I had greatly been anticipating Hellsgate since information began coming out about it last year. Who doesn't remember the urban legend of the multi-story haunted house with the giant slide, hidden deep in the woods? The fact that Hellsgate was building their house from the ground up and incorporating these elements gave hint to the true potential of this haunt. Unfortunately, Hellsgate wasn't able to open last season, so I spent a year getting excited about what was to come.
The first thing to note about Hellsgate is that there is no parking on site, so make sure to park at the Metra stations nearby to wait for the bus. I'm not sure if Hellsgate anticipated the sheer amount of guests attending, but the 2 - 3 busses running all night didn't seem to be enough to shuttle everyone over in a timely fashion. My group was there relatively early in the evening and still had to wait half an hour for a bus; when we left (around 11), the line was wrapped through the parking lot. If you do Hellsgate, get there are early as possible to try and cut down on the lines. To put it in perspective, my group arrived at 8 and didn't get back to the parking lot until after 11, so the lines are arduous.
The first shuttle is actually kind of impressive; guests are taken down a bumpy path through a heavily wooded and desolate area, and it's a really cool sight to see the house off in the distance. Once arriving at the haunt, there's another line (one of many to come). It seemed like Hellsgate must have sold an abundance of VIP passes, as there was no one in the General Admission line while we waited. I think this waiting area would benefit from some in-line entertainment. Q101 was there for the night, which was great, but some line actors would be an added benefit.
After about a half hour wait, my group was able to enter the haunted woods and cemetery. The path through is densely wooded, which random lanterns to light the path. While there are a few actors scattered throughout, the addition of a few more would up the ante in terms of scares. Being in the woods in the dark is already creepy, so making this area more interactive would be a great benefit. The same goes for the cemetery - before entering, we were warned that there were zombies inside, but ended up seeing maybe two? I'd love to see Hellsgate add more actors throughout.
Once through the haunted woods and cemetery, we approached the house and waited in yet another line. This one did have some line actors, but I almost wonder if this line would benefit from working in the mythology of the haunt. The website boasts a pretty awesome explanation of the history of the site, so working that into the line might help. After working through the line, we were broken into a large group to wait in front of the house (another line!) until finally being able to enter. This was the point where my group was split up, and we didn't see the rest until the end.
The opening scene in Hellsgate is very impressive - the inside looks like a formal room, complete with a fireplace. A portrait of twin girls hangs over it (and is used for an introduction to the house). As lightning flickers inside, a man asks why we would even want to enter Hellsgate. Following a very neat opening scene (complete with aerial effects), we were ushered into another (more lines, more waiting) to stagger the groups. From there, we were finally able to enter the haunt, but quickly caught up to the group in front of us. More pacing is definitely needed throughout to space the groups out.
The house itself is stunning; there are many creepy, cool rooms throughout. The doll room (in which each doll is totally unique) was a particular highlight, as well as a room where tables and chairs were stacked at precarious angles. I would have liked to see more reliance on actors for scares, rather than animatronics. As we worked through the house, we traversed a kitchen, closets, hallways, and a poacher's den of animals. Costuming throughout was really impressive, and I would love to see more actors throughout to continue that theme.
Towards the end, we walked up a short staircase to the often-touted slide. After we went through a quick doorway, we approached the slide and waited for our turn. While the slide wasn't large as I had imagined, it was still a fun way to end the haunt. Following the slide, we were each handed a glowstick and given the instructions that we would have 45 seconds to find the key to get our money back. I actually found this 45-second block to be pretty chaotic, as people bumped into each other in the dark trying to find the key. Afterwards, we went through two black inflatable walls and found ourselves at the end.
Overall, Hellsgate has a very strong set, along with some interesting costuming. I'd love to see actors throughout the haunt to engage with the audience, as well as space them out a bit more throughout. Also, the line situation is really frustrating - it felt akin to waiting for a rollercoaster at Six Flags, even with a VIP pass. Hopefully as the season goes on, Hellsgate will be able to navigate the guests through the haunt a bit faster.
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