Anderson, Indiana — On the last night of September, in a white-paneled makeup trailer, soon-to-be cannibals sit placidly as Jodi Morgan, with the help of her team, transforms them into monsters.
One girl has a baby doll arm glued to the side of her mouth. Another man has a false ear strung around his neck. The ear brings a grimace and a “gross” from Jodi, a short-haired blonde grandmother of two who calls herself “of uncertain age.” She’s busy blending out age lines and fake freckles on a cannibalistic granny in her makeup chair.
In the midst of the chaos, a stool falls over and hits the ground with a loud bang! Jodi jumps, her hand flying to her throat, before she realizes what happened and laughs.
“Well, that was frightening!” she says, trying to catch her breath. The cannibals laugh, and she grins and turns back to the blood-covered actor in front of her.
Jodi is an office manager, grandmother, holiday movie-lover and the head makeup manager at Indy Scream Park, which has been voted number one best haunted house in America by USA’s Best Haunted Houses from 2017 to 2021. Every day the park is open, she drives away from her normal life in favor of the extraordinary. She’s been at the park since day one and has designed the looks for every attraction.
Now, over 150 actors in black gather outside the makeup trailer. They cluster together around picnic tables — laughing, snacking, talking quietly. In the next two hours, each and every one will become gaunt, bloody and on the verge of death beneath the brush of Jodi and her team.
Stepping into the makeup trailer, the early-evening chill lifts. The unit is heated and air-conditioned, one of many changes since the park was founded. Inside, dirt-scuffed, faux-wood flooring makes way for nine plastic carts — one for each of Jodi’s team and Jodi herself. Each cart is filled with sponges, brushes and containers of face paint and grisly-named makeup.
On one cart, a pink plastic paint brush sticks straight out of a clear container, marked “Fresh Scab,” that's half-full of a dark, thick red jelly that, Jodi assures her victims, will easily come off with hot water and a baby wipe. Next to Jodi’s purse, which is massive, taupe and fringed, there’s Ben Nye in Cadaver Grey and Death Flesh. Jodi is visibly excited as she starts pulling out makeup “wheels,” which have a variety of colors to achieve different effects.
“To make a bruise,” Jodi said. “You’ll go around the wheel and add all the colors, bit by bit, until you have…” she finishes patting the creamy makeup down, “...a bruise.”
Her hand is now marked by a fake purple-blue-yellow-green-brown bruise that looks like she whacked it, hard, against a table. It’s gone with a couple swipes of a makeup wipe.
Jodi’s been doing makeup for a long time. By age 10, she was gluing on false eyelashes for dance. Later, at Purdue University, she took a class in stage makeup. She said she’s a theatrical person and liked learning how to make someone look like something else.
She called starting at the park a fluke. She was looking for something different, and she saw the job posting on Craigslist; she knew stage makeup, so she applied. Within the first year, she’d become the team’s manager. When she was having trouble getting staff, she trained family members and friends. She would pack them all into her car and drive them up with her.
“I was their mom, so they had to do what I said,” Jodi said. “And I knew they were going to be on time, because they were in my car.”
Recently, her 6-year-old granddaughter saw her getting ready to wash a bag of bloody brushes. Jodi told her they were from the park, and her granddaughter paused for a moment, then said she wanted to learn Scream Park makeup.
When Jodi sent a photo of the fake-bloody “cut” her granddaughter had given herself to the girl’s mother, she got a text back: her daughter-in-law had gasped before realizing, “oh, yeah, I forgot she was at your house.”
Group by group, actors start filing in. The first group to need full-face makeup are clowns, who Jodi says people already think are creepy. They don’t even need blood. As her steady hand paints wide strokes of white across an actor’s forehead, he asks her if she’s seen “Hocus Pocus 2” yet. He stayed up until 3 a.m. to watch it. She says she’s impressed.
Jodi takes a step back and nods, satisfied. With flicks of her brush, she’s given him an over-exaggerated, neon-pink smile. She grabs a small spray bottle from the cart.
The clown gives a quick nod and sucks in a breath. Jodi spritzes once, twice, ten times, then thwack! She snaps open a lacy, blue handheld fan, and the breeze ghosts over the clown’s grim smile.
Jodi’s team for the night consists of eight girls. At first glance, they don’t look similar: ranging in age from 17 to 23, buzzed hair to long curls. They wear short plaid skirts and huge sweatshirts and band tees. But they have a few things in common: the candy-colored aprons they wear, the concentration that seeps into their brows each time an actor sits in their chair and a love for the creepy, scary and gross.
The makeup team members come from all over. Some are in school to become aestheticians, some are what Jodi calls “home chefs” and practice with their own eyeshadow and Elmer’s glue. Some are just artistic.
Regardless, at the beginning of the season, they learn the grossest tricks of the trade. How to make a cut, that latex and Kleenex together on a cheekbone gouges out a chunk of skin. That oatmeal on skin looks like it’s flaking off, and that grains of rice look like maggots when they’re placed right.
Even with training, Jodi says the first night is usually pretty overwhelming.
“You can tell them it’s fast,” she said. “But there’s no way for them to understand that until they experience it for themselves.”
On the wall behind Jodi’s chair, the September and October schedules are taped onto the wall. Each Friday and Saturday in September and every day in October, looping block print spells out the artists on shift. Each artist’s name is a different color.
Pink, teal, green — Jodi says her colored pens are how she cons herself into liking scheduling. Her own name, though, stays simple black ink. After all, when your name’s on the schedule that consistently, every night from Sept. 30 to Oct. 31, you don’t need a fancy color.
“My husband calls it his ‘scream park bachelorhood,’” Jodi said.
At this time of night, the wind blows cold and moonlight slants over wooden walls. A man is slinging fake blood at made-up zombies for the final touch. Jodi’s left him with bruised eyes and three gashes across his slick, shiny red face.
His name is Joseph Lee Myers, and he’s been there for 11 years. He sees Jodi multiple times a week. She helps him get into character, he said, and it gives him energy.
“Don’t tell her what to do. Don’t be bossy towards her,” Myers said. “She’ll give you what she wants to give you to fit the part.”
The park keeps its visitors off-balance, Jodi said. Between flashing lights and the expectation created by a haunted house, the anticipation gets people.
But she thinks it’s so popular, not only because it’s scary, but because it takes people out of their everyday life. The makeup is a crucial part of that.
“You’re not experiencing people like you’d see them at Walmart,” Jodi said. “People aren’t dripping with blood every day.”
Making the actors look like something else is part of their character development, and it’s what helps them be scary. It’s like escapism — for Jodi as much as the visitors. In everyday life, she works in an office. She’s a grandmother. Faces aren’t falling off.
The park is different; it’s outside of day-to-day life. She keeps coming back, despite the hour-plus round trip and the late nights and the 13 Halloweens her kids have spent without her there. To Jodi, there’s something addicting about it.
As the cannibals trickle out, there’s one last zombie to make up. He’s been organizing people, rallying them, and as he comes in, all he says is “just beat me up.”
Jodi’s team taps bruises under his eyes and score cuts along his face. He runs out. As the door closes, his voice rings out, “We appreciate you ladies!”
And just like that, the night is done. The artists start packing up: bloody sponges go in the “ick bag,” unused latex gets poured back in the bottle.
Some of the girls plan to go through the haunts. They invite Jodi to join, but she turns them down gently. When she does go through, the actors find out, and she thinks they sometimes leave the other visitors alone to scare her.
Besides, she has dinner with her husband to look forward to, and there’s always the half-hour drive home to think about. She’s been listening to audiobooks; they help pass the time.
Tonight, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is waiting for her. She’ll pass the park’s sign with its grinning clown, wind through the backroads and hop on I-69, back to ordinary life until the next October night.
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