“I caused 372 people to visibly wet themselves, I caused five people to lose bowel control, and I have caused a total of two heart attacks in the last two years.”
Welcome to the frightening world of Christopher Kliewer, a 34-year-old IT systems administrator who turns into something more sinister during Halloween season—a professional haunted-house actor.
“I take my roles very seriously,” said Kliewer. Since 2008, he has played a variety of menacing characters, including Leather Face from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” film series, and The Patchwork Man, an insane asylum escapee sewn together from different asylum inmates.
This year, he is The Gatekeeper of Scream Town’s Oak Blood Forest, a large haunted attraction in Minnesota. “One of my scare tactics with my hooded robe and staff is to stand perfectly still in plain sight as people pass me. They believe I am a prop… until I come up behind them and gently whisper in their ear, or scream loudly at them.”
Six feet and four inches tall and 350 pounds, Kliewer can be an intimidating presence, even more so when he’s wearing the costumes, masks and prosthetics that he just loves.
Super talked to Kliewer about his awesome job, his scare tactics, his chain saw and what he does when someone has a heart attack in his haunted house.
How did you end up as a professional haunted-house actor?
A friend of mine mentioned that she worked at a local haunted house and suggested I try my hand at it. I applied and immediately fell in love with the job.
What exactly do you do?
I wait for people to walk through the darkened pathway of the haunted house. When they do, I pop out of my hiding hole and yell or make a loud noise. In some cases, I will be visible, but they won’t think I am real because I can hold very still. Then I sneak up behind them, and whisper in their ear or yell at them. There are many other ways to scare someone. These are the two most common.
Tell us about the characters you play.
I have played many characters. My favorite by far is that of Leather Face, a very big man who wears the skin of the women he kills. He also gets to use a chain saw to make lots of noise. The Patchwork Man is one of my other notable characters. He has numerous personalities that are always arguing with each other and fighting for control of his body.
Many of my costumes consist of items I have laying around, or inexpensive items I have found at local stores. For the more specialized items, such as the movie effects-style makeup, I have had to search for them on the Internet.
I devise a character that I want to play, and slowly put together my costume from items I have made or purchased. As Leather Face, I wanted to be a very big scary person, with a humorous side. I use a bright and cheerful necktie with sunflowers on it. That, combined with the blood-smeared apron I wear, and the mask that looks like dead skin, really messes with people’s minds.
The chain saws I used as Leather Face were real chain saws! I took the chains off for the safety of my visitors. They smell and sound real, because they are. People know that it isn’t going to hurt them, but when they look and sound and smell like the real thing, this only adds to their fear.
I have used an ax for my other characters. In all of my roles, my voice and attitude are a very strong part of the character. I am a very nice guy in normal life, but once I become a character, I revel in the fear I cause and I am not a very nice guy.
Depending on the haunted house I work at, sometimes that can be as few as five hours a night to as many as eight. This includes an hour or more for makeup and preparation, and the rest of the time being scary.
What do you love about your job?
What don’t I love about my job?! (laughs) Many people deal with fear and being frightened by laughing. It is a way for the body to release tension. This laughter also shows that people are having fun. What’s not to like about having fun?
What’s the most challenging thing about it?
It is a very physically demanding job. You are on your feet for many hours without rest, constantly moving. Some characters require that you do not walk or behave like a normal person, so the different postures can be very taxing. I come home sore every night, and the next morning have difficulty moving.
Is it true you’ve caused some people to have heart attacks? What happened?
Yes, unfortunately. This is a very scary thing for me when this happens, as I am sure it is for the person having it. The first time I ever caused a heart attack scared me so badly I almost didn’t continue working that year.
The guest who came in had a known heart condition. I had been following him through the house and I was dragging the metal ax blade across the floor behind him. He was very afraid. I had moved out of the house using one of the secret doors that allowed me to sneak in front of and behind guests. As he came around the corner, I stepped in front of him and yelled. I watched his eyes roll back in his head and he collapsed.
I immediately stepped out of the house and yelled for “All stop.” This is our sign for an emergency. We had several people trained in CPR and first aid who came and assisted the guest. He made a full recovery, and no longer goes into haunted houses. (laughs) There have been other times, and in all cases, the guests have turned out okay afterward.
How did you keep track of the people who have wet their pants because of you?
I actually started keeping track during my first year. In the break room behind the haunted house, we had a chalkboard where we could keep track of how many people we’d scared so badly that they had wet themselves. We called this the “Pee Board.”
My first year, I had about 60 people wet themselves. During my second year this increased considerably. My proudest year was when I played Leather Face. I made 372 people
visibly wet themselves. I blame the chain saw for doing most of the scaring. (laughs)
This year, I have had about 40 people so far. I don’t have a chain saw this year. We’ve even had several people lose control of their bowels. Disgusting, yet very funny.
You scare people, but what scares you?
The thought of a world without Halloween. Actually, there isn’t a whole lot out there that scares me. I am a very big guy, not much scares me.
Any unforgettable stories from your job?
Many many stories! The time I popped out next to a big football player-sized guy who was bigger than me. I came out of hiding and thought, “Wow, he’s bigger than me! But I bet if I get close, then when he turns his head and finally notices me, he’ll flip out.”
It worked better than expected. He turned, screamed like a little girl, slammed backwards into a plastic floor-length mirror, broke it in numerous spots, fell on his backside, and proceeded to wet himself visibly.
Then there were the two children. This little boy came into one of my haunts and I could clearly see he was terrified. He didn’t make a noise, he just kept looking straight forward. I snuck out behind him and his father, and I leaned forward and said in his ear, “I’m right behind you,” in my dark and sinister voice.
He didn’t say a word, but his entire body spasmed. It looked as if his skeleton was trying to rip its way out of his body. The other one involved a boy of around the same age being carried by his father. I popped out behind them, he looked at me and his eyes got big. He then whispered very loudly in his dad’s ear, “He’s right behind us.” He then gave me a huge grin. That one made my night.
Do you have any tips for people who want to become a professional haunted-house actor?
Yes. Commit yourself to the character. When the lights go out, and the screams begin, you are no longer the person who has two children and goes to work every day. You are the monster, the creature from the darkness.
How much do you love your job?
With apologies to my children… I’d gladly give them to someone else if it allowed me to keep working. (laughs)
How do your kids feel about your job?
My oldest is 13, and my twins are 11. They all think it is cool that I do this stuff and they see me in costume. But my youngest daughter is the only one brave enough to come see me.
What are your occupational hazards?
People react to fear with one of two methods. Fight, or flight. This means that if they get scared enough, they either run or they throw a punch. I have been hit many times by people who were panicking. Bruises are a daily part of the job.
What do you hate about your job?
The only part I dislike about it is being very sore the next morning. After a really busy night, there are times where I can barely move the next day.
Can we please have your job?
(Laughs) You can’t have my job… but you can come work with me. I’ll get the guests all warmed up, and you pop out and make them wet themselves.