Junior Magnus Hagan holds the door open during seventh hour on Monday afternoon, high-fiving all 170 Choraliers who walk past – just like he does every single day. Choir director Ken Foley calls him the “Walmart greeter.”
That evening, after 30 minutes of waiting outside Dracula’s Ballroom in The Beast, it’s his turn. He introduces himself, tells the judges he’ll be playing a character he described as a “bat-s––– crazy psycho,” and starts his scene.
“Now, to scrape your face from my fingernails.”
He tells one judge he’s going to rip his arm off and beat him with it.
Every Friday and Saturday night since that audition, Hagan has transformed himself into a different person while working for The Edge of Hell.
When his manager calls “places,” Hagan leaves the kid who listens to a playlist called “Magnus’ Happy Times Jam Mix” sitting in a makeup chair in The Edge of Hell’s musty basement green-room.
Hagan becomes a thing from hell: a cannibalistic gravedigger, a demonic soul, a murderous zombie.
Hagan wears the same black socks and black Adidas sneakers while stalking groups in the shadows of Hell as he does every day in school, but that’s the only similarity between Hagan and the characters he becomes. In character, he’s not troubled by making little kids cry when he’d usually feel guilt-ridden – it’s his job to frighten everyone.
“Moral standards? I kind of throw those out the door,” Hagan said.
Before he started working, Hagan had never stepped foot into The Beast or The Edge of Hell. Neither had his parents. He didn’t grow up loving horror movies – they gave him nightmares.
But he’d always joked with his longtime family friend Harry Loretzo, former “Rat Man” and current manager at The Edge of Hell, about wanting to work at the haunted house. So on his 16th birthday when he was finally old enough to audition, he took the chance.
Loretzo said he thought working at the haunted house could help Hagan break out of his shy demeanor. The other night at work, Hagan ripped two doors off their hinges.
“If I can get a good actor, I don’t mind if they break a little plywood,” Loretzo said.
Vice president of Full Moon Productions Amber Arnett-Bequeaith said the 500-550 hopefuls like Hagan who audition each season are placed into either The Edge of Hell or The Beast based on physical traits, prepared acts and personal phobias.
“It’s almost like the selection in Harry Potter to which house you’ll go in,” Arnett-Bequeaith said. “We don’t have the magic hat, unfortunately…”
Hagan is a “floater.” Hagan’s one of three people Loretzo can place anywhere he needs in the house. Hagan learns the basic jobs of each room, like slamming doors and controlling a fog machine, but from there he can improvise. In the solitary, uncertain Attic Hallway, he’s a trapped spirit, locked into the dark, narrow space. In the cryptic, skeleton-and-tomb-lined Graveyard room, he’s a zombie hungry for flesh.
But even when he’s scaring people, he’s thinking about making them feel good, the same as when he gives away his spare change at lunch . After their initial fear subsides, many people actually smile.
“It’s like ‘You got me man, you got me,’” Hagan said. “It makes them happy. That’s what I try to do as a person.”
Scaring is all about trial and error he said. He may say “I can hear you. I can smell you. I can see you. But you can’t see me” to one customer and breathe heavily down the neck of the next. Tongue clicking and saliva gurgling generates screams; screaming in people’s ears doesn’t work well as often.
Hagan is always looking for strong reactions, whether he’s scaring customers in The Edge or telling corny jokes to his friends.
“‘What do you call a fake noodle? An impasta!’”
Just like when people laugh at his jokes, every time he hears people screaming or watches them fall to the floor, he thinks of it like applause. He feels the same exhilarating rush when he scares someone as someone taking a bow on stage would – though he can’t laugh or smile freely when he wants to.
The $9-an-hour job has never felt like work to Hagan, though he does get physically tired around 11 p.m after he’s scared “too many groups” to count.
One of the best parts for Hagan is working with others; actors often play off of each other. One night, Hagan and the mummy from the Aztec room faced across from each other in the darkness. They used a dead end to corner a group trying to exit the Graveyard. The mummy screamed, and the group unknowingly turned toward Hagan who waited in the pitch black as they screeched with terror.
“Hello there,” he said. A second round of shrieks quickly followed.
Hagan’s loved getting to know the people who work at The Edge. He Snapchats the angel and the ghost bride. There’s never awkwardness or tension; they’re all just there to put on the best show possible.
“It’s like we’re all misfits, but we know we are so […] we’re all okay about it,” Hagan said.
Hagan has fun “messing with” groups. He listens to groups talking as they approach his room and learns people’s names, which always puts them on edge, he said. He also manipulates games people use to find each other when they can’t see in the dark rooms, like Marco Polo. One woman who’d been yelling “Marco” to her friend couldn’t see him as he approached her. She collapsed, screaming with fear when he whispered “Polo” inches away from her ear.
“Seeing their screaming and faces you feel bad, but then you realize you’re getting paid for it,” Hagan said. “So, it’s all good.”
Sometimes the kid who’s kind and loving and fun to be around, as his friends juniors Ren Kohlhase and Emily Albarran say, scares them too well. One woman punched Hagan right in the teeth, making his mouth bleed. He’s been punched at least ten times so far during the less than a month that he’s worked at The Edge.
But he’s never felt too unsafe. There’s a panic button located in every room for emergencies, though it’s mostly used to request water and bathroom breaks. He goes through three or four water bottles a night while slamming doors, sneaking between groups and pounding his fist on walls.
The scariest part for Hagan is not being punched – it’s being recognized. If someone realizes it’s him, he’s not doing a good enough job of matching the tone of the room and character he’s trying to portray, he said.
“They’re paying 25 bucks [so] they’re like pissing themselves or screaming on the floor [or] they’re crying,” Hagan said. “They’re paying for that experience.”
When his dad picks him up around 1:30 a.m. after a shift, he’s still wearing his full face of makeup. Sometimes it even feels unnatural for Hagan to go back to his regular voice.
But after every weekend, he’s back to “Magnus” on Monday morning – though more sore and bruised than before. You can find what he calls his “happy-go-lucky” self standing by the door of the choir room handing out high-fives.