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Jessica Peralta as a Knott's Halloween Haunt zombie

Photo By Steve K. Zylius/The Orange County Register 

Jessica as a Haunt zombie

October 2006


was never as alive as when I was dead. My heart was pumping. Sweat was dripping down my face. And I had the energy of a 16-year-old track star. But here I was – hospital clothes torn, hair in disarray, face pale – dead as a doornail. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as the case may be), I only succumbed to death for one night at Knott’s Scary Farm’s annual Halloween Haunt. After my experience, I could understand why many of the “monsters” keep coming back year after year.

Death Becomes Her

I would be stationed in “The Asylum,” a somewhat dizzying maze of dead, crazy people. It’s definitely one of the more graphic mazes, with lots of gore and plenty of good scares.

The first time I walked through the maze myself (sans makeup and costume), it scared the crap out of me.

Turning me into a member of the undead was a lot easier than I imagined. All it took was some airbrush makeup, hairspray, tattered clothes and a bad attitude. For my clothing, I had a choice between a straitjacket and hospital patient wear. I opted for the latter, consisting of pale blue hospital pants, cream-colored shirt and light-orange robe.

Wardrobe handled, I headed to Shannon Hankinson – in her sixth season as a makeup artist for Halloween Haunt – who was charged with the task of making me look like the zombie of everybody’s nightmares. The 20-minute process was enjoyable except for the airbrushing, which gave me a strange, out-of-breath feeling.

With my white veiny face and hair teased into a disheveled pile, I was handed a rubber severed foot and led to the asylum.

Death Engulfs Her

Since I didn’t attend “Scare School” with all the other monsters, I got a quick briefing from talent captain Jason Arrey, who was in charge of the “The Asylum” monsters. (Arrey would also occasionally pop up in the maze to give me more pointers). I could jump out, bang and block doorways, get in people’s faces, follow them around and basically do whatever I could to scare the living hell out of them. With children, I should practice some restraint if they were already overwhelmed with fear. Generally, I was to maintain a no-touching policy, and if any of the visitors made me uncomfortable, I could back off. Other than that, scare away.

I was assigned to the patient sleeping area, the last room in the asylum, complete with live and dummy monsters and beds. As soon as I walked in, I felt like I’d come home.

All I had to do was stare at some people and they’d scream. Others maintained composure through the fear. My favorites were the cocky ones. They’d walk by and make a crack – “Hey, you’re kinda hot!” – and cackle with their friends. So I’d lock eyes with them like I was a rabid dog ready to attack, and followed them. Nine times out of 10, he or she got very uncomfortable and apologized for angering the zombie. I laughed my evil laugh inside and continued on my journey of fright.

I simulated gnawing on my severed foot, eliciting a series of nervous comments: “That taste good?” “Mmmm. That looks tasty.” “Ewwwww, gross.”

I generated some of the best scares in tag-team style with other monsters. I’d catch people’s attention as they walked into a room, and as I intently focused on one of them, gnawing on my foot, BAM! another monster jumped out.

One of the biggest compliments other than the screaming women and shuddering men was when I heard someone say, “She’s so ugly!”

Amazing what being dead can do for confidence.

All that really mattered now was being the ugliest, creepiest, most nightmare-inspiring undead person that ever walked the dark hallways of the night.

Return to Life

After a couple of hours of adrenaline and heat, it was time to go.

I changed out of my tattered clothing, baby-wiped most of my makeup off, and left sad and completely drained. I will miss being dead.

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