A conversation with a master scare actor who talks about how haunting saved his mental health
This blog is based on an interview episode with scare actor Dan Thorpe. You may know Dan most recently as his character, The Dark Reverend Bloodhusk, in the award-winning scare attraction at Extreme Scream Park. Extreme Scream Park is itself an award-winning scream park in the UK as voted by the ScareCon panel at the Scar Awards a few years ago. So, a very big park there, The Village, is an award-winning attraction itself. I think Dan should be an award-winning scare actor. He creates such a characterization with each of the characters he plays at the park, most recently as Reverend Bloodhusk. He creates more layers to a scare character than so many other actors around the UK or even the world.
We had a perfect opportunity to talk to Dan about how he creates his characters and what he does to build and create a terrifying, foreboding creature like Reverend Bloodhusk. We also touched on how he got into scare attractions, how he liked horror films as a young child, and about his life with scare acting alongside it. We also spoke about some dark times that Dan has managed to get over. Dan has had some dark issues with mental health in the past, and he was happy to come onto the show and talk about how he developed these mental health demons and how he’s managed to overcome them with the help of friends, family, and, of course, the scare community.
Below are the highlights of our conversation.
The Dark Reverend Bloodhusk and other Characters Dan Has Played at Extreme Scream Park
Mikey: Most of our listeners will probably know you as Reverend Bloodhusk.
Dan: The Dark Reverend Bloodhusk.
Mikey: The Dark Reverend Bloodhusk. Sorry, sir.
Dan: That’s his title.
Mikey: He’s from Extreme Scream Park in the award-winning The Village. You’ve played some other characters at Extreme Scream Park haven’t you?
Dan: I’ve played Cedric Demore, the psychopath of Stilton Hall, which was the very first attraction I’d ever acted in. This was when we had proper stage auditions at Extreme Scream, and, when I turned up to do my audition, I was absolutely terrified. I cracked a cigarette in half, I was shaking that much. I went up to the stage and thought, “OK, this is it, just make sure you’re remembered.” I actually went up and introduced myself as Cedric Demore and not my name, because I was dressed in the full character. It was literally something along the lines of being asked, “What’s your name, and where have you come from?” I was like, “I’m rather irritated that you, unfortunately, don’t seem to remember me. My name is Cedric Demore. I’ve come from Stilton Hall. I used to work in Stilton Hall. I was going to make this world so beautiful, and then you trapped me outside. How do you think that makes me feel? This will not do.” It kind of went on like that, and I explained about the character, and they absolutely loved it. They originally said they wanted me to be upstairs in the bedroom scene. That didn’t happen. I was put downstairs. For those that know Stilton, downstairs there’s a very long, dark corridor with lots of partition sheets, and there’s a room where it originally had a dentist chair and all the lights came on outside the room. It was very, very bright and then, all of a sudden, the lights would go out. That was my room, that was Cedric’s room. I used that, the corridor, and occasionally the locker room as well. I used to work in that area. I remember when Sandy came through, and I changed my dialogue somewhat. I started with my usual, “You think you’re safe, do you? You know I killed my mother and father, and I even got bored with their screams, so what makes you so sure you’re safe?” Then, all of a sudden, I grabbed Sandy.
Mikey: Sandy is one of the managers at Extreme Scream.
Dan: Yeah, one of the managers of Extreme Scream, and I said, “You know, you did promise me greatness, my dear, but, unfortunately, you’ve trapped me down in this dark corridor. That was a very, very rude and cruel thing to do, especially when I now know this darkness now better than you do. Even if you wish to run, I will find you.”
Mikey: So, if you’re a visitor to the park, you’re going to get terrified, and, if you run, you’re also going to be terrified. Perfect.
Dan: I’m in character to the point where, as soon as the makeup and costume go on, you will not find Dan. You will not speak to Dan. You will speak to my character.
How Dan Gets into His Characters’ Heads
Mikey: That’s something we don’t often see in scare acting. You see that in film and theater sometimes. In theater, once the curtain is up, for the next two to three hours, the actor is that person. You don’t really see that as much in scare acting. Do you find that helps your characterization, and the backstory of the character, if you can get more into the actor’s frame of mind?
Dan: Absolutely. When I do my character development, I write poetry. I get a little book, and I write lines and ideas for my character. For me, getting soul deep into your character is the best thing you can do, because, when you no longer feel like you’re acting and you’re not portraying this person but are this person, that’s obvious to the guest. They don’t see it as a mask and an outfit. Once you start responding to them and you completely speak as these characters, that’s the point where they start to question the reality.
One of the things I did with Bloodhusk was, even when I was getting ready, if anybody, even the other actors, tried to talk to me, chances are they’d get quite a blunt response from Bloodhusk, especially if they looked human. It wasn’t so bad for the people in the pie factory, because I didn’t see them as humanity, so they didn’t get so much of a bad treatment, but there were some I wouldn’t really speak to. With Bloodhusk, there’s a lot of different sides to him. You had the kind of calm collected side, where he would give his sermon of hate towards humanity. Then, I thought, how could I make this character a bit more intimidating? I thought, “OK, what happens if you can’t actually reason with him anymore? If I take away being able to actually speak to him?” That’s what would happen when it came to the storm side of it. At that point, the beast of Bloodhusk is released, and he’s no longer going to treat you with any form of respect. That’s completely gone out the window. He wants you dead.
Mikey: It’s nice to see something fresh when it comes to scare acting. It’s not just putting on a mask and shouting, “Boo.” Just like any other proper acting role, you research the character if it’s given to you, or you create your own character, you create a backstory, you create poems. When you’re acting as these characters, I ‘m guessing the backstory is very important to you to portray these characters.
Dan: I generally knew what was going on with Stilton. I think the reason I liked Stilton was it reminded me a bit of the Sanctuary.
Mikey: The Sanctuary at Alton Towers?
Dan: There was a very dark kind of campness to the Sanctuary in places, and that’s what I liked about Stilton. It was still that clinical but not clinical kind of thing. So, yeah, I knew where my character would be coming from, Cedric. I knew I wanted something where he was put in there pretty much from childhood and he was unstable. If you had someone who wasn’t really very good and you were in a rich family, you sent them away for a little extended stay, and the idea was that Cedric actually did his own surgery on himself. He actually made himself the way he looked, and he saw that as beautiful.
Bloodhusk’s backstory is probably a lot darker than Cedric’s, because the idea was that he began as a farm hand who also worked with the priest in that village. He died during some farming accident, and, instead of his body being put into the ground, he was given to Professor Crow. That’s why he hates humanity so much, because humanity kind of screwed him over at the last minute. The idea of where the seal of the harvest comes from is, while he was in his transformation stage, he saw this symbol and saw that as his new life. He wasn’t treated very well in the village, and that’s why he went back and took over the church. He took over the one person who had all the power, and that was where he started.
Building a Story so the Character’s Actions Make Sense
Mikey: Attractions are escapism, and you’re going into an attraction because it’s different than home. However, you still need to bring a relevance and realness to the attraction and the character.
Dan: Yeah. The one thing that has always bugged me about quite a lot of scare attractions—and, to be honest, even the Sanctuary did this to me—is they spend 90% of the time building up to the worst thing they can possible throw at you at the end. If this is the case, why am I being allowed to just walk out? I want a reason for why I’m being allowed to walk out. What I liked about The Village is the fact that Bloodhusk can’t leave his church. He can’t actually leave the village, and that’s why he gives you to his executioner—the very last person you’ll see. But he’s completely off his head, so it’s not surprising that he doesn’t catch you, because he’s too busy screaming at the wall or something. Even with the Sanctuary, you had all those things saying, “Don’t go downstairs,” and then you got through the strobe maze and it was like, “Ok, out you go.”
Mikey: You’re right. It’s like that in many attractions. Even chainsaw rooms are sort of like, “There’s the exit, go on.”
Dan: That finale needs to not just be the final scare but the actual culmination of what that experience was and why you’re being allowed to leave. It doesn’t seem as threatening when you realize you can just walk away from what’s been trying to get you.
A Life Immersed in Horror
Mikey: Let’s find out how you’ve gotten to this stage in your life. You integrated yourself within the scare community rather quickly, and already it seems probably like a second home to you. As a child, were you into horror? I’m looking around your beautiful home now, and I’m seeing many tarot cards.
Dan: I have 81 tarot decks.
Mikey: And you’ve obviously got special skulls and stars. Tell us about the background of your beliefs and how they created the actor you are today.
Dan: I think I started getting into horror when I was about 12. My first proper horror film might have been Children of the Corn, which isn’t really the best film for a child to see, because it’s literally children killing their parents. Isaac Croner was one of my inspirations for Bloodhusk. Then I started watching things like I Know What You Did Last Summer, and I think I actually watched Scream 2 before the first one. So, it was really that ‘90s slasher era that got me into it.
I’ve always been more interested in the darker kinds of things. When I was about 17 or 18, I was known in my home town for dressing up when Halloween would come round. It was quite dark dress-up. I went into a pub in 2008, and I literally made it look like I’d been shot three times. The blood was very, very realistic. It was dark, still wet and dripping, and I ran into this pub and screamed, “Somebody help me!” I fell the floor and waited for everything to go quiet.
Mikey: Did you get arrested?
Dan: No. I just stood up and said, “Happy Halloween! Who’s going to buy me a drink?”
In 2013, my partner at the time said, “For your birthday, we’ll go to Alton Towers and you can do The Sanctuary if you want to.” So, off I toddled, ten o’clock in the morning, wandering down into my first scare attraction, which was The Sanctuary. When I got to the other end, I was absolutely hooked. I thought, “I need to go back in again.” We just kept going through the Sanctuary again and again. It was fantastic. So, that was my baptism of fire in scare acting.
The 2013 March version seemed to be slightly more aggressive and dark than what the Scarefest version was. I went along to Scarefest and made this huge outfit of being an advocate of the Ministry of Joy. I had my black boots, I had my bright yellow rave trousers, suit jacket, yellow tie, and a cut-up face. I had loads of different Smiler badges, and it was like cosplay to the max—guests thought I was a roaming actor.
After that year, got introduced into Terror of the Towers, which I can’t forgive them for removing. Terror of the Towers was beautiful. It was also that year that I decided to book into Extreme Sanctuary, and I actually went in. This was where I met Gareth Jones from Towers as well. Extreme Sanctuary was an eye opener, to say the least. It was such a good experience, and I thought, “OK, maybe I can handle a bit more.” After that, I went to Scarefest every year.
How Scare Acting Helped Dan Deal with His Demons
At one point, Marcus Andrews, who was at Extreme Scream, said to me, “How would you feel about being on the other side of it and acting in it?” He was the one who actually got me to do an audition. It just spiraled on from there. I went from my first year in Stilton—my first ever year of scare acting—to being put in the finale of the headline attraction the next year. So, that was a very proud moment for me. It was great to actually spend the time I did that summer seeing how things were built and building a lot of things in The Village.
Mikey: Yeah, because you haven’t just acted in the attractions. You helped build part of the attractions. So, blood, sweat, and tears.
Dan: The Sanctuary did become one of those staple attractions. If you ask most enthusiasts, they’ll say, “Yeah, the Sanctuary did it for me. That really got me hooked.” Of course, Alton Towers is one of the biggest theme parks here in the UK and home to the likes of Nemesis, our first ever BNM inverted coaster, the first ever dive coaster. Alton Towers is basically where they do all the prototypes. So, it has the first BNM dive coaster, the first BNM flying coaster, and the first intermittent-drop coaster.
Mikey: Going in a different direction here, I know the friendship groups you’ve created out of scare attractions and becoming a scare actor helped you with past demons. Can you explain how those mental health issues started, how they progressed, and how you came out the other side?
Dan: I owe my life to the scare industry. I’ve not had the easiest life growing up. I’ve been through a lot of bad experiences. The main one is, at the age of around 16, I was groomed and eventually raped by a pedophile. That played on my mind for a long time. I actually went through a process of believing I was happy with what he did, and then I went through feelings of thinking I deserved what happened to me. I put that to the back of my head, and I tried not to let it bother me. I went through a lot of battles with self-harm as well. In about 2016, my mental health went very rapidly down the pan. It was the start of where I am now and what I have to deal with now. I’m not ashamed to say I have rapid-cycling bipolar to borderline personality disorder.
I want to say, because you have these kinds of conditions, don’t ever think and don’t let anyone ever say you can’t be a scare actor, and you can’t work in this industry, because you can. As long as you know the triggers, you can do it.
I was put on the wrong medication and I ended up sitting in the middle of the road, completely unaware of what I was doing. More of these kinds of episodes kept happening, and they just upped the dose of my medication. Within three or four weeks, I was planning my suicide in absolute detail. I’d lost all touch on reality, I’d lost all empathy, I wasn’t me anymore. My ex, Jacob, was saying, “I don’t know who you are anymore. There’s no emotion.”
I’d picked the location and day of my suicide, which were the Broadmarsh Carpark in Nottingham and the 18th of April, 2017. I wrote a note on my computer, put some music on, put my slippers on, and walked out the door. I got on the tram and didn’t even get a ticket. I had no intention of coming back. Some people say, that trying to kill yourself is a cry for help or an attempt to get attention. It isn’t when you already feel like you’ve said goodbye to everyone. It’s not a case of not thinking about others, because you don’t feel you’re doing anything wrong. You’re already in a state where even the most stupid things feel rational to you. So, I went up to the top floor of the Broadmarsh carpark and sat on the edge. I was just waiting for the right time, waiting for a sign, signal, or whatever that would tell me, “OK, now’s the time to go.” I started lowering myself over the edge. A crowd developed, people were shouting and saying stuff, and that alerted security up to the top of the carpark. They were talking to me, and I heard a voice in my head: “Now’s the time.”
Just as I was about to jump, a guard behind me grabbed my shoulders and yanked me back. So, instead of falling forward I fell backwards, and I was promptly handcuffed. I felt very defeated by this. To be honest, it sometimes still plays on me, the whole thing of that day feels like it was failure. I know it’s not, but that will always be there. I got taken from the car park to a mental health facility, and my parents were called. It was a very, very strange time. They said they were going to get the aftercare team out.
Within three days of that event, I had a major psychotic episode. It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t great at all. I was in my kitchen, literally, saying I was going to slit my wrists, but I was saying it calmly. I said I needed to walk out of the house. The police came and arrested me in my house. Because they arrested me on my own property, they couldn’t take me straight to a mental health facility. I had to go to the cells. So, I was taken to the cells for eight hours. I wasn’t allowed my medication. It was like I was a prisoner, a criminal, and this wasn’t good for my health.
I’d been looking for a release, because I’d become convinced that my energetic body had become so strong that my physical body couldn’t hold it anymore. Next, I was taken to a locked mental health ward, which was possibly one of the most terrifying times of my life. I went through multiple different diagnoses in there. Two weeks in, they said they were 98% sure it was borderline personality disorder. In my third week, when the consultant psychiatrist came off holiday, he did a complete U-turn. He told me I didn’t have a mental illness and didn’t need to be there. He discharged me. So, I ring my mum up, and I’m like, “I don’t really know what’s going on here.” She rings them up, and they say, “We didn’t say that. We said he does have a mental illness, but it’s not serious enough for him to be here.” So, now I’ve got a medical professional lying to me.
Eventually, I had to go to a private psychiatrist, and that’s when I was diagnosed as having a rapid-cycling bipolar and borderline personality disorder and put on a shitload of meds, which, obviously, I’m still on now. But, I won’t let it stop me doing certain things. You have to kind of power through.
Mikey: There’s a stigma against mental health issues, although, in 2019, we’re starting to learn we need to lose that stigma. You’ve gotten help because you managed to be correctly diagnosed, and you’re moving forward. You’re the fun-loving person we know and love today, not just in the scare industry but as a friend. We all have good days and bad days, no matter what sort of issues we have mentally, physically, or emotionally. How do people react when they find this out about you?
Dan: I’ve had people make comments about my self-harm scars. I’ve had people make comments about some of the stuff I write on Facebook in regards to mental health. I know some people think saying they’re bipolar is almost like a new fashion statement. It’s fashionable to be on Valium or fashionable to be on Xanax.
Mikey: People don’t know what it feels like to be depressed.
Dan: I wish I didn’t have to be on just under a thousand milligrams of meds a day, which, if I take them at ever-so-slightly the wrong time, will knock me out for about 18 hours straight. It’s not fun.
Mikey: We used to see a lot of asylum-style attractions, and there was an issue about that a few years ago because it was felt to be making fun of people with mental health issues.
Dan: At the end of the day, I think many of us have lost touch with having the ability to laugh at ourselves, and people take things far too seriously now. You know the difference between somebody making a joke and somebody saying something with genuine hate and vitriol. I think that’s the point where people need to start becoming a little more aware.
Mikey: This has been a good opportunity to discuss that we in the scare industry are all real people, that people have demons, and you’ve been able fight yours. You’re saying that anyone who has any sort of issue—physical, mental, emotional, or whatever, can do whatever they put their mind to.
Dan: Absolutely. My characters are people to me, so if I was having a particularly bad day, I could say, “I’m having a bad day, but Bloodhusk isn’t.” When you become your character, the guest should see that you are that character. Even down to your body movements, there are so many things that show you’re no longer this person. Once you’re able to do that, it helps differentiate that you’re having a bad day and you can power through by saying, “I’m going to leave that person behind for a little bit. We’re going to be this person in this world, and we’re going to do this.”
So now I should talk about how haunting actually saved me.
Mikey: Of course!
“Haunting Saved Me”
Dan: After I got my diagnosis, I started doing volunteer work with Extreme Scream and spent nearly my entire summer helping build sets and doing things like that. I was able to have that focus to create such an immersive experience. When they said they wanted me in that church scene, I knew I wanted that ending to be an actual theatrical performance. I wanted people to go, “Oh God, what’s this last building, and why are we here for such a long time?” I wanted there to be a reason for why you’re in there for a long time. I wanted to create a theatrical experience that ended in that crescendo. I think we did that.
Mikey: It was one of the best finales ever. I remember the first time we went through it. We were there with quite a few enthusiasts that night, and we all said, “If that doesn’t win an award, we’re all walking.”
Dan: After feeling for so long that I deserved bad things to happen to me, being in the haunt business made me believe I could create something I could get lost in and could bring people in with me by doing that. When I was introduced to Faceless Ventures, I went for my first show, which was called Interior. That was a very psychologically based show, and there was one scene in there where I had to speak to a psychiatrist. He said, “You have to tell me five things you hate about yourself.” Anybody that’s done proper immersive horror knows it’s not a scare attraction.
Mikey: Yeah, it’s a different subgenre, definitely.
Dan: I told him absolutely everything in detail of what I’ve mentioned here. There was a scene where the psychiatrist made me shout into a mirror repeatedly, “You do not rule me” or something like that. I managed to get through to the end. I fought my demons in a physical form, and it did amazing things for me. I know some people have said, because of my condition, I shouldn’t be going through those kind of things. But, as with anything, it’s knowing your limits.
Mikey: Absolutely, and overcoming your fears in a certain way.
Dan: I know my limit would probably be I shouldn’t do Cracked, the most infamous show, although it heavily intrigues me. I think this is probably why I’m doing Scream Camp instead, which, of course, you’re doing as well.
Mikey: Yeah, I’ve been to that one. Hannah hasn’t. She has more sense.
Dan: There’s just something different about that kind of immersion. I’m extremely looking forward to coming through your show.
Mikey: Cruelty is next, in four weeks’ time.
Dan: When I go that weekend, I’m doing Cruelty and Hurting Part 2, as well. For my 29th birthday, I decided to subject myself to Cruelty alongside Amber and Pagan. So, that will be interesting.
Mikey: Thank you so much for talking about that bubble of your life. Although it’s still there, it’s nice to be able to push it back a little bit. These other bubbles that have come around are much bigger and more fun. It’s all about family, friends, and the community that’s helped pushed that other bubble away.
The Village Wins at ScareCon
Dan: Some people are afraid of going to ScareCon because they don’t know to expect. I was in that same place. I didn’t know if it would be cliquey. It’s not. If you like scare acting, if you like the scare industry, to need to come along to ScareCon. It’s so inclusive, it’s such a good experience, and you get so much more knowledge than you think you would from it. You won’t regret it.
Mikey: We always say, “See you at ScareCon,” because it’s the done thing here now in the UK. I started going in 2012 when there were 50 or 60 people, and now there are maybe 500. There may be people who have social anxiety issues who wonder if they’ll be okay with that many people, and they assume everyone already knows everyone. It’s sometimes crazy, and I don’t get to speak to everyone I want to, but I probably speak to 399 out of 400. Last year’s Scare Con was your first, Dan, and it most definitely won’t be your last. It’s so inclusive, because everyone is there because of the same reason.
Dan: I cried when the Village won.
Mikey: That was very well deserved.
Dan: Originally, I wasn’t going to go in Bloodhusk’s outfit. I was going as another one of the characters I made up known as Glowstick Jack. He’s a dead raver who killed himself by injecting himself with UV paint. That was the plan, but because I had these old UV paints and everything set up. Then, Phil rings up and says, “By the way, Dan, I’m bringing Bloodhusk.” I’m like, OK, right, and then I realized I didn’t have my trousers, so it would be summer Bloodhusk in a Bloodhusk top and shorts. Then I realized I had no black makeup, so how could I do the contrast? “Shit, I’ve got sharpie, don’t I? Do I? Fuck it, yeah.” I did all my face contour and everything that night with a fucking sharpie. The amount of alcohol I drank that splashed out kind of cleared it off. But, I remember sitting there and hearing every category, because we were nominated for five categories and six potential chances, because Voodoo and Village were up at the same time. It was like, “OK, we didn’t get that one, didn’t get that one, didn’t get that one, didn’t get that one.” It was like, “shit, shit, shit.” Then, all of a sudden… Bolton said, “I think we’re going to have a stage invasion,” and that’s the last thing I remember. I didn’t hear him say, “The Village.” I just remember seeing the backdrop and our tables going into an uproar.
Mikey: It was insane. We were all like, “I hope it is, I hope it is. YES! It is!” That must have been the icing on the cake for you.
Dan: Absolutely, and even more so when Hannah kind of stumbled over the chairs and came very close to falling over the chairs.
Parks, Scares, and Glitter
Mikey: You’re the newest member of Parks, Scares, and Glitter. Tell us about that.
Dan: Parks, Scares, and Glitter does blogs and reviews, and we’re one of the first, I believe, to focus more on the scare side as well as the theme park side. Apparently, a lot of people have joined on. I’ve only done my scare acting for three years, but I feel I’ve learned a lot in that time, and I have a valued opinion on the attractions. I wrote a review for them on Wrapped, I think it was, which was my second Faceless Ventures show, and they basically said, “Do you want to join us?” Before we knew it, Amber and I were planning a trip to London, where we did Séance. That was absolutely fantastic, and it still confuses me to this day.
I decided, after doing three years of scare acting, maybe this is the year I need to take some time out for myself. It would be nice to actually have to have time to go around to other attractions and see what other people do. I went to ValenTerror with Andy Longwall, and he was right when he said Scare Kingdom is unbelievably cursed by bitter cold. I need to go around Manamortis with the lights properly on, because we did it with the glowsticks, of course, and I could see it was a beautiful attraction, and I wanted to see more. Then I did Psychomantium. That was an experience. So, now that I’m with Park, Scares, and Glitter, we’re trying to get more reviews put up, especially around immersive theater. So, when I come to Cruelty, I’ll be reviewing you as well.
Mikey: I’m getting nervous about it already. The scripts all written, and we’re all learning our lines. Don’t expect anything too extreme. It’s only a 3 rating. If anyone is unaware of the rating system, immersive events have a rating of zero to 5. Zero is sunshine and lollipops, and 5 is you’re going to die.
Dan: The actual wording is, “Anything goes.”
Mikey. Although we’re only a 3, I think we’re doing something very different. I’m hoping you leave going, “What the…?” or, “That was cool.” One of those.
Dan: I’m a big on getting immersed into the whole theme—not just a story but actually leaving this reality behind. For those who don’t know, it’s done in a place called the Max Pro Business Center. It’s a Victorian school, and all the events take place in the cellar. So, it’s like you’re descending into this subterranean world of strangeness.
Mikey: It’s a perfect home for Faceless Ventures.
Dan: Oh, it’s fantastic. Of course, I’m going to be very sore afterwards.
Mikey: Hurting. For those of you who don’t know, Hurting is a card game made by the Haunting.net guys over in LA, and I did the first ever show here in the UK with Faceless Ventures last year. It’s a very different card game. Strip poker is the least of your worries.
Dan: “Do 50 press-ups. For every press-up you don’t complete, you’ll be paddled.”
Mikey: Yup, that’s Hurting. So, I think that’s a perfect place to leave this. We’ve spoken about the past, the present, and what you’re next up to in the future. Dan, I just want to say a huge, huge thank you for talking to us.