During a span of 17 days, I visited nine of the most talked about haunted houses in Illinois. Most were entertaining, most made me flinch at least once or twice and most sold extremely average, lukewarm pizza at their concession stands (you would think I would've learned my lesson after the third time). A select few, however, managed to really scare this horror movie fanaddict.
Here, I ranked all nine haunted houses based on my experienceand took into account how scary, original and crowded they were. Fortunately for the haunts on the list, the pizza was not factored into the rankings.
9. THE FEAR
600 E. Grand Avenue
There are two things you'll find in the suburbs that you won't find in the city: Olive Gardens and great haunted houses. Most haunted house operators I spoke to told me they took their haunted houses to the suburbs because they feel the city's building and fire codes are too strict. The Fear at Navy Pier is one of the few that doesn't require a half hour-to-hour drive from the city. And really, that's the best part about it. The Fear does little to stand out and is a bit on the short side. The actors in smoke masks were creepy and the room of upright coffins and mirrors was interesting, but The Fear is really intended for haunted house virgins, people who don't have and families with small children. There's a low scare option before 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
8. FEAR CITY
8240 N. Austin Avenue, Morton Grove
Now in it's third year, Fear seems to stress visuals more than scares. The experience began in a church with two over dramatic female parishoners whose dialogue seemed better fitted for Steppenwolf Theatre than a haunted house. I just didn't see the point. After that, guests are treated to a "ride" on the impressive Chicago L train from past years that almost feels like the real thing. All that was missing were the panhandlers and a jerk listening to loud music on his iPhone sans headphones. The highlight of the haunted house is the 3-D portion, which features an excellent Dia de Los Muertos-themed set with skull-faced actors and Mexican decor. Why hasn't anyone else thought of that?
5333 Prairie Stone Parkway, Hoffman Estates
The new kid on the block comes from Ken Spriggs, one of the men behind the now-closed Dream Reapers in Melrose Park. CarnEvil is located in the Sears Centre Arena parking lot and offers carnival rides and three haunted houses: Ma Buckner’s Doll Factory, Carny Town and Tomb of LaVeau. “It took me seven or eight years to build Dream Reapers (into what it became) and now I’m doing something where I had less than a month and a half,” Spriggs said. “The goal was to make something on par with Dream Reapers, and I’d say we’re pretty close.” The best of the three is Doll Factory, where, as the story goes, the dolls are made of human parts. It’s an original setting in a genre filled with circuses, trailer parks and graveyards. And if the “Child’s Play” and “Saw” franchise have taught us anything, it’s that dolls can be just as scary as clowns. Doll Factory begins with an entertaining mad scientist-type preparing guests for what they’re about to experience and about midway through includes a woman ripped in half who will make you look long and hard to figure out how they pulled it off. Because there are three haunts rather than one big one, they’re shorter and, like most of the haunts at Fright Fest, seem to end just when you’re starting to get into it.
421 W Rollins Road, Round Lake Beach
Not only do the actors try to scare you, but they try to insult you as well. One foul-mouthed actor got in my face and called me a kitty cat, but not in those words. Another at the entrance called my group stupid -- and that was long before it took us an embarrassingly long time to find the exit in the dark. Expect to get lost multiple times seeing how a large portion of the house is pitch black, just like Fright Fest’s Total Darkness. The difference is I was too busy bumping into my friends and strangers inside the overcrowded Realm of Terror to get too scared. On the bright side, this haunt might have the most agile actors around, ready to scare you from all angles. And unlike Michael Myers, these monsters will run at you – hard.
5. FRIGHT FEST
1 Great America Parkway, Gurnee
Total Darkness doesn’t have as detailed of a set as the five other haunted attractions at Six Flags Great America’s Fright Fest or as many actors trying to scare you, but the extremely basic house – which has no lights, not even a little bit – gets the heart racing more than any of them. It’s amazing what will cross your mind when you can’t see a thing. “Taking your sight away amplifies your other senses,” said Great America entertainment manager Kristopher Jones. “We tried to feed into that. The rooms have different textures and sounds. There are bees humming and spiders scurrying. We looked into what people are afraid of and tried to capture that.” Make sure to also check out Wicked Woods (gone is the water from Roaring Rapids and in its place is a haunted trail) and Massacre Medical Center but avoid The Abyss. Jones doesn’t recommend any of the attractions for kids 12 and under and warns families with small children that the park is less kid-friendly after 6 p.m due to the menacing costumed actors walking around.
1033 N. Villa Avenue, Villa Park
The whole things kicks off with a Christmas theme that has the elegant and classic feel of the Disney theme park’s Haunted Mansion ride, only the stockings are soaked in blood and the Christmas dinner has grotesquely rotted. After that, it’s a free for all with themes. There is a prison, pawn shop, bedroom with a possessed girl (many haunted houses have this, but this is one of the few that raises her above the bed) and an expansive apocalyptic scene with flipped over cars reminiscent of the “Resident Evil” video games. And because Asylum Xperiment is located in the massive Odeum Sports & Expo Center, guests will get more bang for their buck. “You’re in there for a half hour,” said co-owner Mike Skodacek. “We build larger sets, so everything in the house is large and makes you feel like you’re actually in rooms and not just walking by pieces of a room. You will also smell the rooms. We have different scents in there.”
3. THE MASSACRE
3440 Odyssey Court, Naperville
It’s usually not a good sign when you’re waiting in line for a haunted house located in what looks like a Dave & Busters with what looks like a four year old. And yet, what I thought was a bad sign was probably just bad parenting, because the Massacre is definitely not intended for kids and is one of the scarier haunted houses around. It begins with Fear Factory 3-D, where you let your guard down looking at the impressive décor through your 3-D glasses, including a hallway completely covered in wall-to-wall neon skulls, only to get blindsided by a clown. Letting my guard down at the Massacre is what led to my biggest scare ever at a haunted house (spoiler alert: In my defense, I had been standing next to what I thought was a statue for nearly a minute before it jumped and screamed at me.) This is no in-and-out haunt. Now in its fourth year, there is plenty to see with 16 new rooms. “Breaking Bad” fans might like the timely nod to Walter White.
2. STATESVILLE HAUNTED PRISON
17250 S. Weber Road, Crest Hill
Statesville offers the same type of scares as its competitors, just on a much grander and more polished scale. It’s like the Disneyland of haunted houses, right down to the many animatronics. Guests are welcomed to the prison by a flying demon warden, who looks animatronic but is an actually an actress in a harness. The haunt, which opened in 1996, features a red and white checkered scene with clowns hanging from the ceiling and heavy metal blaring that I consider to be the best room I’ve seen at a haunted house. “I travel the country in the offseason going to other haunts and have been pleasantly surprised by how many people have copied that room and told us ‘We saw this at your house,’” said Paul Siegel, owner of Siegel’s Cottonwood Farms, where Statesville is located. “They try to replicate it, but I don’t think they’ve done what we’ve done.” Statesville will try to gross you out, from the shirtless man covered in cockroaches to the filthy toilets that spray unsuspecting guests, but it may be too crowded and include too much stop-and-go moments to really terrify its braver clientele. City of the Dead? That’s a different story. The second haunted house on the property features a cave setting (picture “The Descent”) and does a better job of spreading out guests and scaring them. New this year is the Zombie Farm Paintball, which allows guests to shoot zombies from a moving army truck. It sounds amazing on paper, but “Walking Dead,” it’s not. It’s so dark at night and there are so many people shooting at the same time that you can’t tell if you or the many other people next to you are the ones hitting the targets. Stick to the haunted houses. They do those better than almost everyone.
42 W New York Street, Aurora
Congratulations, Basement of the Dead, you did what few horror movies and even fewer haunted houses could ever do: You genuinely terrified me. I’m not just talking about making me flinch (Spoiler alert: Dropping the floor beneath me at the very beginning was a nice, unexpected touch, though, mainly because I didn’t think it had started yet). I mean messing with my head and making me question my decision to walk the whole thing by myself, sans-friends or hyper teenagers. I walked through a room of people dressed in black cloaks knowing at least one was real and ready to pounce on me, but I didn’t know which one until it was too late. Same with the room of people dressed in white blankets. I thought I had every haunted house figured out, but you guys took the cliches and added your own twists. My visit to the second, clown-themed haunt, Shattered, was the first and only time I’ve ever had someone waiting to frighten me as I pushed through a certain, typically scare-free haunted house staple. I just wish I would have known you guys are one of those haunted houses that take videos of people’s reactions during one of the scarier moments. I would have tried to compose myself, but likely would have failed miserably.
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