Castle of Chaos expands and innovates to keep the scares comingNov 08, 2021 02:51PM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart
Guests at the Castle of Chaos wear glow necklaces or bracelets to indicate that they want more intense scares. (Sarah Morton Taggart/City Journals)
By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]
The element of surprise is an important part of trying to scare someone. So how does one of Utah’s longest-running haunted houses keep guests on their toes?
“We have new props and a redesigned set, which gives it a different flow,” said Chris Hill, a longtime employee of Castle of Chaos. “For people who come every year, they can really appreciate the changes.”
The production department removed a few staff offices to make way for more areas of the haunt. Castle of Chaos is Utah’s only fully-underground haunt, which means no windows or doors and can lead to a claustrophobic, disorienting experience.
“The walk time is a good amount,” Hill said. “We want to maximize people’s experience.”
Castle of Chaos rotated through several locations before occupying the space at 7980 S. State St. seven years ago.
“I think they picked this place because of its past,” said Peter Allred, a member of the productions department. “The building was a night club with a wild reputation. Ghost hunters have come here.”
Allred began working at Castle of Chaos 20 years ago when he was in high school and was recruited to be an actor. Though his main job now is building and maintaining sets, he still gets in on the fun once in a while.
“If I’m not fixing things, I have costumes to wear,” Allred said with a grin. “I have some places I like to scare from.”
The other actors are more focused on their craft and are given artistic freedom with guidance.
“We allow them to be actors,” Hill said. “The actor has created everything about a character—a name, a voice, a personality. There’s a spirit and soul behind the character.”
The actors are also encouraged to improvise when interacting with patrons. Improv skills are necessary, because the actors tailor the experience for each group that comes through.
“Five levels of fear makes us stand out,” Hill said. “We cater the experience and give them the level of intensity they want. Level two and level four are completely different experiences.”
Level one is for individuals that want the most mild experience. They are given a glow stick, or “Monster Be Gone” wand, to make the actors leave them alone.
Level two is a standard haunted house experience, where the actors get close, but don’t touch.
Patrons wear glow necklaces or bracelets to indicate they want a level two or three experience. The actors may touch or restrain participants and may occasionally separate them from their group.
As for level five?
“I will never try level five because I know what they do!” said Karsyn Fergus, who used to work as an actor for Castle of Chaos.
Chaos ambassadors chat with audience members before they begin the haunt to determine which level is right for them.
“We had seen a need for customer service,” said Amber Hill, a longtime employee. “There was a definite need for actual connection. If people didn’t get what they expected, we let them go through again and change the level.”
Hill described a time when a family came through with a young girl who got scared and wanted to leave.
“We took her backstage and had a dance party while her parents finished the haunt,” Hill said. “Once they were done she wanted to go through again because she had so much fun dancing.”
Chris and Amber Hill began working at Castle of Chaos together the year they were married. Seventeen years later, their 11-year-old daughter has joined the team. She sells candy with a friend at the end of the haunt on weekends.
Nicole Judson is another seasonal employee. She’s a pharmacy tech by day, but every October becomes a makeup director at night.
“This is my side gig, but I’ve always had an artistic side,” Judson said. “My favorites this year were designing the UV clowns, playing with color and working with the 3D glasses.”
Judson prefers to stay behind the scenes of the scare business. She visits haunted houses only to keep up on makeup trends and to see what’s working—strictly for business, not for fun.
“I go through two haunts per year, including this one and one other,” Judson said. “Sometimes I get so scared I throw up.”
For those who crave more once Halloween is over, Castle of Chaos offers escape rooms throughout the year. Several years ago they introduced the “Krusebel Extreme Haunt,” which happens all night three or four times a year.
Chris Hill describes the overnight show like being inside a horror movie. “Would you make the right decisions to survive the night?”
Like most businesses these days, Castle of Chaos is doing what they can to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But is it hard to tell when patrons are scared if they’re wearing a mask?
“Even with masks there are lots of ways to tell if they’re scared, like their eyes and body language,” Hill said. “You can still hear them scream if you scare them right.”