Posts Tagged ‘haunted houses’

 

3Once again we are finding ourselves in the approaching shadow of the haunt season, folks. The great thing about Illinois is that no matter where you are there never seems to be a shortage of haunted attractions (professional or non.)

I wrote up a list last year, and figured I’d do the same again this year. While there are tons of haunts that I am looking forward to this year and am hoping to hit in Illinois (including my own past haunt home of  Skellington Manor) I’m going to keep this list narrowed to the greater Chicago area. So without further adieu…

 

 

4.) Realm of Terror

(Round Lake Beach, IL)

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This is one of those haunts that, every year, gets consistently great reviews by the general public and critics alike. Stellar sets, and actors who are really on point… it is no doubt  a staple of haunts one in/around the Chicago-land area must visit.  Do note though, this isn’t for the faint of heart (well, really none of these haunts on this list are.) The actors are high energy and really invade your space. A general sense of unease creeps over you as soon as you line up in the que.

 

3.) Basement of the Dead

(Aurora, IL)

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Yep, this was on my list last year folks. Why again? BECAUSE IT’S ALWAYS FREAKING AMAZING, that’s why! These guys continually build and put on one of the best haunts I have ever had to pleasure of experiencing. High energy acting, amazing sets, and full throttle scares from every direction. This place, no matter the night, usually has an insane line qued up at the entrance, and for good reason. They’re one of the best in the state.

 

2.) HellsGate

(Lockport, IL)

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Kicking up a lot of speculation this year is the infamous Zombie Army Productions latest haunt- HellsGate. Inspired by the urban legends of a haunted house found only in the forest that is multi leveled and so scary that if you make it all the way through… your ticket is free! This attraction is found the woods, is multi-storied, but you can only get your money back if you find a special key. Challenge accepted! While my opinions of Statesville range, there can be no doubt that I am excited about this haunt. Woods? Several floors of scares? Amazing sets and makeup?  SOLD.

 

1.)Fable’s Fright Nights

(East Dundee, IL)

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Topping our list again is Fable’s Studios. Last year their amazing experience Project Chaos was cut criminally short. If it’s any indication of what this group can do with an entire theme park, I’m stoked. For the past several months they’ve been doing a Zombie experience at Santa’s Village that has garnered a lot of praise. This haunt season they are turning the entire park into a nightmare with three haunts, and street experiences, and a chance to meet the legendary Krampus himself (all in all, this is very ala Halloween Horror Nights/Howl-Scream/Knott’s.) Super psyched to see what the talented and passionate creators at Fable’s have in store for us.

 

 

That’s it for my list this year! What haunted attractions are you dying to attend?

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The haunt season is upon us faster than a drunk jock in a horror film. With many haunted houses opening their doors next week I’ve been trying to prepare myself (as well as my wallet,) planning which haunts I will for sure be wanting to attend this year. I live in the greater Chicago area so there are plenty to choose from!  I’ve managed to narrow down my five top choices which is what I’ll be sharing with you all. So without further adieu, let’s get started…

4.) 13th Floor Chicago

1940 George St., Melrose Park, Illinois 60160

I unfortunately missed his house last year, their first year in the area. While I heard a lot of mixed reviews as far as the scares go there was nothing overly negative, like some other first time haunts in the area. The sets and makeup are said to be spectacular, and with several other locations across the U.S they have to be doing something right!

They have two different houses  this year. One of them, Feral Moon, probably excites me the most! It sound very classic and deals with werewolves. This excites me as The Wolfman is one of my favorite classic monsters.  Dead End District: Wrong Turn seems like a pseudo Evil Dead/28 Days Later mashup of some kind in plot- which will be interesting. I’m not sure based on the description if these things are evil or if they are more zombie like. Either way, bring it on!

3.) Evil Intentions

900 Grace Street Elgin, IL 60120

Their story this year, The Awakening, sounds intriguing- basically centering around the idea that some ghost hunters have awakened a great evil in a local mortuary. I love houses with a story , so that just makes it all the better.  And this house just looks intense, and intense is what I like. Really expecting some great acting, on top of the stellar looking makeup and location they have going on.

2.) Basement of the Dead

42 West New York Street, Aurora, IL

This house launched itself into one of my top top five scariest haunt experiences ever last year. This house is utterly fantastic with some spot on acting and energy from beginning to end in the house, great twists and turns, great line entertainment. The website is advertising itself as bigger better and scarier this year and that the audience will ‘not recognize it from last year’ which really has me pumped. I am anxiously awaiting it again this year in all of it’s gory.

1.) Project Chaos

Right next to Evil Intentions

The latest from Fables Studios, advertising itself as a interactive haunted house- which just makes my life. Anybody who knows me know how much I love experiences like this. To actually be a part of the story make it all the more horrifying. They have a really planned out story for this year, and a great vision driving the haunt forward this year. I’m expecting an experience unlike anything else in the area with this haunt. Plus the fact that it’s right next door to Evil Intentions (in fact they have a partnership deal going on for tickets to both for just $40) is just an added bonus.

While these are just my top four, there are plenty others that I am looking forward too as well in the area. That’s the great thing about living near a populated area- never running short of haunts. Like last year, you can expect some reviews of haunts I’ll be visiting to pop up.

If you have any haunts in the greater Chicago-land area that you think are worth checking out, let me know in the comments!

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I have been a scareactor for many different haunted houses over the past ten years.  It’s a form of acting that I find a great amount of joy in, and I also take a lot of pride in. That’s why when I’m told by people that it’s not “real acting” I get really defensive.

Often times the directors, actors, etc. who says things like that typically dislike haunts/horror or have never been on the production side of these types of shows. Look, I get it. I understand how someone can go into a haunt and think that the actors doing the scaring are just fooling around or how it doesn’t take any skill to pop out and say “boo.” I get that thought process because the rub is it doesn’t take a lot skill to just say boo; to just be able to do the minimal in a haunt. The skill comes from the planning, the prep, the ability to read the audience, and the overall craft that goes in to real scaring. It’s the same amount of prep I’d put in to any performance on screen or on stage, and it pisses me off when people just discount the work that I and so many other talented people put in.

I believe this is a sort of paradox that any off stage live theatre performer deals with. You’re told that there is no real place for performances like this to be on your resume, and that it doesn’t take any real talent. That’s such bull to me. You can tell a good scareactor from a bad one in an instant. The good ones put in the time and devotion to the characters that we create, and that effort shows. I also go to plenty of haunt events and the ones that scare me or entertain me the most are always the ones where you can tell that the actors believe in their characters and put in the time and passion to flesh them out in their own heads. One of the first things you lean in theatre is if you as an actor believe in the action taking place, it’s that much easier for the audience to believe it. That is true on stage/film, but it’s even more true I believe in more visceral performances like haunted houses, or these interactive experiences like ALONE, Delusion, or Fables.2

Along with the process of creating these characters from the ground up, the ability to hone in and read the audience is so important to performances in haunts. It’s something that you have to continually work on, and perfect and is unlike anything you’d ever experience in stage theatre and especially film. With stage theatre, yes, you need to be able to read your audience- sure. But that is nothing compared to the way you need to read your audience in a haunt environment. First and foremost there is safety. You need to protect yourself as well as make sure the audience is never in any real danger. People have different reactions to being scared. I’ve been punched, slapped, kicked, scratched. elbowed, and have also had to deal with people crawling away into a corner, running backwards, and crapping themselves. There are so many different ways people deal with fear, and you have to be able to read that and be able to react to that so that you can still give a performance while making sure your safe, not holding the line up, or making the guests destroy the set or themselves.

You also have to be able to read what scares your audience. Not everyone scares the same way or is afraid of the same thing. So you may get one person who is petrified after you burst through a doorway screaming, but the next person may think that it’s scarier to see you crawling on all fours towards them. You need to have your character and the given circumstances in your mind, but you also have to allow yourself to be malleable to what the audience wants to experience. Really- if you ever want a great improv experience, try working a haunted house for a season.

While there are plenty of scareactors who are ostracized in theatre, the same happens in film. An example is the actors who have played Michael Myers. There have been many different actors to don the mask, and it sounds like a really basic and simple role. But to me it’s much more. Those actors have to not only portray him physically but all they have to act with is tiny gestures and their eyes- that’s it. That, to me, takes a lot of skill but I know a lot of people who don’t think that it takes talent.

1There needs to be more acceptance for scareactors in the world of theatre as well as film.  I do understand that just because a person is able to create a character and scare others it doesn’t mean that they can memorize lines or do other basic things and interactions with others on stage, but it’s all still importance and working haunted houses teaches actors a lot about improv, staying in character through distractions, reading the audience, and so much more. It actually pains me that after the hours, and years of devotion to this art I’m actually told that I should add this work to my acting resume; that I’m told that essentially all the work I’ve put in doesn’t count. It does count, and it matters. Acting is about creating an experience for the audience, and you can ask any number of the thousands of “victims” I’ve had over the past ten years and they’d tell you that I along with my fellow cast member did indeed create an experience for them.

It seems like everywhere you turn these days there is just an overabundance of “found footage films.” These are films shot in first person POV, made to seem like “true events.” The most famous one probably being The Blair Witch Project but in the last several years with movies like Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield and V/H/S this specific breed of horror film has taken hold. The bad thing is, this type of film making has overstayed its welcome. It’s the torture-porn phase of horror films all over again, except with less mutilation and more grainy, overly shakey camera movements and the same types of scares used over and over again in every film. Look no further than my review on As Above/So Below to see what I mean.  Audiences still desire these films, and I often don’t understand it. Almost all of them are filled with the same plots, the same tropes, even the same dialogue. Almost.

Once and awhile one will really surprise me. It’ll bring something somewhat refreshing to the table. It’ll take take the elements of the genre that are good and use them properly while combining it with other original material. And for the most part, that is exactly what The Houses October Built does. While it does tread on trodden ground, it does do a great job of combining a great idea with some genuinely creepy moments.

The film follows five friends as they travel around to try and find the scariest and most extreme haunted house. After a few days of hitting “normal haunts,” as well as irritating half of the staff in said haunts the friends finally head about a specific on in Louisiana that is supposed to be the end all of haunted experiences. As the group travels to the haunt though things get heated as scareactors seemingly become more hostile towards them the closer they get. Just as things seem to get “too real” for the group the real terror strikes once the haunt finds them (yeah, you read that right.) After that the group understands real horror.

When I first saw the trailer for this film, I was sold just because I could identify with the groups basic goal- wanting to find the scariest experience you possibly can. I have spent over a year writing and doing research for a paper about horror as a theatrical art form, and much of the paper consists of looking at haunted houses and how they have developed. There seems to be this growing trend towards these “extreme” houses like Blackout, Alone, and McKamey Manor. What THOB does though is ask the question- how extreme is extreme? How far can haunts actually go without hurting people?

This film, in general, played out like a warning to me. And not just to one set group of people either, but to a bunch. Firstly the group of people/or protagonists are all a-holes. They end up being the a-typical type of people who go to haunted houses drunk and high and cause problems. And something bad happens to them. That is one warning.

Warning two, and the one that really struck me hard, is the warning to haunt workers/owners. Now, as many know, I have worked haunts for around ten years now (this being my first year in ten off, although I did volunteer at one for a few weekends at the beginning of the season. ) I know what kind of mind set the actors have, and I know what kind of people work at haunts. But actually hearing it and seeing it first hand, in real off set interviews shocked me. In interviews with the directors of the pictures they have said countless times that their interviews with haunt staff used in the film are real and unscripted. And one thing, I know for a fact is real due to experience, is the lack of concern most haunts have towards background checks and investigations. But seeing it and hearing other people say it in this movie really struck a chord with me and alarmed me. This movie, in a weird way, can also be taken as a warning to haunters- be careful of who you let work your house.

As far as the writing goes, it constantly does a dancing game with edging between good and repeated territory. The basic concept is great, but the follow through is the where the “iffy” parts start to show. But a lot of the issues are more so logic and reasoning, and are pretty petty. Like why does it take them a week to visit four haunts? They showed us their “hit list” of locations. They really aren’t that far from one another. Have they ever been to a haunt before? They play it out like going to one haunt is a several hour event, and it isn’t. Even during Hallo-week. They should be able to hit two or even three a night.

Also, no haunt lets to film inside. Now, this issue does come up closer to the end of the film but our group goes through haunts half the film having no problem recording. No. Their butts would have been kicked out asap. At least have a thing early on explaining either a.) talking to the owners to get permission, or b.) hiding the cameras so they can secretly record.

I also really don’t like the strip club scene as well as the scene with Mike and the haunt girl in the trailer alone. The strip club scene seems like just an easy way to fill space in the film as well as show off females and in the end it was just unneeded and detracted from the story. And the scene with the two in the trailer should have went down way more differently I feel. But now the group is apprehensive of haunt workers do to some creepy experiences. But Mike just takes her back and starts flirting and drinking. I would have really rather have seen her try and attack him or do something creepy or sick in some way during that scene, or even show up later and kill him towards the end. But the scene just messes with the pacing and seems out of place.

Probably the biggest head-scratcher and problem for me though was wondering who cut the film together. Spoilers- they die. All of the five friends die. Nobody is left. So who edited the film, and but the opening information in? So many questions!

I feel like to fully appreciate the film you have to either work at a haunt or love going to haunted houses. If you don’t fall under either of those categories then the film will just be lost on you. I love how they focus less on the startle scare moments in this film and go for more of the silent, and subtle scares. Those creepy scares I wish, as an actor, were more appreciated in haunt culture. But often people hurry through haunts and don’t notice or take those moments in. So often you’re only left with loud jump scares. But this film relishes the creepy moments and makes it so that when something suddenly does happen it chills you. Prime example is when the doll girl gets on the RV and just sits there. When she finally screams I was just sitting, staring at my screen wide eyed.

There are plenty of non scary moments that I feel try to get pushed by the filmmakers as horrifying (which, ironically enough, happens in haunts all the time) but there are also plenty of genuinely unsettling moments as well. It takes about half the film to pick up speed to these moments but once they start rolling there are plenty. Especially the ending. You were just as drawn is as the characters and didn’t know what was going to happen. While I was expecting a “bigger, louder” ending since this film is kind of a commentary and analogy for haunts them selves (and haunts always end big and loud with one last scare) the quieter ending that just snaps to credits was actually, I think, a great way to end it. It left me thinking about the film as a whole rather than just like “Whaaa!” It would have been just as easy to send one of the group members out and chase them with a chainsaw, but the ending we have is more somber and smarter than that. It just ends when you want more. You’re left with so many questions, and it just ends. Some will hate it, but I liked it.

In the end The Houses October Built is a shining example of what an indi-found footage horror film should be. It’s original enough to be interesting and enticing all together, even though at times it falls into the traps of typically tropes of the genre. More logic and understanding from the characters and writing could have helped out a lot but overall the film is well put together and offers some frighteningly real insights to the world of haunting. If you are a lover of haunt culture or are looking for a good, assuredly creepy Halloween season film- look no further.

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Tonight was/is Halloween Horror Nights Orlando’s Media Preview night and next Friday is HHN Hollywood’s annual Eyegore Awards. After seeing the numerous images and videos already, all I can say is wow, this year looks amazing and I am totally jelly that I won’t be able to attend this year. I keep staying up late at night number crunching to see if I can swing it, but alas, it won’t happen. I just need to face the facts. The one year that collects some of my favorite horror franchises, as well as some really cool original content I won’t be able to experience. Oh, WOE IS ME!

But seriously, this year looks like it is gonna’ kick some major tail. Halloween alone is worth going in book. But The AVP house along with The Purge scarezone, and a Walking Dead house larger than any other house in history at HHN just clenches it. This year will rock, period. Plus houses like Dollhouse of the Damned, and Roanoke provide the potential to go into some pretty dark places HHN hasn’t fully ventured in recent years. I loved HHN last year when I went, don’t get me wrong. But things felt a little restrained somewhat. This year, based off what I have seen, it looks like HHN creative has just thrown everything they can at the event as a whole this year. This Purge scarezone is MASSIVE, and rightfully so. I am so glad to see the return of scarezones this year. I love Walking Dead as much as the next person, and the streets last year were amazing, but it was just all too much last year. Besides, unique scarezones are just a part of HHN’s blood. And Purge is one of those IP’s that screams potential for HHN zones. In my interview last year with Universal Hollywood’s John Murdy (director of HHN Hollywood) I exchanged words at how impressive their scarezone dedicated to the Purge looked. In fact I told him the opening scaremonies, which used the Purge’s now mildly iconic sirens and “broadcast announcing the annual commencement,” for the event sent literal chills down my spine. And that was only through videos I saw on YouTube, since I did not attend HHN Hollywood last year. I can only imagine what it is like to go through the streets with characters trying to purge.  Universal will do the property proud at the event… dare I say probably more so than the movies actually do.

When doing my research for my SI project, which I even now am still working on (I’ve since graduated) I would constantly go back to HHN and compare other houses and events to them. Universal does it the best. Through the years, yes you can see ebb and flow of interests and creativity, but no matter what Universal has always done it the best and always will. Horror is in their blood and they take pride in their work. My main critique this year is the lack of marketing and the website. Maybe it’s because fans such as myself have been so spoiled in the past with in depth characters, stories, and what not that were released over a period of months leading up to the full reveal. Last year we even got the LT game, as well as the mysterious PS giving vlog updates along the way which helped reveal houses. This year it was just house reveals via twitter and FB and the website, for Orlando at least, it just a typical scrolling site with info on it. But that is my only complaint, and it probably has more to do with the fact that since in the past when I couldn’t go I could at least always rely on the website for HHN to offer some fun and entertainment for me. This year not so much. So, once again, woe.

But really, I think this has got to be the year that I am the most saddened that I cannot go. Because marketing flaws or not, the event will rock. I want to come face to face with Michael Myers and xenomorphs dang it!

Sigh.

I’m going to continue watching the event though, hoping that some good videos pop up so that I can experience it vicariously through them! And I’ll also be trying to get in contact with people again, for more interviews for my paper/book.

Universal parks do it best due to their scope and quality. And I’m sure it’ll only get better year after year.