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OC Screams prepares for another spooky summer

OC Screams might be spooky, but it might also actually be haunted.

The two-year-old haunted house on Worcester Street is one of three supernatural walk-throughs by Steelhead Productions, and it’s plenty creepy without the presence of real apparitions.  According to manager Holly Starkey, last year’s guests would claim that they felt their ankles being grabbed as they traipsed through the imitation shipwreck’s dark rooms; but this was impossible, she said, because while OC Screams utilizes live actors to amp up their scare factor, the actors aren’t actually allowed to touch anybody. Follow you around and shriek in your ear, yes. Touch you, no.

At first, Starkey thought that the feeling of an ankle grab might be a response to fear. After all, OC Screams is pretty terrifying – floors shake and move beneath your feet, zombified actors jump out of the dark, ornaments hang from the ceiling and brush against your face as you walk by – it’s not hard to believe that, in a petrified stupor, a guest might imagine that a hand has reached out and grabbed them.

But then employees started feeling it too, Starkey said, and that’s when the OC Scream team realized there might really be a ghost on their premises. And the employees take their jobs seriously. Many of them are trained actors, and others are theatre students who just really love Halloween.

“It’s a really awesome summer job, you get to let out a lot of stress just screaming at random people,” said Kelly Starkey, an actor and makeup artist at the haunted house. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Kelly Starkey is one of the few actors who says she hasn’t been desensitized by all of the jump-scares although, for her, they’re just part of a day’s work.

“I don’t like haunted houses at all, but I work in one,” she said. “They still get me.”

OC Screams actor
Kelly Starkey has been an actor and makeup artist at OC Screams since it first opened last summer

Ocean City locals and frequent vacationers are already familiarized with one haunted house on the boardwalk. The Trimper’s dark ride, guarded by a giant bat and the famously decapitated count Wolf Von Vinderstein, has been an OC marvel since the 1960s. But that ride, for all of its classic camp and nostalgia, doesn’t offer the horror-movie-level terror that OC Screams does. In fact, in the newer, two-story haunted house that’s just off the boardwalk, an entire narrative lies within its walls.

“The story basically is that a ship went missing a little over 50 years ago in Ocean City and popped back up last summer in the ocean, and we dry-docked here off the boardwalk,” Holly Starkey said.

While the haunt is, right now, understandably ocean-themed, Starkey speculated that this could change in the future.

“The theme is the same as last year, we’re still on the ship and I’m not sure if we’ll do the ship theme again next year, or maybe change a few things around to keep everybody interested,” she said. “But it’s mostly our actors – our actors try to change things up and give everybody a new experience every time they come in.”

OC Screams opened its doors for the season over Memorial Day Weekend, and it’ll be open full-time – Tuesday through Sunday – starting this Tuesday, June 20.

A brief “training” period for new actors began only a week before Memorial Day, at a day-long orientation followed by a dress rehearsal where employees’ friends and family were given a sneak peak of this summer’s terrors. Much of the actor’s job is improvised, and the jumping-out-of-the-dark-and-screaming thing is pretty self-explanatory.

I can’t go into too much detail of what’s inside the shipwreck without ruining the surprise or spoiling the fear that will surely strike your heart upon entrance. Most of the magic of OC Screams relies on the fear of the unknown.

I will say that the animatronics and props are uber-realistic, and the actors are very skilled at what they do. After my heart had already stopped a number of times after being scared, I literally held my breath and tiptoed around one bloodied prop – the only one that didn’t end up screaming in my face.

What I saw of the haunted house was great, and I was satisfied. Admittedly, I did not stay the whole time, as my videographer partner BL was too spooked to go through the curtains of a pitch-black room on the second floor. I was trembling a little by this point, so that was fine by me. We walked out of through the red curtains that signify an emergency exit, where many panicking guests have been escorted out before.

You’ll certainly enjoy the experience if you’re a thrill-seeker who’s outgrown the rides on the boardwalk. You will not enjoy it if “Titanic” gave you nightmares.

Kristin is a writer and photographer in Ocean City, Maryland, and is the content manager for OceanCity.com and other State Ventures, LLC sites. She loves getting reader-submitted stories and photos, so send her an email anytime. She also works part-time at the Art League of Ocean City and the Ocean City Film Festival and lives just off the peninsula with her dog and fiancé. Her photos can be found on Instagram @oc_kristin.

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