Over the years, I’ve learned that people either love or hate Dream Reapers haunted house. But, I guess that’s what happens when you are on top of the mountain in the haunt industry. People are quick to "hate" them in an effort to try and push them off the top, all the while wishing deep inside they had the talent to execute as well as they do.
The event started with the video that told you the rules of the house, telling you not to touch the actors and other standard rules of the haunt. Then, you were led to the hellevator ride. where an actor used more theatrics than in past haunts. The actor did a good job of using the 30 seconds he had alone with you to set the mood, and made decent attempts to creep everyone out. He also had a strange device that he blew into repeatedly, but the significance of it (other than it was a steam-punked looking prop) was lost on me.
From there, you worked your way through the rest of the haunt, which featured an industrial pipe/mirror area where actors performed many pop out scares, a butcher area where pigs and people were being slaughtered, sparking cages, a revamped industrial/clown area, and a forest with a working waterfall. And, of course, a claustrophobia and vortex wheel were located inside to disorient you.
One of the newest areas that patrons were forced to walk through was a meat cooking oven near the beginning. As slabs of beef were brought into and through the oven, an actor was stuck to a hook begging to be released before he was cooked to death. The only complaint I had about it was that it was pretty quick and lasted only a minute, but the shortness should not take away from the coolness of it: it was extremely detailed and definitely worth seeing. Other than that, there were smaller upgrades to older scenes, which added new elements and new surprises around every corner. For example, in the medical area, a prop was put in of a surgeon that was missing the bottom half of her body, but the surgeon was using long mechanical arms to "operate" on a corpse on a table about five feet from her. As you drew near, she raised he mechanical arms to try and "get you" onto the table, and the realness of it all really stood out. It was definitely creepy.
I'm guessing that somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of Dream Reapers was changed or upgraded in 2011, but unless you specifically looked for those changes, they weren't apparent to the naked eye and you may never notice it. In that regard, very few themed areas were added or taken out, but it seemed like the areas that worked out in the past were expanded and improved upon while the areas that didn't do as well or were old were reduced in size or taken out all together.
Dream Reapers has long excelled at giving you that feeling of claustrophobia when you step inside, and they excel at it once again in 2011. I am always TRULY amazed at how Dream Reapers leaves very little dead space inside their haunt, and every wall, prop, or other is used to its maximum efficiency. Hallways are not just designed to make you feel like the walls are closing in, but also the look and texture of the walls themselves make it irritating to the touch. It's not just a painted wall here or a neat effect there...EVERY wall inside has a texture to it that makes you recoil your hand.
One big improvement this year was the acting itself. In the past, I felt Dream Reapers leaned a lot more toward pop out scares which limited the range of what a haunted house actor could do. But, this year, there seemed to be an emphasis placed on entertainment - not just popping out for a second, then recoiling back into their hiding places, but rather allowing the actors to get in your face to prolong the scare. For example, the actors in the forest area – who were dressed like natives on some remote island somewhere – really went over the top to freak you out. In your face, popping around, and acting all creepy. Now, that's not to say there aren't some pop out scares throughout, there were just less pop outs than in the past but designed to hit for maximum efficiency.
Though, with that being said, I did count three or four actors who simply "growled" in my ear to no effect, and one actor did the standard “get out,” which never does anything to illicit fear in anyone.
In addition, I don't know what happened on the Saturday when I attended, but the house was EXCEPTIONALLY overstaffed, thus the actors themselves went a long way to make the patrons feel more claustrophobic than ever before. I seriously had an estimated count of between 50 and 60 actors working the night I went through, despite their website saying the house is only staffed by 40. Because there were so many actors, it meant that no matter where I turned or where I stood, I would bump into something or someone, thus adding to my feeling of dread. Coupled with the fact that every wall and actor was disgusting to look at or touch, the result was sensory overload.
Of course, adding to sensory overload was the use of smells in every room of the haunt, while Dream Reapers went the extra mile to continue forcing me to duck or move to the side - closer to those disgusting walls - to avoid stuff hanging from the ceiling. I’m a big fan of people using items other than fishing line from the ceiling to irritate your senses, and in at least three areas of Dream Reapers, I walked through something other than fishing line. The most disgusting was dirty gauze hanging unavoidably from the ceiling everywhere inside the medical ward, and it really made it impossible for me to not be disgusted as I walked through the room.
And, finally, we come to the end of the review - and the last potential issue that popped up that needs to be addressed.
On the night I attended, I bumped into THE WEBMASTER outside and a discussion started regarding the price of Dream Reapers in 2011. For those of you not in the know, Dream Reapers increased their price from $16 in 2010 to $20 in 2011, a price increase of 20 percent, as a $4 increase to the highest price point of $20 is a 20 percent increase (and not 25 percent as said elsewhere.)
An argument could be made that the cost of parking at Dream Reapers is free this year, reduced from a cost of $3 in the past, in some vain attempt to justify such a price increase. But of course, any armchair lawyer could argue in the court of public opinion that a car of four people paid only an extra $3 for parking in 2010, but are now charged an extra $16 to enter the haunt.
Then, since I'm playing lawyer, and in an effort to further complicate and/or confuse you, Webmaster and I both agree that $20 is the proverbial "Mendoza line" for haunted houses. Bottom line, a $20 haunt should be placed under more scrutiny than a haunt that charges under $20 because more and more new or "retooled" haunts are opening up that start above and beyond the $20 threshold. A perfect example off the top of my head, I can name three haunts that opened in 2011 that charge people more than $20, yet they have done nothing to prove they deserve such a cost. The worst of which is a haunt (official Haunted Illinois review by WEBMASTER) at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton that charges $30 because it bills itself as two haunted houses, yet BOTH HAUNTS can be easily traversed in 11 minutes and one could argue they would never, ever, be scared.
I will now switch hats and become judge and jury to settle this dispute:
My final verdict is that Dream Reapers is absolutely and completely justified in charging people $20 at the door. The reasons are pretty simple: you have an extremely well known haunted house with an incredible reputation - a haunted house that has been named one of the three best haunts on the Haunted Illinois list for seven of the last eight years. In addition, Dream Reapers has five first place finishes since 2003 - thats five firsts in eight years. During that run, they have maintained a price of less than $20, while other haunts that never made it as one of the top 10 haunts in Illinois pushed their prices up to or over the $20 line.
With that evidence in hand, it shows that Dream Reapers has UNDERCHARGED patrons for years, and are only now getting their prices up to the overall average throughout the area. Now, yes, that price average in inflated because of the unscrupulous haunts that charge more than a $20 ticket price, but an average is an average nonetheless. And, honestly, Dream Reapers isn't like a new haunt walking out and charging $25 or even $30 for their haunt, this is an established veteran - a haunted house with an incredible reputation, that has been on the Travel Channel no less - creeping up to that $20 Mendoza line and stopping.
Now, I can see the side of the argument where someone might say "it's bad for the industry when one of its leaders raises its price to $20," but should the owners of Dream Reapers be punished because other unscrupulous owners with a lesser reputation decide to gouge their customers for a disgusting cost while not delivering on a product? I don't think so. The owners of Dream Reapers - or any haunt - has a right to make money, but only if we get a scare in return. And, therin lies the final argument. I DID get that scare at Dream Reapers.
So, in my opinion, Dream Reapers would have been justified in crossing the $20 line about five years ago, long before other haunts started inching their way up there. They annually and routinely put on one of the best shows in Illinois and have proven FOR YEARS they know how to make you FEEL FEAR.
So, my hats off to the crew at Dream Reapers for yet another exceptional haunted house in 2011. Once again, you deserve a spot on top of the mountain.
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