I want to set up a few things before I start the review, so it’s understood where I am coming from and why St. Matthews was reviewed in 2011.
When WEBMASTER decided to take on two extra “official” reviewers in 2011, the idea was to add more to the Haunted Illinois official reviewing section. In the past, WEBMASTER did all the official Haunted Illinois reviews himself, and it left very little time for him to get to other smaller haunts in the state that have been begging for years for a review.
St. Matthews has been one of those supporters of Haunted Illinois for years that he has always wanted to get out too, and because of the extra people, we made sure it was on the list for 2011.
In addition, I want to point out that a charity haunt will definitely not be under as large a microscope as a “professional” haunt. A charity haunt like St. Matthews is run entirely by volunteers for the purpose of helping out an outside charity – like a church, or Jaycees. Their money does not go to line the pocket of a single person or company, but rather to help out a group of people that usually does some good in this world. For that reason, they deserve to be applauded rather than blasted for their volunteer work.
Now, with that aside, I have to say, St. Matthews Haunted House was a shining example of what people can do with a little creativity and by simply thinking outside the box. It was truly just a fun haunt all around.
When I was let in, the directors of the haunt were ecstatic that the website could be there, and didn’t complain AT ALL that I showed up on their opening night. They were simply happy the effort was made to give them a FREE review and that I made the trip. (I mention this because of those haunts out there that like to control the days they are reviewed, then complain when we don’t conform to their wishes.)
We were also told that, because of their limited budget, they have spent the better part of 20 years thinking “outside of the box” to give people their “money’s worth.” To that extent, they kept a lot of people entertained by forcing people to find their way out of every room inside the haunt, and the exits to continue to the tour through St. Matthews were well hidden throughout. For example, in one of the first rooms – a tribute to camp Crystal Lake – they completely hid the door so well that I searched the room three times looking for the exit...only to discover one of the areas that I searched previously was the actual exit, causing me to laugh at my own stupidity.
There are no giant walls or signs that say go here or there in this haunt, it’s all hunt and peck your way while spooks are screaming at you to get out. The result is it becomes an entertaining game that you play with the haunts designers…they hide the exit and now you need to think like them to get out of the room.
Of course, this type of situation lends itself to run into other groups, but I found myself quickly separated from the other groups we ran into because of these exits. One minute, there are 10 people looking for an exit, then the next, you are alone and you know THEY found the exit, but you didn’t.
Now, let’s be honest, they are on a very limited budget, so the detail in the rooms are definitely a cavalcade of non-high priced, hand-made props. For example, you’ll get a better coffin for a coffin room for $500 from a distributor, but these guys can’t afford it, so they made the coffins themselves. They aren’t bad – not at all – but it doesn’t take a trained eye to see the difference.
That’s not to say, though, that there aren’t a few high priced props or other devices used industry wide. There is a claustrophobia inside the haunt, as well as a vortex, and then a lunging/barking dog made famous in numerous other haunts around the state. It was definitely a surprise for me to see a vortex inside…knowing those things can run more than $1,500 at some retailers.
The directors also did an awesome job creating a claustrophobic effect throughout the place with extremely small corridors that a normal sized man was hard pressed to get through. The tight and twisting corridors lend itself to helping you get lost throughout the house, thus prolonging your time inside the haunt. Add to it that they ingeniously used that “outside the box” thinking of theirs to produce some excellent results in many hallways. For example, there was a hallway of used rubber bicycle inner tubes hanging from the ceiling that made you feel like you were walking through rows of intestines, while a ramped area have numerous rubber fingers hanging from it that forced you to duck.
There were some problems with the tight corridors, however, that could lend itself to future problems at St. Matthews. In many areas, 14 or 15 year old actors were placed inside those tight corridors, and on more than one occasion, I had to bump into them to get through the haunt. The directors may want to explain to the actors that – at some point - they need to get out of the way to ensure people are allowed to pass without being forced to touch each other.
That brings me to the acting – now, the house is mostly staffed with high school or younger aged kids because they are a charity haunt and everyone is a volunteer. The result is a high energy haunt with people popping out and in your face at every turn. At one point in one of the numerous dark and twisting hallways, there was such a good pop out scare that, for only the second time all year, I actually jumped not expecting it. They do a great job of blasting your senses from all sides, and never allowing you to get your bearings.
However, there are times when their over-aggressiveness gets out of hand. In two rooms in particular – the toy room and a room with numerous coffins throughout - I was just hoping the kids would get out of the way and let me find my way out. I mean, If I’m in a room for three minutes searching for the door, screaming “get out “ at me in my face isn’t pushing me to leave the room any quicker. If anything it’s annoying.
Speaking of that, to help out the haunt directors, I would tell the actors there is a ban on the words “get out…” Granted, it was opening night at St. Matthews and a lot of the actors were brand new to this sort of thing, but by the time I hit the 25 minute mark, it was becoming exceptionally repetitive.
But, aside from those two minor issues, I have to say St. Matthews really was a “fun” haunt for what it was: a low budget charity haunt that is simply put together out of love for Halloween. I truly smiled throughout the entire thing, and it took me back to the haunts of yesteryear, when haunts were put together out of enjoyment and not as a money making ventures. The kids acting did a great job, and the directors really put a lot of heart into it, which is more than I can say for a lot of “professional” haunts that I visited this year. It was well worth the $12 price tag, and well worth the trip to Hawthorn Woods. I am glad Haunted Illinois could finally get out there for a review.
To find out more about this