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Professional Halloween 'Haunters' Channel Method Acting To Deliver Real Scares

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The art of method acting has been a popular way for actors to delve deeper into their psyches to perfect a role. But you don't have to go all the way to Hollywood to find method actors. You can also go to Spooky World, a Halloween haunted house attraction. Sarah Birnbaum has more.

SARAH BIRNBAUM, BYLINE: Bil Duchesneau has been scaring the pants off little children and grown men alike in Litchfield, N.H. for more than 15 years. He's a professional haunter.

BIL DUCHESNEAU: Actors are dressed up as various different monsters or ghouls in different hiding spaces. And as the customers go walking through, they'll pop out from their hiding spots and give the people a good scare. You know, in simple terms, that's what we do.

BIRNBAUM: This is not a matter of slapping on some zombie makeup. Duchesneau will develop his character's look, backstory, motivation. He's been a voodoo priest, a demon biker, a demented surgeon. But this Halloween, he's going for something more high-concept. His character's name is Stitun, short for superstition, and he's the walking embodiment of bad luck.

DUCHESNEAU: If you look at Stitun, he's got a number 13 on his back, and the 13 is made up of black cats. He used to walk around with a rabbit pelt, which is like a rabbit's foot but everything but the foot.

BIRNBAUM: Duchesneau's acting techniques have served him so well that he's decided to teach them to other actors. On Saturday, two hours before Spooky World opens, the haunted house sound crew is turning on the speaker system.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Who is this? Leave this place.

BIRNBAUM: The animatronics are up and running, unbeknownst to me.

(LAUGHTER)

BIRNBAUM: That is terrifying (laughter).

And about a dozen Spooky World haunters gather at picnic tables to learn the fundamentals of method acting at Duchesneau's scare school. Duchesneau helps one actor, Conrad Metzger, get into his character's twisted mindset. Metzger works in the haunted junkyard attraction. He plays a guy who was killed by a flying wooden pallet when a wood chipper exploded.

DUCHESNEAU: So he's, like, jealous of the living? Is that what's going on?

CONRAD METZGER: Yeah.

DUCHESNEAU: OK.

METZGER: Definitely jealous of the living.

DUCHESNEAU: So when you're out there tonight, now you're going to be thinking, I got killed in this stupid junkyard and now I'm stuck here because some shipping and receiving guy doesn't know how to pack the pallets properly. And now this customer walking through, you're like, I know who you are. You're the jerk from shipping.

(LAUGHTER)

DUCHESNEAU: And now you're going to be like, oh, you jerk, you know?

BIRNBAUM: Metzger vows to cultivate his rage. It's a process that could take a while. But what if you don't have that kind of time? Brian Chamberlain, Duchesneau's co-teacher, says if you want to scare people when they show up to get candy at your house on Monday, the first thing you should do is distract them with a cool Halloween decoration or something. And then you sneak up behind them and...

BRIAN CHAMBERLAIN: (Snorting) They're going to jump out of their skin. That's the easiest way to scare someone.

BIRNBAUM: You can always work on your psyche and exploding wood chipper backstory for next year. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Birnbaum.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HALLOWEEN SPOOKS")

LAMBERT, HENDRICKS AND ROSS: (Singing) Halloween, Halloween, ooh, Halloween. Ghostly things are going to happen. Ooh, ah, ooh, ah (ph). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.