In the (Makeup) Artist’s Studio: The Scary Edition

with Kelly Watson, Makeup Manager at The Haunted School House and Laboratory

words by Noor Hindi and photos by Ashley Kouri

It’s opening night at The Haunted School House and Laboratory. Zombies are awakening, monsters are practicing their meanest growls and clowns are lurking, waiting for their next victim. Meanwhile, artist Kelly Watson is gathering her spookiest makeup brushes and powders. She has an important job: Make sure everyone’s makeup looks as scary as possible.

“This is the time of the year when it’s totally acceptable to be different, to be weird, to be a little more out there,” says Kelly.

Halloween is Kelly’s favorite holiday and she jokingly refers to herself as a “Halloweenie.” She loves Halloween and makeup so much that she grew up putting makeup on her house cats.

“I feel so bad for them, but they tolerated it,” she says, laughing.

Among the commotion of opening night at The Haunted School House and Laboratory is a line of over 40 people in elaborate costumes waiting to get their makeup done. Their clothes are tattered, and there are blood stains on their shirts. It’s perfectly normal to look behind you and find a werewolf sipping coffee in a nearby corner. 

The chaos doesn’t bother Kelly.

“I’m used to it,” she says. “The more riled up they are, the more riled up it gets me.”

Kelly grew up in Cleveland and has been doing makeup for haunted houses for 21 years. Aside from this, she’s also a nurse. Although these two practices seem opposite, Kelly says they overlap. She uses her nursing experience as makeup inspiration and oftentimes alarms her patients by asking if she can take photos of their gashes.

“The first time I saw a skin tear I was like, ‘I need to figure out how to do that,’” she says. “It’s so gnarly looking and it’s just real gross.”

When she worked in trauma, she saw a lot of patients come in from motorcycle accidents. Seeing road rashes and necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating disease) also inspired her and doing makeup helped her cope with the pain and shock of working under so much heartbreak.

Kelly says she finds art in everything.

You can totally see art in putting bodies back together,” she says. “When something happens, we put together a broken body and get it working again. I think that’s definitely artistic.”

About seven other makeup artists work at the Haunted School House and Laboratory. The makeup room is loud with the sound of air brushes being sprayed and drawers opening and closing as the artists search for their supplies.

Kelly’s favorite type of monster to create is the werewolf.

“They’re definitely the most fun to me,” she says. “It really takes a lot of time applying all of the hair and layers of makeup, but I really like doing werewolves.”

Kelly loves this time of year because of the weather and because her daughter, Charity, was born on October 30. She also enjoys watching scary movies and some of her favorites are “Friday the 13th,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Halloween.”

“The Nightmare Before Christmas” is another favorite.

“I know it’s not creepy or scary, but it’s [weird] and I love it,” she says. “It was also one of the first movies I went and saw with my dad.”

Kelly’s mom also had a big influence on her growing up. Her mom eventually became a cosmetologist and she enjoyed doing “really elaborate Halloween makeup” when Kelly was growing up. Kelly’s mom also introduced her to the world of haunted houses and makeup at a young age and Kelly started working at haunted houses at 13 years old.

Kelly admits that doing makeup at such a young age was sometimes scary.

“It was terrifying. Terrifying,” she says. “I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I had one season where I literally did the exact same makeup every single night for half of the season.”

When the second season came around, Kelly felt more confident. She also spent that summer learning new makeup tricks. She has a lot of advice for people interested in doing makeup for haunted houses.

“Just keep going,” she says. “Don’t listen to anybody. A lot of times people try to make you feel bad to make themselves feel better and that’s garbage.”

The Haunted School House and Laboratory is located at 1300 Triplett Boulevard. Visit to buy tickets and to see the 2017 season schedule.

Noor wishes people would stop asking if she’d like to see the movie IT. Noor is already nervous enough. In fact, she couldn’t stop interrupting her interview with Kelly to scream in terror from all the scary monsters. Sometimes, Noor wishes she were a candy corn.