“If you spill blood, you have to clean it up so you don’t track it everywhere,” Shawna Lane shouts over her shoulder.
The kitchen area of the recreation building in Frisco looks like a triage unit, except that the helpers are putting blood, scars and scabs on their victims. Scattered among the jackets and backpacks on the counter are piles of latex and tissues next to containers of red, black and green paint and fake blood.
The space has been taken over by members of the Mountain Mentors’ Activities Run By Youth (ARBY) program as they put together their annual haunted house. Thursday night was the first run-through, for VIP members only.
This is Lane’s third haunted house. As teen program coordinator for Mountain Mentors, she works closely with the ARBY participants, helping organize bi-monthly activities throughout the year. The haunted house is a popular one, with preparation starting at least a month ahead of time.
“The kids get so passionate about it. They’re really dedicated,” she said. “That’s the coolest part, is seeing their passion and creativity.”
Although adults are around to help, the majority of the planning and execution of the haunted house is done by the participants, who range from middle schoolers to high schoolers. Each year they decide on the theme, plan out each room and assign roles among themselves, from actor to carpenter and makeup artist.
“Every idea in there is theirs,” Lane said.
Pop music blares through the speakers as the preparation continues. Summit High School sophomore Lidia Gutierrez perches on the edge of the counter, lost in concentration as she applies a brush to Meilyng Sierra’s face. Meilyng’s cheek is already bumpy with liquid latex and now Lidia is filling in the color. Later, she will spatter fake blood to give Meilyng’s zombie cheerleader the final touches.
Farther down, Dadny Nogueda issues a series of commands to her current project, Daniel Molina, as she applies fake scars to his face.
“It’s amazing,” she said of the haunted house. She got involved three years ago after her cousin raved about the experience. Her fingers fly as she takes on another classmate, deftly applying latex and reaching for her palette.
Eighth grader Jason Summers wanders in, pulling on his straitjacket. He describes his character — an escaped mental patient who has been barely surviving on the ravaged, post-apocalyptic main street that is the backdrop for this year’s theme — and admits that he’s a little bit nervous about his first haunted house performance. He’s been working on his scary facial expressions, though, and quickly poses for the camera.
He makes his way to his outside post, where Mountain Mentors volunteer Brian Anderson helps lace up the straitjacket. Anderson has been involved with the haunted house for the past six years. Although he moved to Denver last year, he came up specifically so he could help out with the haunted house again this season.
“I love working with the kids and I love working with the haunted house,” he said. “Mountain Mentors is awesome.”
Turns out, Anderson has some experience with haunted houses, having managed one while living in Florida nine years ago. He helps with design ideas and gives makeup tips. What he likes best about the haunted house, he added, is how it’s a learning opportunity for the participants.
Much of the makeup, costumes and props come through donations, and the rest of the cost is covered by ticket sales. The remaining money goes to the ARBY participants, divided up depending on how many hours each student worked on the project.
“It’s fun, but it’s also holding them responsible for their work,” Anderson said.
This year, more than 70 signed up for the haunted house, an increase from the 50 who participated last year.
“It’s really neat that they get to have this work experience,” said Town of Frisco events coordinator Nora Gilbertson.
As opening time edges closer, the chaos and flurry increased as performers struggle into wigs and costumes, makeup artists dab their brushes and builders finalize the set-up within the maze itself.
At the entrance, the makeup artists gather together, comparing their fake-blood-stained fingers and sharing cleaning tips. Jason, still wrapped in his straitjacket, hangs with them, waiting for the first live run-through.
Dawn Carlson and 4-year-old Sawyer approach up the sidewalk. Sawyer looks awed by the group, particularly Jason, and seems like he can’t decide whether to be delighted or frightened. Jason takes a few steps and says, “Hi” in a friendly voice. Sawyer is hooked.
His mom says that Halloween is his favorite holiday. When asked what his costume is, Sawyer says, “I’m a U.S.A. SWAT team!”
Jason nods and replies, “Well, I guess you guys got me.”
Jason tells the times for the haunted house, and Sawyer and his mom promise to come back.
As the first people prepare to enter the house, Lane leans her head inside and calls out, “Fresh meat!”
Spooky music rolls out, followed by cackles of laughter. The door creaks open …