SALT LAKE CITY — Septembers and Octobers are exhausting for Mark Petrie.
He wakes up early and spends his day processing medicaid applications, finishing around 5:30 p.m. in order to run a few errands.
At 6:45 he drives to the Fear Factory — the towering haunted house attraction visible from I-15.
When he arrives, he puts on a red-and-green-striped sweater, dons a mask of burnt skin and tops it off with a brown hat.
Then, he slips on his glove with steel blades for fingers.
Within a matter of minutes, he’s become Freddy Krueger.
Petrie has portrayed the “Nightmare on Elm Street” character since the Fear Factory first opened in 2011. He and two other workers at the haunted house attraction talked about the process and challenges of scaring people.
Throughout the Halloween season, around 300 people work hard to scare those that enter the Fear Factory. But the building, located on 666 W. 800 South, has its own eerie history.
“It was a cement factory from the late 1800s,” said Fear Factory co-owner Heidi Dunfield. “Back in the early 1900s, there were a lot of people that died there. They didn’t have great working conditions, and sometimes it was long hours and there were people that died in horrible accidents there, and they’re documented in the news articles. There’s a history that's tied into it and that adds a lot.”
And although Dunfield works in operations, she recognizes that it takes a special kind of person to create scares. A person who loves it enough to be able to do it over and over again. A person like Petrie.
The Freddy Krueger impersonator has been a Fear Factory cast member for six years, and only recently did he take his first sick day.
He spends his entire shift in a fog-filled room and rarely takes a break.
“I try to put myself in the customer’s shoes because I know the customer is seeing this for the first time,” he said. “They’re not seeing this performance over and over and over and over again like I am. That helps motivate me to stay in character and put on another performance. I try to individualize the performance as much as possible and give people a good show.”
Based on Wes Craven’s 1984 “Nightmare on Elm Street,” Petrie calls his Krueger an “entity in the darkness.” By lurking in the fog and using the microphone under his mask, Petrie lures his crowd to a nearby speaker before emerging from an entirely different spot.
The customers hit the floor from shock.
But if his pop-out scare doesn’t do the trick, Petrie has other ideas up his sleeve — or glove. A longtime fan of Freddy Krueger, Petrie has also learned the art of crafting the character’s signature clawed glove weapon.
“Of course I don’t sharpen the blades — that would be too dangerous for the customers — but I do want them to feel and hear that they are metal. It just makes it that much more intimidating.”
For greater effect, Petrie will rub the blades together, run his claw through people’s hair and down their backs or brush it against the side of their faces.
“You’re not going to scare everybody,” he said. “If you can’t scare everybody, at least provide them with entertainment. If you can’t scare them, make them laugh or something, or try to scare somebody in their group that’s obviously scared. You learn to identify who’s scared, and who’s not, and target those individuals.”
To maximize his scares, vampire-clown Chris Strebel walks and studies the route his customers take to find the spots that contain the biggest element of surprise. Looking at the path through his audience’s eyes allows him to find the most effective hiding spots and places to pop out.
And then there’s his laugh.
There’s the continual high-pitched laugh, and the silent laugh that works best when done right into a person’s ear.
But sometimes he’ll encounter people that try to turn the tables.
“There are definitely customers that like to push the boundaries,” Strebel said. “They’ll start asking you back stories: ‘What’s your name, where are you from?’ You need to quickly think on the spot and have something ready for them.”
To prepare for such situations, Strebel, who is also the casting director, leads classes that train actors to have a back story and how to respond if they’re with a customer for longer than usual. Other workshops offer tips on how to perform a proper snarl or growl, how to move like a zombie and how to gauge audience reactions. Although the haunting season doesn’t begin until September, the training begins shortly after casting calls in June.
“I think people don't understand how difficult haunting can really be,” Petrie said. “It’s not just throwing on a costume and just going in a room and acting. It takes a lot of endurance; it takes a lot of patience. It’s hard, hard work. It’s exhausting. You need to learn how to pace your performance, and make sure that you last through the night, so not just the first customers are getting the best performance.”
And each night before the scares begin, the cast gets together between 5 and 7 p.m. to get in costume, apply their makeup and perform vocal exercises to ensure they don’t ruin or lose their voice over the course of the night.
“I love the family aspect of the haunt,” Strebel said. “Getting to interact with so many different people from different walks of life, and getting to know them and their stories and kind of see how they develop over time.”
And while Petrie gets a thrill from portraying Freddy Krueger, the greatest reward from his job stems from giving people a lasting memory.
“It allows me to become somebody that is completely different from what I really am,” he said. “It allows me to put on an artistic performance for people, and I get a rush from that. I get a rush from seeing their responses and their reactions and knowing that I did provide them with a quality and memorable scare.”
If you go
What: Fear Factory
When: Tuesday-Sunday, through Nov. 4, times vary
Where: 666 W. 800 South
How much: Weekday, GA: $25, VIP: $35; Weekend, GA: $30, VIP: $40; Instant access: $59