Two weeks into his first job as an actor at a haunted-house carnival, Michael Calkins bought a jockstrap.
After getting kicked in the groin at least twice by scared “victims,” he wasn’t taking any chances.
“I think it’s the whole fight-or-flight thing,” said Calkins, 25, who explains while scaring people is fun, its not always easy. For a job well done, he’s been punched, kicked, slapped, even hit with a rock.
And crunched in his unmentionables.
“I’ve been kicked in the nuts so many times, I’m not sure I can have children,” he said.
But the pain — oh, the pain — isn’t enough to scare Calkins away from what he calls the best job he’s ever had.
With his long hair, white-hued contacts and penchant for staying up all night and sleeping during the day, he likens himself to a vampire. So his night job at the annual haunted attraction at the Miami International Mall doesn’t cramp his style like his school schedule does.
He lives for Halloween, being able to dress up everyday, not be judged, get paid. At the annual House of Horror Haunted Carnival, Calkins is one of about 50 Halloween-loving people who get made-up daily to give patrons a harrowing experience at the Freak Emporium, a haunted bar, an asylum, a cemetery.
“It’s very therapeutic for me,” said Calkins, a Miami Dade College student working a general education degree, second to his previous music degree. “It’s a release for me.”
Calkins — who readily admits he has a “unique fashion sense,” favoring dark, ripped clothing with chains and buckles (and that’s when he isn’t on the job) — says he feels more like himself when he is playing someone else.
“Halloween is my life,” he said. “I live and breathe Halloween year round.”
On the carnival midway, Calkins mans the Freak Emporium, which displays memorabilia of old-time circus performers. There’s the woman who is half-human and half-elephant, the four-legged girl, the suicidal piano. He gives tours around welcoming guests into his “bedroom.”
For the last seven years, he has spent every Halloween playing characters including a vampire and currently Jake the Ringmaster clown. He comes up with elaborate back stories about his characters, including his most recent: If Jake doesn’t like someone, he kills them, Calkins says in a sinister tone. The leather straps on his pants are made are from his bearded mother’s hide.
Charged with providing people with a skin-crawling experience, Calkins has popped out of seemingly nowhere for a scare, stood like a statue before unsuspecting guests, growled loud enough to send people running.
“Anything to give people a scare,” he said.
Getting ready for his role is an hours-long process each day. With his long black hair pulled back, a makeup artist begins with a white foundation on his entire face. Slowly the scary clown takes form. With red paint and black eyeshadow, Calkins transforms into Jake.
He looks even taller than his six feet, four inches, with a top hat and platform boots. He carries a stick and works on his raspy growl. In his arsenal: throat lozenges, red Lifesavers (to make his tongue blood red), baby wipes and red Gatorade.
On opening night last week of the month-long event that takes over a portion of the Doral mall’s parking lot, Calkins growled as he made his way to his post, strolling past the swing ride, Ferris wheel and roller coaster.
“You know you want to,” Calkins says to people walking by the colorful tent. “Who doesn’t like a freak show?”
While he is not in the haunted house this year, he elicits scares — especially from those who aren’t fond of clowns.
“He’s creepy,” said Chloe Gouge, 16, as her parents forced her to take a photo with him. “I hate clowns.”
Another carnival-goer braved the emporium, only to run out as fast as she could.
“He could’ve killed me,” said Sheila Galvez, 14, struggling to catch her breath. “He’s scary, but I love it.”
The scare factor is what draws thousands to the event, said Nelson Albareda, the event’s promoter. The annual horror fest — which is in its seventh year at the mall, but has been running since 2001 — expects to see more than 150,000 people visit this year.
While the midway area is PG with kid-friendly rides, games and food, the two haunted houses are not for kids. The experience is meant to rival Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights.
In August, Mario Diaz, the carnival’s manager, begins the audition practice. He has the actors play out scenes as mental patients and zombies.
This year there were 100 applicants. He picked 50, many of whom, like Calkins, return year after year. The actors get trained before the holiday season. Diaz said they are told never to say “boo.”
Calkins is a natural.
“You can tell he lives for this,” Diaz said. “He gets really into his character.”
Inside the spooky area, set apart from the midway, is a creepy cemetery, 1455 Asylum and the Gates of Phobia, which has people coming face to face with common fears including spiders and darkness. The asylum, mental hospital and daycare are covered with blood and body parts.
The actors also need to learn the rules of the haunted house. They can’t touch anybody and they can’t be touched. Security guards are stationed throughout both houses in case of problems.
Albareda, who said they go through about 20 gallons of fake blood a season, said they began the event because there was nothing of its kind in South Florida.
“People love this stuff,” he said. “It’s an adrenaline rush.”
The ghoulish event features a circus stunt show, Hellzapoppin.
When Halloween is done, Calkins, who as a kid went to Catholic school until he realized it wasn’t for him, will move on to the holiday-themed Polar Express at the Gold Coast Museum.
He doesn’t scare anyone there.
If you go:
What: House of Horror Haunted Carnival
When: 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday and 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 4
Where: 1455 NW 107th Ave., Doral, FL 33172
Cost: Child (under 6) weekday $10, weekend ticket $15; adult weekday $15, weekend $29, not including fees.
Information: Visit www.houseofhorrorcarnival.com.