In Not Afraid to Slay: Women of the Haunt Industry, author Jan Knuth (with Candi S. Cross) tells of her personal journey in the haunted house industry, interwoven with insights and advice for others interested in starting their own business.
American haunted houses represent a thriving industry, with annual export sales over $25 million of haunted-related products and services to Asia and Europe. It’s an industry increasingly populated by women, driven in part by their desire to buck cultural messages that tell women not to talk too loudly, act crazy or speak up in defense of their selves. Knuth, who runs Grey House Haunts, based in rural Holdrege, Nebraska, delights in telling her female actors to be “really loud and do all the things that society for generations has commanded us not to do.”
The author developed a taste for all-things horror early on, putting up Halloween characters in her family’s yard. Knuth says that she had “big ideas,” albeit with “poor execution.” Eventually, she learned such skills as haunt architecture, costuming, makeup, acting and storytelling.
The author offers interviews with other haunt purveyors and gives how-to advice on custom sound and visual effects, as well as other elements that are most likely to trigger customers’ strongest primal anxieties. And she shares her insights about gender differences in the industry: Male actors tend to “threaten your physical being,” while female haunters “threaten your soul and your spirit.”
Few books have been written revealing all the know-how needed to master getting under an audience’s skin. Not Afraid to Slay delivers that in spades. Knuth offers lively anecdotes and candid insights, although long, rambling quotes included from other purveyors often seem stream-of-consciousness and should have been more carefully integrated into the narrative.
Nonetheless, this book scares up interesting tips and haunt stories that those intrigued by the industry will surely appreciate.