Date of Event: 6/10/22 Reviewer: Lindsay
Visiting and reviewing haunted houses as a hobby can have me going on some crazy adventures - like hopping on a bus full of Halloween-loving hooligans in the middle of June! The Pre-Convention Bus Tour is the exciting kick off to the Midwest Haunters Convention, one of many big events put on annually for the haunt industry, and among those that are also open to the public. Usually held a day or two prior to convention weekend, the bus tour takes attendees to a number of haunts in the vicinity of wherever the event is being held. Since this year's MHC was hosted at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, IL, it only made sense that we'd be touring attractions within the Chicagoland area. This year's roster included Massacre Haunted House, Basement of the Dead, Evil Intentions, and Disturbia Haunted House.
Attendees interested in joining the tour must first be registered for the convention itself, after which they will be able to sign up. Pricing varies, but the earlier you join, the cheaper it will be for you - I jumped in the week tickets went on sale, so my price was $350. (Self-driving to each of the haunts was another way guests could save money this year.) In addition to multiple haunted attractions, meals and snacks are typically included as well, adding to the package's value. 2022's tour would send three buses to the haunts, each watched over by people heavily involved in the industry - Bus #1 is where I ended up, and I was happy with it.
Around 10:30 AM on a beautiful Friday morning, we were all loaded up and officially en route to our first stop on the tour, Massacre Haunted House (Montgomery). I had a feeling we were in for an interesting time when the famous Pedo the Clown appeared to greet us... followed by a deranged-looking character in a lab coat, who poked his head out, sized all of us up, then cackled and disappeared. Uh oh.
Every haunt on the tour was completely new to me, and while all were enjoyable, Massacre was a great pick to get things started. Their queue was beautifully lit up, with a pulse-pounding soundtrack and loads of cool stuff for guests to admire. This attention to detail would continue throughout the entire house, which didn't seem to follow a set theme, consisting instead of many different areas. They had some seriously cool set design going on in there and the place was chock full of special effects. The scene that stood out to me the most had to be their Satanic church; I've seen a lot of them, but Massacre's was the best thus far, with a Baphomet figure that nearly reached the ceiling! For an off season opening, they had quite a few actors, too, and everyone we came across was excellent. The mechanic who was drunk on "gasoline" in the shop was delightfully witty, and we also liked the character with the cloudy eye who psyched us up early in the house, then returned later and warned us not to ride the elevator... like we had any choice! I personally had a couple of vampires gang up on me pretty hard in the graveyard area, and I loved the actor working the aforementioned elevator, whose timing was perfect. Oh, and when you think the show is over... it's not. The final scene was unique and "Granny" was fun. (My one gripe: there were too many air cannons. The scare works, but it does get old after a while.)
Those of us lucky enough to escape from Massacre were given time for a tour-provided lunch before we were swiftly sent off to stop #2, Basement of the Dead Haunted House (Aurora). This was a haunt I'd long looked forward to seeing, and if first impressions are important, they sure made a memorable one: actors were ready and waiting as soon as they saw us coming!
Out of all the haunts I've been to, Basement of the Dead had the most fun outdoor atmosphere I'd ever experienced. It was definitely one of those haunts that was every bit a party as it was a haunted house. Plenty of roaming characters, a DJ hyping everyone up, merch being tossed to the excited crowd. Actors sang, danced, and played with attendees - along with scaring us, of course. You could say it's enough to catch this haunt's victims off guard... before it plunges them into its hellish depths.
We walked through two attractions: the Basement itself, and Shattered, their 3D haunt. True to its theme and storyline (look it up!), the Basement had an amazingly creepy atmosphere. It was super dark, dank, and musty smelling, and only enhanced the feeling that we were being hunted down there (again - check out their story and you'll get it). I do think our visit suffered from us coming into the house from broad daylight, which only made things even darker. (To give you an idea: if the teen in front of me's hoodie wasn't glowing, I would have lost my group!) And it's unfortunate, because I knew they had some rocking set work, costuming, and makeup going on. The haunt did have several actors, all of whom effectively used the environment to conceal themselves as they stalked along and popped out after us. Moving on to Shattered, this was a really neat 3D clown house, and I loved the look of all their clowns. There were a lot of witty actors in there, too. (Speaking of actors, I ran into a couple I knew from visiting haunts in my own neck of the woods. To my dear clown, it was great to see you again... and for my lovely lady, I will always love Lydia!)
If I ever find myself back in the area, I would love to give Basement of the Dead another shot during haunt season and see if it'd be different at night. I could tell they had an awesome haunt - it was just a bit hard to fully appreciate it.
Tearing ourselves away from the party at Basement was hard, but we still had dinner to think about, and two more haunts were waiting for us. After enjoying a Mexican feast at Carmina's, we were on the road again, eventually pulling up to another haunt I had a great deal of anticipation for: Evil Intentions Haunted House (Elgin). I need to preface this by saying that Evil Intentions was on Transworld Live weeks before the event, and we were all well informed of how scary their house was and how many visitors had trouble making it through. To which my response was, "Yeah, okay. Challenge accepted." Little did I know they were about to back every single word of it up.
Evil Intentions lurks within the walls of the former Elgin Casket Company - which only adds to the creep factor of this place. Just like Basement, actors launched an attack the moment we appeared, charging into our midst with chainsaws roaring. (FYI, this would become a trend for the rest of the tour. Read on and see.) Making our way into the bowels of the facility, we waited in a queue bathed in eerie red light and backed by intense music, occasionally interrupted by distorted announcements. All the while, characters crawled, climbed, and stalked about constantly - you'd be wise to watch the floor, and don't forget to look up!
And then we were finally admitted into the house... oh my word. This was one of the creepiest and most unsettling haunts I've ever walked through. You could definitely tell it was once home to a casket company, but their beautifully designed rooms weaved a story of mental unrest, insidious cult rituals, revival beyond death, and entities most certainly not of our world. It almost felt like a slow burn, one that grew steadily darker and more unhinged the further we progressed. (With the odd comedic break - we got a good laugh out of the doctor with the underwear.) When I'm walking through the house thinking 'I kind of don't want to be in here anymore', you know you've got a winner. By the way, when you get near the end, don't be dumb like I was and take the path opposite of the rest of the group... I soon found myself completely alone and running for my life through a maze, while being pursued by a pack of actors that delighted in tormenting and trying to prevent my escape! I was a sweaty, frazzled mess by the time it was over.
After all of that, I honestly wasn't sure if I had energy left for one more. Fortunately, we had something that promised to be a little more fun waiting to close out the tour, and that was Disturbia Haunted House (Downers Grove). Run by the same team behind Basement of the Dead, we were informed that Disturbia's vibe would be very similar to its sister haunt, with the same party-style atmosphere going on outside. Considering what the previous haunt just put us through, this kind of environment would surely be welcome.
And boy, did we ever receive a welcome... for the third time in a row, we were mobbed by actors the moment we began disembarking from our buses. (Seriously, that was my first impression of Disturbia. Line actors... line actors everywhere!) Sliding, crawling around, stalking about on stilts, zooming past us on vehicles. It was wild! In addition to all of the awesome characters, Disturbia also had its own DJ to enhance the lively atmosphere, with plumes of sparks, fog, and other neat effects coming from his booth. I really enjoyed watching the actors mess with people, dancing with other guests, and catching an occasional scare. (I'm well known for my dislike of dolls in the haunt community, but I gladly allowed a Raggedy Ann character and their little doll to come up close and dance with me. That's how much fun it was!)
Disturbia was another haunt that had some extremely well designed sets, with plenty of eye candy to be found throughout. Like Massacre, it possessed no single theme, instead piecing together different areas made up of things haunt customers are commonly afraid of. If I had to pick a favorite portion, it was probably the scene with all of the jack o'lanterns - loved the Halloween vibes in there. I did feel their walkthrough started off heavy on mechanical scares; actors were present, but the animatronics had greater emphasis. However, as my group progressed deeper into the house, the actor-driven scares became more numerous and aggressive, and Disturbia's overall scare factor increased significantly. I ended up seeing some familiar faces working here, too, including a couple of rather... grim... friends from haunts local to me, and I'm 99% sure I ran into Pappy, one of the guests we had on our show Talking Scared. Very cool.
All in all, I was really pleased with how the Midwest Haunters Convention bus tour was handled this year. The timing for everything was good (as was the food!), it included a solid selection of haunts, and I met and connected with some fantastic people. If you're a haunted house fan looking to enhance your convention experience, or a haunter who finds few opportunities to get out and see other haunts, you might find that adding this to your registration is money well spent.