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Sept. 9, 2022

Day 9: Massacre Haunted House in Montgomery IL

Day 9: Massacre Haunted House in Montgomery IL

Coming up, We’re going on-location to Massacre Haunted House in Montgomery, IL to learn about their 2022 season. Massacre is known for its large sets and dramatic yearly renovations. We’ll hear all about it from owner Ryan Burke. Follow along to our...

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Coming up, We’re going on-location to Massacre Haunted House in Montgomery, IL to learn about their 2022 season. Massacre is known for its large sets and dramatic yearly renovations. We’ll hear all about it from owner Ryan Burke. Follow along to our Hauntathon:


Ryan: So, at Massacre Haunted House we have over 35,000 square feet. On a normal night we'll run about 90 to a hundred actors. We have a full-size CTA car, we have the elevator takes you from upstairs to downstairs, we're known for having really tall sets, we have 25-foot ceilings in some areas, so we have really high stuff here.

I go to a lot of haunted houses myself, and when you go there, when it's all eight-foot ceilings, it just kind of feels like from the norm. When we got this building, we had really tall ceilings, and when we started off, we went to 10-foot ceilings. We're like, "wow, we had 10-foot ceilings. It's so cool!" And then were like, "you know what, let's do 12 foot here. Let's do 14 foot." The taller that the set's got, you saw customers kind of walk in and be, wow, and they're looking up at all these cool sets and the actor comes in from the bottom and gets them. The room that we're in now has a full-size airplane in it. So, we need the 25-foot ceilings in here to get the full airplane in.

Haunts are kind of evolving now, 20 years ago you go to a haunted house, and it would be all dark mazes, and that's what people wanted back then. Now people want to go see the Disney aspect, and the Universal style aspect, and the really cool sets. We want them to leave here and be like, "my God, that's like going to Universal Studios."

if you're walking through a sewer scene, we want you to feel like you're in the sewer. We're going to have the scent cups to go along with it, you're going to smell like you're in a dirty sewer. You're going to look down and you're going to have water underneath you. You're going to have pouring water next to you. We want you to experience that. When you're on the CTA subway car the lights are going by you, it feels like it's moving around, it has the motion platform, the CGI effects with the lights and the pixel animation. So, you feel like you are on the subway car.

 If you're outside, there should be lights scraping through the trees, giving you the shadows on the ground to make you feel like you're outdoors. So, that's our goal here, is to make you feel it. Whatever set that you're in, if you're in a cold room, it should feel cold. So, we'll have an AC blast coming down. Whatever it is, we want to sell that on it, and we want you to feel like you are in that element

The elevator is phenomenal, it's a one-of-a-kind thing. There's not stuff out there. It goes to three floors, which is very unique. There's a lot of elevators out there where you go in the front door and go out the back door, this is not one of those elevators.

I don’t know if you noticed, each room has its own soundtrack. So, as you're going through, whatever room that you're in, again, we want you to feel like you're in that room. So, by having the tall ceilings, we can play speakers halfway down the wall, aim them downwards, and then you're not getting that sound bleed over the top too, so that's a huge thing.

Then lights, we can direct the lights and use pin spots from keeping them below that 12- or 14-foot ceiling, aim, them downwards, get some cool shadows, light scrapes, but you're not going to see that in the room next to you.

Philip: Talk to me about your renovations, why is it so important that you do larger renovations?

Ryan: If you're going to that haunted house, we want you to come back next year, just knowing that it's going to be different every year. We're going to change out sets, it's going to be something new and different. We have a full-time staff that works year-round, that's all they do, build. By doing something big and dramatic like that, then people know in their head like, "wow, it is something new here." And if we're just doing a small renovation and not doing something big and dramatic, you can go through it and you're not going to remember every small piece of what you're seeing. Where if you're doing a major renovation and doing these over-the-top sets, or putting in an elevator or a subway car, people get to that and they're like, "oh my God, this is brand new." And that's what we want, that's what it's going to get people to come back the next year.

If you're just changing a hallway, or changing something eight foot tall, and you're not going dramatic with it, they're not going to notice it. Cause it all blends together. We want to be the ones that when people leave, they're like, "wow, it does so cool." The only way to achieve that is by doing really dramatic, massive sets that there's no way that you're not going to notice that's brand new.

Philip: And what are your plans for this Halloween season?

Ryan: We work year-round, so I mean, it just depends at what point do we stop? We have some checkpoints in the house that we wanted to expand and make those bigger, just so we don't have those conga line issues. We did a lot of kind of lipstick renovations, then ripped out some of our sets that we saw weren't getting good scares, replaced those with some other stuff. Doing a big line queue renovation. Brought in some of those bigger sets inside of the house. We had a lot done, but there's still details that we're still adding in the new sets.

Philip: And talk to me about staffing, does the staffing shortage play into your renovation plan at all?

Ryan: Some of the renovations we are doing are definitely to improve scares. Whether it's either setting up the actor for that scare or placing something big and dramatic in front of them. So, people walk in and they're like, "whoa, what's this?" Then the actor can come in from the side and get them.

And then there are a few spots that you realize, "you know what? We can replace that actor with an animatronic. It's going to get just as good scare, or better. It's not going to go on break." So there are some things that we are swapping out, just because of what is going on with shortages.

Anyone, you can go to any attraction, they can jump out and say boo or roar. We don't want to be that type of place, and again, we're trying to keep it a little bit different where the actors can have fun with it too. Cause if the actors are just doing a drop window and doing that same thing, they're not going to have fun. We want the actors to come here, we want them to have fun. It should be a fun environment, it shouldn't feel like, "oh, I got to go work at the haunted house tonight." We want them to be like, "yes! We're going to go scare people tonight!"

We want them to have fun with it, and if they're working next to an animatronic that's being the distraction for it, and they can come out in a different way and actually have fun with the customer and scare them really good, then they're going to have fun with it. If they're just doing a simple drop window all night long, or popping around a corner, it's going to get boring. So, let's leave that boring stuff for the animatronic, let that do its job, and then let's have the actor have fun with it.