DEL MAR – A laugh, evil and ghastly rings out from a darkened hallway. Even though it’s the middle of the day and outside the sun is blazing, the laugh still has a blood chilling effect.
“That even scared me,” Ashley Palafox said, who was sitting one room over, waiting for her turn to audition to join the cast of Scream Zone, the Del Mar Fairground’s annual haunted event.
It’s safe to say that Ashley Amaral knows how to scare people. That was her laugh that froze some of those getting the “scaregrounds” ready in their tracks.
Amaral, 25, is a veteran scare, entering the seventh season as her character “Dolly,” and the laugh she employs. “It is mine. It’s a really loud, evil laugh,” she said.
The laugh, she said, just came out one night while working in the haunted house. “That’s the best way to do it,” Amaral added, “you can’t practice at home because you don’t know the reaction. You might think it’s scary in the mirror, but then when a patron comes through and they’re like, ‘that wasn’t scary,’ OK, I need to change that.”
Hundreds of other scare-hopefuls were expected outside the Scream Zone grounds where auditions were taking place.
Jen Struever, event manager, was one of those looking for talents not necessarily possessed, but possessing a unique athletic ability or skill set geared toward entertainment.
Sword swallowers, baton twirlers, dancers, even fire twirlers were just a few of the talents she was seeking out.
And they get a lot of those applicants.
“This is this place for the unusual to be usual and embraced,” Struever said.
“We have people from all different walks of life…and bottom line, the most important quality is that you have to love Halloween and just have a passion for it.”
And love scaring people, added Thomas Saiz, who manages the haunted hayride during Scream Zone. He’s been with the event for seven years, three of those years he worked as an actor.
“There’s different types of scares that I look for,” he said. “There’s different types of actors that exist. There’s the faster…jump right in your face and get loud and crazy (kind).
“And then there’s also, I’ve seen it be very effective, to where somebody just creeps out and just looks creepy and slow and they just take on that role so well.”
While they may not jump out at you and scream “Boo,” Saiz said the subtle scare is just as effective.
Amaral is more of the in-your-face-type of scare. As Dolly, a doll that’s been played with a little too rough, Amaral loves scaring people, especially the big, burly tough men, she said. “I love watching them crumble to the ground.”
Palafox, who auditioned and earned a spot on the cast, decided to try out, in part, because she thought it might help her get over her own fears of being scared. She too was lured by the draw of scaring people. “The reaction, it’s got to be the reaction,” she said.
While she doesn’t know yet what role she’ll take on, she said she’ll be turning to some scary movies for ideas, and also getting a start working on her best zombie impression.
Jeff Neitzel is the assistant manager of the haunted house and serves as the key makeup artist for all of the actors.
“We always try to get as much as possible out of our scariness,” Neitzel said.
In about an hour, he and a team of several makeup artists get actors ready for their performances.
And what draws out the most scares in people?
Between Neitzel, Saiz and Struever, it was a unanimous choice – clowns.
“Clowns are huge,” Struevel said. “People love zombies, and people always freak out with chainsaws, but clowns with chainsaws – ridiculous,” she added.
The Scream Zone
Opens: Sept. 27 through Nov. 2
Times and tickets: thescreamzone.com
Where: Del Mar Scaregrounds, 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd.