Dassika Gilkey is a haunting graveyard ghost turned blood-sucking biker vampire.
Born in Orlando, the 23-year-old graduated from Rollins College last year and quickly got a job at Universal Studios as a Halloween Horror Nights scare actor.
Most days, she is a host on WPRK 91.5 FM where she curates music for college students, but for the two months leading up to Halloween, she scares children and adults in costume at the theme park in the evenings as a biker vampire named Vira.
“Usually if I luck out and get a human body part, like a bloody foot or brain, I know I can pretend to eat it on set,” she says. “I usually create a lot of different scenarios where I’m playing with my food or taunting the victims.”
Having grown up in the Orlando area, Gilkey lived near the theme park that she was always too afraid of going to when she was younger. It wasn’t until watching her first horror movie, “The Nun,” in 2018 that she really started to enjoy the shared experience of screaming, crying, and laughing.
After braving up and deciding to go to Halloween Horror Nights that same year, she was curious to explore all of the aspects, aside from makeup and costumes, that went into creating the suspense and terror of characters and their stories. That visit led to many more and peaked her desire to join.
As a twin, Gilkey was used to doing everything with her sister Jaianne. She figured that sending in an audition tape including them both would be a great idea. She hoped that the odds of them working together were high.
“Maybe we could create something out of being twins, after all that is a big part of my identity already,” she said. “Why not use being twins to our advantage? Twins are pretty creepy.”
Much to her surprise, the audition process was much simpler than she imagined as it required no acting. All it took, aside from submitting her headshots and resume was a video with her name, height, a video including a full, 360-degree turn with her arms extended, and answering a simple Halloween-related question like, “What’s your favorite scary movie?”
Soon after sending in the audition, both she and her twin received emails casting them as part of the scare zone team in the Graveyard: Deadly Unrest attraction. This marked the beginning of what would soon become a rewarding experience.
Though scare actors are told to not interact with one another and focus solely on guests, Gilkey ran the idea by the show direction team of playing into being a twin by doing some scares together. The team happily jumped on board, which led the duo to create a storyline for their “death.”
“I think back to the direction we were given by our event coordinators on feeling the pain and letting the guests in on that pain, – where is it, why, how,?” she said. “I kept feeling impulses to feel the pain in my neck or heart, and Jaianne oddly felt the same way.”
The backstory that propelled these twin sisters in their act went this way: While playing with what they thought to be toy swords, they impaled each other in the heart and died beside one another, haunting those that dare to play with them now in the afterlife.
“We bring that out when guests approach us, tricking them into thinking that they can play with us and scaring them,” she said.
During fittings and rehearsals before they started, Gilkey recalls feeling like her character morphed to something in line with the hair, makeup, and music. The mix of an eerie score, fog, and costumes inspired her.
“We’d add stuff in on the spot and would just trust each other as we got so in the zone of mirroring our every move,” she said, “movements like hiding behind each other and peeking to see the guests, walking on a tightrope, and facing each other to silently scream back and forth or hide our faces with our hair to play peek-a-boo.”
Jaianne adds: “It was so fun finding and creating distinctions between our characters even though we were twins. I think improvising new ideas and adding to our routine on set was one of my favorite parts because we had to connect and synchronize to each other in real time.”
Both Gilkeys say their 2022 first-year experience in the graveyard lent itself to opportunities for personal growth and renewed confidence.
Guests at the park would recognize them from social media and even return to give them gifts, including artwork, playing cards, and handmade trinkets.
“I was and am still so grateful for the support we got as those characters,” says Dassika. “It pushed us every day to continue to find new discoveries together and deepen our characters into something I think we both didn’t expect we were going to get to,” she said.
The energy that she received from guests inspired her to continue the job this year. And she’s taken on the challenges of working solo without the safety net of her twin sister by her side.
Dassika feels a massive difference in her approach working as a biker vampire in the scare zone Vamp ‘69: Summer of Blood.
Not only is she working as a “tag out,” switching shifts with her sister every 45 minutes, but she’s had to channel a higher, more aggressive side.
“Now, I’ve had to push myself to keep my energy up and make my own scares,” she says. “I was very nervous going into this year because I did not know what to expect.”
The music inspires her. As popular sounds of the late 60’s including artists like Neil Diamond, The Rolling Stones, and the Beatles fill the streets, she feeds off of the energy and audiences’ reactions.
“Not only do the vampires sing the songs, but the guests do too and that’s a new type of energy I didn’t work with in the past,” she said. “The guests are genuinely dancing and singing and having fun in this zone, which makes my scares either add to their fun, or catch them off guard in terror – which are both reactions that I love.”
Annual Halloween Horror Nights attendee, Sydney Monacelli, said “seeing the differences every year always excites me. The vamp scare zone was so fun to go through and I’d argue that the biker vampires gave me the best scare of the night.”
For Gilkey, connection, both to herself and other artists, is the most valuable thing she takes away from the experience.
“Now that I’m a part of the Halloween Horror Nights magic,” she says, “I feel like I view it from a new perspective where I’m supporting friends and artists and taking in all of the art that they put so much time into creating for the guests to enjoy during my favorite holiday, Halloween.”