Cincinnati Haunt Icon: Damien Reaper
An Interview With Daniel Ruwan
Edited By Noah Wullkotte
When you think of Cincinnati haunt actors, one name comes to mind and that's Damien Reaper. This infamous haunt actor has been scaring people for years at area haunts and is well known all over Ohio and beyond. This interview covers the history, behind the scenes and future of the one and only Damien Reaper.
How did you first get involved with the haunt industry?
I got 1st Introduced to it in the Summer of 1999 by my childhood friend Andy Becker (who plays The Creep at Dent) over at Dungeons of Delhi. It's a year before Gary Horn and Steve Harmon (harmoncomics.net) took me through there and the electric chair really scared me, but I was only 15. Nothing scares me now.
What was it like working at Dungeons of Delhi for so many years?
It's where it all started. The first 3 years made me who I was and who I was going to be down the road. Dungeons was and still is a great way to build a character and to see If it had legs to grow and change. Dave Espich and I spent a lot of time working late night to try to work on it. It's where I met Fatso, Robin Dickman (Banshee), The Rouse Family, John Colleta (who is still very close to me), Madd Matt and Mean Mark. I was lucky to see them become stars over there. But like all things, in 9 years times changed. Dungeons changed and I like seeing a younger generation make their own way there.
What rooms did you act in at Dungeons of Delhi?
I worked at the Funeral Parlor (1999, 2003-2005), Torture Chamber (2006 ), Door Room (2000), Wedding Chapel (2002) and Graveyard in 2001.
What rooms have you worked in at The Dent Schoolhouse?
Graveyard (2007-2009) and Counselor's Office (2010)
How would you compare working at The Dent Schoolhouse verses Dungeons of Delhi?
Dungeons is a volunteer haunt and Dent is an organized haunted attraction. At Dungeons you worked with kids and with Dent you work with people 18 and over.
How would you compare working at The Dent Schoolhouse verses USS Nightmare?
It was great working with USS Nightmare because they are an area haunt who has been around and made a name for themselves as a staple in the Cincinnati and Newport, Kentucky area. When I joined Dent, they had new owners and what they did to the old haunt was give it new life. I knew Dent was the future of the haunt business and I was right. I was just a guest into USS Nightmare’s family. Dent is my Family.
What are the different characters you've played over the years?
I've always been Damien Reaper from 1999-current, but the gimmick would change from Funeral Director to Biker, Minister, Grave Digger and a Counselor. What stayed is the theme of Damnation and Sin. You reap what you sow. What you do comes back to you...in the form of a large overweight demon from Hell wanting your soul.
What's involved in becoming Damien Reaper before Dent officially opens for the night?
I go there in my costume and they put on my make-up, but at Dungeons I would put it on. But Team B.A.M and their make-up team are pros at what they do. Mentally I have to think when customers come in my room they are mine for 20 seconds and they will have nightmares because of me.
What was your decision behind leaving Dungeons of Delhi to Work at The Dent Schoolhouse?
It needed to be done because when you are at the top as Fatso and I were, you can't get any higher.We needed a fresh new place and Dungeons needed fresh new icons. It worked out for both sides. Plus at the time I was burnt out on it and was ready to call it an end. But when I saw what Dent had to offer and how they are the next new wave of young and fresh minds, I just had to join their team.
What was the audition like when you first went to work for Dungeons of Delhi?
It was hi, what's your name, what room do you want to work. That's it really.
What's life like outside of The Dent Schoolhouse?
Well, as many did or did not know, my Grandpa passed away December 2008 and a close family friend named Larry Goodall died in October 2009. Sadly, my grandma passed away October 14th 2010. My grandparents raised me and I took care of them and my Mom who is blind. But haunting never really ends for me since I'm always dressed up doing this or that. I play bass and do artwork. I'm always writing stories and lyrics and I love Karaoke, as you know. One day I want to find a woman who will put up with me. I also work with Scare 13 Films (youtube.com/skare13wayne) a lot.
What's it like working with your dad?
My dad, Kevin Walker, is a guy who loves Halloween since he first met The Cool Ghoul at the hospital. From then on he dedicated his life to horror and Halloween. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Tell us a little about your dad's yard haunt?
My dad's haunt is in his back yard filled with homemade props and sets.
What's the character your dad plays at The Dent Schoolhouse?
From 2007-2008 he played The Gray Ghost and from 2009-2010 he played The Evil One.
How has the haunt industry changed since you began haunting in 1999?
There are a lot more haunts now whether it be yard or haunted attractions. Back then there were not many self made characters. You were Frankenstein, Dracula, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees or even Monster 1 or Zombie 2. I wanted to make my own name from year 1. I would like to say Bludzo T Clown, Damien Reaper and Fatso changed how an actor should take their character more seriously in Cincinnati.
Other than USS Nightmare, the detail was not as important in room design because no one had the money. If you couldn't find a prop, you had to build it and the same with costumes. Now there are so many stores and companies online to go buy it at. There is a lot more character development and a care to making a name for yourself inside and outside of the haunt. The characters are just as important in detail as the house is which is great. The haunt industry is always changing in a good way; I see Hollywood calling haunted attractions for new ideas.
What have people's responses been to Damien Reaper over the years?
It's been great. To still be doing this for 12 years as Damien Reaper is really neat. I get to play a rock star or movie star for 6 weeks out of the year which is not a bad gig. The respect people give is off the charts. I'm very blessed to still be known in anything.
What are some funny stories you can tell us about working at haunts?
Oh Lord, the 1st year at DOD I was laying in a coffin and raised up one time too many and the legs broke while I fell looking up as the casket lid closed. The 1st year at Dent they sent in a small boy and I was just standing there as he was trying to climb out of the graveyard.
What friends have you made in the haunt industry?
Other than the Dent Family, Katie Lane, Scott Tater Lynd, Scott Yaffee, Mommie D, Kathy and Barry Schieferstein, The Newsome Family, Kelly Collins, Jonathan Johnson from RFR, Jackie Steinert, Randall from House of Doom (The guy who pushed Damien Reaper to the masses), Ohio Valley Haunts' Gary and Jim, Noah from City Blood ,Nita and Tom Sowers of Haunted House reviews, Crazy Bob and Beth Turner, Stephen J. Novotni and all the haunts around here. If you like wearing make-up and enjoy scaring people, the door is always open to be a friend of mine.
How did you get involved with working for USS Nightmare as a guest actor?
Well at the time we were in something called Cincy Haunts created by Bud Stross. This was USS Nightmare, Sandyland Acres, Dungeons of Delhi, St Rita and Dent. I wanted to guest act at all the haunts. I could only work Dent, Nightmare and DOD because of my driving skills. I couldn't travel to the other 2 haunts, but I wanted to work at those haunts big time though.
What room did you act in at USS Nightmare?
I was in Overlord's Vampire Crypt.
What is your favorite character to play and why?
My favorite look is and will always be The Graveyard Disciple (2009). Damien Reaper's look and make-up was at the top of its game.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
I'll still be entertaining as Damien Reaper. You never know about Life. I've been lucky to make it 12 years and 22 years would be great. Hopefully I'll be married and having little demons of my own. What I do in the next 2 years will be the ground work for my future. I plan on getting buried as Damien Reaper with the name on my gravestone. That is what I want people to remember me as.
If you weren't working for Dent, what would you be doing to fill that time?
My other hobbies are music, comics and cartoons. I would have practiced bass more and probably formed a horror type band which I'm still going to do.
Tell us a little about the other people you work with at The Dent schoolhouse?
They're my Family. I love them with all the darkness in my cold black heart. They walked me through the death of my Grandma, a person who I loved more than anyone on this earth other than my Mom. Owners Josh Wells, Bud Stross, Chuck Stross, the actors Dan "Fatso" Leopold, Andrew "Creep" Becker and Allie "Lucy Diamonds" Kurtz all came to her Funural. The rest were great helping me at the Haunt. On every Hour Leslie Wells or Maggie Wehage would walk through the room and ask if I was ok. Everyone did that everywhere I turned. This is time for a Dent Star role call.
There's Charlie McFree, Bludzo ,Fatso,Jasper, Jinx,Suicidal Addams, EvilOne, Buddy the ventriloquist, Calliope T. Clown, Creep, FruitLoops, Master Rellik, Big Jim, Piper, Boiles, Johnny Creedence, Lunch Lady Cookie, Professor Sparky Skittles. weeping wendy, Artame, Mr. Nate Deadwood, JellyBean M.D, Lucy Diamonds, Only GravesSaw Table Sally, Luna The Librarian. Zeek The Chainsaw Zombie Slayer, Lurking Jim, Insane M.A, Aagod, Bethany Addams, Dean BW Scattergood, Lilith Sangre, Lady Skitzol, Muddles,GaGraduate, Kujoe, Patticakes, Crystal Cash, Bus Driver Shallow, Edward Cruel, Erin Stakes, Heather Doll, Nurse Rozettaa, Brandi Creeps, Don Killers, Jim Sandy, Couch Booter, Sue Wagner, Nick Slayer, Aryn, Angela Heart, Wolfie, Corpse Jenn, Oliver Twisted and Joker-Jack!
What's your favorite part about working at The Dent Schoolhouse?
The Cast and Crew (aka my Dent Family) is my favorite part and the thousands of people just coming to see what Dent is all about. You look at the Crowd and that's all for us. Then at the end of the night you sit and hang with the family of freaks that makes the pain worth it. I feel they are the best people to work with.
Have you ever had to deal with rowdy customers, drunk people or violent customers that walk through the haunt?
Oh yeah, Working for any haunt has problems and the bigger you are, the bigger the headaches. Other actors get hit, but I never have that problem. I was groped by a cute blond 2 years ago which was a highlight of mine. I never let anything get to me.
Tell us a little about the band you play in.
Many years after failed bands, it was time to form one the way I wanted to since I was 10. I wanted it to be horror costumes and loud proud music that can kick your teeth in. I have all the members and we will be jamming together and then straight to making an album. I have a passion for writing lyrics and I have a lot on my computer. I will be the lead singer in this band and more details are coming soon.
How did you come up with the idea of Corpse Cast and why do you think it didn't last that long?
Well, it's 4 guys who just wanted to have fun and talk about creepy and kooky stuff. Dan, Troy and Keith wanted to make it the Bob and Tom of haunting. It looks great on paper, but doing it was hard work when people have jobs and busy lives. We are brothers and If they need anything I'm there for them and I will always be there for them. If they wanted to do it again, sure I'll do it. But as a side host and nothing major as before. We were lucky to have Tim Sullivan (director/producer) and The Nostalgia Chick doing a shout out which was pretty damn cool.
What's your favorite haunt outside of The Dent Schoolhouse and why?
St Rita's Haunted House is one of the Longest running haunted houses in the US. Haunted Hoochie is great and Scare-A-Torium is also great. USS Nightmare is a Staple of Cincinnati and Dungeons of Delhi is the place where you can learn your craft. Industrial Nightmare which I just saw was really good. Sadly they're the only haunts I've been to since I never go out and see anymore because I work everyday no matter what.
What has inspired your character Damien Reaper over the years?
Undertaker has inspired me big time with the eyes and hair. The presence of Alice Cooper and Gene Simmons’ tongue have also made an impact. The Story is a simple one. A boy saw his Mother kill herself and then he got murdered. He would then come back to take souls. Damien (The Omen), Addams (Addams Family) Reaper (duh...). It looked good on paper.
How do you feel after the season is over at Dent?
Sad, I mean you get to play a larger than life monster that makes people scream all night. Unfortunately you don't get to see the Dent family as much due to work and lives. But there is still a very strong bond between all of us that other guest actors see and they are surprised at how close we all are.
Why do you think The Dent Schoolhouse has got so much recognition since 2006?
It's the mix of Josh's creating movie like rooms, Bud's mind in great marketing, Chuck's balls (hidden joke),both Randy Patterson (former Acting Manger) and Leslie Wells (present Acting Manger) keeping the actors happy and inline and of course the cast of monsters whom I listed above. New people and season vets also help. We all have this want to top ourselves mentality just because we love doing this work.
What's your favorite scene at Dent and why?
I like both the Graveyard and my Counselor’s Office. But I also like Lunch Lady Cookie's Lunch Room and Charlie's Basement is real good. Everything is eye candy. I bow to Josh and his team.
What do you like about the haunts in the Cincinnati area?
Cincinnati is the birthplace of haunting in my book; St. Rita's Haunted House, Dent Schoolhouse, Dungeons of Delhi, USS Nightmare and the list goes on. We're also the home of The Cool Ghoul Dick Von Hoene.
What do you not like about the haunts in the Cincinnati area?
Cincinnati is very conservative and it's hard to push the taboos. The theme of sex and religion would be fun to play with. I would like to see a stripper club haunted house in Cincinnati or a Sunday School haunt of horrors.
What are your favorite memories of Halloween?
Being a teenager at Delhi Jr High as Gene Simmons and spiting blood in front of cheerleaders is one of my favorite memories. This was a year before I was Damien Reaper for Halloween for 12 years. I remember in 2001 when I was a senior in high school and in my minister outfit; a classmate was just looking at me. So, I looked over and my eyes rolled back into my head. The poor girl jumped back a mile.
What's your favorite horror movie and why?
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is my favorite because they just had it right. You have to have a mix of horror and comedy because it's just not fun if you don't. Evil Dead 2 is the same way. Robert Englund is and will always be Freddy. I hate the new film since they took out what made it great.
How do you feel about haunts trying to destroy their competition any way possible?
Childish, listen we are doing this for fun. If you’re out to hurt other people then you’re not a true haunter. 2nd, grow up because this is for FUN! No one is better than anyone and to try to hurt a business is wrong. Think about the actors who just love to act and crew member who worked hard building the haunt. Competition is one thing, but acting like an asshole is another.
What's it like when The Dent Schoolhouse is constructing new scenes and building for the next season?
I'm not a builder, but when I am there I get the Hell out of the way. I let Josh and his crew create their magic.
What's it like when The Dent Schoolhouse is tearing down the haunt after the season is over?
When I'm there I see Josh, Adam, Troy and the crew having a good time tearing down rooms and it's fun.
What's your opinion on what makes a great haunt actor?
Work at timing and try to pick up who is scared. Give them the pop scare, but still entertain the people around the scared rabbit. Create lines that make you stand out as well as a look. Promote yourself on social websites and push your character to the public all year round. Horror is everywhere in media and not just at Halloween time. You should build a fan base and keep them happy by giving and being the entertainer that you are. And never say no! I did a Christain Rap music video last year by KJ-52. It's the Twizzy Dance, why...Why Not. You are somebody in that make-up and make people remember it. Take pride in what you create and HAVE FUN!!!
How do you make a scene your own and bring it to life?
Great scenes start with a vision; think of a Haunted Graveyard. The Gravestones are set in a even pattern with some zombie props, fog machines and using lighting to show everything and use it to light key props or actors. Sound is a huge thing for me as an actor since it gets me ready for scaring and gets the costumers hyped up to step into your world. If you do it correctly then the atmoshere will alone scare someone. And give enough room so the actors can scare around the customers without tripping over props. More detail, the better.
What does the future hold for Damien Reaper?
There will be a Youtube series with Damien and the Monsters of Dent, Kinda like The Cool Ghoul, but darker. There will be a music album with a band, maybe even a movie and Comic Book. New stuf is coming all the time. The future for Damien Reaper will always be a haunter, but he is immortal and has no limits. Even If the torch has to be passed from the original actor to keep it going through 100's of years. The future of Damien Reaper is always bright in the fires of Hell. I want to teach haunt acting classes and would like to really soon. I like helping people get the spotlight like I have over the years.
Why have you changed your look so much over the years?
When you take a photo of Damien Reaper, you can tell what year it is by the photo. You must change to stay current. Don't let your look get old and dated in any way.
What's your advice for aspiring haunt actors?
Have fun and be proud of what we do. Know that haunted houses have a rich background In Cincinnati. Watch Cool Ghoul videos on Youtube. Watch haunted house walk throughs. Know that when you create a character that you are someting frightening to the world and use that to become great. Make everyone remember you today and forever; respect the business and every haunted house. And just give the customer the best show you can give because who cares how things are at home or if you're sick. You give them their money's worth. Never give up on who you want to be.
How do you prepare for your Scareoke Performance at MHC?
1st thing is I get scared and then they call my name. It's GO TIME! I've done Crazy Train or Dead Babies and the crowd always has fun. I can't wait for next year because you haven't seen anything yet.
Do you think that people still have a negative image of haunted houses or do you think it's slowly changing?
I think people see it now as an art form like watching a film or in your face theater. I think people rather go to haunted houses than see films now, They are getting sick of CGI and 3D. They want to see live actors and great sets. Dent is breaking down that wall from Jasper and Jynx to Party Boy Videos or the the movies they made with Under The Gun Productions, even my videos. Soon there will be more.
Do you sell Damien Reaper apparel and merchandise?
Yes, all types of stuff at http://www.zazzle.com/damienreaper
Do you have any websites?
You can visit Damien Reaper during the Halloween season at The Dent Schoolhouse. Visit www.frightsite.com for more information on this haunt.