Nightmare at Beaver Lake relies on dedicated team to create serious scares

October 25, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Marek Kossik, 14, an Eastside Catholic High School student, has zombie face paint applied by Nightmare on Beaver Lake volunteer Kelly Davis before the Oct. 21 haunt. By Greg Farrar

The blood run occurs in a deep forest moments before 8 o’clock on nights leading to Halloween.

Dawn Gonser, lead makeup artist for Nightmare at Beaver Lake, dispenses a crimson liquid to ghouls stationed along a path through Beaver Lake Park.

The distinction between blood types is important. The other type is a goo used to create fresh scabs. The stage blood Gonser races across Beaver Lake Park to squirt into actors’ mouths is a nontoxic liquid similar in taste to mint-flavored mouthwash.

The last-minute touch-up increases the creep factor as actors prepare to scare attendees in horror-film fashion.

Gonser, a longtime Nightmare at Beaver Lake organizer, is part of a close-knit team skilled at scaring.

“It gets into your blood and you keep coming back year after year,” she said.

Nightmare at Beaver Lake is the largest Halloween haunt in the Puget Sound region and, perhaps, in the West.

The behind-the-scenes effort to produce the creep show each October requires up to 200 volunteers per night — including up to 120 costume-clad actors — Rotary Club of Sammamish members and a professional team from Scare Productions, a local nonprofit organization formed to create Halloween haunts.

Teams use handmade and prefabricated props to transform a forested trail and 8,000 square feet inside buildings into a ghoulish gauntlet. Though Nightmare at Beaver Lake does not open until late October, crews labor all year to prepare for the haunt.

The attention to detail — down to seeping scabs in zombie makeup and hand-carved thrones in a vampire vignette — is paramount if actors and organizers intend to cause attendees’ pulses to quicken.

If you go

Nightmare at Beaver Lake

  • Oct. 26-31
  • The family scare runs from 7-7:45 p.m. nightly. The full scare runs from 8-10 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, and from 8-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
  • Tickets: $8 per person for a family scare; $12 for a full scare Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; $15 for a full scare Friday and Saturday
  • Bring a can of food to donate and receive a $1 discount on tickets.
  • The event includes free parking and a free parking shuttle service from the parking area to the haunt.
  • C.J. Graham — Jason Voorhees in “Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI” — signs autographs and meets fans Oct. 28-29.

Scare Productions President Curt Madden illustrated the ethos in a speech to pump up actors before the gates opened on a damp night just before Halloween.

“This is not your mother’s haunted house. This is not your high school theatrical production,” he said. “This is a real haunted house.”

‘A real haunted house’

The cast is mostly high school students collecting community service hours. Organizers estimate actors’ average age at 15.

The actors offer a tamer presentation just after sunset, but “after 8 o’clock, you’re on your own,” Dan Rifley, a longtime Scare Productions member and Nightmare at Beaver Lake organizer, said before the haunt opened on a recent night.

The crowd starts to build at Beaver Lake Park at about 5 p.m. — a couple hours before the haunt opens to the public.

Upon check-in, each actor receives a color-coded card outlining a role for the night, plus costume and makeup requirements. The laminated sheet also lists the actor’s destination in Beaver Lake Park. On the “Children of the Corn” set, perhaps, or in the electric chair execution scene.

The scene inside The Lodge at Beaver Lake — a community center built in rustic log cabin style — resembles a monsters’ ball as actors shimmy into costumes and stand in line to sit across from a makeup artist.

“Are there any more Children of the Corn?” Gonser asked.

In the costume area, blood-spattered aprons and tunics, torn flannel shirts and more black capes than a magicians’ convention await actors.

The cast is arranged in a hierarchy. Experienced actors meander through Beaver Lake Park as “roamers” — nomads allowed to flit from scene to scene or follow attendees for added frights.

“The roamer can follow you from the minute you get out of your car to the minute you get back into your car,” Rifley said.

Justin Markus, a longtime Scare Productions actor, said Nightmare at Beaver Lake performers use cues from attendees.

“You feed off of their fear,” he said. “You can have fun — plus everybody has that deep-down fear of clowns and the dark.”


‘We love to scare!’

Rules prohibit actors from touching guests and organizers remind actors to remain at least a few feet from attendees — in case a frightened visitor lashes out and lunges at the actor.

“They don’t realize that these people can’t touch you,” said Kelly Davis, a longtime volunteer at local Halloween haunts. “They forget that the second they step inside.”

Organizers must also address logistics as mundane as filling water bottles for actors, silencing cellphones and setting aside time for bathroom trips.

Rihanna ringtones echoing in the Sammamish Plateau forest could ruin Nightmare at Beaver Lake for attendees.

“You’re going to turn them off, correct?” Penny Renwick, casting director and volunteer coordinator, asked actors before the haunt opened Oct. 21.

Scare Productions Secretary Dana Young reminded actors to head to the restroom before scattering throughout the park. If a scene is empty because the actor left to search for a restroom, the illusion could crumble.

“I don’t care if you have to go!” she shouted. “You’re going to go!”

Before Nightmare at Beaver Lake opens each night, cast members gather outside the lodge for instructions and last-minute questions.

“Where can I get my scythe?” a teenaged Grim Reaper in the crowd asked and, moments later, a prop master carrying a polished metal scythe appeared.

Then, as loud as banshees, actors and organizers started to chant: “We love to scare! We love to scare! We love to scare!”

In the darkness, as laughter resounded against menacing pine trees and mock blood oozed from simulated slashes, goblins and ghouls disappeared into the forest.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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