Haunted houses scare up some fun in Northwest Indiana
BY JAMES D. WOLF JR. Post-Tribune correspondent October 4, 2013 5:24PM
Chloe Smith of Valparaiso applies makeup to Joe Soto of Merrillville on Thursday, October 3, 2013 at Amhurst Asylum, a popular haunted house located in Porter Township, south of Valparaiso. The attraction opens for the season this weekend. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 6, 2013 6:07AM
VALPARAISO — Before Thursday’s trial run, the cast and crew of Amhurst Asylum haunted house circled and rallied in a way that would give football teams envy.
Director of operations Geoffrey Graves and house proprietor Jim Alvarez led most of their 78 costumed actors in opening night chants, calls to action and thanks to everyone involved as heavy metal music played in the background.
“I want you all to thank me after we get awards,” Graves said to the assembled ghouls, pale blue bodies and blood-splattered antagonists. “Right now, we still have to prove to the world!”
This scene played out in many places Friday as the Halloween season kicked off at haunted houses across Northwest Indiana.
Besides Amhurst Asylum, the others include Reaper’s Realm in Hammond, celebrating its silver anniversary at the old Indiana Botanical Gardens off I-80-94.
“When we started, there were only two or three major haunted houses in the Chicago area,” owner John Hluska said.
Reaper’s Realm now includes a corn maze, a carnival and a two-story slide from the two-story haunted house. They’ve also changed 70 percent of the house’s main level and half of the upper level and outside attractions.
Two northern Porter County haunted attractions hope to benefit from combining their haunts.
The House of Lost Souls will no longer operate out of Old Fairgrounds Park but instead has joined forces with Haunted Hills Hospital in Portage.
“We have created the longest and scariest haunted house we’ve ever had, and that is what we do every year,” said 18-year-old Justin Hill, who began Haunted Hills Hospital at his home six years ago with dad Joel. “We will never put on the same show twice.”
Stefen Hutchins, who ran The House of Lost Souls, said that “with more like minds in there, we’re coming up with some great ideas to become a bigger and scarier attraction that can compete with the big ones.”
The house won’t open until Oct. 18, but this is the second year the city has required them to get a special events permit, and this year they have built full scale houses in the yard.
All the haunted attractions are the result of months of planning, starting in July at the latest, but in many cases the year before, in November, right after the previous year wraps up.
“Planning and construction takes so much time. We don’t want to be rushing at the last minute to get things built and our ideas put into action,” said St. John Council President Mike Forbes (R-at-large), who oversees Lake Hills Haunted House, the only municipally-owned haunted attraction in Northwest Indiana. This is its eighth year.
“The (new) zombie containment area took the bulk of our time and definitely was worth the effort. I personally think it’s movie-set quality,” he said.
St. John uses Lake Hills to pay not only for itself but the Festival of Lights every December, and because the town runs it, they like to keep it at a PG-13 level with more scares and less “hack and slash.”
For those with younger kids, Lake Hills and Amhurst have children’s nights where the scariness is toned down.
Taltree Arboretum outside Valparaiso also has a Haunted Railroad G scale train garden that would be more appropriate for children and has special events each Saturday, plus hayrides and the Sprout Express barrel train rides.