11 behind-the-scenes details you didn't know about Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios, according to employees

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11 behind-the-scenes details you didn't know about Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios, according to employees
  • Universal Studios Orlando is celebrating its 30th Halloween Horror Nights, while Universal Studios Hollywood kicked off another season.
  • Current and former employees, or "scareactors," told Insider behind-the-scenes details about the event.
  • They also gave advice to aspiring scareactors about the job.

"Scareactors" are Universal Studios employees who frighten guests at the company's Halloween Horror Nights events. Scareactors who spoke to Insider said the auditions are focused on personality and appearances.

"Scareactors" are Universal Studios employees who frighten guests at the company's Halloween Horror Nights events. Scareactors who spoke to Insider said the auditions are focused on personality and appearances.
Ashley Young performed as a "scareactor" at Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights. Courtesy of Ashley Young.

Each year, Universal Studios employs a fleet of employees — which it calls "scareactors" — to frighten guests during Halloween Horror Nights. The event, held nightly from September 3 to October 31, is featured in Universal Studios theme parks across the globe. It includes themed haunted houses, mazes, and scarezones where scareactors terrify guests.

Some scareactors startled guests with active chainsaws, and one woman dubbed "The Rat Lady" was even wheeled around in a glass case as live rodents scurried around her.

According to a current scareactor at Universal Studios Orlando who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, people don't need a monologue to land the coveted job.

"The scareactor audition process for Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights is different from other haunts because instead of proving your acting or improv skills, it is more personality and looks-based," the current scareactor said.

"The audition mostly consisted of standing in front of casting directors, stating your name, and a horror-based interview question," they added.

Ashley Young, a former Orlando scareactor from 2013 to 2018, agreed, saying: "The audition is like a type-out audition. They have all of the characters already in mind, and they bring you into a room to see who can fill the roles."

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Scareactors say they start arriving at the amusement parks around 3 p.m. ET and usually don't leave until after midnight.

Scareactors say they start arriving at the amusement parks around 3 p.m. ET and usually don't leave until after midnight.
A former scareactor (not pictured) performed as a Jason Voorhees during his time at Universal Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights. Barry King/Getty Images

A former scareactor at Universal Studios Hollywood who also asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, recalled spending long hours at the park when they played characters like Jason Voorhees from "Friday the 13th," and Jack the Ripper on Baker Street.

Characters like Jack the Ripper required full-face prosthetics, so preparing and removing makeup took additional time, they said.

"My call time was usually around three or four in the afternoon," the former scareactor, who performed between 2006 to 2014, told Insider. The scareactor added that his shifts were sometimes 12 hours from when they arrived to when professional makeup artists removed his prosthetics at the night's end.

Young, who played a walker in "The Walking Dead" scare zone, noted that a scareactor's call time depends on which cast they've been assigned to. She said scareactors typically arrive between 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and leave between 12 p.m. and 2 a.m.

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Makeup prep can take anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours, and wearing it can be challenging, according to scareactors who spoke to Insider.

Makeup prep can take anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours, and wearing it can be challenging, according to scareactors who spoke to Insider.
Woman performing as a scareactor gets her makeup done before Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. Rick Loomis/Getty Images

Halloween Horror Nights hire a host of professional makeup artists that transform scareactors into their ghoulish characters.

"How long it takes can be determined by the specialization of the makeup artist," the former scareactor said. "People specialize in movie makeup, high-def movie makeup, and theater makeup."

The current scareactor said that although prosthetics are lightweight, "the only thing that can be challenging would be if a prosthetic covers one of your eyes, so your eyesight is impaired for several hours."

However, makeup artists remain at the park in case scareactors need a quick touch-up.

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Scareactors often work in teams to create terrifying frights.

Scareactors often work in teams to create terrifying frights.
Ashley Young performing as a scareactor during her time at Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights. Courtesy of Ashley Young.

Young said the tag-team tactic was sometimes called a "ping-pong" scare.

"So a scareactor will scare someone, then whoever you're working with will see that, and they can jump in as well," she said.

The current scareactor added: "In the houses, scareactors whose spots are across from one another may work in sync so that it becomes a great double scare."

Jump scares — a technique used to frighten audiences when something or someone unexpected pops out — are also common in haunted houses and horror movies.

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It's not uncommon for scareactors to get injured on the job.

It's not uncommon for scareactors to get injured on the job.
Scareactors told Insider that they often get hurt by stress-related injuries and frightened guests. Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

Both Young and the former scareactor said the jump scares featured in haunted mazes can become tedious for scareactors — especially the physical aspect.

"Maze scaring is very physically repetitive, and it involves a lot of stress injuries," the former scareactor said, referencing their time at a Friday the 13th attraction. They had to repeatedly open and close a large barn door as part of the task.

"It was a full-sized barn door, so it weighed about 15 pounds," the former scaractor said. "They want you to scare and then reset within six to 10 seconds, so my left arm was getting wrecked."

Young called the job "demanding" and added, "there's definitely been a few times that I've been touched inappropriately. I have been grabbed and hit."

Sometimes guests have physical reactions to being scared, which once resulted in Young being "smacked," she said. The former scareactor said they experienced an unprovoked punch to the face and was once bandaged after a frightened guest threw a cell phone at his head.

Guests who make inappropriate contact are intercepted by security and Halloween Horror Nights' management. The guest who threw the unprovoked punch was escorted out of the event, the former scareactor said.

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There's a scaring code of conduct, but scareactors also have their own tactics.

There's a scaring code of conduct, but scareactors also have their own tactics.
Ashley Young performing as a scareactor at Universal Studios Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights. Courtesy of Ashley Young

Young said scareactors do what's called a "boo and ska-doo," or complete a scare and move on quickly.

"You don't want to linger," Young said. "Depending on your role and your position in Halloween Horror Nights, you can either be a jump scare or something unsettling to look at."

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Body language is a dead giveaway for which guests will be easy to scare.

Body language is a dead giveaway for which guests will be easy to scare.
Scareactors at Halloween Horror Nights often collaborate during the event to get the best scares. Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

All three former and current scareactors said they could tell which guests would let loose the biggest screams.

"If I can hear you screaming multiple rooms away before my scene, I'm looking forward to my turn," the current scareactor, who got her start in 2018, told Insider.

Young noted that guests who avoid eye contact or try to hide behind others are easy pickings, while the former scareactor pointed to guests who were glued to their phones.

"That's the people who get targeted because you're like, "Oh, this person's going to be such a satisfying scare,'" Young said.

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Scareactors say they also have to deal with hurtful comments from guests.

Scareactors say they also have to deal with hurtful comments from guests.
Ashley Young performed as a Halloween Horror Nights scareactor from 2013 to 2018. Courtesy of Ashley Young.

During Young's time at Halloween Horror Nights, she told Insider that overzealous guests sometimes made upsetting remarks. Young is a congenital amputee who played characters like the broken ballerina doll for the Revenge of Chucky Scare Zone in 2018.

"Having one arm, a lot of people — because it's Universal — think that it's not real," Young said.

Young said some scareactors drop out of the event because they can't handle the verbal abuse launched by guests, which can sometimes target innocent actors assigned to unpopular characters.

"Guests come into the park, drink alcohol, and think they can say whatever they want to us," Young said.

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Scareactors don't appreciate it when guests tell them how to do their jobs - or do it for them.

Scareactors don't appreciate it when guests tell them how to do their jobs - or do it for them.
Two scareactors frighten visitors inside "The Bride of Frankenstein" maze at Universal Studios Hollywood in September 2021. VALERIE MACON/Getty Images

The former scareactor recalled working in mazes when some guests would walk ahead of their group and try to find a quick hiding spot to scare their friends.

"Suddenly, you'll see a guy looking around for a place to hide, and he's like, 'Shh! I'm going to scare my friends.' And it's like, 'no, you're not going to scare your friends. I'm going to scare your friends,'" they said.

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Flash photography can sometimes shock scareactors.

Flash photography can sometimes shock scareactors.
A scareactor walks through Universal Studio Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights in September 2021. VALERIE MACON/Getty Images

While pictures and fan interactions are encouraged, the former scareactor explained to Insider that bright camera flashes would slice through the night vision they developed while spending hours in the dark.

"If you've been working in the dark for the last three hours and all of a sudden somebody shoots a bright light in your face, you can't see anything for 10-15 minutes," they said.

They added that some break rooms were dimly lit when they worked at Halloween Horror Nights so scareactors' night vision wouldn't fade.

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Aspiring scareators shouldn't be discouraged if they don't immediately get the job.

Aspiring scareators shouldn't be discouraged if they don't immediately get the job.
Cast members from AMC's "The Walking Dead" pose with scareactors at the show's haunted house at Universal Studios Orlando in 2016. Handout/Getty Images

The current scareactor offered some tips to people wanting to join the seasonal cast.

"My advice for anyone who wants to audition to be a scareactor is to keep trying even if you didn't get a role," they said. "They may not have needed your look and body shape that year, but they may need your look for the next."

They also mentioned that hopefuls should work on their "stamina and endurance."

"Come in understanding that this type of performance is very toiling on the body," they said. "For instance, the chainsaws are real — not foam fakes — and weigh about 15 pounds. Halloween Horror Nights is a marathon, not a sprint."

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