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Woods of Terror unmasked

by Lenise Willis

You feel around in the dark, unknowing of what lies ahead. And just when you’ve focused all of your energy on what could be in front of you, you feel the hot breath on the back of your neck. As your shoulders tense and you let out an embarrassingly high-pitched scream, remember: You entered these woods voluntarily, and most likely so did that monster behind you.

Woods of Terror, a haunted attraction that covers more than 30 acres of land in Greensboro, has made horror its business for 20 years, and although visitors come with the goal of getting a good scare, most of the actors are here for a good laugh.

“The chemistry of a haunted house is really unique,” said owner Eddie McLaurin. “It’s like another family. At times I have to tell them they can only come in so early and stay so late, because they’d just stay there all the time.

“After it’s over, you really go through a withdrawal. If you’ve never really been in it, it’s really hard to explain.”

The youngest character in the Woods of Terror cast is Sally who died in a tragic fire. She walks around the entrance dragging a porcelain doll and asking where her mommy is. The truth is her mommy is actually behind the scenes applying last-minute makeup details. Caroline Bartlett, 8, who volunteers as Sally, is the daughter of Woods makeup artist Emily Bartlett.

“She came out with me last year and watched and that’s why she wanted to come out this year,” Emily said. “Last year Eddie was talking about how he wished we could have a little girl as part of the act, and so it worked out well with Caroline.”

“People are definitely scared of stuff that’s at or around their feet, and Caroline’s done a great job out there,” McLaurin said. “It just upsets them, and of course we’re trying to entertain them while they’re waiting to get in.”

“I just really like scaring people,” Caroline said. “I think it’s cool to be out here.” Caroline said lots of people tend to run away from her, “especially teenage girls,” whom she said she normally targets.

Caroline said she has become good friends with many of the other actors and enjoys seeing them before the show. “[She’s] like the official mas cot,” Emily laughed.

Emily added that she only lets Caroline volunteer on Fridays, not on school nights or on Saturdays. “I did let her do a Friday and Saturday once but it was a little much,” Emily said. “I think the crowd is different on Fridays than it is on Saturdays. [The Saturday crowd] was just a little bit too rough with her and I just didn’t want that.”

Despite Emily’s precautions, the atmosphere is still a pretty safe one for Caroline, after all she has the Grim Reaper who looks after her. “Grim has become like her babysitter,” Emily laughed. “Everyone here tends to help keep an eye on her.”

McLaurin said his actors and staff start the training and rehearsal process about four weeks before opening. The best actors, he said, have an outgoing personality and can be creative and spontaneous. “They can improv right on the site,” he said. “Of course, it’s harder to find that. I probably have three or four of those out of a hundred, but they’ll fit in anywhere. They’re very flexible.”

A perfect example of one such actor is the man disguised as Pirate Pete, who conducted an impromptu interview entirely in character, all the while getting the best out of this reporter. The audio of the interview is available online at www. yesweekly.com.

Pirate Pete said he has been stranded at Woods of Terror for five years. “The dingbat that’s fixing the ship keeps breaking it again,” he said in a scratchy pirate voice.

Pirate Pete said his ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, sailed off into a deep ravine and then crash landed. “It got banged up pretty bad,” he said. “So we’re making repairs and these natives — they come out of the woods, they come out of nowhere. We have to fend them off with our lives while trying to repair the ship to get away, so we’re stuck here for the time being.”

Despite being stranded against his will, Pirate Pete said he actually quite likes it at Woods of Terror. “You do get the quite pretty girl that comes around every once in awhile. Can’t say I don’t enjoy it,” he cawed.

Pirate Pete admitted that he’s quite the romantic. “I speak a little French even, but I do it with me tongue if you know what I mean,” he said with a grin and a jab of the elbow. “Bring out your lady friends and tell them to come see me.”

Of course, meeting pretty girls isn’t the only benefit of working in a haunted attraction, in fact, most of the Woods characters agree that it’s a great place to de-stress.

“I like scaring people mainly because it gives me a laugh,” said Kevante Tatum, 18, who plays a sinister zombie-like creature. “When I’m having a hard day at work or school or anything, I come back here and scare the mess out of people and get their reactions and laugh at them. It’s like a place to vent. Even if you’re having problems in the outside world, you’re supposed to look angry in here anyway, so you can just take it all out — as long as you don’t take it out too much.”

Tatum said in order to maintain his grim composure he clenches his abs to keep from laughing. “My character is a very dark and sinister person so I always keep a grin or a sinister smile on my face, so even if somebody does make me laugh I’m already grinning. I just have to hold it back.”

Tatum has been working or volunteering with Woods for five years and as a double-jointed dancer, has become notorious for his smooth moves and creepy crawl. “I have a crawl that’s signature around here,” he rightfully boasted. “It’s a very contortionist-type crawl.

“At first, I did it for the late nights and getting out of school,” he laughed, “but then it turned into an acting experience that I’m using towards college, so I’m using this as a gateway to get myself a career and other things in life, acting wise.” Tatum plans to attend UNCG and major in either dance or theatre. He also teaches contemporary hip-hop at Vinmark International Dance Academy on West Market Street.

His love of dance certainly shows as he entertains waiting guests by dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and other dark-themed songs.

This is Joanna Canipe’s first year working at Woods and she agrees that it’s a great place to vent. Canipe, who during the year works at a movie theater, also plays the part of a dead theater concessionaire. “My job is to keep the audience moving and have them not stay and watch the movie that’s on the screen,” she said. “It gives you the perfect opportunity to vent six years worth of frustrations working at the theater, but without getting fired.”

The man behind the Michael Myers mask is Devon Wagoner, and chances are that while “trespassers” are busy scurrying away from his blank stare, he’s actually chuckling.

“It’s a big stress reliever,” he said. “I get pretty stressed out at the current job I have, so I get to come out here and scare people, and it’s a lot of fun. I’m always laughing underneath my mask because the stuff that people do when they see you is hilarious, like run into [the set or props].”

Behind the scenes is a family of staff who start readying the actors about two hours before the big show. The preshow preparation is a performance in itself as commands are yelled via a megaphone and spray bottles filled with blood are juggled around.

Behind the Roadkill Café is a costume trailer, a makeup shelter that houses about a dozen makeup stations, a latex drying area and a shel- ter for ready-and-waiting characters. The last shelter is where the acting coach gives final tips, critiques and an energizing speech. Jen Janus, makeup director, has worked with the Woods going on two years now. With a theater degree from UNC-Charlotte, Janus said her favorite characters to design are zombies. “I really like the wounds and creating things with latex,” she said. It takes about five minutes to do each character’s hair and makeup, with the exception of vampires who take about 35 minutes total.

During the off-season, Janus continues to make latex appliances and meet with other Woods staff to come up with new ideas. “The thing about makeup in this industry is you have to have things ready very, very quickly,” Janus said. Woods of Terror will have an additional face — a chilling celebrity — Friday and Saturday when a star from AMC’s “The Walking Dead” arrives. Addy Miller, 11, of Atlanta, made her debut in the series as the first zombie killed by Sheriff Rick Grimes, and this weekend will charge $20 to have a picture taken with her.

Wanna go?

The 80-minute haunted tour employees 171 people and includes 10 attractions: Infestation, Night Stalkers, Heavy Metal Nightmare, Awakening, Chaos 3-D, the Blood House, Horrorwood Cinema, Blackbeard’s Revenge, the Slaughter House and Miner’s Massacre.

Each set is elaborately detailed and makes you feel like you’re a victim walk- ing through your own horror film — or maybe just one of your favorites as the Horrorwood Cinema brings to life the clas- sic nightmares of Jason, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and more. Woods of Terror, located at 5601 N.

Church St., Greensboro, remains open Wednesday through Monday and Nov. 4, 5. Gates open at 6 p.m. Ticket booth open 6:30-9:30 p.m. Show starts at 7 p.m. and runs until the last person out. Tickets $15 Thurs. and Sun.; $25 Fri. Sat. and Halloween. For online discount and more information visit www.woodsofterror.com or call 336.286.9396. May be closed for rain, call ahead to check.

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