BY SELENA FRAGASSI | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA
As if a normal haunted house weren’t terrifying enough, imagine three conceived by Rob Zombie. The “hellbilly” rocker and horror director behind “House of 1,000 Corpses,” “The Devil’s Rejects” and the “Halloween” remakes is on to his latest scare tactic by bringing his “Great American Nightmare” attraction to the Chicago area for the first time. The uber-immersive attraction will feature multiple houses of horrors, a Bloody Boulevard with food, freak shows and games, and an opening night performance by Zombie on Sept.26. So just how scary will it be?
“Last year in California we had to shut down part of it because we were getting so many complaints from the city council,” Zombie says referencing a replication of the Sharon Tate murder house with Manson girls running around mass-murdering helpless actors. “It was definitely in bad taste, but we did it anyway — and we’ll push the envelope as far as we can in Chicago before someone shuts us down again.”
The whole production is in partnership with Steve Kopelman, a master of Halloween who has run haunted houses for three decades and mans the website hauntedhouse.com. “He definitely understands my psychotic attention to detail,” Zombie admits, which has helped to elevate the experience in the three featured sites.
ROB ZOMBIE’S GREAT AMERICAN NIGHTMARE
WHEN: 7 p.m Sept. 26; opening night only features aperformance by Rob Zombie; the haunted house remains open select Thursdays-Sundays through Nov. 1
WHERE: The Odeum, 1033 N. Villa Ave., Villa Park
TICKETS: $25-$60; not recommended for kids under 13
All are inspired by Zombie’s movies and can be tackled consecutively or separately. “It’s okay if you need to take a break and get a snack,” he cajoles. The lineup includes the “Lords of Salem in Total Black Out,” a 60-degree maze that preys on fears of the dark and claustrophobia; “The Haunted World of El Superbeasto 3D,” that Zombie says brings his “perverted cartoon” of the same name to life; and “Haunt of 1,000 Corpses” which brings you through the history of serial killers. So it’s not for your kids, says Zombie, even though he’s seen a number of little ones going through the line. “I guess it’s up to the parents’ discretion of how [messed] up they want their kids to be when they grow up.”
In his case it turned out to be a good thing. Growing up on the East Coast, Zombie’s parents, grandparents and extended family all worked in the carnival business in the mid-’70s, when the whole thing had a “sleazy vibe.”
“My brother [Powerman 5000 frontman Spider One] and I would be there all day every day while everyone was working, and a lot of the time they had haunted houses and we’d go through like 100 times and just play,” he says, recalling his favorite part was a magic trick that transformed a pretty girl in a bikini into a raging gorilla that terrorized the audience. Eventually the brothers developed it into their own shtick, putting together a horror show in their basement that they’d charge neighborhood kids to visit. “So to grow up now and have this actually happen on a large scale is a big deal to me,” says Zombie.
Not only has the “Great American Nightmare” been hugely successful (a crowd of 10,000 visitors in its inaugural year set the record for the most people to go through a haunted house in one night), it’s also given Zombie new material. The storyline for his upcoming film project “31,” which currently has a crowdfunding campaign at RZ-31.com, was derived from walking the grounds at the festival.
“We had these scary clowns chasing people, and I was watching them just scream bloody murder and running, reacting as if the characters were real. I thought, what could be worse than being kidnapped and trapped in a giant abandoned place being chased by maniacal clowns?”
Probably everything at the “Great American Nightmare.”
You’ve been warned.