Frances scares people for a living. To be precise, she makes other people scary in her job as Head Makeup Artist and Set Designer at the Cutting Edge Haunted House.
“This is like playtime every day, and this is what we do for a living,” she says of the work that she and nine other full time employees perform year round at the world famous house of horrors. Although the basic “season” for the Cutting Edge runs from around the second weekend of September through the first weekend in November, the work at the gigantic fear factory goes on year round. A ghoul’s work is never done.
Frances worked as a theatre set designer when she first met Cutting Edge owner Todd back in 1998. As a single mother of two young children she found it difficult to travel to New York for work, so when James offered her a job right here in Fort Worth, she jumped at it, and she has never looked back.
“It’s just amazing how big this thing has gotten,” she says, referring to the enormous popularity of the Cutting Edge and the staunch loyalty of its patrons who return year after year. “People don’t throw away their parking passes,” she says, “and it’s a different color every year. And sometimes you’ll see someone with like, ten different colored parking passes hanging off their rear view mirror.”
In fact, she relates a story of how Todd was driving to work recently when a motorist behind him began flashing his lights impatiently for James to pull over and allow him to pass. Todd was irate at first, but as the other car whizzed by, he spotted five or six Cutting Edge parking passes dangling from the vehicle’s rear view mirror. “I just let him go on by,” he told Frances later with a smile.
Frances’s not the only one of her family to be bitten by the haunted house bug. Her daughter Jessie, now 21, started getting into the act when she was ten. “There were some nights when I couldn’t find a babysitter” says Frances, “and so I brought her in and let her stay in the cast room.” Jessie wanted to get into the action, though, and so one night Frances made her up to look like an evil little girl and put her in one of the tableau displays with an adult cast member to keep an eye on her.
Later that night, the adult cast member told Frances, “Your daughter is creeping me out.” It seems Jessie was taking plastic baby dolls from the tableau and hanging them all by the neck from the bed canopy. “That’s my girl,” said Frances. Jessie went on to become a regular cast member at the Cutting Edge.
So what is a typical working day for the Headmistress of Horrors in a haunted meatpacking plant? “I usually get there around noon,” says Frances, “to get all the costumes and things ready, organize the makeup and make sure we have what we need. Then the makeup artists and the costume girls come in. In October we have anywhere from six to eight makeup artists plus apprentices and two to three girls in the costume department.”
At around 3:30 to 4:00 the stage managers arrive, and by five o’clock Frances and her team are “hot and heavy” prepping 75 to 100 cast members for a night of shock and awe. “We have some amazing makeup people,” she says, “they work like a finely tuned clock.” By 7 o’clock if not sooner, the Cutting Edge is ready to open.
“Sometimes around Halloween people show up early because they don’t want to wait in line,” says Frances, adding that eager patrons often arrive as early as 5:00 on those nights, and if the cast is ready, James will sometimes open as early as 6:00 pm.
Although the lines can be quite long and the wait on a Friday night in October can be as much as three or four hours, fans don’t seem to mind. “It’s like a party outside,” says Frances. The carnival-like atmosphere includes a DJ playing outrageous sound tracks, a monster hearse motoring about providing photo opportunities, a full brass band of zombies and members of Cutting Edge’s eerie undead precision drum line keeping the crowds entertained and giving them a taste of what’s in store for them inside.
In addition to Cutting Edge’s own staff, the action in the parking lot is often enhanced by the presence of radio station personalities doing promotional giveaways and “MTV Zombie Tacos” offering complimentary munchies.
For Frances and her team, the nights can be long, especially during the peak of the season, and they often do not close up shop until around 3:30 or 4 in the morning – if not later. It’s usually about one hour after “the kids” get into the cast room, she says, that she and security are able to finally lock up and go home. “I’ve been leaving as the sun comes up.”
She tells about one Friday night when Halloween fell on the weekend and they actually had to stop selling tickets. “Todd realized we just couldn’t get everybody through the show before morning. He finally told them to shut it down.” That night James called them all up onto the rooftop.
“We were standing up on the roof and looking out over the parking lot,” says Frances, “and there was a solid sea of people as far as you could see. We were looking around going, ‘is this real?’ It was just such an amazing feeling.”