Posts Tagged ‘horror’

 

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?

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.

When I started this blog I intended on it being nothing more than a place where I can review and discuss films, plays, and books- mainly those of a horror persuasion. Obviously it has evolved in to a little more than that, but still it has been built on that basic cornerstone.

As I was going through some of my past posts though I couldn’t help but notice… there is only one [horror] book review, for Let’s Go Play at the Adams’. And the review, if you notice, isn’t super positive. Now Let’s Go Play was a book that was not just recommended to me by several acquaintances but was on pretty much every “must read” list for those wanting a terrifying story. Yet when I read it… at no point was I terrified. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately on top of the fact that I haven’t written any other horror book reviews. It isn’t for lack of reading any. I’ve read Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted, Ray Bradbury’s  Something Wicked This Way Comes and several others and it’s not that I didn’t enjoy any of these books (on the contrary many of them are very well written and gripping in their own right) it’s just that they aren’t scary and I want to write reviews about books that really put me on edge- books I’d gladly recommend to others who are constantly on a search for stories that chill you to the bone. I have spent hours on the internet looking up horror novel/story recommendations and reviews in search for those tales that keep me up late at night, both because they have me in their clutches and because I’m afraid to turn out the lights. But for some reason… it’s really hard to find such books.

Now before any of you go and crucify me I understand that good horror is actually not that hard to find. All you really have to do is go to the library isle that is marked F – Kin, and walk only a few feet in. At the same time though horror really is difficult to accomplish through literature, I feel and I think that boils down to two main reasons: 1.) it’s hard to sustain suspenseful/terrifying tension in literature and 2.) horror is subjective.

For reason #1 – Some of the best horror I have ever read are short[er] stories. The Hellbound HeartPsycho, any of Poe’s work, most Lovecraft, tons of works put in to anthologies of horror, and (not even joking on this) Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. There is obviously plenty of good longer horror stories, once again- look back to the master, King. But even some of his best work is short stories/novellas.

The kind of strain and tension created by horror is hard enough to sustain with visual images (be it film, or theater), but I think it’s even harder to an extent with literature/words. Yes, the imagination is sometimes worse than reality or pictures but to initially be able to tap in to the imagination of your audience in the first place I think is a struggle. Then to hold their attention is a whole other issue. That was one of my biggest complaints with Haunted. Palahniuk wrote an amazing first chapter (Guts) which, while not scary, really had me reeling because of how I was able to picture it in my mind. But after that chapter the book just became a bore because he never was able to match the magic he worked in that initial chapter. And you are a straight up liar if you think classics like Dracula don’t have the same problem. They’re classics, and yes- Dracula does have some scary moment, but it is a bear to get through. Same with Frankenstein, which is actually one of my top five books.

If you can hook your audience and keep them on the line for an entire novel… that’s a feat. That’s why I think shorter works work better sometimes with horror. You hook your audience, and then proverbially release them soon after (although, the best stories never truly “leave” us do they?)

Now, for reason #2- Horror is subjective. What scares you may not be the same thing that scares me. Let’s Go Play is a prime example. Rape, to me, is not scary. It is a horrific act that is evil, but it’s not scary. I believe that it is a super cheap way to get under the audience’s skin. But plenty of people have read this book and love it and said that it really messed with them and was one of the scariest books they ever read.

Another issue is that the way you picture something the author is describing may not be the same way I picture something. With film, theater, or even comic books/graphic novels- it’s all laid out. You see the image they want you to see, and it’s in the open.  But in a book the author has to paint that picture for the audience and sometimes it’s very specific (ala King,) sometimes it’s left more to the imagination, and other times it sits right in the middle.  Horror is a mixture of describing the scene/atmosphere, the emotions, and the ultimate horror the characters are facing. That’s a lot of factors the author has to mesh together. And with horror being such an unstable craft it’s hard to get all those factors right. Now I’m not saying that ALL of them need to be spot on, but that general mixture needs to be at least somewhat solid for the terror to resonate with your audience. A lot of times, in longer texts, authors start off really well or eventually get to a nice spot where all the factors come together… but at some point it just kind of fizzles and the author tends to pull focus on only one of the elements, and forgets to give the others some attention. House, by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker is actually a book I think combines all of these elements well. Say what you want about Christian horror but this book, I think, combines a great atmosphere, with some great horror moments, and some real emotions. This formula is also why I think Pet Semetery is one of Stephen King’s greatest works. He crafted an absolutely heart wrenching story about a family losing their child, and then built out the atmosphere and some of the most horrific moments I have ever read. Some of the latter parts of that book still stain my mind with imagery that makes me shutter. I read that book about three years ago, and it was the last book I’ve read that really ever scared me to the point that I had to stop reading it for a length of time.

While there is plenty of good horror in the world of literature, both short and long, I believe that it’s a hard craft to crack. Also, ultimately you have to be the own judge of what scares you. I’ve read many a recommended stories that people have claimed to be “real shockers” only to read them and have my psyche unscathed by the encounter. Obviously I won’t stop taking recommendations, and if any of you readers have some out there (that I haven’t ready (which there is plenty I haven’t listed)) go ahead and post them and I’ll give them a read!

I really would like to start doing more horror lit reviews, which maybe I’ll just have to start doing reviews on short stories and from time to time do some novels- should I find one I think is scary enough. But until then I’ll remain on the lookout, for that elusive book that I hope will be so scary… that I have to force myself to finish it. That’s the kind of horror novel I want.

Hey everyone! I know it’s been a while, but things have been pretty crazy as of late for me and it’s not letting up in the immediate future. That being said I wanted to give this little update:

With having just wrapped production on Traveling Without Moving in Aurora, IL I am now focusing my creativity on a mini-webseries based around Halloween Horror Nights 25 at Universal Orlando. Jack’s Maniacs will look at a variety of different characters essentially “prepping” themselves for the event. While some of the various videos will be inspired directly from themes or houses that will be present at the event I’m creating this series as an overall commentary on us HHN fans. Many of these videos start off with average, fairly ordinary people… but we slowly discover that each one of them has something that they are hiding or something dark they are preparing for. Just like us. We are all ordinary people by day, but come this time of year we bask in that small thirst for darkness. Something inside us loves the macabre and the terror, and we relish it… just like the people in these videos.

I hope all who watch enjoy the series. As of the time of this post we have posted the first two and there is more to come, leading up to (and possibly after) the opening of Halloween Horror Nights 25. You can find the videos on the Forever Malone Productions YouTube channel- here!

Note: Halloween Horror Nights, and Jack the Clown are properties and copyright of Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Entertainment. All rights reserved.

I couldn’t let Halloween come to pass and not review one of these films! Plus this series is my favorite slasher series. Yep, I’m a Myers boy. I was originally going to review the first film but I kind of ran into the same problem I did with the Alien review (it’s too complicated to just hammer out in one sitting.) I’ll get there eventually I’m sure, but this is not a bad one to begin with! In fact I rate this in my top three of the Halloween films (coming in just after the original and the sequel.)

This film picks up ten years after the original film and it’s sequel. We’re going to skip over the fact that Halloween 3: Season of the Witch happened. It begins with out infamous murderer Michael Myers, who is now thought to be an invalid after the events of Halloween 2,  being transferred back to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. But once he overhears the fact that he has a niece the evil awakes once more inside him, and he escapes again. Jump to Haddonfield, Illinois where young Jamie Loyd is having nightmares of a boogeyman coming after her. She is the daughter of Laurie Strode (who is “dead” after a fatal car accident of some kind, leaving her an orphan.) This fact means that she is unfortunately the niece of Michael Myers, and obviously his new target. Never fear, because Dr. Sam Loomis is on Michael’s trail of terror as he begins to tracked the masked killed back to Haddonfield. Loomis warns the police, and puts everyone on high alert. But that is still not enough. Michael begins his bloody rampage through the small Midwestern town, searching for Jamie with more brutality than ever.

This film brings back the series’ beloved Shape after a threequel that disappointing many fans- mainly because of the fact that it didn’t involved Michael Myers at all! And boy does this film bring him back with a vengance. By now Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th had, by now, stormed on to the slasher scene so Myers has some competition. Well, within the first few minutes of this film we get a taste of Michael’s new brutality with a thumb to the head! While Halloween 2 defiantly upped the level of gore and violence, we have never seen Michael like this. He kills people with his bare hands, breaking their faces and ripping them apart. He shoves guns through people, and electrocutes them. About the only thing we don’t see him do in this movie is actually stab someone with a knife. And not only does Myer’s do this but he is able to be “The Shape” while doing that. Meaning that, at no point, does this feel like a Friday film or something of the like. Michael is exactly what he was in the original film, omnipresent and evil, It feels like no matter where the character’s turn he will be there. He has some genuinely creepy scenes that I actually feel are some of the best moments in the entire series. Like this one:

Every time I watch that scene it sends chills up my spine. It is such a sinister moment that captures the essence of Michael Myers.

Also the fact that this time around Michael is hunting down a child makes this movie, to me, that much scarier. I was around seven or eight the first time I saw this movie and it terrified me to my bones. Not even Halloween 2, which is actually the first horror film I ever saw, did that. This film to me had no boundaries. If Michael was going after a kid, then all bets were off. Nobody stood a chance.

Now, there are plenty of cliche and eye-roll inducing moments in the movie, usually containing our teenage characters. In fact, they are ofter downright infuriating characters to listen to. Super arrogant and ignorant like… well, teenagers.

While I do wish that there would be a Halloween film that truly dives into how Haddonfield views the holiday of Halloween post Michael Myers (come on, that would be such an interesting story!) I love the addition of the town folk trying to hunt down Michael for revenge. I just wish that it was more flushed out in the end. Time and time again in these films we get moments like this that could lead to some interesting depth on the town and individual characters, but they are generally glossed over to continue on. After all the death that has happened I’m super surprised Halloween is even celebrated in Haddonfield any more.

This film also does an amazing job of getting that “Halloween feeling” down. That same feeling I talked about in my Trick ‘r Treat review. I don’t know how to specifically describe it but there is a feeling to Halloween as a holiday and a season in general. It’s a general atmosphere, and it’s a tone that is often not captured in the Halloween films which strikes me as really odd. Out of all of the films (which there are ten now) I feel like only three of them truly capture that feeling of the holiday. And Halloween 4 is one of them. Right from the bat we are give a series of images associated with the harvest, and fall. It sets the tone perfectly. And later on during the school day, and at night during trick or treating and the “Multiple Myers” scene it’s there.

And then, above all, the reason I love this movie… the ending. Dear God, that ending. It was a such a sinister and ballsy move. It still makes my eyes widen and limbs freeze when I watch the movie. As I said, I was young when I first saw this movie on AMC Fear Fest. And that ending legitimately gave me nightmares. It’s such a dark twist and one that I, and probably nobody else, never saw coming. The sound of Loomis’ scream mixed with the horror you’re actually seeing makes for one of the single best moments in, frankly, any slasher film ever made as far as I’m concerned.

All in all I love this film. I often consider it as good as the original Halloween 2, making them tied for my second favorite Halloween film. While I love this series and there are some genuinely frightening movements in some of the other films, this was the only one to truly terrify me and it’s mainly due to the ending. A few of the characters get annoying but their deaths make putting up with them tolerable and while there is some sense of “been there, done that” at moments in the film, most of it is generally done in a way that for the most part it feels fresh and new. Plus Myers’ new brutality mixed with his evil and ubiquity makes for one of the most frightening portrayals of the classic slasher. It’s the comeback of a life time for Michael Myers, as he reminds us that you truly cannot kill damnation.

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I was in the Quad Cities this past weekend, which is where I haunted during my college years (2010-14.) Since I was working throughout my college experience I never really had a chance to visit haunts in the area. So I looked up the haunts in the area, and found this one- Shock House. I had never heard of this one before, and I’m not sure if this was their first year riding solo (because apparently the group putting this on had worked with Factory of Fear, another local QC haunt, for the four years prior.) So I assume this was this houses first year. And that would, unfortunately, make sense.

Now, before I begin with my actual review/critique of the production I need to say something. I 100% believe in this group’s mission statement and think it is great what they are doing. Blind Crow Productions LLC (the group that produces Shock House) is all about giving the youth of the QC “business like experience.” They also run a canned food drive at the haunt, offering to take $1 off if you bring in canned food items. And on top of everything else, a percentage of the proceeds go to the Wounded Warrior project. These are good people, with good intentions, and I support that. All that being said though… I really did not enjoy this haunted house. While the concept is great, and you can tell that some thought went in to the layout of the event, the follow-through was poorly executed and the overall attraction lacked scares and energy.

It’s hard to make out exactly where the haunt is. If you take 5th Ave like you are heading towards the District in Rock Island, IL (or Skellington for that matter,) once you get to the main curve past 30th st near Augustana, there will be a few signs that you’ll need to keep an eye out for. They have arrows and will generally direct you towards the lot that is used for the event. It’s in the QC Expo Center. On the side of the building you’ll see the name of the event projected with a gobo (see image above.)

The lot is pretty lifeless, and you can walk straight up to the building without encountering a single actor. Inside there are two actors (that I saw) roaming around trying to scare people. A “ring master” looking actor, and then a kind of jawless zombie. While the makeup. mask, and costumes looked great the actors didn’t really do that much to startle other than walking around  and leaning in towards you. The line wasn’t that long. We went on Saturday, Oct. 25th at around 10:45 PM and walked into the haunt at 10:55 PM.

Once inside the haunt you are engulfed in total blackness. It is basically a giant black maze, with a few staged rooms here and there. There are jump scares and drop panels all along the way though, to try and keep you on your toes. All in all it was about a 15 min walk through, and that was more because the maze got confusing.

Now, I will say, the dark hallway concept was my favorite part about this haunt. Lots of haunts are doing “black out mazes” but they aren’t really effective other than for being used to hide shock pads and drop panels. This maze was tight, and claustrophobic. And even though the pathway never veered off in separate routes (which I was almost positive that at some point it would) it was disorienting. You never really had a good sense of where you were or which direction you were going.

Unfortunately that is the extent for how “scary” this haunt got. There is seemingly no sense of pacing out the rooms or the scares. We’d go maybe two minutes without a single sight of an actor, then we’d hit around three or four in one spot. The haunt isn’t THAT big- the actors need to be spaced out. There also isn’t enough room for that many actors in one area. Multiple times I’d have to push my way through actors who were bunched up in one location.

The actors themselves had no energy. Out of the entire haunt, the only actor that seemed to be in to what they were doing was this actress in a room with bloody strips of cloth hanging down, that just screamed at us. Was was in character and stayed there while we were in her space. From the rest of the cast we’d be lucky to sometimes get a weak “grrr.” I was super upset when I was pinned between two actors, who didn’t realize I was a guest and once they did they said “Oh, s—” and just walked away. WHAT THE HECK!? Seriously? No attempt to even scare me, and when my girlfriend and friend caught up to me finally the actors just let them. They didn’t even try then to scare any of us. I was super disappointed in this cast.

The drop panels and pop up scares got old, real fast. They never changed up the style of how these scares happened, and they (like the rest of the house) were poorly paced. And then, to top it all off, one of them was synced with the recorded phrase “surprise mother f—–.” It didn’t shock me. It didn’t scare me. It didn’t surprise me. It just pissed me off. If you are going to use language in a house, it better be for a damn good reason. Otherwise it’s pointless and stupid, and in my opinion makes you seem cheap. You’re resorting to using language to try and scare people. That’s sad.

The rooms themselves weren’t bad. None of them had any scares in them what so ever that I noticed. The only one that came close was the hallway full of clothes on racks. But all of the other rooms seemed bare, and I’m not sure if there were any actors in them at all.

I will say the one trick that made me take a step back was near the end there is an animatronic clown that drops down from the ceiling. I never do well with things above me. So that one startled me, but it just repeated the same motion again and again and got repetitive and not scary- like the rest of the house.

Then you get to the end of the haunt only to find… nothing. Nobody is there to chase you out. Nobody is there to try and scare you one last time. It just ends and you walk out of the expo center.

This house seriously disappointing me. No scares and a lifeless cast made for a miserable romp through tight dark halls. If this was this groups first year I’m hoping that in future years they learn from their mistakes this year. Better pacing and much more active cast of characters could have done wonders and really sold this house. As I said before the general concept wasn’t bad and you can tell some effort went in to planning it. I just would have liked to have seen the same effort across the board in all areas.

Rating of Shock House: 3/10

Price:

$7.00 admission night October 12th

$1.00 off admission with a canned good

 ½ off with a Valid Military I.D.

$10.00 admission on Thursday the 30th

2 for $20.0 with Factory of Fear- 2 haunts one price

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I could go on an on with my personal analysis of the film and it’s characters; all of the hidden symbolism, viewing the film with a feminist lens, analysis of the creature itself and it’s stages… but I’m not going to. Because that would just take too long, and I want to try and keep this as short and simple as possible. Because, in the end, not much really needs to be said about Alien as a film- other than it’s perfect.

This movie is a masterpiece of cinema. Period; that is all you need to know about it. If you have NEVER seen Alien I, quite frankly, feel sorry for you. Everything about it is pure genius. The craftsmanship and storytelling alone are near perfection, and then add on top the amazing art direction and stylistic choices made and it just makes for one hell of a movie. A movie that is downright engrossing and terrifying. This is a movie that, even into my late teens, I was watching through hands covering my eyes at parts. And since we just had the 35th anniversary edition released as well as the release of the new game Alien: Isolation, I thought it was a good time to take a look at this movie.

The story follows the crew of the ship Nostromo, a “freighter” space ship. The crew receives an emergency beacon from planet LV-426 (which you don’t find out the name of the planet until the sequel Aliens, which is almost equally as awesome and I will eventually do a review for as well.) The ship lands on the planet and finds a derelict spacecraft of some kind and investigates. But Kane, one of the crew members, returns to Nostromo with something attached to his face. The creature eventually detaches and dies, and Kane seems okay. But he’s not. The “facehugger” put something inside him, and it wants out. And it gets out. The rest of the movie, the remaining crew of the Nostromo fight to stay alive as they are killed off one by one by this xenomorph alien species… this “perfect organism.”

First of the characterization of the Nostromo crew is fantastic. They seem like real people. Their actions make sense and the dialogue is really tight. Sure there is futuristic jargon thrown in, but it’s not superfluous or silly in any way. The characters talk and act realistically, and that is something that rarely happens in horror films. One of the things I applaud this movie for (because it rarely happens in horror films) is having the characters react to death like it really happened. That is something that never occurs in horror, and really bothers me- characters don’t really grieve. At most we have characters that find out a friend has died, they cry for a second, then move on. There is no anger, there is no world crumbling break down, and that is not real. People react to death in real life, and in Alien they react. They grieve, they are shocked, they are scared, they cry, they get angry. The emotions and reactions are exactly how people would react, and in the end making the characters more real makes the film more real for an audience, and subsequently more horrifying.

So let’s talk about a scene for a second…

Yeah. I didn’t want to a put a gif in case there are people reading this that haven’t seen the film. If you HAVEN’T seen the film the dinner scene, after the facehugger dies, is reason enough for you to go out and see this film. It’s shocking. I remember when I saw this for the first time my jaw was hanging open. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. I literally had the same reaction as the rest of the Nostromo crew. My freshman year of college I showed this film to my group of friends (none of which had seen the movie) and when this scene came all of them still had the same reaction. When a film can last the test of time like that, and still after so many years evoke the same kind of response, it’s a testament to how well it was written, acted, and directed. The choices made for that scene were spot on, ballsy, and uncomfortable. The overall concept of the facehugger and alien birth alone is brilliant and original.

The adult creature continues that trend with being a truly horrifying, yet beautiful creature. The late H.R Giger’s art just comes to life in this film. His creature design does it’s job of being a very sensual and at the same time striking fear into the audience. It is a disturbing creature, and I don’t think any of the Alien films since the first have really shown the beauty of them like Alien has. I feel like a few times they have tried, but in the end the sequels have focused more on how animalistic and horrifying the creatures are rather than the beauty of them, and that was half the horror of the original Alien. You knew this creature was bad news, but you couldn’t look away. It was a living train wreck. The only other time in the other films, I feel, that had the same awe as Alien was the reveal of the queen in Aliens. 

Then on top of everything else that is good about this film, there is Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver.) Ellen is one of my favorite, and one of the best (period!) female characters of all time. She proves throughout each of these films, especially in Aliens, but it all started with the first film. Spoilers: She goes from being just another crew member to the “final girl” in the blink of an eye. She endures a hell of a lot of loss and pain in this film and still remains strong enough to go head to head with the beast in the end. She proves early on with her conversation with Brett and Parker that she doesn’t fit that “cookie mold” of what a good girl should be- she is her own person, independent and authoritative. She demands respect, as opposed to Lambert who kind of plays out like the a-typical female character who just breaks down. Ellen stands up when the moment arises, and takes control (or at least tries to) of a horrifying situation.

I honestly have nothing more to say about this movie. It is genuinely horrifying; it still is up there as one of the scariest films I have ever seen.  It isn’t just a well crafted horror film, but a well crafted film in general which, in general, stands the test of time. At 35 years old the film is still effective on delivering the blows and the shocks. It’s a great mixture of suspense, terror, and even a little drama thrown in. The film’s structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.

Another weekend has come, and that means more opportunities to visit some haunts! I did some looking around this week before deciding which one to go to and Basement of the Dead has been getting some stellar reviews as well and was in the top 31 haunts in Haunt World mag last year. I often don’t heavily rely on other’s reviews and such because, in all honesty, the haunt world is actually very political. But no doubt about it- there is some buzz about this house. So my friend and I decided to see is Basement is really all that people have been making it out to be. And boy, was I pleasantly surprised that it is.

Basement of the Dead is the main attraction and there is a secondary haunt that you can add-on to your experience called Shattered, which is a 3D haunt which labels itself as “The World’s Best 3D Nightmare,” but we’ll get to that later.

The main entrance of the house itself is tucked away behind a large brick building on New York St. in Aurora, past the Hollywood Casino on the left. While the site does say that there are different kinds of parking options you shouldn’t have trouble finding free parking anywhere in the numerous amounts of lots and street spots available in the surrounding area.  It isn’t overly visible at first until you get to the intersection of New York St. and River St, They have a small banner up, and you will for sure see the line of people going to the event. It’s literally behind/connected to a great looking Irish pub called Ballydoyle’s. Anyway, unless you get their right at the opening, chances are you are going to run in to the same kind of line, for the rest of the season, that we ran in to.

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When you get there (if you haven’t prepurchased your tickets) you need to find the window with the red light, which means you pass the line, buy the tickets, then walk all the way back to the end of the line, all the while you have opportunities to buy food as well as interact with the actors. You line actors were more than willing to take photos, but also were really aware of when a good opportunity to scare was around. They were fun, funny, scary, and overall really entertaining. The makeup, masks, and detailed costumes that they wore gave you just a glimpse at what exactly to expect inside. There was also a fire dancer show, as well as an awesome DJ (whom I will talk more about in a minute.)

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Overall the line entertainment was great. They also had the movie IT playing, and as you read in my last review, I’m not a big fan of when houses have regular movies playing in lines just because I feel like with the fact that you have all of these sets and actors it would be fairly easy for you to make your own video/short film about the haunt itself. It’s not really a critique in any way, it’s just something I would like to see done more in general with haunts.

Now, our wait was nearly two and a half hours. We went on Friday, October 17th and arrived at around 9: 30 PM. We didn’t get into Basement until 11: 50-ish. Near the end of our time in line the DJ said that the numbers came in and it was actually a record attendance night for them at Basement, which I clapped and cheered at. I’m glad when I can add to a milestone for a haunt. And while the line and the wait did indeed feel long, and was boring at times for the most part, because of the entertainment from the actors, dancer, and DJ, it was enjoyable. It also reassured me that the haunt was at least trying to fairly space out the groups which I highly appreciate. Nothing pisses me off more than a haunt that just intentionally conga-lines people through, that isn’t built for that kind of crowd. Basement was taking their time and tried to make sure that everyone would get a good show. I also liked how at around 11:30 PM it looked like they cut ticket sales. It made me have massive respect for the house and the workers/owners because they realized that the line they had was already going to clear 12 AM and go on into 1 AM, and they didn’t want to kill their actors; they cared about their staff and I give major kudos to them for that. I’ve worked a haunt before where the staff didn’t care about the actors and just let people buy tickets past 12 AM (closing) and worked us until later without warning. A.) It isn’t fun, and B.) it’s disrespectful. So props Basement people.

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I also want to give a shout out to the DJ, Sir, I just wanted to give you a big high-five last night. You dealt with so many annoying drunks and high people, you had some malfunctioning equipment, and you just stayed cool about it. You gave out free stuff and candy (wearing my wrist band right now) and told jokes and played one hell of a mix. Your work is greatly appreciated by this individual. You, and the work of your fellow line entertainers made the wait bearable.

My one main critique about the line experience was that there were no (none, that I could see) garbage cans, so there was trash here and there. If you’re selling food and drinks at an event like this, and you have this many people, there should be quite a few cans spaced out in the line. It’ll help you guys and the environment out!

When our wait was finally over, I was amped. I was ready to go into the abyss of the house, although I admit I was concerned that with it being 11:50 PM we’d get some tired actors. Man, was I wrong. The actors were every bit as amped as I was, even more so! Immediately in the first room I had an actor running full force at me, ready to go. That was exactly how the actors were throughout the entire house. They were on their game at Basement last night, and it made the wait so worth it. It has been a while since I was scared at a haunt, to the point of actually yelling out. I’ve been to them where they’ve made me jump. But to actually make me yell and jump backwards in defense… it hardly ever happens. It happened here. And when it did, it just fed the actors. They didn’t relent. It didn’t matter that I’m a big guy, they just went for it- which I loved. And they went for everyone. Often you’ll have actors who, once they’ve done their one scare either retreat of just stand there. That hardly ever happened in this haunt. They really tried to give everyone a great show, I feel.

Now, about half way through we did unfortunately catch up to the group in front of us. I don’t think it was so much of a pacing thing on the haunt side, but because they were scared as well as messing around.  The lady in front of us was so annoying, and was really pissing me off. She was obnoxious and belligerent and dampened the experience for a bit, until an actor would come by and scare her or myself and then all was right with the world. We did have to put up with her and her group the rest of the house but I tried to put some distance between us at parts and we still got a pretty good show. That group was my only real complaint with the experience, and that isn’t the haunt’s fault! Because of them we didn’t get all of the scares near the end, but in general we still had a great time.

Another plus I have for the actors is that at no time did they ever have to go into vulgar territory. In my last review I stated how much I hate when actors, especially towards males that are going through haunts, will often “go Deliverance” on patrons in order to creep them out. It’s a tired, and unoriginal gag. It may work sometimes, but it often just is boring and annoying. Plus rape is just an easy way to get under people’s skin (that goes for films, books, haunts, anything.) It’s cheap scares, And the Basement crew  knew they were better than to stoop to that level, because they didn’t use it and obviously didn’t need it.

The sets were stellar. There were some of the best environments I have ever seen in a haunt. Mixed with the costumes and makeup and masks that the actors donned it created a really hellishly real experience. Everything was so meticulously done, and thought out it seemed like. The animatronics and props blended perfectly with their environments, and everything really felt organic and spot on.

Overall the house was just a sensory overload from start to finish, which really added to the scare factor. At no point did you ever feel settled or oriented in any way. It kept you on your toes and on edge the entire way. The lights, the sounds and effects, and above all the acting, just made for one hell of a time.

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Once you come out of Basement of the Dead you can walk over to the line for Shattered, the 3D haunt. At first I was kind of surprised that there wasn’t a long line for Shattered, because with the combo ticket option I assumed that people would just be doing both houses. But then I got kind of worried that it wasn’t good. Unfortunately that feeling turned out to be correct. While the actors that were in the house gave it a fair go, they couldn’t save this uneventful haunt. The 3D effects were admittedly really good, and the costumes and makeup rocked (on the same par with Basement’s,) but there were no scares at all. The house only seemed to have a few actors in it, and they didn’t seem very energized. Like I said, they gave it a fair shot. After coming out of Basement though, Shattered paled in comparison. I don’t know how the building is set up inside, but if it is possible I’d just assume Basement of the Dead extend to where Shattered is, and remove the 3D haunt all together. Next time I’ll just pay for Basement of the Dead.

All in all I had a great time. Yes, if you go between now and the end of the season, I’d expect a pretty long wait unless you get their near the opening of the haunt. Even the VIP line was pretty long by the end of the night. But the line entertainers make the wait bearable and fun, and it (to me) is worth having groups spaced out like that so that everyone gets a great experience.

Basement of the Dead is a terrifying romp that violates your senses as soon as you step inside, and doesn’t let up until to step through the threshold at the end. And even then you’re not even guaranteed you’re safe (*cough, cough* remember the line actors…*cough*).

For the price I don’t think there is anything this side of Illinois that can beat it. Save the money on Shattered 3D though, and instead treat yourself to a Basement of the Dead shirt or a visit to the pub.

Rating of Basement of the Dead:  9/10

Basement of the Dead General Admission: $18

Shattered 3D: $10

Combo Ticket: $25

VIP (Both houses and front of the line access): $45

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Twitter: @BasementofDead

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.