Fort Mill Times

Chief Fright Officer at Scarowinds spills secrets

Your heart is pounding. You're gasping for breath.

You're screaming, or your voice has been choked into silence.

You've lost control of every limb, every body function.

You want to run, but your feet won't move. The best you can do is drop to the ground in a fetal position, hoping the sensory overload will soon be over.

It's the scariest of scares, the freakiest of frights, the ultimate undoing by the underworld.

It's what Chad and his ghastly and ghostly cohorts seek every night at Scarowinds.

And those who do it best earn kill bills, the currency of the creatures of the night. They come in $1 and $5 denominations. There's also the "infinity" kill bill which features a picture of Chad. Scare Chad and you get the infinity kill bill. He's given out just one this season.

Chad has no official title.

But he is, in all but name, Scarowinds' CFO, the chief fright officer, or as he signs his fall emails, its "director of death." It is his job to scare you so badly that you swear you'll never return, but can't wait to come back.

For most of the year, Chad - it's Gary Chadwick on his birth certificate but no one calls him Gary - is the director of retail at Carowinds. He makes sure the park's stores are filled, giving you a break from the twists and turns of the roller coasters and other rides.

But sporadically during the year, and for weeks in the fall, Chad turns his attentions to transforming the amusement park into a haunted maze of macabre mayhem where every sense is not just affected but also attacked by ghosts, goblins and creatures with globs of gore - the more gore, the better.

The park's rides also get some attention with special lighting and nearby fog generators. If you thought it was intimidating to ride the Intimidator roller coaster during the day, try it at night with ground-hugging fog and orange-hazed lights.

Chad brings no special training or interest to the job. He doesn't have to see the latest horror movie or study the horror classics of "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" as many of his cast of almost 500 do.

No, Chad simply applies the lesson of retail, but in a slightly different manner.

On one hand, "it's the opposite of retail, you're giving people what they don't like."

On the other hand, you're trying to make the customer "disgusted, scared. It's still what the customer wants."

Like retail, it starts with a spreadsheet. Chad's ability to crunch the numbers was the big reason park executives put him on the Scarowinds team four years ago.

But instead of columns for stock numbers, units on hand, shelf locations and prices, the headings are name, character, costume, makeup, prop and scare position.

He soon learned it goes beyond the spreadsheets.

"Every prop, position, noise has to be different," he said. "You have to remember it's a performance every night."

The performance starts with makeup, where 18 makeup artists use an array of face paints, fake blood and plastic prosthetics to turn 450 people into characters - all in about three minutes per person.

"Makeup artists have to know how to use an airbrush, understand special efforts, anatomy and art theory, how colors work," said Tia Brown, makeup supervisor and a fan of vampires and horror films from "Dracula" to "Twilight."

"The more gore, the better," she said.

From makeup, characters get their costumes and props and then get ready to scare.

Part of the scare is remembering their "back story" - each character knows how they died, or how they can kill you!

Before they disperse in the park to mazes, scare zones or live shows, the cast assembles for a "Freak to the Beat" a dance contest - think Dancing With the Stars with a little less talent but more costumes.

Like all good bosses, Chad monitors his workers. To blend into the bizarre scenery he needs some help - he puts on a costume. He dresses as a shrub.

Like all the creature of Scarowinds, Chad goes for the scare. Because shrubs can't talk, he "laughs on the inside" when he startles someone.

Scarowinds Halloween Haunt XI closed its seven-week run Sunday. Chad said he's already had planning meetings for Scareowinds XII, which he promises will even scarier.

Chad won't be among the creatures on the streets tonight. He done his tricks, earned his treats and is relaxing at the beach.

VIDEO: Herald business editor gets scary