The famed Statesville Haunted Prison and HellsGate Haunted House are set to start scaring visitors again this week and on select dates throughout October.
For 20 years, Statesville Haunted Prison has garnered a reputation as one of the best haunted houses in Illinois. The attraction has 150 live actors making visitors scream throughout 40 rooms during the 45-minute experience.
HellsGate is located “deep in the woods” and is a multi-level mansion with secret passages, giant slides, and, as its website describes, “really nervous groundskeepers and a darkness that the gate can no longer contain!” Zombie Army Productions, a consortium of businesses that bring “the highest production quality to the darkest events,” has been very successful with its business, and much of that is because of the ways owner John LaFlamboy has tried to make the experience one guests will remember.
While Statesville is a known commodity, LaFlamboy, a Lockport native, had the idea for HellsGate a number of years ago and opened its doors last year and it was a big hit.
They figured they would get conservatively about 13,000 visitors. They ended up attracting about 28,000. After that, he knew they had to expand, both the site and the cast. Now they have about 150 actors just for HellsGate.
“They said it was a life experience,” LaFlamboy said. “I hear that and I do a backflip in my head. That's such a rewarding thing.”
LaFlamboy said he thinks that was due to the adventure aspect of the experience. Visitors don't just go straight to the mansion. They have to go through an entire passageway through the woods full of actors before they can get to the main attraction.
After last year, the crew added a lot of detailed decorations over this past offseason to enhance the experience. LaFlamboy said they paid special attention to what last year's reviews said and specifically changed the experience to match what visitors wanted more of (e.g. more zombies in the woods).
Visitors then move into the mansion where guests must venture through room after room. One twist in the story is that if one visitor can get through the whole house, down the slide and find the key, they get their money back.
It's not just an enjoyable experience for the visitors. Many of the actors have come back and other co-workers have been with LaFlamboy for many years.
At the dress rehearsal on Wednesday night, there was a long line of eager actors getting ready to be dressed and made up so they could prepare for their roles. LaFlamboy said there is a reason despite being there for hours and waiting in line, they all had smiles on their faces.
"Other than my own family, this is the best family I've ever had," said Dan Stempien, a Joliet resident who's been working with LaFlamboy for 13 years.
The workers of HellsGate are eager for another successful year attracting visitors from all over and now that they've expanded in terms of size and scope, they are ready for their most successful year yet.
“HellsGate is not just a haunted house,” he said. “It's an adventure. People grabbed onto that.”
Statesville is located at 17250 Weber Road in Crest Hill and HellsGate is at 3101 Canal St. in Lockport.
Statesville is open Thursdays, Sundays, October 25, 30 and Halloween night from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and on Fridays and Saturdays starting on September 29 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. General admission tickets cost $30 each, VIP admission is $45 and group tickets are $21 each for a minimum of 15 tickets
HellsGate is open Fridays and Saturdays starting September 29 through October 28 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. and on Thursdays and Sundays, October 30 and Halloween night from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. General admission tickets cost $28, VIP passes are $40 and group tickets cost $25 for a 12-person group.