Jimmy Alvarez offers last-second instructions to staff prior to a practice run for family and friends at Amherst Asylum near Valparaiso, Ind. Alvarez is the owner of the popular haunted house. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
If you go
Lake Hills Haunted House
8640 Lake Hills Drive, St. John
Open 7-11 p.m. Oct. 14, 15, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 30, 31
$12 per ticket
A kid-friendly version will
happen noon-4 p.m. Oct. 29 and 30; $5
228 S. County Road 500W
Open 7-11 p.m. Oct. 14, 15, 21, 22, 28, 29
Open 7 p.m.-10 p.m. Oct. 9, 13, 16, 20, 23, 27, 30, 31
$20 per ticket
626 177th St., Hammond
Open 7 p.m.-midnight Oct. 14, 15, 21, 22, 28, 29
Open 7-10 p.m. Oct. 9, 16, 23, 26, 27, 30, 31
Tickets cost from $7 through $30, depending on the number of attractions
Another in the area:
The House of Lost Souls
Butterfield Pavilion, at Old
Corner of Calumet and Evans, Valparaiso
Open 6-11 p.m. Oct. 21, 22,
Open 6-10 p.m. Oct. 23, 30
$8 for adults, $5 for children
12 and under
A portion of all proceeds goes to support Toys for Tots.
Updated: October 7, 2011 1:57PM
It’s October, so it must be haunted house
season in Northwest Indiana.
Three major haunted attractions are open: Reaper’s Realm in Hammond for its 21st year, Amhurst Asylum in Valparaiso for its second year, and Lake Hills Haunted House in St. John for its sixth year.
All of them have made improvements.
After the success of Amhurst’s first year — chosen best new house from Haunted House Chicago — proprietor Jim Alvarez and his crew began discussing improvements immediately and started implementing them in July.
“The planning process began as soon as we closed last year,” volunteer John Walton said.
An earlier opening day and the experience from last year didn’t make the planning any easier given that the attraction is 68 percent longer and more focused on acting, costumes and makeup.
“We added 10 additional rooms. Ninety percent of it is new. So if you came here last year, everything is different,” Alvarez said.
Fans of the steampunk genre will enjoy the more Victorian feel of Amhurst, which has the back story of a doctor trying to keep his wife alive by using pieces of other people until the asylum went completely mad.
Just as the late 1800s theme receives more attention this year, so have the house’s details.
The crew procured an actual autopsy table, and there’s a more polished and professional feel with more intricate props, from a working fountain to more detailed bodies and parts in interesting situations.
Rooms also work on the attendees’ sensory level, causing claustrophobia and obscured eyesight in one hall where the walls are billowing sheets. Blasts of air add another sensation, and decayed equipment looks as though it could be leaking something.
The cost of this wasn’t what Alvarez expected at the start.
“Budget is out the window. There’s no budget when it comes to this,” Alvarez said. “If you’re going to do this for a while, you’ve got to give the fans a good show, and you can’t just give them the same show.”
Unlike the other haunted attractions, Lake Hills is municipal-run rather than privately owned. Like Amhurst Asylum, the Lake Hills crew has been working on this year’s fright fest since July.
“We’ve remodeled the downstairs, and there have been some changes to the upstairs,” Town councilman Mike Forbes said. “Entire new rooms have been added to the house.”
Lake Hills tries to impact its attendees on a gut level, adding the subtle to the explicit.
“There’s a little more in our house than just the gore and everything. We try and play upon the natural fears — claustrophobia, fear of clowns,” he said.
“Setting has a lot to do with it. The building is on a lake. It’s kind of isolated. Even the outside scares people — the way the scenery is,” Forbes said.
The five new rooms in the downstairs center on developing the attraction’s back story of a Depression-era doctor who owned the house and opened it to transients during the rough times.
After seeing his daughter murdered by his guests, he became obsessed with trying to bring her back through science and other means — and with getting revenge.
“There are more rooms centered around him as a doctor,” Forbes said. “There’s more focus on the doctor and what he’s done.”
Although Lake Hills has a medical theme like Amhurst, Forbes said the crew has put together a different entertainment experience.
“We try not to put in what everyone else is putting in,” he said.
The granddaddy of Northwest Indiana’s haunted attractions, Reaper’s Realm has grown into four separate showcases on the Calumet Avenue interchange of Interstate 80/94.
It’s a haunted house, a carnival, a haunted woods with a corn maze and a new feature this year, Hellhole, The Seven Deadly Sins in a mirror maze.
Hellhole is based on the “Saw” film series, and the main character challenges those who enter.
Anyone who gets through the laser maze of the “Wrath” room without breaking a laser beam wins a T-shirt, and the mirror maze after that will have displays of the other six deadly sins for people to happen in on.
But there’s no theme beyond Halloween connecting the attractions, and the Reaper’s Mansion has more of a panoramic outlook, showing different horror scenes in each room as people walk through caves, barnyards and pyramids in the house.
“It’s worked very well for us throughout the years,” co-owner John Hluska said. ”Our haunted house is, I like to think, one of the most elaborately decorated haunted houses you’ll see in the area.”
A dry cleaner’s scene has an actual conveyor belt, and the new first scene — a gas station scene from “House of 1,000 Corpses” — also has proper props, Hluska said.
The whole first floor has been changed, as have parts of the second. The circus theme room has been swapped for a saloon run by cowboy clowns.
But through it all, Hluska and his crew keep it in the realm of good taste, nothing excessive or in poor judgment.
“We take pride in that we don’t highlight gore,” Hluska said. “Everything is planned for the family, but it’s not a children’s event.”