In the deliciously chilling words of Nelson Algren, “Chicago is an October sort of city even in spring.” It is all the more an October sort of city when October is upon us. Hang on to your pumpkin spice everything: To paraphrase Waukegan native Ray Bradbury paraphrasing Shakespeare, something wicked this way comes. In order of opening nights, here are 11 shows to scare you silly, or maybe just make you laugh your head off.
“Cheesehouse of Horror,” Tuesdays through Oct. 24, and “Splatter Theater,” Saturdays through Oct. 28, Annoyance Bar and Grill, $8-$20; theannoyance.com
With “Cheesehouse,” the Annoyance promises a travelogue through Wisconsin, aka (per the producers) “the scariest state in the union.” What we know: Their brand of comedy is irreverent, sometimes puerile and often gleefully over the top. Surely they’ve got plenty to work with in the state that gave us Jeffrey Dahmer and Ed Gein. “Splatter Theatre,” meanwhile, offers a send-up of the genre of nubile teens getting picked off by some crazed lunatic who always manages to spare the virgin for last.
“Bewildered,” through Nov. 11, Hell in a Handbag at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, $22-$39 ; Handbagproductions.org
Before “Charmed” or ”Grimm” or “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” there was the Samantha Stephens, she of the spell-binding nose twitch and the gloriously bitchy-witchy mother Endora. Taking its inspiration from the classic 1960s sitcom “Bewitched,” Hell in a Handbag gives us the musical “Bewildered,” by composers Chicago Aaron Benham and Ron Weaver. Starring dragster extraordinaire David Cerda as the imperious Endora, the show celebrates the comic side of covens.
“Ghosts & Zombies,” through Oct. 29, Akvavit Theatre at Strawdog Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice, $15-$25; chicagonordic.org
As the breakout bestseller “The Nix” proved, Norwegian ghosts are hot right now. All the better for Akvavit’s zombified version of Henrik Ibsen’s classic “Ghosts.” As in Ibsen’s original, things begin with a respectable widow striving to open an orphanage in her late husband’s honor. Unlike the original, the plan is undone by marauding legions of bloodthirsty undead, proving once and for all that while you can bury the past, sometimes there’s nothing to stop it from rearing up and eating your brains.
“Death Toll: A Halloween Drinking Game Performance,” through Oct. 31, The Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln, $12; www.cornservatory.org/death-toll
Every October, the gleefully macabre jokesters from the Cornservatory bring up the bodies and the booze. Clarification: DTAHDGP is a BYOB joint, so pick your poison accordingly. The premise is ghoulishly simple: The cast presents a variety of murderously inclined sketches (past shows have involved seances run amok, a visit with Edgar Allan Poe and Dora the Explorer). When on stage somebody dies, you drink. Pro tip: Bring snacks as well as booze. The show generally involves around eight sketches. That’s potentially a lot of drinking and dying.
“The Crucible,” Oct. 13, 14, 21, Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, $15-$20; Steppenwolf.org
The teenage girls of 17th century Salem find dangerous empowerment in accusations of witchcraft in Arthur Miller’s harrowing tale of mass hysteria and the power of frenzy. Although they lived and died almost 400 years ago, the witches of Salem tell a chillingly contemporary story, The cast features Michael Patrick Thornton (“Private Practice,” “The Exorcist”) as a seemingly godly politician bedeviled by the uproar.
“The Hypocrites Dracula,” through Nov. 5, The Hypocrites at the Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport, $30 – $55; www.the-hypocrites.com
Director Sean Graney promises “at least a gallon” of blood will be spilled at every performance of the Hypocrites’ version of Bram Stoker’s groundbreaking tale of blood, sex, immortality and a Transylvanian nobleman with awesome incisors. The Hypos have a knack for taking potentially stodgy old texts, ripping them to shreds and then sticking them back together in ways that both honor the original and render it newly thrilling. Expect as much from this truly gory story.
“The Man-Beast,” through Nov. 5, First Folio Theatre, 1717 31st St. (Route 83 and 31st Street), Oak Brook, $34-$44; Firstfolio.org
Werewolves (or something) prowl the 18th century French countryside in playwright Joseph Zettelmaier’s based-on-a-true-story (Not! Kidding! Google “Beast of Gevaudan.”) exploration of mutilation and menace in the era of (pre-guillotine) Louis XVI. The plot follows a trail of dead livestock and local efforts to catch the mysterious beast ripping their throats out.
“Carrie II: The Rage,” through Nov. 19, Underscore Theatre at the Arkham, 4609 N. Clark, previews through Oct. 15, $10 – $15; Regular run, $15- $25; underscoretheatre.org
When last we saw Carrie White of Stephen King’s iconic novel “Carrie,” she was haunting Sue Snell, the mean-girl-turned-nice-girl who escaped the apocalyptically fiery end to Carrie’s brief and tragic rein as Prom Queen. Preston M. Allen’s “unauthorized musical parody” begins a decade after the epically awful dance, as Carrie and Sue learn once again that high school memories can last a lifetime whether you want them to or not.
“The Scorpions’ Sting,” Oct. 14, 15, Lyric Opera of Chicago at the Studebaker Theater, 410 S. Michigan , $10-$20; lyricopera.org
Bring the kids! The Gods of ancient Egypt are unleashed when a group of archaeology students go on a time-tripping adventure in search of the Lost Temple of Isis, Goddess of Nature and Magic. Alternating between the present and the ancient world, the mini-opera could also provide costume inspiration; Osiris, Lord of the Underworld, and his siblings Set (Lord of Disorder) and Nephthys (Goddess of Domesticity) are among the deities in the story.
“The 39 Steps,” Oct. 20, 22, Oak Park Festival Theatre at the 19th Century Club, 168 Forest Ave., Oak Park, $15-$30, free for kids under 12; Oakparkfestival.com
Those of us of a certain age remember the late, great CBS Radio Mystery Theater (1974-82, RIP). Fans of radio thrillers will appreciate Oak Park Festival Theatre’s radio-play version of Alfred Hitchcock’s manic mystery. It kicks off when a guest takes a butcher knife in the back while her host is off preparing a nice haddock snack plate. It continues in a mad chase as an unlikely hero finds himself targeted by — get this — a short-fingered villain with a thing for white supremacists. Come early for pre-show cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.
Catey Sullivan is a local freelance writer.