After rehearsing Fear City's 100 actors — who play zombies and other creepy creatures-- until midnight Tuesday, owners Chuck Grendys and Jim Lichon still had enough energy left Wednesday morning to wax enthusiastic about this year's theme.
The oversized, 40,000-square-foot Morton Grove haunted house, which is holding a media preview Friday and officially opens a week later on Oct. 5, will riff on the Mayan end of the world prediction. It's called "Fear City Apocalypse."
If that weren't enough, they've added a second horror attraction, "Hades," which will take visitors through the seven circles of — well, you know.
Since Huffington Post named Fear City "Chicago's scariest haunted house" last year, horror fans may consider Hades and the improvements to Fear City a way of pushing the (blood-soaked) envelope even further.
Last year: Fear City debuts with theatrical flair (VIDEO)
Last year: USA Today names Fear City a "Must-See"
When visitors enter Fear City this year, they will encounter three levels of zombies, in various stages of a frightening illness, explained Grendys, who owns a set design company, and Lichon, an art director.
Snot and vomit
"Level One zombies are sniffling — and you'll probably get sneezed on," said Lichon. "Level Two zombies vomit on you. And Level Three zombies are ravenous from vomiting their guts out, so they just want to eat you."
After visitors enter a desolate, garbage-strewn space, they're herded onto a Chicago subway train to "escape" the devastating disease, and get a jiggling ride complete with the sounds of a real CTA journey. Then it's up to the intrepid to make their way through the rest of the 35 or so rooms and survive unscathed.
New this year is a blood-letting room, where zombies hope to be cured of their afflictions with a sanguine solution.
Walking through the Inferno
Visitors who venture into Hades, which Grendys describes as "an interactive experience with the seven deadly sins," can expect to make their way through the seven circles of hell — which really do go around in circles, and change every time you go around. Once you enter, be ready to squeeze through inflatable tubes that surround you on the right and left. When you finally make it to the inner circle, there's entertainment in a theater in the round.
Lots of planning went into it
While Lichon and Grendys specialize in creating illusions, they've had to jump through the same HR and logistical hoops as any other business owners. Sitting in their office — yes, hell has an office, or, as some would say, hell IS an office — they talk about having to do background checks on the 100 actors they've hired to elicit screams out of you. Because, when you think about it, you don't want a real serial killer in a haunted house.
Fear City also complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act, so someone in a wheelchair could — and has — gone through it.
The attraction also has a state of the art fire alert and life-safety system. If an emergency took place, lights would come on and actors would turn from murderous pursuers into angels leading you to safety, Grendys said.
"Because if you're going through a haunted house, you can't always tell if it's an emergency or if it's part of the show," he explained. The show does contain some smoke effects.
The medical stuff
And, yes, there is a medical person standing by, in case someone hyperventilates or gets injured.
"Last year, our box office lady missed her stool and fell," Lichon said. "And we had one actor who ran into a wall, and then two other actors who ran into each other and hit their noses."
But Grendys and Lichon aren't anticipating any problems. Instead, they're expecting crowds of thrill-seekers to venture into their lobby from all over the place, since it has become a regional draw.
"Last year we had people from Detroit, Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana," Grendys said.
You'd think there would be quicker ways to get to Hell. But apparently, lots of people are willing to make the drive.
IF YOU GO
Tickets: $25 for Fear City, $25 for Hades, both shows for $35. Purchase online at fearcitychicago.com; enter the promo code "Patch" for $3 off (offer good online only). With a VIP pass, $10, visitors can skip the line.
Location: 8240 N. Austin Ave., Morton Grove. (I-94 to Dempster, west to Austin, south to Fear City)
Dates: Oct. 5 to 7; 11 to 14; 19 to 21 and 25 through 31.
Timing: Expect to spend 30 to 35 minutes in Fear City and 12 to 15 minutes in Hades.