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Daily Herald
Haunted house critic follows his passion for all things Halloween

By Lee Filas

Posted Sunday, October 22, 2006

Adam 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 the creativity.”

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 you.”

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 the holiday.

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 since then.”

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.”


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