Ghastly breathing from the animatronic beside me rumbles in my ears as I lurk in the shadows, waiting for my cue. I hear footsteps, a roar, then a scream. My heart races as I get into position, leaning my torso over the wooden bar that separates me from the patrons.
My goal: to look like a corpse.
The footsteps get closer until shoes cross my line of vision. I get ready to jump up and unleash a shriek.
But what comes out is a sad little croak. Instead of scaring the patrons, I make them laugh.
“More energy!” one of them says as he casually brushes past me.
I frown as I recede into my spot. This scaring business is harder than I thought.
Millions of people flock to haunted houses every October to get a thrill. For a couple hours, you journey through a fantasy world, where monsters are hidden in every corner with a single purpose — to make you scream.
What all goes into crafting that scream? I signed up to be an actor at Bat City Scaregrounds, a 15-acre haunt in Buda, to find out.
Mixing art, science and horror
The first thing I learn about Bat City is that it’s more than just a haunted house: It’s also a film set, a music venue and a sprawling arts project. The haunt reflects the eclectic interests of its owner Corey Trahan, who’s a musician, audio engineer, comic book author, horror film director and physicist.
“Being a scientist, just kind of loving the mystery and unknown — that kind of has this overarching theme where I feel like I’m an explorer,” he says. “A lot of things are scary because we don’t understand them.”
Trahan has been in the haunted house business for nearly 20 years. In 2006, he was finishing up a postdoctoral program in quantum physics at Texas Tech University when he met his business partner, Wes Benton. They shared a love for all things scary and opened their first scream park, Nightmare on 19th Street, in Lubbock.
Trahan eventually returned to his hometown of Austin and wanted to bring his business closer to the city. He bought a swath of farmland in Buda, built Bat City and officially opened in 2021.
“I like to call it my 15 acres of fear,” he says.