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Oct. 8, 2022

Day 37: Basement of the Dead in Aurora, IL

Day 37: Basement of the Dead in Aurora, IL

A family of home haunters bought Basement of the Dead 10 years ago, and they’ve been so successful they expanded into another location. Today, we’ll speak to Jason Seneker about their design philosophy and expansions. Follow along to our Hauntathon:...

A family of home haunters bought Basement of the Dead 10 years ago, and they’ve been so successful they expanded into another location. Today, we’ll speak to Jason Seneker about their design philosophy and expansions. Follow along to our Hauntathon:


Jason Seneker: Hi, I'm Jason Seneker, I'm one of the owners and operators of Basement of the Dead haunted attraction in Aurora, IL. Basement of the Dead has been around since 2002, my family has been involved in it since 2012, so this is basically our 10-year anniversary of running the Basement of the Dead. Since we've taken it over 10 years ago, this place has been changed, literally, probably 300%. You know how haunters go, right? You just keep going, it never ends.

Jason Seneker: We are in the Basement of a 125-year-old building. I can tell you that I've had people stand in line for three to four hours, literally open the door and say, "alright, go ahead." They walk in, they look down, they say, "nope," and they walk out. It's a Basement, we have 8-foot, 8-and-a-half, and 10-foot ceilings. So. the whole time you're in here you feel that, you feel like you're underground. Literally, it smells like an old Basement. All we do is we're just amplifying it. 3 I've told people before, even if this wasn't a haunted house and you were down here, it's creepy as hell. We don't overlight stuff, we definitely want you to be scared of the dark in the Basement.

Jason Seneker: One thing that we like really just kind of pride ourselves on is making sure that people have a great time outside. We're really known for our outside entertainment. The value of their dollar isn't just inside this for the 30 minutes you're walking through this. The value is the whole package, it's the party outside, and then we're going to come in and scare the hell out of you inside here. So, when people walk away, they definitely experience the Basement of the Dead and what it means to be down in there.

Philip Hernandez: Basement of the Dead is a family business and they decided to expand by purchasing Disturbia, which is a haunt about 25 minutes away.

Jason Seneker: My family has purchased another haunted house, which is Disturbia Haunted House that's in Downers Grove. It's about 25 to 30 minutes from this location. We used to have everyone here at the Basement, my brothers and my aunt and uncle, my mom, and my family. But now that we bought another haunted house, but it definitely has been more of a trying time because now we have split our power. But from doing what we've done for all these years, we felt confident that we could produce a great show over there. 

Jason Seneker: Disturbia is different, Disturbia’s heart is traditional Halloween, your pumpkins and your ghosts in your graveyard. So, we have more grander type sets where you're looking up and you're seeing things above you, the props are ginormous. So, it's really fun for us and we have a great time playing in all these different types of worlds and fantasies.

Philip Hernandez: Next, I asked Jason to tell me about the first scene that really made them feel like professional haunters.

Jason Seneker: One of the rooms that's been around the Basement actually for a long time now is our medical ward. We started at home haunters, and I would say the hospital room was the first room that we ever did that we said, "OK, we've made money now. Now we can really start making our scenes movie quality type things." I mean, not just painting plywood to look like tile, actually doing tile and things like that that this that realism to a haunted house. 

Jason Seneker: That room there was our first, I would say, truly professionally built haunted house room, and that's probably why it's still here. It's a little bit of a part, like I look at it and I'm like, "it's great." Then, we've also converted that into a lot of our escape rooms on the offseason. So, we have a whole storyline just based on that room and what that doctor does inside that room.

Philip Hernandez: I also asked about a design that didn't work out so well and what they learned from it.

Jason Seneker: As good as the actor was, it was one of our best actors, the room didn't do it because there wasn't enough other stuff around. We just thought, "oh, we build a little stage and we put a guy there in a chair and that works." Well, he did his damnedest to make it work, it just didn't have the whole when you walk in the room and go, "oh, I get what this is," you know? 

Jason Seneker: I mean, that really did kind of teach us going from what we thought was professional to, "oh, now we understand." The more we give for people to see and our actors to live in, then it just becomes more natural for the actors to play that part and for the customers to be scared, to understand why, "oh, I don't like being in here." That's really where every room now is obviously detailed as best as we can get can deal.

Philip Hernandez: Finally, we discuss the future for Basement of the Dead.

Jason Seneker: When I was a kid, a haunted house was different than what it is today. We try to keep pushing the envelope. No matter really what I do down here there's nothing really more afraid than just the dark. Just the dark. As I said we just give you enough down here where we let your imagination scare the hell out of you. You guys can scare yourselves better than we can scare you. We're just giving you the canvas and you guys are really painting the picture of what it is.

Jason Seneker: So, I think that's what we have to keep doing. We never stop trying to learn ourselves when we're doing things. We've looked at other haunted houses for inspiration and movies. Like, obviously, there's a wave of this with Stranger Things, and things like that. With this nostalgia of the 80s and the 70s kind of coming back, so I think we'll probably play with some of that stuff more in the future too because I really do enjoy that. That's where I see it going from here.

Jason Seneker

Co-Owner and Operator of Basement of The Dead in Aurora Illinois and Disturbia Haunted House in Downers Grove Illinois