when haunted houses first appeared primarily as charity events, with costs now averaging $15 dollars per person. Some of the larger or more infamous attractions can charge over $50. 158 million Americans celebrate Halloween each year and of these, a fifth will visit a haunted house.

Haunted houses have become an enticing way to make a profit as the prices of real estate in many areas continue to drop. Last month, Ben Kesling of The Wall Street Journal described the changing landscape of haunted houses through the story of one such attraction stationed in an abandoned Wisconsin strip mall. The recent popularity of zombies and dystopia in particular have made decrepit storefronts the ideal setting for attractions such as “Kill Mart” in Ohio and “Golfland Fright Nights” in Arizona. Pre-existing buildings also lessen the work required to meet fire and safety codes.

But most of these businesses open their doors for only one month each year. For some, haunted houses are a seasonal business run for fun or charity in addition to a day job. For others, haunts are a year-round gold mine, with some major attractions garnering up to $100,000 in corporate sponsorship alone.

This makes the off-season almost as busy as the month of October. A surprising amount of time, money, and effort can go into the planning of a commercial haunted house. Many proprietors attend conventions in search of design plans, props, and new technology. The Halloween & Attractions Show in St. Louis, which takes place in March, is the largest of these gatherings. Others include the Midwest Haunters Convention in Columbus, the National Haunters Convention in Pennsylvania, and HAuNtcon in Louisiana.

Hundreds of businesses have been created in response to a growing demand in Halloween decorations, makeup, animatronics, and other things necessary for a truly scary haunted house. Big players in the industry attend these conventions every year, hoping to sell new products.

Professionals, who are often founders of successful haunts or haunt chains, often host seminars regarding everything from business plans to prosthetics. The 2015 Midwest Haunters Convention advertises such classes as “Designing Amazing Scenes for Outdoor Events” and “Going the Extra Mile: How to Make your Customers Feel Special.”

But another, less corporate, demographic of haunted house operators is that of struggling farmers whose farms might fail without profits from their Halloween attractions. These can include pumpkin patches, corn mazes, hayrides, autumn-themed markets and haunted corn mazes, hayrides, and temporary haunted houses past nightfall.

Many farmers rely on the revenue earned during the fall season to make ends meet, grateful for the thousands of teens who flock to their fields each year in search of a simple scare.

According to Voice of America’s Steve Baragona, the United States has lost a third of its dairy farms in the last ten years. Many of these farms have decided to sell their cows and instead grow corn and soybeans, in part because of fall tourism. Baragona writes that “welcoming visitors is becoming increasingly lucrative while raising crops and livestock are becoming less so.”

In a haunted house, you are both drawn and repelled by what you are about to see—a scare at every turn, every room more frightening than the last. The last thing on your mind is life casting, sculpting, and creating prosthetic pieces, but that’s exactly what it takes to create the illusions that scare people out of their wits. Welcome to the world of special effects makeup.

Prosthetics for special effects are flexible, artificial pieces that are applied to the face or body to alter physical appearance. But many artists choose to make prosthetic pieces from scratch to assure that the pieces fit the actor properly.

Simple prosthetic pieces can be completed in a few days. Haunted houses usually opt for simpler makeups as extensive makeups are time consuming and expensive and prosthetics can only be reused about five to seven times before needing to be recreated.

Life casting is an essential first step to creating prosthetics. Life casting is a process used to make a mold of a model’s face or body, which is then used to create the sculpt. Life casts are made by applying materials like alginate or plaster to the face and body of the model, allowing the mold to harden, then removed from the model. This creates a negative form, which is then casted by pouring plaster or gypsum cement into the mold. Once the cast has cured, it can be demolded. You are then left with a positive mold and an identical replica of your model.

It is important to prepare the model’s face or body with petroleum jelly prior to taking the cast to insure a comfortable removal of the mold. It is also crucial to test the life casting products on the model at least 24 hours before application to avoid the possibility of an allergic reaction. 

Once the life cast is prepared, the artist should apply several coats of a release agent on top of the life cast, so the sculpt can later be demolded. Once the life cast is prepared with a release agent, the sculpt can be built on top of the positive mold. The artist begins by laying down a portion of clay and smoothing it out, forming the general structure of the sculpt and building it up. It is important to ensure that the edges of the sculpt remain thin to allow more efficient blending during application.

The next step is to adjust the proportions of the sculpt. Proportions are essential in creating an impressive, professional looking makeup. The last step in the sculpting process is to add small details like texture or wrinkles to the sculpt. Small details can enhance the quality and realistic appearance of the final makeup exponentially.

The finished sculpture should be submerged in cold water for approximately three hours, activating the release agent and allowing the artist to detach the sculpture from the life cast and separates it into sections. The separate sections are filled with plaster to create impressions of the sculpts, then plaster is poured over each of the impressions to create positive molds.

 After the plaster hardens, the original pieces are placed over the positive molds, which are then covered in plaster. Upon drying, a release agent must be applied to both the positive and negative mold cavities. Next, the artist must fill the negative molds with hot gelatin, then insert the positive molds into the negative molds. After about an hour, the artist can separate the positive molds from the negative molds and is left with prosthetic pieces for each section. 

The artist applies the prosthetic pieces to the model by sponging a skin-safe adhesive onto the model’s face or body and on the inside of the prosthetic pieces. It is important to allow the glue to set on the model before applying the prosthetic pieces, however. This allows for a more durable makeup. During the application process, the artist must make sure that the edges of the prosthetic pieces are well secured and blended to allow for a smooth paint job and a professional looking final result.

The paint job is one of the most essential parts of creating a makeup. It makes the character come to life. It is helpful to pre-plan the designs, textures, and colors of the paint job before the artist begins to paint the appliances. This reduces the likelihood of ending up with a terrible paint job that ruins the makeup entirely. It is also crucial to ensure that the products used are suitable for the materials used to make the prosthetics: usually latex or silicone.

 The artist begins by applying a coat of powder to the model’s face or body to allow for a smooth paint job. The artist then builds more color onto the base layer until the main colors of the desired makeup are applied.  Then, the artist adds details, defining features like wrinkles with darker colors. An artist can create texture by using different types of sponges. They can also add age spots or freckles to the skin by flicking paint off of a toothbrush.


The last step in creating a makeup is to add finishing touches like costumes, wigs and props to the model or actor. It can take many hours to lead to a five second thrill, but special effects makeup artists will tell you that it’s worth it.

The haunted house industry is forced to constantly surprise the public with innovative scare strategies. These tactics are continuing to be more and more radical, and increasingly controversial. Lawsuits erupt each year accusing haunted houses of over-terrorizing their visitors.

In 2000, a woman sued Universal Studios for mental anguish caused by their annual haunted house. She claims that a chainsaw-wielding employee chased her and ultimately led to her distress. The employee continued to wave the weapon close to her face as she lay on the ground. The woman was unsuccessful in her lawsuit.

Mckamey Manor is one of the many establishments accused of going too far. Still, this year they had a waiting list of over 17,000 people wanting to be scared out of their minds. To protect their establishment, the company screens all of the visitors mentally and medically before entry. Most tours aren’t completed due to medical emergencies as the waiver allows workers to push, hit, kick, and hold them against their will. Many question the legality of this torture. 

Even small-scale establishments are accused of pushing their guests too far. This year, a haunted house in Davenport, Iowa, had a trapdoor for their customers to fall through. One woman ended up with a broken leg. This led to her lawsuit against the establishment for being dangerous to the public.

These types of cases are so common in the haunted house industry that almost every one of the businesses has very strict insurance policies. The risk of injury is not only to the customers, but also to the employees. Haunted house workers sustain many injuries on the job as a result of the surprised reactions of customers. Disgruntled employees are likely to end up suing. 

In 2012, a negligence lawsuit was filed against Halloween Productions. Jessica Rue, a part time actress at Scream Park, slipped and fell into a noose, nearly strangling to death. Visitors continued to pass by her assuming it all part of the act. She spent three days in a coma from lack of oxygen leading to neurological damage.  The incident caused the establishment to be investigated, resulting in the finding that the noose was not on breakaway hooks like regulations require. Rue’s former employees will have to pay her medical bills.

The scare tactics used in haunted houses are varied and differ depending on the establishment. These methods are developed by management in the haunted house industry, and often leave deep psychological effects on customers. These tactics can be controversial at times, putting workers and customers at risk, but the majority of them provides visitors with an enjoyable, yet frightening, time.

Some of the primary tactics used in haunted houses across America are twists and turns throughout the house. The use of many different rooms and corners adds to the confusion of the experience. This leads visitors to fear every angle, and allows workers in the haunted house to more easily jump out and scare customers.

Another method used by most haunted houses is to have strategically placed lights around the area. Using different forms of illumination such as strobe lights can confuse and disorient the visitors and cause them to get lost in the haunted house. This panic adds to the illusion of danger and excitement without workers directly interacting with the customers. This is one of the less expensive and complex ways that haunted house staff go about terrifying visitors.

Many haunted houses top the “most frightening houses in America” lists due to their intense thrills and sometimes out-of-bounds stunts.  One of these haunted houses is the 13th Gate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  This haunted house relies heavily on demented clowns and possessed children to terrify its visitors, and is one of the largest in the country, occupying 40,000 square feet of space.

Another haunted house in America using these same extreme ideas and tactics is the Blackout haunted house in both New York City and Los Angeles. This house is only for those over the age of 18 due to its extreme nature and radical scare tactics.  The staff uses primarily strobe lights to scare and confuse customers, and physical contact by workers to immerse all of the senses.

Needles, clowns, doctors, dentists, snakes, spiders, darkness. These are all common fears that can be exploited or utilized in movies, television shows, haunted attractions, and other frightening medias, but what about these terrifying tropes is it that makes them so fear-provoking?

Many of our fears may be evolutionary instincts developed by our ancestors in order to survive. Spiders and snakes could bite and poison us. Needles and other sharp objects can lacerate our skin. Being afraid of the dark may be a signal to stay away from nocturnal life and find shelter for the night.

The genre of horror is scary because it activates a human’s fight-or-flight response. This response is what the human body does when experiences the perceived threat of danger. The body reacts with numerous different chemical responses designed to help it survive the situation. Adrenaline is released, heart and respiratory rates increase, eyes dilate, the body reduces its temperature by sweating.


Another trope used throughout most horror movies and many haunted houses is the ever-present clown. This feared character has been making frequent appearances in TV shows, movies, and haunted houses. Take American Horror Story: Freak Show for example. Twisty the Clown, the main antagonist in the show, is a terrifying, distorted clown character that instills terror in people.

Recently, residents in Fishers were on edge after multiple people reported a clown holding balloons roaming the streets of neighborhoods at night. When and how did these fun, silly clowns that come to birthday parties and star in circus acts become people’s worst nightmares?

For this, we can thank media. In TV shows, horror movies, and news reports we see images of clowns that perpetuate this uneasiness. The over-the-top traditional clown makeup that was pioneered by Joseph Grimaldi, a popular clown and entertainer in the 18th century, is also a factor of the fear of clowns. Grimaldi’s white face, emphasized eyebrows, and exaggerated red cheeks and lips painted in a permanent grin paved the way for modern day clowns. This makeup has continued to evolve over the years into increasingly terrifying faces, always living in the “uncanny valley” of the almost-human. 

With the recent release of Annabelle, the trope of terrifying, lifelike dolls returns. The legend of Robert the Doll is arguably America’s most famous incident of creepy dolls. The doll belonged to Robert Eugene Otto in 1906. A maid allegedly gave Robert the doll but then cursed it after Robert’s parents fired her.

Soon after the maid left, the doll started behaving oddly. Robert would often talk to the doll and servants would swear that the doll talked back to him. They also claimed that the doll could change its expressions and move around the house by itself. Neighbors reported seeing the doll move from window to window when the family was gone. Robert Otto died in 1974 and his doll is now on display at the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West. The doll will supposedly slightly tilt its head and curse anyone who takes a picture of it without permission.

Robert the Doll eventually served as the inspiration for Chucky from Child’s Play, ruining an entire generation’s childhood.

For thousands of years, human beings were scared of pretty much the same things because their lives involved the same things. Villages collapsed under the fear of monsters, witches, or the wrath of the gods. Vast forests were home to wolves and bears. Attacks by nearby tribes, towns, and countries were not uncommon. An abundance of natural and (sometimes) rational fears characterized human society until the growth of urbanization beginning in the eighteenth century.

Now, for a lack of natural fear, we pay for horror movies and haunted houses. Primal fear has been for the most part eradicated, but we still feel the need to be afraid, otherwise, what is life worth living for?

The resulting commercialization of fear has moved in trends. Slasher films were extremely popular in the seventies and eighties, and most of them are no longer considered “scary.” After so many movies and stories, we have become desensitized to the idea of the serial killer. We’ve had to move on to zombies, vampires, and exorcisms. And even these are growing more and more normal, with writers like Stephanie Myer even sexualizing the vampire, a monster we used to consider evil and frightening.

Vampires have traditionally stood out as one of the most terrifying monsters in history. These fanged creatures have been known to sleep through the day in coffins, and roam the night to feed on victims to survive. The garlic-hating, cross-fearing, cape-wearing, bloodthirsty monsters have instilled fear in countless children for generations. However, as of late, the archetype of a vampire has evolved.

 The traditional vampire’s claim to fame was through Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula. In the novel, vampires were depicted as revenants – human corpses that return from the grave to harm the living. The protagonist, Count Dracula, is a centuries-old vampire, sorcerer, and Transylvanian nobleman. 

Although he is perceived as a human, Dracula has many supernatural abilities. His powers include the strength of 20 strong men, hypnosis, telepathy, shape shifting, and the ability to defy gravity. Sunlight greatly diminishes his powers. He is repelled by garlic and crucifixes, and is only able to enter a place with an invitation. He feeds on the blood of the innocent, simultaneously turning those whom he bites into vampires. This allows the species to multiply at alarming rates. The only way to kill him is to decapitate him after plunging a stake through his heart.

This horrifying image that Dracula provides us with served as the stereotypical vampire for many years. However, with the help of Stephanie Myers’ Twilight saga, vampires no longer have the same impact on audiences. Audiences still shriek in theaters, however not from fear.

Although still bloodthirsty, pale, and immortal, the vampires lose many of their traditional qualities.  Edward cannot fly, cannot turn into a bat, does not have fangs, does not sleep in a coffin, and there is no mention of garlic anywhere in the saga.  However, the biggest difference between Edward vampires like Dracula and Nosferatu, is that he really isn’t all that scary.

Edward Cullen is so hot that we don’t think of him as being scary.  The sexualization of Edward acts as a defense mechanism. A defense mechanism is a method that people employ in order to defend themselves from feelings or thoughts that might produce anxiety, depressive effects, or bruise their self-esteem. Sexualization is a defense mechanism that transforms a scary experience into an enjoyable one. The fear of abuse, for example, can be sexualized to end up as a gratifying emotion. The sexualization of vampires in the Twilight saga helps the viewers process the fear as lust, making Edward less scary than traditional vampires.

 There are several instances in the series in which Edward puts Bella in dangerous and threatening situations, but are deemed acceptable because Edward is attractive. After the two kiss, Edward says Bella tastes “even better than [he’d] imagined” (460). While the two lie in her bed, he locks “her wrists in an unbreakable hold” (305). As the two lay in a meadow Bella notes that Edward’s hands “refused to let [her] move so much as an inch” (283).

Most people would not be thrilled to hear that a vampire thinks that they taste pleasing. However, she is excited rather than terrified.  Edward’s beauty creates a sense of enjoyment for Bella in these threatening situations.

The idea of a romantic vampire is not a new one.  Nosferatu said, “The absence of love is the most abject pain.” His eloquent nature and desire for companionship show that Nosferatu has a romantic side. However, because of his hideous physical appearance, he isn’t given the chance to show it. He is not sexualized, and therefore is widely feared.

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 6.13.31 PMScreen Shot 2014-12-10 at 6.13.43 PM

Some people love horror movies. Some people don’t. There are those who can have a horror movie marathon before bed and sleep like a baby, while others can’t watch anything mildly frightening and sleep through the night. The sexualization of the monsters allows the viewers to more easily process their fear by turning it into sexual energy, resulting in the monsters being less scary. Through movies such as the Twilight Saga, we have become desensitized to the monsters that have historically scared the pants off of us.  Now we are able to view these monsters in a less scary light for all to enjoy.  Edward Cullen’s sexualization and dismissal of many historical vampire stereotypes makes him more human than monster. Because Edward Cullen is so hot, we are less afraid of our fanged-foes.

As a society, we keep pushing back the line of fear. Movies need to work harder and harder to make us scream. Because fear has become a commercial business instead of something natural, scare tactics grow boring. Companies take advantage of a trend, such as the zombie apocalypse, and spew out product until it’s no longer scary, or more importantly, “cool.”


While the desensitization to and the cyclization of fear seem normal, it is arguably a relatively new phenomenon. Modern amenities provide for a life free of primal threats, while modern science has convinced many of the nonexistence of ghosts and monsters. Advances in human understanding understanding have also contributed to a decrease in fear of the unknown. We are (perhaps) not so afraid of strong women as to accuse them of witchcraft.

Our modern world so rapidly changes on a daily basis, and fear must follow. New threats contribute to new trends in the horror industry, and the eventual overuse of those concepts and tropes leads to a desensitization of the things we have so long been afraid of.

You think it’s over. As I exit the warehouse and enter the parking lot, a man with a chainsaw starts to run at me from behind, one final scare. 

I make the mistake of running. Inside of the house, I know that the fear is simulated. Outside, you don’t have that certainty, even though you are still ten feet from the place, even though it’s clear you aren’t going to die at the hands of this actor. 

I made noises that no man should make, but I would still go back. I had a great time having a bad time. 

That is the beauty of the final scare: you transition from the simulated to the real. Inside the house, a man soaked in his own blood could run after me, and I wouldn’t be scared of dying.

Outside of the haunted house, my reaction is more realistic. I run, which makes sense.

This way, I have better a chance of not getting sawed in half.

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