JACKSON—The ear-piercing shrieks of teenage girls, revving chainsaws and the spine-tingling scrapes of metal shovels on concrete are just the normal, everyday sounds of “fright by night” at Six Flags Great Adventure’s Fright Fest. Behind the scenes, a team of master makeup artists work their magic as they skillfully and briskly transform 200 warm-blooded actors into repulsive, flesh-hungry zombies that are the decaying heart of the Northeast’s largest Halloween party, running for two more weekends through Oct. 27.
Special effects supervisor Tony Mandile of Toms River, 39, annually assembles and leads this hard-working band of monster makers. Mandile works all year long to brainstorm, design and create his gruesome masterpieces, which include anything from realistic body parts and prosthetics to lifelike masks and terror trail concepts. He began with Fright Fest in 1999, and has been a driving creative force consistently since 2003.
“Research and development is a huge part of our job at Fright Fest,” Mandile said. “Each year, we focus on introducing new attractions that give guests new reasons to return, and building more and more of them in house. We are one of the very few haunts that possesses the talent and ability to create from scratch.”
Halloween and all things grotesque are nothing new to Mandile, who has worked on numerous horror movies including writing and directing his own, Midnight Mass. He credits his work with Kevin Smith’s View Askew Productions in Red Bank, and experience on movies like Club Dread, as his entre into the business.
Mandile’s team of artists shares a love of the arts. Artist Jessica Swarer of Bayville, 37, has a dual passion for gore and beauty makeup. By the age of 14, Swarer knew she had an interest in makeup and special effects after experiencing everything that went into creating her family’s haunted house on the Seaside Heights boardwalk. Since attending the Joe Blasco Makeup Center in Orlando, Swarer has put her skills to use by working as a beauty makeup artist, transforming young girls for proms and women on their wedding days, as well as creating the living dead for Fright Fest for the past 12 seasons.
Artist Samantha Allen of Bayville, 28, set aside a business degree to follow her passion of special effects makeup after training professionally in Pittsburgh. Allen made her TV debut this year on Season 5 of Syfy’s Face Off. “My passion is behind the scenes—sculpting, making molds, shop work,” she said. “I learned so many new techniques on Face Off, but given the challenge of transforming so many faces each day, speed is the best skill that I can apply here at Fright Fest.”
Dave Meditz of Haddonfield, 35, used his acting degree to set the stage for his foray into makeup artistry. By participating in high school plays and pursuing his bachelor of fine arts degree in acting, Meditz was able to see first-hand the work that goes into making over a cast. Since a friend recommended him to Mandile six years ago, Meditz has been creating Fright Fest zombies and enjoys, “the challenge of not knowing who or what character is going to sit in your chair each day. Every night is a different experience,” he said.
For five years, artist Amber Densmore of Belmar has juggled a love for beauty and horror makeup. Densmore, who originally began as a photography student, attended Make-up Designory in New York City and has spent the last four seasons honing her craft at Fright Fest. The 23-year-old carries a passion for painting and art, and works full time at a spa where her focus is on beauty. “Gore makeup more challenging,” she said. “It’s more difficult to make someone look frightening, and I love the challenge of making it look realistic.”
Artist Nick Jaroslawsky of Howell, 24, performed as a Fright Fest zombie for four years before picking up an airbrush in 2010. Professionally trained in Los Angeles, the full-time mechanic and former chef who enjoys restoring old cars still dons a mask or horror makeup for Fright Fest cameos each weekend.
Mandile added two rookie artists to the Fright Fest team this season, Michael Sweigart and Fay Schwartz. Sweigart transforms the street performers, while Schwartz, a veteran Six Flags performer herself, focuses on the cast of the iconic Dead Man’s Party show.
Guests can see the extensive artistry of this team of special effects makeup artists each night during Fright Fest, which runs Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 27. For more information, visit www.sixflags.com/greatadventure or call 732-928-1821.
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