Haunted house critic follows his
passion for all things Halloween
By Lee Filas
Posted Sunday, October 22, 2006
Drendel, the owner and only staff member of
www.hauntedillinois.com, admits the scares just aren’t as scary anymore.
Sure, he still gets startled from time to time when
wandering through a dark haunted house, full of ghouls, ghosts, specters
and weird guys with chain saws.
But, the premier critic for what is and isn’t scary in
the world of haunted houses said there is definitely more to a haunted
house than the scares themselves.
“I believe people just shouldn’t go to a haunted house
to be scared, but to be entertained,” he said. “It’s the overall
entertainment that keeps me going back. The acting, the scene detail and
He said haunted houses, for him, are more artistic
nowadays, which is good for the industry itself.
“Its the overall atmosphere that I love,” he said. “A
good haunted house is one that can entertain you, as well as scare
Drendel, a 35-year-old from Genoa, Ill., who works as
an engineer at Motorola in Libertyville, said he learned to love all
things Halloween when his family made a big deal out of the holiday when
he was a child.
He said that enthusiasm led him to work at a haunted
house in his high school years. However, that ended because of college and
other aspects of life. But, he never truly drifted away from the joy of
In 1999, he learned the internet did not have updated
information on the haunted houses near him. So, he took it upon himself to
catalog where and when haunted houses were open during Halloween.
“Sometimes, it feels like I created a monster — no pun
intended,” he said. “The Web site just grew and grew and grew every year
Last year, Haunted Illinois had 600,000 different
visitors, Drendel said. That would make it the No. 1 haunted house Web
site in the state.
He added more than 150 haunted attractions from around
the state are listed on his database. Those include charity haunted
houses, the larger privately-owned haunts, yard displays and people who
make haunted houses out of their own garage or storage spots.
Drendel also is the main critic for the site, as he
spends the month of October traveling around the state to about 25 haunted
houses per year. He then writes a review of most of the ones he walks
through for the Web site.
He also ranks his personal top 10 in the state, but
admits the list is incomplete because he is only able to rank the haunted
houses that he goes to.
“Some of that is limited to geography because
distances play a big factor in what I can and cannot review,” he said. “I
try to go to the ones that look interesting. But, honestly, the smaller
ones seem to be more creative than the larger haunts, but that’s because
they have to be. The smaller haunts have smaller budgets, but need to keep
up with the larger ones.”
He said visitors of each haunted house are also
encouraged to write a review of a haunted house they visit at the site.
In addition to the reviews, the Web site is also a
how-to guide on how to create props for haunted houses, has a message
board for people in and out of the industry to share ideas, rumors of
10-story haunted houses being put to rest, conventions for haunted house
creators and trick-or-treat hours for any town that wants to post them.
However, it’s the big haunts around Lake County and
other areas that keeps Drendel moving during the month of October.
“I’m kind of amazed the Web site has grown like it has
too,” he said. “But, people like it, so I’ll keep doing it.”