Three quick tips about haunted houses to start off this guide to Halloween 2012:
Tip No. 1: Haunted houses, the ticket-selling kind, versus the rumor-shrouded Victorian Gothic kind at the end of your street, are mostly slasher flicks come to life. You know the way those movies build tension by sending a teenager down a gloomy hallway with the surety that someone — or something — was going to jump out at them? That's the experience of most haunted houses, more or less. If you like those movies ("Friday the 13th," "Prom Night," et al.), you'll like haunted houses. If not, you won't.
Tip No. 2: Haunted houses need not be either haunted or houses. Dream Reapers is across from a Navistar truck plant. Eleventh Hour Haunted House is aka Berthold's Garden Center in Elk Grove Village.
Tip No. 3: We're not saying they're all the same, but here's your Tribune Haunted House Travel Bingo card: Smokey atmospherics; trick elevator; spinning lights; cobwebbed skeleton; blasts of air; gory makeup; body part that met an unfortunate end; characters of the undead; doctor or mortician gone off the rails.
With all that in mind, and with suggestions from year-round enthusiasts (thanks, Adam Drendel of hauntedillinois.com), we bring you eight options for your Halloween:
Dream Reapers Haunted House
Among the gritty haunted houses, a gritty standout. This place is in an industrial building in Melrose Park, and there's nothing pretty about it. But that, we suppose, is the point.
What it lacks in polished atmospherics — why bother with another stage set of a Gothic library when hanging nets and airbrushing will do? — Dream Reapers makes up for in energy. Sure, there are plenty of props and what industry types call "animatronics" — a motorized arm that reaches out of a casket — but of the places visited, few other haunted houses had so many live actors after our skins with such ferocity. Screaming like they meant it, dragging chains and crawling along the floor after our ankles, they get our kudos. (Surely that cage will keep the guy with the power tools away from me?) We emerged half-blind, mostly deaf and genuinely roughed up.
This is the 13th season for Dream Reapers, says co-owner Jim Talent, and its last; their lease is up at the end of the year. "It's bittersweet," he said. "But we want to go out as a legend."
7 to 10 p.m. Thursday to Sunday, and open until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, plus Oct. 29-31, 1945 Cornell Ave., Melrose Park. Tickets $20-$35 at dreamreapers.com
As we were on the way into Fear City the other night, one of the pre-show nasties started baiting my wife. "Tonight," he said to her nastily, as the color drained from her face, "maybe you'll be lying in his arms, but it will be my face in your head. I will be coming to you. You'll be dreaming of me." He looked over at me dismissively, snorted, let out a diabolical laugh and headed off to scare some other wimpy sucker.
And that was just the emasculating prequel at this unparalleled haunted house — a colossal, expectations-exceeding haunted warehouse in Morton Grove, created for the first time last year by alumni of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and assorted grizzled veterans of the Chicago set-design business, and done up as a kind of post-apocalyptic Chicago.
It's hard to overstate the level of detail with which the horrors are re-created. Imagine someone took all the things in the city that half-scare us already — the "L," being stuck at Midway Airport, getting operated on in one of those rusty hospitals that sit by our freeways — and brought them to life in a series of hellish, Chicago-style grottoes connected by mazes and creepy guides who pop up uninvited and then vanish just as quickly. One of my particular favorites is the meatpacking butcher — imagine a Chicago dream where you're headed to one of those trendy West Loop bars and take a wrong turn right into the gut of what that neighborhood used to be. You get the idea. Fear City is Chicago's collective nightmare, writ large.
As in 2011, you can take a ride on a life-size haunted "L" train (a refugee from some movie set), sit in an airliner where the oxygen masks sure as heck have dropped from the ceiling, and enter one of those homes you hear about on the local news, where the smell of some hoarder finally starts to bother the neighbors. The human cast members don't concentrate on making people jump but on forging genuinely terrifying characters — one woman, playing a psychotic little girl with a weird sweetness, kept me awake that night. For real.
There's also a new haunted house called Hades. You would not want to head out to Morton Grove just for Hades, but as a $10 add-on to Fear City it's well worth it — virtually the entire experience takes place in pitch black.
7:30 to 11 p.m. Thursday to Sunday, and open until midnight Friday and Saturday, plus open Oct. 29-31, 8240 N. Austin Ave., Morton Grove. Tickets $25-$45 at fearcitychicago.com
— Contributed by Tribune critic Chris Jones
Eleventh Hour Haunted House
Billed as "four haunted houses in one," Eleventh Hour is really more like 21/2. That's not to say the scares aren't abundant.
Start with a mini corn maze that builds suspense. From there, head to the actual haunted house, filled with a cast of unsightly characters who show you around the many rooms, giving you a jolt or three along the way. Then make your way to the "Tunnel of Terror," a long, dark route that is more disorienting than anything but still keeps you on your toes as you approach each turn.
The overall scare level is definitely not extreme, and it's probably OK for most kids, with one notable exception (SPOILER ALERT): There's a guy with a real, live gas-powered chain saw in the "Tunnel" that many adults will find unnerving. All in all, the interaction with the characters is a nice touch, although it can get a bit awkward.
The place offers a special "RIP" ticket that lets you skip some of the lines (like a VIP, but scarier!). Many area haunted houses offer similar passes. There didn't seem to be much difference between that and the regular ticket, but it might come in handy as the place gets busier during the haunting season.
7 to 10:30 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday, and open until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, plus open Oct. 29-31, 434 E. Devon Ave., Elk Grove Village. Tickets $18-$44.50 at eleventhhour.info
— Contributed by Tribune reporter Matthew Wood
The Asylum Xperiment
Formerly the Asylum Experience in Berwyn, the Asylum Xperiment now is constructed for the season inside the Odeum Expo Center in Villa Park. The theme is a mental asylum gone wrong. (Versus, I suppose, those mental asylums that are cheerful places to visit.) Created by Dave Link and Mike Skodacek.
7 to 10:30 p.m. Thursday to Sunday, and open until midnight Friday and Saturday, plus open Oct. 31, 1033 N. Villa Ave., Villa Park. Tickets are $25-$40 at asylumxperiment.com
Statesville Haunted Prison
As the main haunted house "attraction," to use that term strangely, in the Joliet area, Statesville Haunted Prison locks you up with a hundred demented inmates, most of them nasty, frightening and proudly politically incorrect. This one's really not for kids.
7 to 10 p.m. Thursday to Sunday, and open until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, plus open Oct. 30-31, 17250 S. Weber Road, Crest Hill. Tickets $30-$40 at statesvillehauntedprison.com
You thought you knew it as Theater on the Lake. Did you know it used to be a sanitarium? This haunted house for ages 8+ is put on by the Chicago Park District and the same folks behind Trails of Terror.
7 to 10 p.m. Oct. 26-28, Lake Shore Drive and Fullerton Avenue. Tickets $10 at chicagoparkdistrict.com
Raven's Grin Inn
A little different from other haunted houses. For one, it purports to be an actual haunted house. Jim Warfield's creation is open year-round, and tours take about an hour, inside and outside a four-story former mansion that looks the part.
7 p.m. to midnight daily, plus 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 411 N. Carroll St., Mount Carroll. Tickets $13 at hauntedravensgrin.com
Realm of Terror
Come help celebrate the 10th birthday of the haunted house known for its gross-out factor. I wouldn't try the cake.
7 to 10 p.m. Thursday to Sunday, and open until midnight Friday and Saturday, plus open Oct. 29-31, 421 W. Rollins Road (behind Kristof's Entertainment Center), Round Lake Beach. Tickets are $16-$28 at realmofterrorhauntedhouse.comCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun