Here's the thing, I love horror movies and most things spooky. I am afraid of racoons, but that's about it (a completely unrelated phobia that I would prefer to never discuss again). Plus, I've never been through a haunted house, at least not as highly produced as the ones you see pop up in random suburbs every autumn. I've been through one or two of those small, storefront attractions in Wisconsin Dells, and always found them underwhelming — to say the least.
Morton Grove's Fear City is not a storefront attraction. Please don't force your small children through it.
I was welcomed into the labyrinthine "city" built in the 40,000-square-foot loft at 8240 N. Austin Ave. with a small group of seven or eight people. I was immediately sneezed on by a sickly looking fella.
Right when you walk in, Fear City's decaying denizens start screaming in your face, warning you of the terrors inside, banging on the walls and doors and furnishings of the highly elaborate rooms in the haunted house. The city's tone is set quickly when you enter a CTA train with a deranged conductor, who had a nervous episode when a woman in my group didn't look at him as he gave directions.
"Look at me when I speak to you," he screamed in her face. All in all, it was like a real world CTA experience, which is to say, rather terrifying. Suddenly, a corpse behind the conductor started moving, he jumped on it, banging on the zombie with all his might, then the doors open and we're scurried out.
Chances are, Fear City guests will do a lot of scurrying. Maybe it's because you don't like the silent, pale nurse who slowly creeps behind you. Maybe it's because you're walking through a long corridor with doors on either side, nervous that one of them will open as you pass through it.
You should not expect to be frightened by every room. But the variety is impressive, and eventually you might get the feeling the haunted house's creators gave up on the zombie apocalypse theme and started making the scariest rooms they can think of. I guess it's post-modern that way.
Eventually, the group I was with reached a fork and I went left. The others went right. Somehow, I connected with another group that I remained with until another fork about three-fourths of the way through Fear City. At that point, I went left, the others went right and I ended up by myself for the remainder of the city. I should have stayed with the group.
Somewhere towards the end of the city, I reached an empty white room illuminated by a strobe light, occupied by two people in angrongynous white body suits. The light flashed on for about a second, and remained off for two or three seconds. In the darkness, the white figures moved around, slowly moving towards and away from me.
It sounds so simple in print, but this room scared the heck out of me. Some of the people I spoke to after the tour agreed that the room was unique, both original and frightening. It plays on the same fear you might experience watching the original Halloween. Viewers ascribe their own fears and phobias onto Michael Myer's motionless white face. Likewise, your worst nightmares seem the most plausible in this empty white room.
It's not a cheap affair, tickets are $25 for Fear City, $25 for Hades (a seperate haunted house that I was only offered a brief preview of during my media invite) and $35 for both shows. Some of the sales will be donated to the Multiple Sclerosis Society. But with the amount of detail that went into designing the haunted house and the amount of actors hired and trained to scare guests, it's clear the production overheads were sizable.
It's also clear the production values are directly proportional to the fear and fun guests will likely experience visiting this place. It's not for the faint of heart or young children. Or, I guess, for people easily disgusted by blood and vomit.
There's lots of blood and vomit.