I have a rule that, basically, states,
“Be careful what you ask for.”
Never has that been more evident with
two haunted houses that, honestly, came to me last June and said they wanted me
to give them an “honest review.” I obliged, and I can honestly say that I
was pleasantly surprised with one of them…
That one wasn’t Psychosis Haunted
House in Elgin.
First, thank God for GPS because I
didn’t see a single sign when arriving at the haunt. I parked near the exit of
the warehouse on South Street where the building is located, and after exiting
my car, I didn’t see a sign anywhere. I had to ask a hot dog vendor where the
front door was located and she said, “I think it’s that way, but I’m not
sure.” It’s a bad sign when someone who works at the haunt doesn’t know
where the front door of your building is.
Only after speaking with the vendor did
I notice a sign above their exit that said “Psychosis,” but the sign
wasn’t lit so we could see it.
I finally did see a single a-frame sign
that pointed me in the right direction, but it was truly only five steps from
the front door and I couldn’t help but think that sign would be better
situated in a location near the exit where it could be of better use.
At the entrance, I paid my money and I
was pleased to learn they were giving discounts to people who brought canned
animal food for an animal charity. I felt that it was a good idea, though I
didn’t bring any canned animal food myself, I recommend people take part in
this. Animals need food too.
We were led into a waiting area that was
exceptionally well detailed, though a bit out of place. To me, it seemed like I
was standing inside a strip mall for some reason, as shops of different kinds
lined the queue line. And, here was my first glimpse of a running issue that I
had throughout the haunt: the scenes of the haunt were exceptionally well
detailed and it was evident the owners and designers took extra care to get
every detail of every scene correct. However, those scenes were so manicured
that it often looked out of place for a haunted house and did nothing to illicit
any fear in me at all.
This little strip mall/waiting area was
the perfect example of that issue. The haunt is in an old warehouse in downtown
Elgin, yet in an effort to create fear in my heart, the owners chose to make me
wait for the “haunted house” in the middle of a very well lit, clean, and
spotless strip mall. I mean, it really doesn’t make sense. A dusty, dingy and
old warehouse definitely does more to illicit a feeling of dread and would
definitely do more of making me feel creeped out upon entering the haunted
house… but instead of using the natural aesthetics of the old building to give
me the creeps, they created a clean strip mall.
And, what really is bothersome about it
is that this feeling carried throughout the haunt. Every room I entered never
gave me a feeling that I was inside a haunted house. Rather, it felt as though I
stepped into a movie set.
For example, I walked through one scene
that reminded me of a giant marble crypt of some kind. I really and truly stoop
is awe at the design work that went into it… because the Styrofoam was done
exceptionally well and it really looked like marble. HOWEVER, I also couldn’t
escape the thought that the crypt would honestly be better suited in a Lord of
the Rings movie and not in the middle of the haunted house. Don’t get me
wrong, the scene TRULY looked outstanding – very well detailed and someone was
amazing with a foam cutter. But, it was so clean and perfect that it gave me a
feeling more of awe than of dread.
I seriously felt like the designer
worked tirelessly on building the prettiest haunted house in Illinois… but the
issue in that flawed concept is that a haunted house isn’t SUPPOSED to be
pretty. It’s supposed to make people feel like shit.
For example, there was a gross
restaurant that really stood out, as did the kitchen next to it, as did a dining
room and what have you. All of them looked exceptionally pretty, but while those
scenes were detailed to an amazingly high degree, the scenes didn’t creep me
out in any way at all. Even a freezer where bodies were hanging from a ceiling
did NOTHING to make me feel strange. It was a bunch of dummies in clear body
bags hanging from the ceiling. It was so PRETTY that I was like “Eh, its
At no time did I ever get a feeling of
“Yuck.” And, because of it, I never once felt like I was something more than
a detailed – but clean – haunted house.
And, it all started with that queue
line. This extremely detailed area felt extremely out of place inside of a
haunted house. There was a fountain, a movie theater, a florist and what I could
only describe as a courthouse or municipality building inside the waiting area.
But I didn’t see a single cobweb or anything to make me think I was in any
place other than a well-manicured strip mall. And, I’m sorry, but while it was
exceptionally detailed, a strip mall does nothing to make me feel like I’m in
line for a haunted house – it does nothing to add to my feeling of dread of
what I am walking in to.
I mean, the decorators went as far as to
add newspaper bins inside that strip mall waiting area, but it didn’t add a
single thing to help me with the feeling that I was entering a haunted house. I
honestly felt like I was waiting to get into a movie or something.
Another issue I had with the waiting
area was something that boggles my mind more from a business stand point: the
owners of Psychosis went to great expense to purchase a “coffin ride” for
patrons. Now, for those not in the know, a coffin ride is a motion simulator
where a person climbs into a coffin and taken on their “last ride” into the
ground. Most haunted houses that have it charge patrons a fee to go for the
ride, and from what I understand, Psychosis charges patrons $5 to go on. However
– and here’s where the businessman in me goes insane – they hide the
potential money-maker behind one of these store fronts and not in the open where
it can be seen. In fact, the only way I knew they had a coffin ride was because
I heard it when I first walked in. Then, after whoever was in the ride came out,
the operator came out and asked me if I wanted to pay $5 to go in it. I
declined, but a group behind me said they were interested… so the operator
pulled them into the storefront, behind a curtain, and let them ride.
But, it really makes no sense to me that
they would HIDE one of their most expensive props behind a curtain, inside a
store, where people can’t see it. They should have it right out in the open
where their potential clients can see it and partake in it – or, at the very
least, have a video feed from inside the coffin like other haunts do. But, a
coffin ride is something people would WANT to see – yet they hide it like they
don’t want anyone to know about it.
Now, honestly, while these issues seem
major, I could truly look past them and still give Psychosis a decent review…
except there’s more. I absolutely can’t give Psychosis a grade above a D
because – and this is as honest as I can get - the acting at the haunted house
was absolutely abysmal.
Yes, abysmal. In fact, I’m thinking
the term abysmal is too nice.
Now, I will completely admit I am a
jaded human being when it comes to haunted house acting because I have seen
hundreds and hundreds of haunted house actors – both bad and good. But if I
were to be awarded a dollar by the owners every time that an actor broke
character while I was going through Psychosis, the owners would have completely
refunded my money.
It started with the line entertainment
who, after asking me to kiss her two-headed baby in line, simply walked up to
people, stood there, and giggled. Then, after doing this in the line twice, she
came by us, leaned up against one of the storefronts and told me she was tired.
Then, after we left her and, after what
seemed like an exceptionally long time to get into the haunt, we finally entered
and walked into a funeral scene. The actor inside told us to sit in our pews
and, then, the actor attempted to talk about the rules of the haunt. However, in
what may be the most clichéd thing ever, the actor acted like a southern
Baptist minister and wanted us to “testify” and preach out. There was no
imagination, no outside the box thinking… simply a priest/minister over
preaching to us about how we shouldn’t swear or touch the actors or else it
will be us in the coffin next. The
entire routine came off as cheesy, long, stupid and unnecessary. I mean, in
order to avoid this whole, pointless thing, the person at the front door could
have simply said “don’t touch the actors, no swearing, no cell phones or
lighters…” and it would have been over in 15 seconds. But, instead, I sat in
a pew with some guy telling me to scream halleluiah, warning me not to be like
“Bob” or whatever he named the unseen body in the coffin, and rambled on and
on and on with unnecessary dialogue.
And, unnecessary dialogue TRULY was
another issue throughout the haunt. So many times I found myself listening to
someone who truly just caused whatever scene they were in come to a grinding
halt. In fact, I started to get irritated at the constant stopping to listen to
another actor drone on that I would just pass everyone in front of me and walk
out of the room.
The best example was in the very next
room, where I was HONESTLY forced to endure a woman ask me four times what my
name was in order for her to get through her script. Yes – this really and
truly happened: this dead waitress or whatever had a preplanned script in which
she was supposed to ask my name, I give it to her, prompting her to then inform
the group about how I’m supposed to pay for the dinner check that evening.
The only problem was I gave her a fake
name, and it seemed to throw her into a bad dialogue vortex that she couldn’t
So, she asks my name, I gave her a fake
one, then she asked me if I was lying. So, I honestly told her “Yes, I am
Now, if she knew what she was doing, she
would have chastised me for lying, then simply and seemlessly moved on into her
script… but instead, she said “Oh, then what’s your real name?” So, of
course, I gave her another fake one, prompting her to ask me AGAIN if I was
THIS HAPPENED FOUR TIMES!! She asked me
again what my name was, I gave her another fake name, and so she asked me for my
real one AGAIN. Now, at some point, you would assume she would realize that
I’m not going to give her a real name and moved on, but she NEVER did. She
continued to ask for my real name, I continued to answer with a fake one, then
admitted that I was lying…
Now, the kicker in all of this is that
MY NAME IS IRRELEVANT TO WHATEVER HER SCRIPT WAS!!! Her goal is to tell people
that I’m paying for the meal… so there is no difference if my name is Bob or
Bill or Steve… the end line remains the same, that I’m paying for the check.
Now, that may seem insane or crazy or
annoying – and, trust me, it was – but it was NOTHING compared to the guy
who lost control in the coffin room after the ghoul relentlessly tried to split
up a blond girl and her husband/boyfriend.
The idea of the room is pretty smart –
you stand in front of one of seven coffins that lean up against the wall. Then,
he tells everyone to go through the coffin, forcing everyone to be alone for
about five seconds before all the lines meet together, putting the group back
We walked into the room and the girl was
put in front of one coffin, while the male was told to stand in front of
another. The girl – who wasn’t scared in the least – told the ghoul “No,
I’ll stay with him” and walked over by her beau. But, instead, he told the
guy to stand in front of a different coffin. Now, the husband/boyfriend was
polite and did what the ghoul wanted him to do, but the girl, again said
“No…” and pulled her boyfriend back to her. At this point, we are all
standing in front of our coffin waiting to go through… but again, the ghoul
just wouldn’t let it go. He told the guy – very politely - to stand in front
of a different coffin, away from her. But, again, the girl said “no…” then
called her boyfriend back to her.
Now, understand, he wasn’t trying to
get a scare from the girl or anything… he was talking in a normal voice and
being exceptionally polite. I mean, if he wanted to make it entertaining a
little, he could have yelled or tried and intimidated them… but he didn’t
and, instead, talked to them pleasantly, almost like he was asking her for a
Also, at this point, one would ASSUME it
wasn’t working and just let it go and send everyone through, knowing we were
all waiting bored to walk through our coffin… but the ghoul again just
WOULDN’T STOP THE MADNESS. He again tried to split them up… asking the guy
to stand at a coffin with another guy. At that point, the girl had had enough.
She grabbed her boyfriend by the hand, walked through the coffin in front of
her, and dragged the boyfriend through. This caused the ghoul to swear under his
breath, and then told the rest of us to walk through our individual coffins.
The end effect was laughter among the
people going through… he looked
weak, he broke character, and just caved in. He should have tried to intimidate
the girl… or something to get her to comply. But, he didn’t. He just said,
“You move here…” the guy did, the girl said “no come here…” he did,
so the ghoul said, “this doesn’t look right, you move here.”
Now, that would normally be enough to
give this thing an F, but this wasn’t even the worst acting crime of the
night. What happened next made me realize that management just doesn’t care
about their haunted house.
A female spook in the attic broke
character right in front of me… not just broke character, but turned from a
creepy ghoul into a screaming teenager. We walked in, she gave me a strange look
like she wanted to rip my face off, then without warning, her eyes darted behind
me, she screamed a high pitched squeal, and gave a guy behind me a big, giant
hug. When she pulled away from him, I looked at her and said “Um, you just
broke the biggest acting rule in haunted houses…” and she said “So
I shook my head and walked out,
muttering how it couldn’t get any worse. Unfortunately, I should have
remembered my own rule “Be careful what you ask for” because… it did get
Last year, I made a point in a review
about how I hate half-walled mazes. A half-walled maze is a waist high maze that
prevents people from walking through, but still allows people to see the exit.
See, the problem with half-walled mazes are, because the walls are only 3-feet
tall or so, they become trip hazards. So, haunted house designers have to put a
light in the maze to keep people from tripping and slamming their face on the
half wall. But, when you put a light on inside the maze, the patron can actually
see the path they need to take to get out. See, let’s say you come to a fork
in a maze and have to figure out which way to go:
Because the patron in a half-walled maze can see the top of the wall, it
allows him to actually SEE the way he’s supposed to go. However, in a
full-size maze, the patron has to guess which way to go, lending itself to
Because of this, half-walled mazes are
stupid, pointless, and should be banned in all haunted houses. Ironically,
Psychosis has TWO half-walled mazes – one with a strobe light, the second with
a laser light.
Anyway – back to my story: in this
particular half-walled maze, an organ is sitting in the middle of the room that
is hiding a strobe light and the light, of course, allows us to see their way
Now, the eight people in my group are
walking like cattle through this thing… not scared at all and quite bored.
There is a spook in the room who is dressed like the phantom of the opera –
and he is leaning up against one of the walls of the maze. He’s not being
scary, loud, or doing anything of note except that he’s leaning against a
wall. Our group approaches him and
he slowly lifts a hand out to the girl, gives her the “wait here” sign, then
tells her something. A bit shocked, I walk up and say to the girl, “why did we
stop?” and the girl tells me the phantom of the opera guy told her to stop.
My mouth dropped open, I actually said
“What?” and she pointed at him and said “He told me to wait here.” So
taken aback was I that I walked up to Mr. Phantom of the Opera and said, “Did
you tell her to stop?” And, in a
normal, non-scaring, anti-phantom of the opera voice, he said, “Yes…” He
must have noticed my confusion because then he offered up the a reason for the
delay: “You guys are about to catch up to the group in front of you, and the
maze sucks if you catch up.”
My mouth was completely hanging open and
I stared at him in complete shock. I had to ask the follow up: “So, you tell
groups to stop so they don’t catch up to the group in front of them?” He
obviously didn’t see my shock because he nodded his head and said,
This is a failure of epic proportions…
a failure of management that is so irritating that its absolutely mind-boggling:
The maze is garbage because it’s a half walled maze.
However, you are in a maze, therefore it is okay to catch the
group in front of you.
More importantly, dropping character ruins not just the maze, but
the entire haunted house.
But, more than anything else, telling me out of character that
anything is ruined because of anything ruins the haunted house.
He could have simply scared us and
attempted to get us down a different path. H could have talked to us in a
scaryvoice and blocked the path. He could have done ANYTHING to get us to not
catch up to the next group… but he didn’t. He simply told us to stop because
us catching up to the next group would ruin the maze.
I said this was a failure of epic
proportions from management on down. The reason is because while it’s a
failure of the spook for not understanding his role inside the maze or the
haunted house, it’s a failure by management for not training him – or any
other spook inside the haunt – on what their jobs are.
An actor is the LIFEBLOOD of any haunted
house… they are what makes the haunt scary. No matter how large the ego of a
design team may have – bottom line, if the actor doesn’t at least attempt to
create an illusion of being SOMETHING in the haunted house, people will not EVER
feel like they are in a haunted house.
An actor that drops character to hug a
friend CAN DESTROY AN ENTIRE HAUNTED HOUSE… it will kill any illusion the
design team attempted to create. And the fact that these actors did it so
READILY is a flaw of management not TELLING these people their jobs.
What’s annoying about this whole thing
is that I was truly hopeful for Psychosis when I agreed to review the haunt. I
spoke with them at length, was excited about what they were doing. I was hopeful
they had things well in hand, and looked forward to making the trek out to Elgin
to walk through.
But, as I worked my way through this
haunt, my hope deflated like air escaping out of an exceptionally old balloon.
Then - BOOM – it completely popped when I met the short, fat guy, dressed like
an opera singer, leaning up against a wall in the worst maze ever telling me
“yea, the maze is ruined if you catch up to the group in front of you.”
So, to the owners of Psychosis, I did
what I promised you: I gave you that honest review you said you really, REALLY
wanted. Bottom line, you guys built some tremendous scenes, even if the choices
you made within those sets were somewhat confusing. But, the acting is so
substandard that honestly, it destroys anything that you made. And, worst,
it’s a failure of management for not telling the actors the most basic rules
of working in a haunted house: don’t ever – for any reason - EVER – break
Be careful what you ask for.
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