HellsGate Haunted House
3101 Canal Street, Lockport, IL 60441View All Details
Free Parking, Food/Concessions, Gift Shop/Souvenirs, “Hi-Tech” Attraction, You will NOT be touched, Original Characters, Covered Outdoor Waiting Line, Indoor/Outdoor Attraction
Team Zombillies reviewed this attraction on October 22, 2016.
Final Score: 8.94
HellsGate is a first-year haunt that was created by the masterminds at Zombie Army productions… the same folks behind Statesville Haunted Prison and the late Zombie Containment attraction at Navy Pier. As the story goes, there was a haunted house that took place out in the woods with a slide that led to the basement. It was so awesome that, if you made it all the way through, you’d get your money back! Well, with the goal of bringing this legend back to life and Zombie Army’s award-winning reputation preceding them, this classic, mansion-themed attraction emerged under the watchful eyes of haunt enthusiasts and critics abroad… and blew them all out of the water! Set back in the woods, seemingly out in the middle of nowhere, not only must you travel through the treacherous timbers to find this mysterious estate, you also have to make it out alive once you get there. In a nutshell, HellsGate is a very theatrical haunt that creates a genuine sense of urgency… a horrific need to quickly escape the hallways, rooms and hidden passages of this malevolent mansion before the demonic beings that reside here can get their hands on you… a feeling that we, as reviewers, don’t experience very often. With that said, if you’re up for a state-of-the-art throwback that’s reminiscent of the stories you’ve heard for years, then LIVE IT at HellsGate… “[It’s] not just a haunted house… It’s an adventure!”
Before you make it to the house, you must first endure the onslaught of (un)dead monsters and zombies that keep you on your toes out on the trail. One of us got the “Hell Pass” treatment during our tour, so our whole experience (but especially on the trail and leading up to the house) was guided by “Bad Kitty”… a rather foul feline with a bad case of indigestion that knew WAY more about our shorter group member than she should’ve. With her presence, most of our journey to the house was fairly conversational (in a sick and twisted sort of way) and, occasionally, interrupted by the growling and snarling of zombies that wanted nothing more than to take a bite out of us. With no Hell Pass, there is no tour guide through the trail, so verbal interaction with the cast out there is minimal to non-existent… but what more would you expect from a sporadic zombie horde, right? We do have to give Bad Kitty a shout-out, though; she gave us an extremely personalized experience that would’ve only been a fraction as entertaining had she not been with us. She dug out a couple of places in the mulch and made us lay down in them so she could bury us at one point. Then, she gave us her evil kitten spawn and left us with it until just before we entered the house. Of course, we had to oblige in both instances.
As for the house, this portion of the haunt is filled with a mix of mansion staff and demonic spirit entities. One of the staff starts the show by anxiously giving you some best practices for escaping the manor alive (which was appreciated). After a well-scripted, overhead confrontation with “the twins,” the manor staff assembled us into another room for the rules of the haunt and wished us luck as they sent us into the rest of the journey. With HellsGate being more of what we’d call a “theatrical” attraction, the cast members here played the most important role of actually making it all “come to life” and they did so in marvelous fashion! We sure couldn’t tell that this was a first-year attraction; that’s for sure. Along our way, we encountered seemingly-possessed people that were climbing the walls and flying overhead in true, unholy form, butcherous cooks, a “lively” trophy, life-sized dolls and toys, a helpful mansion worker, a snake wrangler and more zombie-ish monsters… just to name a few. The actors that spoke to us had great character- and/or scene-related dialogue, especially the ones in the area where you get the chance to find the key. But, there are also quite a few characters that aren’t intended to interact with you and, instead, simply deliver their scares as you make your way through their scenes. Regardless of who did or didn’t talk to us, each of them stayed in character well and gave us some very believable performances.
When it comes to making each of the characters look their respective parts, the costumers and makeup artists at HellsGate do so with authentic precision. We made special note of the mansion staff being dressed quite well, actually, as in with period-correct suits and dresses that easily distinguished them as being “the good guys” along the route. In contrast, the evil beings and creatures were very sinister looking. The zombies out on the trail were fitted with ripped, tattered and properly-aged attire along with facial prosthetics and gruesome makeup schemes to round off their appropriately-undead looks. The ghouls inside the house were also in well-detailed and distressed clothing, but the articles chosen weren’t so much of what you’d see in a funeral home (like the zombies out on the trail) and, instead, they varied with the scenes while sticking with the old, 1950’s feel of the building. In the twins’ case, imagine Samara from “The Ring” and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how freaky these two looked with their long, dark hair and black, runny eye makeup. On the subject of masks, several of them were of the burlap variety, a few swine specimens were found in the kitchen area and a rather scary skull-headed creature resided in the trophy room, to list a few examples… all of which appeared to be high-quality pieces.
Customer Service: 8.88
First of all, there is NO PARKING at the haunt’s location during the normal, October haunt season. This is stated on their website and a traffic sign will remind you if you try to follow your GPS. Instead, park at the Lockport Metra Lot (train station) at 1300 S. State Street. From there, a shuttle bus will take you the rest of the way and it’s only about a 5-minute trip. We advise that you arrive here early, as the lot can (and likely will) fill up before the night is over and there was already a line when we showed up at 6:15 to get on the bus… yeah, 45 minutes before opening time. If you arrive knowing about this, it’s really no inconvenience at all (unless a freight train blocks you in for a few minutes). Aside from that, spooky music joined us on our way to the haunt and the ride wasn’t too bad, given its short duration. Plenty of professional staff members were on-location at the haunt’s ticket booth to organize the flood of customers and answer questions as they arose; once we got through the trail, some in-costume characters had the house surrounded for entertainment purposes and additional crowd orchestration. Speaking of the trail, the whole path was mulched well and adequately lit for a smooth and comfortable walk. Navigating the indoor portion of the haunt was fairly straightforward, but be on the lookout for a few head-knockers as you make your way through the scenes.
The initial checkpoint at the train station is, as you can imagine, a little less than stellar at putting you in the mood for a haunted house. But, we did notice a few Halloween decorations and, along with the huge line of busses and our dressed-up driver, it certainly let us know we were getting ourselves into something spooky. Right before we arrived at the ticket booth, we caught a glimpse of the house’s vintage facade and that warm-and-fuzzy, googly-eyed feeling swept right over us! Things did tone down a little bit while we waited by the ticket booth, but a few roaming actors, some rock music and the ability to still see the facade just over the hill kept our anxiety levels up. Now, the atmosphere really starts to ramp up as you pass through the wrought iron gates and approach the authentic-looking estate; the antiquated wood siding, upper-level, wrap-around balcony, high-pitched roofs and curved windows should ring “haunted house” to any normal haunt enthusiast (wait… did we just say that?). But it doesn’t stop there. On top of that, a creepy mix of dramatic music was playing outside of the building… just as the icing on the cake.
A trained eye may notice that the haunt actually takes place in a massive pole barn that’s been adorned with aforementioned amenities to give it its unique appearance. However, without that knowledge,
*End of Spoiler*
It’s hard to fathom that this is a first-year haunt just by judging its appearance alone. We had the privilege of speaking with HellsGate’s management after our tour on the subject and, to our surprise, they’re looking to make even more additions to the exterior for next season (so we’re keeping our eyes peeled… ready to take in all of the glorious changes)!
Special Effects: 9.17
As with Zombie Army’s other attractions, HellsGate’s bread and butter is their special effects and scene detail. While the haunt itself can be considered “interactive,” with slides, hidden passageways and obstacles that you have to duck under, very few of the special effects actually deliver any scares all by themselves (excluding a couple of ghoulish monsters in the first room and a large, fog-fumigating dragon near the exit). Instead, the scenes and props here are intended to suck you even deeper into the show by creating an extremely realistic experience that makes you believe the place is truly haunted by violent, demonic spirits. For example, the stained-glass windows in the first scene are illuminated by lightning occasionally and, with the accompanying thunder and rain sounds, it’s easy to get lost in the idea that you just walked in out of a thunderstorm. Now that they’ve set the tone, the realistic fireplace, aged bookshelves, wooden floors, old pictures (of actual characters), antique staircase and authentic-looking ceilings really give you the impression that you’re in a haunted house. What’s even better? That’s just in the first room! Oh yeah… it gets better. In the rest of the house, we came across wood-slatted hidden passageways, a full collection of cookware and appliances in the kitchen, metal racks in the next-door freezer (complete with a chilling air curtain when you walk in), flickering lights in the hallways, fallen pictures that you have to walk under, realistically-aged wallpaper, “darkness” that venously creeps out of various corners, fallen bookcases in the library, full-sized critters in the trophy room, claustrophobic passageways, an elaborate dollhouse in the kids’ room and, of course, a slide that precedes the find-a-key area. The whole way through, you’ll likely hear some dramatic, orchestrated sound effects that really help keep the energy levels, and the whole experience for that matter, up on a level of realistic excitement that’s hard to come by at other attractions… at least any that we’ve been to before. The whole idea is to make you feel like you’re in an actually-haunted house and, though we can’t say we’re surprised, they’ve pulled it off very well. Bravo! As for the trail, we saw scattered tombstones, large, natural rock formations, a concrete mausoleum, lanterns, archways, hanging bones, colored accent lights and hand-woven figures made from branches lining the path, which made for a particularly-precarious precursor to the horrors waiting for us in the house.
Looking for that haunted house that’s hidden back in the woods? You know, the one that everyone talks about with multiple floors, a basement and a slide… the one where you might get your money back if you make it all the way through? Well… look no further; you’ve found it! After exploring HellsGate’s website for a while, we discovered that the haunt and several of the characters actually have some very elaborate stories behind them. It’s essentially based around the concept of “The Captain,” a decorated veteran who built this place for his late daughters (the twins) after their deaths… yes, The Captain’s demise included. But, although this place (dubbed “Morestone Manor”) may look like a house, it’s actually a tomb for the unresting souls that fell experiment to his corpse-reanimating practices. Now that curiosity has gotten the best of you, you are challenged with making your way through the old mansion without succumbing to the demons and spirits that reside within… eagerly awaiting the chance to devour any “lively” spirits that pass through their supernatural realm. Admittedly, we didn’t educate ourselves on the full depth of the plot prior to our visit, so all we really knew before going in was what “Bad Kitty” told us out on the trail (which, again, you may not hear if you don’t get the “Hell Pass” treatment). However, after catching ourselves up on everything, the whole experience has a much deeper dimension to it that we highly recommend reading up on before you visit. There are no spoilers involved with reading up on the various characters’ backstories, but it certainly gives them a lot more credibility and believability if you do. The overall theme and backstories have been thought out extremely well and the whole experience gives a new meaning to “bringing the story to life.”
Fright Effect: 8.21
As we made our way along the wooded trail to the house, zombies crawled out of the ground and burlap-masked madmen stalked us until we were greeted at the gates to Morestone Manor. The unexplainable creatures roaming the grounds made us wonder if we really wanted to go inside… especially after they warned us that the “house” was where they all came from. As we should’ve expected, but never could’ve prepared ourselves for, all Hell broke loose once we entered the estate. The whole pace of the haunt went from slow and steady to balls-to-the-walls intensity and total chaos. Almost all of the characters inside were encouraging us to move along very quickly and, due to the demonic madness that surrounded us, we must admit that we were happy to accommodate them (Several of the demons that we came face-to-face with made us want to run anyway). Because everything was so fast-paced inside the mansion, our sensory levels were on the edge of overload most of the way through. We frantically kept watch in every direction… not only in an effort to take in all of the details, but also looking out for all of the monsters that narrowly missed snagging our souls from us! Despite our valiant attempts, we’re pretty sure that having 3 sets of eyes each wouldn’t have done us any good, as there was just so much going on that it was pretty difficult to predict where they were hiding. They were hidden in shelves, above us, below us, in small holes in the walls, in the closet… it literally felt like they were everywhere! The creepy, burned clown that we ran into was one of the most spine-tingling, painted fellows we’ve seen this year (his silent, sinister stare still haunts us)! The climactic adrenaline rush created in the beginning of the attraction transferred throughout the middle portions, but our visit to the basement turned out to be very different from that. We admit to expecting the basement to be the scariest place of all, but instead, it came across as more of a game show type of feel. A host explained the rules for finding the key over a loudspeaker system before giving us a glow stick and sending us into a dimly-lit room filled with monsters and crates… which is where our search began. With the 45-second time slot adding some inherent intensity all by itself, the inclusion of monsters in this area was almost moot with our attention solely focused on finding the key. It seemed that their purpose was not so much to scare us, but instead, distract us from our search. This took place near the end of our journey, so it also seemed to serve as the stand-out finale for the haunt (not excluding a rather large creature attack after turning in our glow sticks). In light of this being a very “different” approach to concluding a haunted house, the stipulation of being a first-year attraction should not be forgotten and, after our post-haunt meet-and-greet with HellsGate’s management, we can definitely say that they have more sinister plans for upcoming seasons!
General admission tickets to experience HellsGate start out at $25. Speed Passes are $35, which “guarantees you little to no wait in line,” and, if you want the one-on-one treatment for a particular member of your group, you can get the “Hell Pass” for $75. Along with that price, your vic-… err… friend will get a Speed Pass, a t-shirt and various photo-ops throughout the haunt with some of the characters. If the rest of the group wants to go through the haunt with the “chosen” group member, you must all purchase Speed Passes separately (contact HellsGate to work out all of the details). There are also paranormal tours and lots of group ticketing options, so click on our “Tickets” link above for all of those details. Part of what makes HellsGate so unique is that they give you the opportunity to get your money back… IF you find the key. They’ll give you all of the details when you go through the haunt, but be prepared; you’ll only have a 45-second time slot to pull it off! Also, you can search for the key in “The Study” on HellsGate’s website for a $7-off coupon… again, IF you find it. One of the biggest complaints we’ve read online about this attraction is that the lines can be horrendously long. There’s a line at the shuttle bus parking lot, one for the ticket booth, another before embarking on the trail, yet another before entering the house and there are a couple of scenes inside the house where lines are gathered and groups re-spaced to avoid running into each other as you make your way through. With that said, we advise that you purchase Speed Passes or show up as early as possible to try to beat the crowd. We timed our journey through the trail and the house without including any of the queue lines or re-grouping scenes and our total actual haunt duration came out to 21 minutes. With a $25 general admission price, HellsGate comes in at 0.84 minutes of entertainment per dollar spent. Although this is quite a bit lower than the average of “1.5” that we calculated from all of the haunts we went to during the 2015 season, HellsGate is a very high-quality show and we highly recommend a visit! Our interactions with the actors were great (especially if you get the “Hell Pass”) and the scenes are amazing… but, again, we do advise that you take precautionary measures to minimize your wait times.
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