This month, a record number of Americans — more than 42 million — are expected to visit some sort of haunted house for Halloween. These businesses will rake in around $1 billion in ticket sales.
But for many of the ghosts and ghouls behind the scenes, it's not really about raising money or turning a profit. It's that scaring people happens to be really, really fun.
"Nothing is more exciting than watching somebody jump or scream or yell, or actually get terrified," says Paul Brubacher, who has worked for 15 years at Markoff's Haunted Forest. "As far as the science behind it goes, I have no idea, but it sure is fun to do."
The haunted forest outside Poolesville, Md. is one of the D.C. region's longest-running haunts, now in its 20th year of professional scaring. Last year, ticket sales brought in over half a million dollars, money that funds an outdoor education non-profit through the rest of the year.
"Today, believe it or not, I was teaching leave-no-trace outdoor ethics skills to a bunch of sixth graders," says Matt Markoff, his face covered in fake blood for a night at the haunted forest. He and his two brothers began the haunt in 1992 as a way to help start a summer camp for kids.
A few hours before opening on a recent night, more than 100 actors are being shuffled through the makeup and costume shops.
"What draws me to scaring people is just the pure joy you get out of their reactions," says actor Keenan Smith, his head and neck dripping fake blood. "Being obsessed with horror movies and being obsessed with scaring people, and knowing that you're good at it, you get a thrill after seeing someone freak out. It's almost like an ego boost."
"It is a big adrenaline rush," says Victor Vissari, costumed as a zombified monk. "Some people skydive, some people do base-jumping, some people go mountain climbing. I scare people."
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