Zombie High School debuts at Cedar Point HalloWeekendsWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
SANDUSKY — Like they have in film, television and pop culture, zombies have overtaken Cedar Point’s newest haunted house.
“It was vampires for so long, but now it’s definitely zombies for the win,” said Annie Zelm, Cedar Point’s marketing programs representative.
Zombie High School, which replaced Club Blood at the front of the park, is one of the park’s four indoor haunted attractions, joining Eerie Estate, a haunted mansion; Eden Musee, a wax museum; and Eternity Infirmary, a hospital. There are also two new family-friendly attractions: Trick or Treat with the Dinosaurs! and Howl-a-Palooza kids area, featuring a costume contest.
Zombie High School, which was modeled after an attraction at one of Cedar Point’s sister parks, Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, Mo., was brought to life by John Taylor, Cedar Point’s manager of graphic services, using lockers, desks and old furniture from local schools, Zelm said.
“He really customized it for Cedar Point and put his own twist on it,” she said.
Taylor has been the brains behind HalloWeekends since its inception 17 years ago.
“We had two haunted attractions at the time,” Zelm said. “We thought of it as icing on the cake, but it’s now clearly the cake. It’s a second season for us.”
This year’s season kicked off Sept. 13 and runs on weekends through Oct. 27.
Mark Kussro of Bay City, Mich., came opening night with his three teenage daughters.
“It was good. It definitely had an authentic high school feel to it,” Kussro said of Zombie High School, adding that his favorite part was the locker room, which features curtains of hanging jockstraps.
“It’s neat coming back in the fall,” Kussro said. “It’s like a different park. It’s cool they put as much into it as they do at the end of the season. It’s definitely worthwhile.
Jason and Anne Howe of North Ridgeville, Ohio, and their friend Beth Eisele of Fairview Park, Ohio, said their favorite part of Zombie High School was the cafeteria.
“It looked like a real cafeteria,” Eisele said.
“I thought the atmosphere was great,” Anne said. “But there weren’t enough screamsters. They should use more.”
All three are season ticket holders and said they come to HalloWeekends almost every weekend every year.
“The attention to detail throughout was great,” Jason said. “The whole thing was well done. Definitely an improvement over Club Blood.”
“Overall it was really fun,” Anne said. “The jockstraps were hilarious.”
Each of Cedar Point’s “scare zones,” which also include six outdoor areas, are populated with costumed workers, or screamsters. About 25 makeup artists work each night to get the 300 actors ready, Zelm said.
“As you can tell, they really get into their character,” Zelm said. “People will create their own back stories. It’s a lot of fun.”
One screamster, who goes by his character name “Alistair,” said he relishes the challenge of spooking those who seem hardest to scare.
“[My favorite part is] making grown men wet themselves — and it has happened, admittedly,” he said. “I don’t go after the little 7- and 8-year-olds; I go after the biggest guy there is. It’s awesome because if you scare the big guy, it’s kind of an explosion reaction. He freaks out and, well, since you freaked him out, everybody else gets freaked out.”
It’s not always screams of terror, said Adam Vavroch, a graphic designer for Cedar Point; sometimes there are screams of laughter.
“A lot of times you get a lot of laughter in the zones because big old dad or whoever is kind of the center of the family who thinks, ‘I’m not going to get scared tonight,’ as soon as he gets scared, the rest of the family just laughs at him,” Vavroch said.
“So there’s a lot of entertainment just watching other people get scared.”
Vavroch, who applies makeup to up to 15 screamsters a night, said his favorite part is showing the screamsters their transformations.
“Their whole demeanor changes and they are excited to go out,” Vavroch said. “They feel scarier so they are going to do a better job.”
Vavroch, who is starting his sixth season at HalloWeekends, said he usually stays behind the scenes, but has worked as a screamster on occasion and said it’s harder than it looks.
“It’s tough to put that much energy into a scare and then someone just kind of humiliates you or laughs at you,” Vavroch said. “It’s kind of a blow to the ego. So the fact they keep re-upping each year and trying again all night long is why they are so important to the event.”
Alistair is returning for his fourth season. This year, he’s posted at Cut Throat Cove.
“It’s just fun. It’s my favorite time of the year,” he said. “You build a back story and you sort of become that character. Like, the voice I’m doing now I cannot do without the mask. I’ve tried it. It sounds totally different.”
Debbie Semanscin-Doerr and her friend Stephanie Dorich, both from Erie, Pa., came for HalloWeekends for the first time on opening night, where Semanscin-Doerr listened to Dorich scream her way through the haunted house Eerie Estate.
“I’m jumpy so I get easily freaked out,” Dorich explained afterward.
“She failed to tell me she was scared of people in masks until about two days ago,” Semanscin-Doerr said, laughing.
“It’s something I endure rather than enjoy,” Dorich said. “But I like being scared.”
HalloWeekends hours are 6 p.m. to midnight on Fridays, 11 a.m. to midnight on Saturdays and noon to 8 p.m. on Sundays except for Oct. 13, when the park is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Adult tickets start at $35.99 online for starlight admission. Junior and senior tickets start at $29.99. A limited number of Fright Lane passes, which allow guests to bypass lines, start at $55.
For more information, visit cedarpoint.com/halloweekends.