Midnight Terror Continues to Fright With New Chapter This Season
Midnight Terror of Oak Lawn Illinois has been a staple in Chicago haunt scene for many years now. The Scare Factors Team White City Devils are the group to review MT this year as well as last. We were able to take a moment of MT’s Co-owner/Actor Justin Cerniuk as well as actor Ashley Martin (known for her character, Daisy) for a brief Q&A before the start of their haunt season:
TWCD: First of all, Congratulations on being recognized as one of the top 10 haunted attractions from USA Today. That is big news considering this is a nationally known paper. I am sure your entire team must be proud! Let’s go back to your home haunt days for a moment, did you ever think MT “home haunt” would ever become MT “pro haunt?” Did you ever think back then you would eventually have such a great award as one of the top 10 haunted attractions?
Justin: Honestly, no. I was just focused on having fun with my friends. National awards were never the goal. The goal was always to have fun creating something interesting with my friends, and that’s always been the most rewarding part of it. The accolades are a bonus.
TWCD: As MT started as a home haunt, do you have any advice for someone who is interested in starting a home haunt?
Justin: Do it. Have fun. Its a form of art. There’s no rhyme or reason or any way to do a home haunt wrong. As long as you’re having fun, and the neighborhood enjoys your scenes, that’s all that matters.
TWCD: Being a co-owner/actor must prove its difficulties at times. I would imagine as much as you would want to be on the floor giving the scare to guests, there would still be plenty of behind the scenes business you need to be involved with. How do you find that proper balance between the two?
Justin: Lots of planning ahead and willingness to improvise. The expectations of both visitors and actors can vary from year to year, or even day to day. As a Co-Owner/Actor, I need to be able to adjust in order to meet those needs. By good fortune, I have a great management team which helps make operations flow easily. As long as I put the right people in the right places, and give them the proper tools to do their job, the rest falls into place.
TWCD: Your team is known for moving entire rooms to complete opposite sides of your 26,000 square foot building changing the entire structure and layout of the walkthrough. Considering MT is open on off season holidays, how do you find the time?
Justin: Being able to make the best of 24 hours. During the off-season, we’re open during the afternoon/evening 5 days a week for Combat Chicago (Laser Tag & Escape Rooms) and Black Oak Axe Throwing, so we utilize the time we are not open for business to work on the haunted house for all year long in preparation for October. With such a great crew, anything is possible.
TWCD: Being as actor driven as MT is, how difficult is it to train so many people in time?
Justin: Not very. We do multiple training days before the season begins, holding classes so our actors know what we expect from them. It helps that we’re in the building year-round, so actors can come in any time of the year to work one on one with managers. We also have lots of veterans who come back, as time goes on, their characters evolve with them. In rooms with multiple characters, we like to stick newcomers with returning actors, that way the new people can learn from the veterans, and the veterans get the satisfaction of helping someone. We have 2 haunted houses in our building. Each house gets a Stage Manager, Actor Manager, Actor Trainer, and Bathroom Breaker, that way there’s always someone to help our actors bring their character to life. We put complete focus into building our actors up, since we are an actor driven scaring machine.
TWCD: Considering the ever-developing story of MT, what’s the next chapter for the town’s folk of Black Oak Grove this season?
Justin: This season is The Wrath of Willow. Prior years, you’ve seen Willow finding Malum’s book and rallying her cult. Now you see Willow using Malum’s power to take over the town in an “organic” matter, physically using the Earth to pierce the Townspeople’s souls. Once she’s gained control, eventually you’ll see her revenge…
TWCD: What would you consider to be one of the more rewarding aspects of being in the haunt industry?
Justin: I don’t focus on the haunt industry; I focus on Midnight Terror and what we have to do as a whole. The most rewarding thing is seeing everyone happy and having fun in a nontoxic environment. We like to keep to ourselves and get things done. We’re a home haunt in a big warehouse. And we haven’t even started yet.
Here is our Q&A session with Ashley Martin. We could see this as conversation as an inspirational draw to anyone out there thinking of become a haunter!!
TWCD: What made you want to become a haunt actor?
Ashley: I was raised on horror films, and the older I became, the more respect and love I had for the horror genre as a whole. It’s so beautiful to me. I dreamt since a little girl to be that “scream queen,” to create and be a part of that madness. I actually, out of the blue, stumbled upon an advertisement for Midnight Terror Haunted House just 4 years ago inquiring actors. I, by myself, with zero acting background, just went for it. I contacted them, was in there the same week, and the rest is history. Midnight Terror, and everyone in the haunted house industry made my dreams a reality.
TWCD: Is Daisy a creation of your own doing? If so, where did you draw inspiration on such a creative character?
Ashley: She sure is! Our haunt is based in the 50’s, and I had this vision of a diner girl serving a bloody milkshake topped off with brains. That’s where the inspiration began. The next part was the dark aspect: cannibalism. I chose to make her one because that was always so terrifying to me, whether in films or real life, especially resorting to due to starvation. I wanted to indulge myself into that mindset with my performance. I choose things that make my skin crawl, or take me out of my comfort level. And of course I really love the art of gore.
TWCD: Were you always Daisy? Or is she something you felt you had to grow into?
Ashley: I’m fairly new to the industry still, with this upcoming season being my fourth. I created Daisy for my second haunt season, and never expected her to turn into what she is today! She took so much growing, trials and errors. Funny enough, she started off with no blood no contacts and no accent! She even had horns on her face at one point. The year she was created, I was learning a lot, testing a lot, and honestly just having fun doing what I adore, haunting. She fell into place just as she was meant to. This past haunt season, I continued to learn and grow with her as she was brought out from the house into the queue line. That’s the thing with me – I don’t think my characters ever stop growing, I’m always keeping notes of everything, and always finding new ways to improve and grow my performances. My characters are like my babies, and it is my job to nurture them.
TWCD: Does Daisy have a backstory that ties directly into MT?
Ashley: Yes! I based her entire backstory to our show’s storyline, and it’s pretty complex! She was the owner (of the only) diner in Black Oak Grove, the town Midnight Terror’s storyline is based out of. Before the town became possessed, there was a meat drought. Far away from other civilizations, and a business to run, Daisy decided to venture out of town in hopes of catching animals elsewhere to feed the town, and herself. Her persistence and desire in the search made her remain looking days pass with no luck. She became desperate, and decided on a special substitute, human meat. She began luring outsiders to her home with her bubbly persona, trapped them in her cellar, cattle-style branded them with the same symbol displayed on her forehead, slaughtered and served them for her diner to her discretion like some sick human farm. Hooked, she couldn’t stop. She kept it a secret, who was going to question where the meat came from anyhow? A town full of cannibals, and no one even knew. That was until Malum, the demon whom was released by a young girl named Willow in the town, granted her powers to embrace her true self. That’s where the fun begins: The Feast. No more secrecy, just full blown, blood shed hunts. And it’s up to you now, are you feasting with Daisy or being feasted?
I have her so detailed, there is even an unsettling reason she has the dress she wears…but we will save that for another chat!
TWCD: Over the years, we have noticed Daisy has become a regular staple in MT as well as Chicagoland haunt themes and events? What would you credit as the success of being a recognizable actor?
Ashley: I appreciate your recognition. I believe everyone has their ways, and there is no right or wrong answers to becoming. As cliche as it may sound, I’ve always just remained open: open for judgement, change, trials, errors, but always remained true. True to my art and visions. I also utilize social media (@daisydevours on instagram) to interact with existing fans, and also keep the audience growing. It’s surreal to me – the impact I’ve made with her, not only for myself but others. Crazy enough, this past week I was at a Dunkin grabbing coffee for the haunt with my significant other *not in costume and makeup* and the woman working the register looks at me and gets super excited and says, “Hey I know you- You’re Daisy from Midnight Terror”. She continues to go on with a ton of love and was super excited for me to be there and it was just a very crazy experience.
TWCD: Would you have any advice for upcoming actors who are looking to develop their own character?
Ashley: I don’t think character development has a set in stone, one size fits all guideline. I compare my characters to myself when trying to build them up. As an individual mentally, emotionally, spiritually, etc. I never stop growing… everything in life is always flowing, and I believe my characters deserve that constant growth too. Extreme detailing to my character’s existence and reasoning, whether the audience will be aware or not has benefitted me a monstrous amount. Also, there is ALWAYS more room to learn no matter your experience level, be open to that!
TWCD: With both MT and Daisy being featured in MHC (Midwest Haunters Convention) this year, what experiences or lessons did you gain?
Ashley: It was such a great learning experience, and an unforgettable weekend for us all! We were a part of MHC’s pre-convention bus tour, and it was a once in a lifetime experience putting on a show for so many different haunts from all over! I was put out of my normal comfort level at my home, and found new ways to engage the crowd when my usual ones seemed to not work as well. At the convention itself, I was fortunate to be involved in so many different amazing opportunities. Daisy got to be one of the bus ride hosts for Hellsgate Haunted House’s MHC bus tour, a live interview with Haunted House Chicago, one of the on stage bachelorettes for Zombie Army’s Dating Game of the Dead, a feature on Haunters Against Hate’s 2020 Calendar (sold at the con), and left there with many new business inquiries! I also appreciated conversing with haunters from other states about different acting styles. I really learned and soaked in a lot the entire weekend, everyone in this industry is so insanely talented and inspiring!
Midnight Terror is offering a 50% off coupon for their opening weekend during the 2019 season (Valid for visits during September 27th-29th)
Use promo code: fear50