This adults-only haunted house opens for the 2018 season on Sept. 28.
There are plenty of haunted houses in the Milwaukee metro area that are more spooky than scary. Fun for the whole family.
The Realm of Terror – located in Round Lake Beach, Illinois, about 8 miles west of Gurnee Mills – isn’t that kind of haunted house. It’s a blood- and gore-soaked spectacle suitable only for adults. Or maybe teenagers (you have to be at least 16 to enter) with a higher tolerance for gross-out sight gags and Rob Zombie-esque aesthetics than I had at their age.
It’s also, in the right mindset, a lot of fun.
According to its website, the Realm of Terror was named the #1 haunted house in its state by HauntedIllinois.com and HauntedHouseChicago.com. And owner Stephen Kristof attributes its success to its scares. “While we have incredible sets and costumes, we have always felt that if it isn’t scary, then we aren’t doing our jobs,” he says.
The haunted house can be a bit hard to find – it’s in a pretty rural part of northern Illinois. But once you’ve located the property and let the costumed attendants lead (lure?) you into the outdoor lounge attached to the haunted house, you’ll know you’re in the right place.
Banks of bluish fog drift slowly through the parking lot while an unnaturally orange flame flickers overhead. Metal music is piped through a loudspeaker. And nightmarishly dressed employees weave their way in and out of the people waiting in line.
Those lines can get long, but you can drink at the on-site bar while you wait. And I’d definitely recommend a stiff drink, or two, before stepping inside the haunted house itself.
It’s dimly lit and intentionally hard to navigate. The walls, and sometimes the ceiling, press in on you, and even the floor isn’t always stable. Plus, a syncopated strobe light often pulses from somewhere high overhead, further disorienting you.
All that would be creepy enough on its own, but of course you aren’t alone in the house. There are dozens of costume-clad people inside too, doing their best to scare you. And their best can be pretty good.
One particularly acrobatic, blood-soaked employee raced toward me from the opposite end of a long hallway – leaping onto an elevated, recessed groove in one of the walls just before hitting me – and continued to run past me, right over my head. Another followed me for what felt like several minutes, repeatedly shrinking into the shadows long enough to convince me he’d finally left, then reappearing again, much closer than I’d expected. And many more catapulted out of trap doors hidden in the walls, or rolled out from under the macabre set pieces and bits of Grand Guignol-style décor scattered around the rooms. Most of them sported gaping wounds, bloody pustules, jagged scars, or aggressively creepy prosthetics that helped ensure that the haunted house lived up to its name.
It took me about half an hour to navigate the house’s labyrinthine structure, but you could spend a lot longer inside – if you didn’t shriek as often as I did and speed past most of the people. And the house is located right next to a sprawling complex with an arcade, bowling alley and bar inside, providing you with plenty of other evening entertainment options.
Realm of Terror opens for the 2018 season on Sept. 28. Tickets start at a relatively steep $25, but if you visit on November 3, for a one-night-only “blood bath,” and opt to wear all white, you’ll receive $10 off. You’ll need to sign a waiver before stepping inside the haunted house that day, though.