by Matthew T. Messina
The last time I went to a haunted house I sobbed harder than my five-year-old sister. I hate haunted houses. What did I do on Halloween? I went to Statesville Haunted Prison (thanks a lot supportive Grappler staff members!) located in Crest Hill, IL, created by Zombie Army Productions, and directed by John La Flamboy. My editor, Francesco, kindly accompanied me. I warned him that I would scream. I would cry. I might pee? Time would tell.
As we waited to enter the haunted prison devilish clowns and mutilated creatures donning leather and spikes wove through the line. A female clown from hell was particularly infatuated with me (but I mean, hey, what can I say?). The frigid air was periodically cut by the piercing sound of a machinegun fired from a guard tower. A demonic fire dancer held my gaze, only to be broken by a scare from my creepy clown girlfriend. After an hour, we reached the front of the line and were corralled into a cage underneath the guard tower. We were ordered to line up, shoulder to shoulder, and hold our tickets above our heads. Whether I liked it or not, I was now a prisoner of Statesville.
We were herded out of the cage into another building. My fear and anticipation dissipated. Finally, the door opened and we filed into a large chamber. Above us a demon that looked like the love child of Freddy Krueger and Darth Maul spoke to us. He identified himself as the Warden of Statesville and spoke of the horrors that were behind the doors. The room filled with smoke and the warden flew over our heads. It was only then did I realize he was an animatronic; the best I have seen outside of Disney World.
I believed I was in for a horrifying journey…but I was headed towards another waiting area. We were divided into smaller lines and waited. At the front, a man kept loudly announcing that we were not allowed to touch the actors or the props. These instructions quickly removed any prior fears I may have had.I was irritated by how calm I was, but I was still hopeful for something to redeem this experience. Statesville Haunted Prison’s marketing led me to believe there was a storyline. In fact, there is a section of the website dedicated to biographies of prisoners that visitors would meet in the haunted house. The only one I remember meeting was the Warden.
I was so in awe of the sets (such as the blood room, where gore oozed from every crevasse of the rusty-metal pump room from hell) that I forgot to be scared. One of the rooms was a cellblock smeared with feces. It was here that I was supposed to meet a character named Mad Dog, but I didn’t. Instead I was sprayed in the face by a broken sewage pipe. The electrical room was full of dripping water, crackling wires, and prisoners pushing live wires in my face. At one point I was waiting in line (whoda thunk?) in an ambiguous room and a woman, who seemed like a mental patient, approached me and untied my shoe. This was the only time I felt involved in an immersive experience.
Undeniably, the best part of the haunted prison was the red and white-checkered clown room. Death metal blared and strobe lights immediately disoriented my perception. As we walked the perimeter of the room, death metal clowns moshed in the center of a raised platform. I couldn’t tell what was moving and what was not. I had to consciously watch my steps so that I knew I was making my way through the room and not just standing still.
At the end we were met with a classic haunted house farewell. There was a man with a chainsaw, except he didn’t chase us or rev the chainsaw in our faces. He just stood to the side. Then, we were ushered into another line!
I fucking love lines.
This line was for the second portion: The City of the Dead. Another line, another waiting area and another animatronic demon explaining that this was the burial ground for the prisoners of Statesville, and then he flew over our heads. It was the same gag as last time. I thought to myself, “there better not be another…yep…another waiting area.” Awesome. By this point, I just wanted to go home. I knew there were taquitos waiting for me in my freezer, and those wouldn’t let me down. The City of the Dead seemed like a place that was intended to show off how many animatronics one single haunted house could acquire. But, there was a man holding a live snake. That was horrifying. I hate snakes…
People attend haunted houses for a good scare because an adrenaline rush is good for the soul. Even though I despise haunted houses, I wanted to be scared out of mind; it was Halloween after all.