Queer actors find acceptance — and often romance — working at local haunted attractions, not to mention the thrills they get from terrifying you
DANIEL VILLARREAL | Contributing Writer
FORT WORTH — On weekdays, 26-year-old Kyle Cypert works as a pulmonary nurse administering breathing treatments to middle-age patients in Fort Worth.
On weekend nights, Cypert poses as a serial killer.
Dressed in dark, blood-stained clothes, Cypert watches his unsuspecting victims walk through his “bedroom,” waiting in the shadows for the perfect opportunity to pop out and scare them half to death.
For the last five years, Cypert has spent his October weekends spooking visitors at Hangman’s House of Horrors, a Fort Worth haunted house in its 24th year.
This year, Cypert is playing the role of Mr. Kreeg, a Halloween-hating old man from the 2007 film Trick ’r Treat.
Kreeg murdered a bus full of school children in his past and now, as a corpse himself, he frightens anyone who dares enter his home.
“For me acting is an outlet,” Cypert says. “To express raw emotions that I’ve repressed, to express the anger and emotion that I’ve experienced. … We all have a need to have fantasy in different parts of our lives. For me acting is a way to at least get it out.”
Cypert grew up and attended college in Weatherford — a town, he says, that has “a Southern Baptist church every 5 feet and a very stigmatic environment.”
There’s no gay bar in Weatherford and no LGBT center, either. Although Cypert says that the town’s LGBT community is no longer in hiding, he still thinks it’s not a place where a gay couple could walk around holding hands.
“You just don’t do that around here,” he says.
Five years ago, when visiting the Hangman’s House website to buy tickets, he saw a call for volunteer actors and signed up.
He had acted several times in high school and junior high theater, but had never considered regularly starring in a real-life horror show near his own hometown.
Now he works weekend nights alongside Hangman’s cast of over 200 actors and 600-plus volunteers.
He says he takes pride in the fact that the Hangman’s House has donated more than $1.7 million to Tarrant County charities like the American Cancer Society and the Safe Haven domestic violence shelter over its history.
Cypert says he knows of seven gay men, one transgender person and three lesbians all working in Hangman’s cast.
He’s also dated a fellow actor — something not altogether uncommon as more than 70 couples have reportedly married after first meeting as Hangman co-workers.
A few miles away, 18-year-old actress Melody Simmons and her 22-year-old girlfriend Cassie Lunsford haunt the halls of Bedford’s Moxley Manor dressed as demented clowns.
They met during Simmons’ first night acting at Moxley and bonded over their shared love of psychological horror films like the Nightmare on Elm Street series, their love of arts and crafts — and the fact that they both enjoy scaring people for profit.
Although neither had any acting experience before getting involved in the haunt scene, they’ve enjoyed the chance to play and experiment as costumed ghouls in their hometown haunted house.
“It’s just something about dressing up and people not knowing who you are,” Simmons said. “You can be as crazy as you want … and nobody will care because they’ll think you’re just acting. You can be whoever you wanna be.”
During her two years at Moxley Manor, Lunsford’s baby face and unnerving child-like giggle have landed her roles as a murderous schoolgirl, a toxic mutant and now a menacing clown amid Moxley’s torture chamber and freezer full of frostbitten corpses; a definite change from her day job as a pastry cook.
“It lets me have fun scaring people, I don’t have to worry about getting in trouble for it,” Lunsford said. “If I’ve had a bad week, you go to the haunt, you can take out all your frustrations by scaring people.”
“I actually [have] a really good talent for it,” Lunsford added.
Even though Moxley’s cast only has 30 actors, Simmons says the size makes it more like a tight-knit family.
“The haunt community tends to be really accepting of pretty much everybody and anybody,” Lunsford said.
Cypert concurs: “Most people who have not done haunted houses might think that a haunted house just comes together for a month and everybody’s there for October and that’s it. But we’re doing things with the house year round. We have Christmas parties, Thanksgiving dinner — we do something twice a month even when we’re not operating.”
“And because we spend so much time together, you get to know each other really well,” she says. “And it’s just an amazing group of people.”
Moxley Manor, 510 Harwood Road, Bedford. Fri.-Sat. 7:30-midnight, Sun.– Thurs. 7:30 – 10 p.m., Halloween night 7:30-11 p.m., through Oct. 31. MoxleyManor.com
Hangman’s House of Horrors, 2013 N. Forest Park Blvd., Fort Worth, Fri.-Sat. 7 p.m.-midnight, Sun.-Thurs. 7-10 p.m., through Nov. 3. Hangmans.com.
For info on other haunted attractions in DFW, visit www.DfwHauntedHouses.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 26, 2012.