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Behind The Scenes At Morbid Mountain

Thomas P. Caldwell - October 7, 2013


Makeup artists prepare the actors for their roles at Gunstock’s Morbid Mountain.

They wander in from the parking lot, from behind the base lodge, from the Welcome Center. Coming singly and in pairs, they file silently into the building in much the same way as would the zombies and other creatures of the night that they soon will be portraying.

They are the actors who will become werewolves, vampires, pumpkin heads, and murderers, or perhaps the bloody victims of  chainsaw-wielding madmen, cannibals, or the undead.

They are the faces of Morbid Mountain, arriving for a dry run a few nights before the Halloween Screamfest opens at Gunstock Mountain Resort in Gilford.

The costumers and makeup artists are soon busy transforming gentle, ordinary people into hideous fiends and terrified victims, turning normal skin into pale, lifeless flesh or skeletal remains. Blood — thick and thin — is in much demand, while hair is colored and masks are fitted.

It takes up to 60 actors on any given night to bring Morbid Mountain to life (or death), and dozens more have been involved in building the sets and providing the props that will make the three “haunts” into scary, even terrifying, mazes.

Gunstock Marketing Director Bill Quigley says 10 to 12 core crew members have been busy since Labor Day, preparing for the arrival of the actors, the final element of the production. “People have been involved all over the mountain,” he said, “including the Guest Services crew.”

The actors were selected through two auditions, each attracting 40 to 50 people. A half-dozen of those taking part in this year’s Morbid Mountain are veterans, senior members of the six-year-old attraction that has seen 25,000 people visit during its first five years.

Those patrons who come for good dose of fright or to satisfy their hunger for horror are little aware of the preparation that goes on behind the scenes to make the Execush Inn, the Forest of Fear, and Dazed and Confused the successes they are.

On the Tuesday prior to Morbid Mountain’s opening this year, the actors tried on their makeup, checked out the sets, and practiced their routines before their peers. Each group went through the other two attractions and then offered their critiques of what they experienced.

First, however, as they will do each night of the event, the entire crew attended a safety meeting where the leaders go over the safety rules and remind the actors of the precautions they must take to make sure no one — actor or patron — gets injured.

“Safety first!” Bill Quigley reminds the group while making sure each actor has a flashlight, wears enough layers to stay warm on a cold fall night, and either eats ahead of time or brings a snack for an extended evening on the mountain.

Bill also explains the “arm’s length” policy: An actor should take no more than three steps toward a person going through the haunted maze, and should never approach to within an arm’s length of that person. Why? A person who becomes frightened might strike out, and staying beyond striking distance protects everyone involved.

He also reminds the actors that, although cell phones are forbidden while they are on duty, they are free to give out the Gunstock staff’s phone numbers so that, if the actors’ families need to get in contact with them, a staff member can get the message through.

Fire drills also are a part of the routine. The actors must practice evacuating the buildings so, should it become necessary during the event, they can get everyone to safety in the shortest amount of time.

Those are just some of the points Bill emphasizes to the crew on their first night together, and which he will be repeating each night of the event.

After the actors have completed their dry run at the various haunts, and gone through the other haunts, they reconvene to discuss what went well, where there were problems, and how they might make the three mazes more effective.

Comments ranged from pointing out areas where there were too few or too many actors to suggestions on lighting, presentation, background noise and music, and possible improvements to the props.

“Not dark enough,” “The scene was too bright,” “There should be more people there,” and “Maybe someone should be there,” were some of the suggestions. Bill noted them all down on his iPad so he could review them and send out a full list for everyone to consider.

He also discussed the details that were not ready yet but would be in place by the time Morbid Mountain opened. The exchange served not only to improve what the audience would be seeing, but it gave each participant a sense of ownership in the project.

The excitement was there during the dry run, enhanced by the stories the veterans could provide of past Morbid Mountain performances. Enthusiastic about improving upon their practice night, the actors left Gunstock with a new appreciation of their involvement and what they could provide to make this Halloween season memorable — and frightening. 

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