My name is Mark, and I am a professional monster at a haunted amusement park. That’s my real-life job title. Well, it was at one time, as I’m now considered an “atmosphere performer.” But still, the same principles apply. Person approaches, I scare. I’ve been doing it for nine years, and I’ve learned a great deal about scaring, so this makes me uniquely qualified to judge the accuracy of Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. films.
Naturally, there are some key differences. In my occupation, we aren’t using screams as a source of energy (still stuck in the Nuclear Age, as we are), and none of us are born natural monsters. But with the right costume and makeup, we can be made as scary, if not more so, than one Jake Sully.
Premise: Human children are extremely toxic.
If you replace the word “child” with “guest,” then yes, they are at least something to be feared. The whole toxic children thing was debunked in the original movie, and no, our guests are not emitting radiation or cooties. Still, it’s pretty clear the monsters were told children were toxic because of a pressing need to keep the human and monster worlds separate.
As for scare performers? People are just plain dangerous. They look innocent enough, but if you’ve watched The Simpsons, you know how tempted they are to kick us in the shins or punch us clean in the face. Guests are to be scared, then kept at a safe distance from your vulnerable parts. Even if they don’t touch you, they may scream in your ear, yank at your prop, or even film as they shout inappropriate language your way, blinding you with the light on their iPhone. We have legitimate reason to fear humans.
Premise: Drool is a tool.
Pitched by Professor Knight in the prequel movie’s Basic Intro to Scaring course, drool is strongly ill-advised in actual scare situations. Odds are, you’re going to need that saliva as the scare shift goes on, and whether you work at a haunted house or a scare floor, you don’t intend any physical harm; drooling on the floor is just disgusting, and not in any kind of horrifying way. I don’t think I could live with myself if I knew I had drooled on a guest’s shoes, and I can’t imagine how it feels to drool on a child’s bedroom carpet.
Premise: One frightening face does not a scarer make.
Also pitched by Professor Knight, this was directed at Sully as his lazy attitude towards studying became clear. I get it, Sully is a natural. Maybe he doesn’t need to know the theory, but he needs more than that one thing. One of the first things we’re told when we move to a scare zone is “Don’t do the same thing all the time or you’ll get bored easily.” That’s why most of us have four or five different scare faces in addition to several audible sounds — and in some cases, several different personalities — we switch between. That’s both to keep the act fresh and to keep guests from being able to predict what we’ll do. A monster who does the same thing all the time isn’t really maximizing his potential.
Premise: The wrong type of scare will make a kid cry instead of scream.
I play a clown, and when you play a clown, you run into people every night who suffer from coulrophobia, the fear of clowns — that thing Wakko and Bart Simpson have. Guests with this affliction can be easily diagnosed by the way they suddenly hide their face in the chest of whatever loved one is closest: they won’t scream so much as shriek and tear up. Our natural tendency is to get that person to look at us, but most of the time they won’t. Their clown radar is on high alert.
If you’re using screams as a source of energy, this presents a serious problem. We can get screams from people of all ages, but coulrophobia sufferers will be under excruciating pain. A few rare ones will make good sport and allow you to chase them all over the park, but more will just bury themselves from view and make you feel guilty for targeting them.
Premise: Kids are getting harder to scare.
Monsters, Inc. posits that TV has desensitized children to old fashioned scares. It’s certainly an easy excuse for the low production numbers of a failing scare floor, but I think this is a case of the blame game. Here in Canada, we have access to violent shows and video games, yet we are still terrified at the prospect of physically holding a gun. I myself have a fire alarm phobia, and constant exposure in grade school failed to desensitize me. Those alarms randomly going off in French class just made the problem worse.
Haunted attractions are still fairly new, and people have yet to get over the novelty. I will say that in practice, guests get used to being scared over the course of several dozen attempts, so by the end of the night the same techniques won’t work. That’s not to say we can’t scare them; we just have to alter our approach. So to the monster quitting the scare floor, you’re just not trying hard enough.
Premise: Scare the kid, Avoid the teen.
During a training montage in Monsters University, Sully reads an email that states, “To frighten a child is the point of a scare. If you frighten a teen, then scarer beware.”
Geez, no wonder there’s a scream shortage — teens are veritable wells of screams, loud and easily terrified. Male voices tend to shift into low pitched howls, but a female’s scream retains much of her kinetic energy. I can only guess that there’s something innate in a child’s shrieks that disappears with puberty, because otherwise, these monsters are neglecting an untapped well of screams. Whatever the reason, we almost prefer teenagers to small children in real-world scaring situations, because frankly, they have more disposable income and we feel less guilty for targeting them.
Prognosis: Utterly False
Premise: Laughs are more potent than screams.
I’ve dabbled in comedy, and I can verify that doing it well is hard. If you’re naturally funny, then go ahead, but eventually you’re going to have to come up with new material. Kids who once cried to their parents about monsters in their closest will now compare joke notes around the schoolyard — you’ll need to be developing new shtick fast.
Monsters are inherently scary. They are not natural comedians. As a clown, I have a certain freedom to switch to funny when a scare peters out, but there are no clowns present in the Monsters, Inc. universe. Maybe this new energy source will work out, but I see this going the way of so many half-baked attempts at cold fusion and warp drives.
Article by contributor Mark Kalzer.