The Horror Within

For most of the year, the 6,000 sq. ft. warehouse behind The Masquerade sits desolate and obscured by its anterior neighbor. However, as October comes, the usually lifeless brick house erupts in a horrific blast of flashing lights and fake blood. What remains is Chambers of Horror, a Halloween attraction for adults aged 18 and older.

Danny Oquendo, a 22 year-old student at Kennesaw State University, is an actor at Chambers of Horror or “Chambers” as he refers to it.

“I went to Netherworld one night and I ran into Luke, Syd and Ian from Chambers of Horror,” Oquendo said. He was looking to work at Netherworld in Norcross, Georgia at the time.

“I heard they were running a haunted house downtown and I said ‘why not?’”

Oquendo explains how actors are assigned roles and the creative freedom they are given in developing their characters. Actors seem to retain their positions, once they find a role they like.

“At Chambers of Horror, you are given a role, but you’re allowed to elaborate it to a point,” he explains. “This year, I’m pretty much in the same area.”

After buying admission, thrill seekers enter a sort of purgatory between the Chambers of Horror and their normal, torture-free lives. This is also the site of the Splatter Bar and Lounge where one is free to indulge in their preferred alcoholic beverage in preparation of what is to come.

If liquid courage isn’t enough to prepare, actors boasting make-up and mock weapons yell at those standing in line. Some may not realize that these oddly clad figures are horror junkies themselves.

Kristiva Diva is one of these figures. As an experienced drag queen, she wears a spiked bracelet, long thick eyelashes and pale lipstick resembling the exposed features of a skull. As intimidating as she may be, the Tampa, Florida native enjoys talking to visitors and feels more comfortable being herself on Halloween.

“I love meeting new people,” she says in a voice that betrays her attire. “[Halloween] is a time when you can be yourself, when different is celebrated.”

Chambers of Horror has a unique approach to terrifying its patrons. Before entering the exhibit, attendees are led to the side of the warehouse to view a film, a fictional documentary explaining the attraction’s elaborate and creative background story.

Oquendo and his co-actors are familiar with the overarching narrative. He views the complex story as an opportunity for actors to hone their frightening skills.

“Before we started this year, we had orientation. We went over each scene, each room, the whole backstory,” he explained. “This year, the backstory is turning humans — victims — into cyborg robots. It’s more sci-fi than horror.”

Construction, special effects and make-up are crucial, giving the Chambers of Horror flavors of science fiction mixed with good old-fashioned violence. High-tech science medical machines impress with their intricate details, such as knobs, numbers and displays.

Actors at Chambers of Horror appreciate the intricate military and sci-fi aesthetic. Much of exhibit is reminiscent of World War II with abrasive soldiers and a retro yet futuristic feel. Oquendo enjoys the recent updates to the exhibit, one of which is a massive alligator that pops out of the wall, its jaw exposing rows of jagged teeth.

“The alligator this year is actually new,” Oquendo says. “It wasn’t there last year. That room used to be the gas chamber room.”

Kyle Moncrief is one of the designers of the attraction. A self-described “southern gentleman” and father, Moncrief takes pride in his work as a make-up artist.

“It began as a hobby around 2000 and I started doing it full-time around 2009,” Moncrief explains.

In costume, Moncrief refers to himself as “The Sexecutioner” and realistic prop weapons replace his hands. A mask that resembles human skin covers his head and apparent trauma exposes his brain. This doesn’t stop Moncrief from approaching guests with strong eye contact and a deep, twisted laugh. The 41-year-old Atlanta native expressed confusion over whom to be in his conversation with The Signal.

“I don’t know if I should answer as myself or as my character,” said Moncrief.

He exposes a dilemma for actors at the attraction and elsewhere. Is there truly a line between actor and character? Can actors ever completely abandon themselves to become something else?

Abandoning oneself is exactly what many will attempt come Halloween. Some will dress as monsters and some as film or television characters. Many will strive for humor in their costumes, donning ridiculous hats and glasses. Others aim for horror, soaking themselves in fake blood and creepy make-up. However, the Napoleon Dynamites and the Count Draculas have one thing in common. Both embody someone else or something else while trying to abandon their “real” identities.

Oquendo doesn’t see it this way. Whereas some may dress up and act to escape, the actor notes that the characters and costumes can sometimes be more real than anticipated.

“Working at the haunted is my chance, you know. It’s a way to show a part of me I’m holding back,” he explains.

The actor takes pride in his work and receives the terror and dread of guests as a kind of validation. He recalls people falling down in fear.

“This girl fell onto her boyfriend,” he remembers. “I will scream in peoples’ faces and get very close. I’ve had grown men tell me I make them feel very uncomfortable. It’s actually a great confidence booster.”

Actors at Chambers of Horror look forward to donning crazy make-up and eye-grabbing, spiky accessories as do thousands on Halloween. The irony of dressing up in absurd, inhuman costumes to be more authentic may be more profound than it appears. After all, appearances are superficial.

It does appear that Chambers of Horror has charmed the mild-mannered and the boisterous. If an escape from everyday life is the desire, one need not look further than Chambers of Horror—its dark fantasies capture and hold attention. To thrill-seekers and future visitors of this attraction: be warned. As participants dive deeper into the horror, they may be diving deeper into themselves.