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It's A Scary Job Market -- Unless You Run A Haunted House (VIDEO)

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For 12 years, Chris Stafford was what you might call "respectable." Working as a banker, he had a successful career in Denver.

But something was missing in his life and that scared him. So in 2010 he dumped it all to go into the haunted house business.

"I went fulltime into the haunted house, partially because of the downturn in the banking business, but also because it was something I always wanted to do," said Stafford, 39, who runs the 13th Floor Asylum haunted houses in Denver, San Antonio and Phoenix. "It allows me to use both creativity and my business skills and it's as close as you can get to making a monster movie in real life."

"When I worked at a bank, I had a great relationship with the people, but I never loved it," he told HuffPost Weird News. "It was never my passion like working in a haunted house was. I've been working in them since I was a teen."

That's the way it is for many people who go into the boo business, even people like Michael Jubie, 62, a retired police detective, who now runs the Headless Horseman, a scare factory and hayride in Ulster Park, N.Y.

He says, for him, police work and Halloween aren't so far apart.

"As a detective, I did lots of undercover work where I wore disguises," he said. "I've always enjoyed Halloween, except when I was working as a police officer.

"Honestly, it's one of the worst nights of the year for an office because of all the costumes. If someone robs a store, we'd ask, 'Can you identify the crook?' and they'd say, 'Yeah, an eight-foot gorilla.'"

Haunted houses are thought of as seasonal, but Jubie says he has 15 full-time employees working year round to plan the scares, plus 245 temporary workers during the peak times.

With all that brainpower focused on decoration and scare tactics, Jubie says the simplest spooks are the most effective.

"The best part is a subtle pop-out scare," he said. "Just someone jumping out at you."


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For Stafford and Jubie, the spook business was a career change. But Dwayne Sanburn in Baton Rouge, La., became a registered nurse specifically to finance his haunted house dreams.

"I'm 43 and I have wanted to own a haunted house since I was a teenager," Sanburn said. "I was thinking about how to raise the money, so out of high school, I went to school to become a nurse."

Sanburn opened his first house in 1994 and worked two jobs as a nurse as he built an empire of spook houses and haunted mazes in central Louisiana. Then in 2001, he decided it was time to stop treating real injuries and to start focusing on fake blood and guts fulltime.

"I still keep my license active just in case," he said. "Also, my first haunted house used a hospital set. That was my nod to that part of my life."

For Amber Arnette Bequeaith, going into the haunted house biz after a successful career in advertising was simply a family matter.

"I grew up in haunted houses," she told HuffPost Weird News. "My family had an outdoor theatre in the Ozarks that hosted plays in the summer and we figured out how to do a live haunted house to make money in the fall."

Bequeaith left advertising eight years ago in order to take over the family business, The Edge Of Hell haunted house in Kansas City.

It was in the genes, because, from a young age, Bequeaith learned the psychology of fear and how the body responds to it.

"Our haunted houses take advantage of the most common phobias, such as snakes and rats and the elements of flight or fright," she said. "For instance, we have a guy named 'Rat Man,' who pretends to bite the heads off live rats."

The roots of horror are firmly planted in Bequeaith's family tree and Stafford hopes a similar thing happens with his kids.

"I see this as a family business," he said. "I did it partially so my kids would have an opportunity to work in a haunted house like I did and maybe take the business over one day.

"On the other hand, my wife is terrified by haunted houses and won't go near them. It's kind of a family joke."

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