Team Zombillies reviewed this attraction on October 14, 2017.
Final Score: 9.56
There’s no beating around the bush about this one; Statesville is one of the most legendary haunted houses we’ve ever seen. Taking place at Siegel’s Cottonwood Farms, Statesville is now in their 21st season and 3 separate attractions can be found at this single location: Statesville Haunted Prison (we’ll just call it ‘Statesville’), City of the Dead (CotD) and Sniper Zombie Paintball (which offers daytime AND nighttime ‘hunts’). We didn’t attempt to pelt any pesky, un-dead people with paintballs this year, so we’ll stick to the haunts for this review.
Don’t let the farm-fresh / Fall festival appearance of Siegel’s Cottonwood Farm fool you as you approach the ticket booth (although, there’s a wide selection of tasty treats to be had inside the gift shop)… Statesville has been scaring Chicagoland for long enough that it’s become second nature to them and they are VERY good at what they do. We noticed lots of good changes this season, so return customers and fresh ‘meat’ alike can expect a frightful night full of lonely lunatics, persistent prisoners and some of the craziest creatures they can imagine!
Statesville actually has one of the most appropriately-interactive casts that we’ve come across as well. Out of the 150+ actors and actresses that are employed here, the queue line entertainers were definitely the best at this on the night of our visit… especially Fluffy and one of the male prisoners who got in ‘the dog cage’ with us. Let’s just put it this way; if a heartfelt rendition of ‘I Want it That Way’ by a Hell-bent prisoner with a twinkle in his eye doesn’t scare the crap out of you, then we don’t know what will! A few other characters really put some pep in our step when they tried to shock us, gave us a gory, people-grinding display of violence and one even tried to turn us into clowns!
Being such a popular attraction, these guys have learned how to move a LOT of people through the haunt (more on this in ‘Customer Service’ below). But, along with that comes a few compromises and one of them is dialogue. Except for in the holding areas, speaking roles are often kept to a minimum… mainly consisting of short, yet character- or scene-related phrases. This is so customers aren’t really enticed to stick around and chit chat with the actors and clog up the flow through the haunt. Speaking of holding areas, though, the prisoners we saw in each of these areas did a great job of keeping everyone in line (literally) while throwing in some belittling remarks to the easy targets in the crowd on occasion. This is where most of the aforementioned ‘chit chat’ is actually encouraged and, if you play along, it can actually be quite entertaining! Of course, we got singled out a few times and were even issued our own orange coveralls and shoes that would’ve amounted to less-than-rawhide on the comfort scale. We did come to find out that our newfound brethren were awfully excited about ‘spaghetti night’ and quite a few girls were yelling at us on multiple occasions. Unfortunately, we couldn’t really understand what they were saying simply because it was so loud in their rooms. Whatever utterances they were trying to expel, they certainly looked like they meant it and weren’t messing around!
City of the Dead involves a mix of miner-esque hillbillies and the wicked creatures that reside within this hellish, underground realm (see ‘Theme’ below for details about this interesting mix of characters). The vocals in this haunt were absolutely phenomenal! We encountered a snake lady that could ‘hiss’ better than the serpent she was holding (we’re still trying to figure out if the no-legged slitherer was on payroll or not; all he/she did was stick its tongue out at us) and a multitude of minion-like cave dwellers (we think?) that sure were talkative’ we just couldn’t understand what language they were speaking! The lady in the spider tunnel informed us that she was the proud owner of eleventy-four spiders, but she was missing a bunch. If you happen to come across any of these arachnids, she requests that you kindly put them in your mouth and keep them warm for her (like THAT’S gonna happen). This group of actors was also really good at weaving in and out of all the nooks and crannies in their scenes, making themselves known in one location to then swiftly disappear and seemingly materialize from a totally different place! A high-five goes out to the scarecrow that nailed us near the exit.
The makeup and costuming at Statesville is top shelf’ especially for a haunt with this size of a cast! All of the clothing we saw was 100% authentic; no paper-thin cloaks or cheap jumpsuits here. If you’ve investigated this haunt enough to read this review, then you’ve probably seen some of Statesvilles promo videos’ and yes, they look just as good, if not better, in person. Makeup varies from practically non-existent to full-face applications and are typically detailed well enough to provide plenty of curb appeal (remember, they’ve gotta do a LOT of makeup jobs in a short amount of time and, more often than not, the actors are moving around so quickly that you don’t need to absorb a lot of fine, hairline details). Not many masks are used inside the prison, but the main ones you’ll likely see will be worn by the guards. We did, however, see an interesting dog mask in the kennel area where the prison’s carnivorous canines are kept. The clowns were probably the biggest stand-outs in this haunt, each unified with red- and white-checkered garb and makeup that matched their red- and chrome-clad, strobe speckled surroundings; trust us’ you can’t miss them.
A lot more masks and ‘dimensional’ costumes can be found in City of the Dead. Pretty much all of the creatures used high-end, silicone masks to disguise their faces and those who wore makeup also very much looked their respective parts. The hillbilly-ish characters typically wore country-style work attire and, on occasion, hard hats’ because keeping tyrannical, un-dead beasts is dangerous work! Speaking of beasts, quite a variety of them can be found in this attraction. From the minion-esque cave dwellers (that’s the closest thing we can think to call them) and witch-ish spirits to demonic scarecrows and beyond, you just never know what sort of evil being might be lurking around the next corner.
Customer Service: 9.81
Our GPS led us right to Statesville’s entrance and their driveway is actually one of the roads at a 4-way traffic intersection. Several large and permanent ‘Siegel’s Cottonwood Farms’ signs can easily be spotted here and, if that isn’t enough, an electronic version beams ‘Statesville Haunted Prison’ into vision of passers by. The large, free, well-lit and grassy parking lot was accessible with a network of gravel lanes and multiple parking attendants knew just the spot for us to shut down our car.
There are 2 separate and distinct sides of the property once you clear the ticket booth: one is for the farm, where the gift shop and food buildings can be found, and the other is for the haunts. Plenty of professional staff members are scattered across the property to help answer any questions you have and direct you where you need to go.
The entrance to the ‘prison’ side of the property is located to the left after you get past the ticket booth and marked with a large overhead ‘Statesville Prison’ sign. The queue line is under a massive, half-round shelter and several roaming actors were doing a fantastic job of making sure all of the ‘meat’ was ready for ‘processing.’ Loud music (Rob Zombie, top hits etc.) was heard in this area and another small gift shop and photo op were found in this area too.
When it comes to group management and navigating the inside of the haunts, Statesville has refined their tactics into a science that allows them to handle huge crowds with relative ease and keep monotonous line waits minimized. Rather than simply allowing groups to enter after ‘x’ amount of time goes by, they use several holding areas where multiple groups are handled in batches and, after they’ve had their way with them, they get split up into separate groups for the next leg of the tour. This does a pretty good job at providing a fair compromise between a personalized show and the oh-so-dreaded conga line. The prison uses a total of 4 of these holding areas and a few more are in store for you (including theme introduction) in City of the Dead. A few ramps, stairs and head-knockers are dotted throughout the haunts, so be sure to bring sturdy footwear and keep an eye on where you’re walking. However, when it comes to fire and building codes, you’d be hard pressed to find a safer attraction in the State of Illinois.
As mentioned above, Statesville does take place at Siegel’s Cottonwood Farm and that is one of the first things you’ll notice upon arrival. Keep on driving past the many pumpkins, straw bales and grain silos towards the parking area and, we assure you, it only gets better from there (in a haunt way).
One of the first things you might see is Zombie Army Productions’ bus that’s been outfitted with grating over the windows’ you know, to keep the zombies from getting out’ or ‘in,’ in case the apocalypse ever actually happens. Zombie Army is the name of the crew that breathes life into the prison each year and that same dark existence is spread to the outside areas of the haunt as well. Tall watchtowers, a gun tower and fenced-in catwalks overlook the yard, which is crawling with escaped prisoners, conniving clowns and warrior-looking brutes. Add in the current popular music that’s playing, the roars of chainsaws and the sounds of gunshots over screaming customers and you’ve got yourself one of the most terrifyingly-fun atmospheres in the industry! Just before you’re let into the introduction scene, there are several TV’s playing some of Statesville’s videos that help give you one last taste of what you’re about to experience.
Special Effects: 9.75
One of Zombie Army Productions’ specialties is’ well’ putting on productions! Each of their haunts (HellsGate included) are designed to put on a show and surround you with an alternate reality. You’ll get a taste of this outside with the guard towers and all of that, but the true extent of their talents really sinks in once you get to the introduction rooms’
In the prison, you’ll be surrounded by grungy concrete walls, tesla coils, blinding fog, falling fences, zombie attacks, real rats that are crawling through the walls next to you, flying actors’ and yeah, that’s just the introduction room. Some of these concrete confines look like they’ve been busted out as you walk through them from scene to scene, rather than being cut into simple, square-edged thresholds (talk about attention to detail!). Other scenes include a disgusting shower/bathroom with REAL cockroaches, shocking (and popping) electrical rooms, a kennel area for the attack dogs, a doctor lab, a falling floor, a mirror maze, a cafeteria and more! One of the most memorable continues to be the red- and chrome-checkered clown area. This scene is PACKED with multiple intense strobe lights and, combined with the several actors that keep you looking up and all around you, it doesn’t take long to get really disoriented in there! Another unique effect was how one of the prisoners moves his bed to block your path until you give him something to trade. Here’s a pro tip: he really likes hair ties! Don’t believe us? Just look up when you run into him’ he’s created quite a chandelier out of the one’s he’s nabbed so far. All sorts of horns, loud rock music, custom dub step tracks and customers’ screams can be heard throughout the prison, making for not only a visually-stimulating attraction, but also one that tries to keep you from using your ears to warn you when the next scare is coming.
City of the Dead has one of the coolest-looking vortex tunnels we’ve seen so far. It basically has a see-through room inside of it! Well’ not so much a ‘room;’ it’s more of a spider lair, but you get the idea. You’re walking through and, even though the room is stationary, you can still see its surrounding vortex tunnel constantly rotating! They also have a creative use of claustrophobic bags. If being in confined spaces bothers you, try adding the feeling of being submerged and you can probably guess what this effect will feel like! The collapsing ceiling isn’t an overly-common effect either, but CotD’s version adds a few ‘kinks’ that we’ve never seen used elsewhere. During your trip through the underworld, you’ll also see large rock formations, realistic vegetation, many large creatures (some of which come out of the ceiling) and great sounds that accompany each of the respective rooms and effects. CotD also has an awe-inspiring introduction scene that uses a heavy dose of badassery to tell you the backstory.
We could go on and on about all of the different rooms and the immaculate level of detail here, but you’ll never be able to truly appreciate it until you go there and see it for yourself.
Before each of the haunts begin, you’ll start off by being positioned in a large room. If there’s a crowd during your visit, each group will line up in a single-file row and stand shoulder to shoulder to witness the opening acts/theme introductions. Both Statesville Prison and City of the Dead put on some impressive shows so, whenever possible, they’re going to pack as many people as they can into the room. But don’t worry’ there’s not a bad seat (err’ standing position) in the house!
Statesville Prison is themed around, of course, a prison. But this isn’t your ordinary penitentiary. This one is, according to the warden, filled with ‘…convicts convicted of crimes too great to imagine.’ The prisoners have rioted, risen up against the guards and taken the facility as their own. The Prison has become a soul-hungry machine; it’s waiting for you and you are the ‘meat’ that is going to feed it. Now, all that’s left is for you to walk right through the middle of the chaos and escape unscathed. Simple, right? Pretty much everything that we saw reiterated this story and then some. One might ask, though, ‘How do clowns fit in with a prison?’ The clowns are actually prisoners that once operated ‘the infamous ‘Circus of the Dead’.’ With a history of mass murdering their audience with chainsaws, these heathens have been imprisoned at Statesville and are using whatever body parts they can find to reconstruct their troupe and beloved show. See’ told you they fit in here!
(Psst’ find their ‘rap sheet’ and others’ on Statesville’s website)
City of the Dead is themed around a massive underground grave that’s filled with the most evil, undead creatures to ever walk the Earth. The story is closely tied to the neighboring prison attraction, in that the creatures are actually the reincarnated souls of the prisoners who have passed away during their imprisonment at Statesville. A better term for the miner-esque hillbillies (that we keep referring to) would probably be ‘grave keepers’ because they’ve been tasked with keeping these monsters at bay for all of eternity. The cave-like passages, shored-up walls, vegetation and, of course, the monsters you’ll see within will definitely give you the feeling that you’re beneath the Earth’s surface and surrounded by the most horrifying abominations imaginable!
Fright Effect: 8.98
As mentioned above, there are many special effects to enjoy at Statesville’ but it’s a trap! Just when you are staring in awe at the rat tunnels inside the wall or at that ‘cute’ little puppy in the doghouse, something sneaks up on you and snatches your attention for a quick startle! Because the scares typically don’t come from the same way consecutively, it’s often difficult to predict them. A hint of psychological scares can take over here too, as some may fear the prisoners won’t let them out, especially when they block the very path you need to take to do so!
This haunt can be known for having conga lines because it is so popular and awesome, so of course it draws massive crowds. If you don’t know what a ‘conga line’ is, it happens when 2 or more groups run into each other inside the haunt, thus forming one huge line of customers with no space between them. This can result in less suspense and easier-to-predict scares. Thankfully, Statesville combats this by training key actors with how to break up these lines and LOTS of ‘pop scares’ are used to help keep you off-guard as much as possible. Now, if you go through when there isn’t a huge crowd waiting outside (typically, earlier in the season or when they first open; any nights other than Friday and Saturday), then you are going to get your fair share of personalized targeting – whether you like it or not. Everyone in our group seemed to be targeted evenly in both haunts. This is one of the few ‘360 haunts’ that we’ve found this season, as there’s almost always something going on all around you and the scares come from many different angles, sometimes at the same time too! The loud soundtracks and overall atmosphere inside the haunt play a toll on your sense of hearing, so that naturally leaves you walking through on-edge in search of the next scare.
We could go on and on listing the types of scares that surfaced between both haunts, but to name a few, we witnessed acts of victimization, disorientation, common fears, tight spaces, a chainsaw, intimidating creatures and many decoys / deceiving hiding spots, such as a seemingly-innocent pile of towels. Don’t trust the towels!!! The indoor ghillie suits succeeded in catching us off-guard multiple times (never fails) and there were also some clever distractions, aside from the amazing decor that we just couldn’t stop grinning from ear-to-ear over.
Statesville is an assault on your senses; be on the lookout at all times and trust nothing.
General admission tickets, which include admission to both Statesville Haunted Prison and City of the Dead, can be purchased for $30.00 online and on-site. The lines are known to get crazy long, so for those who would like to have a much shorter wait, VIP tickets are available for $45 online and $50 on-site. VIP will allow you to skip the main waiting line. These prices are the same as they were last year and parking is offered free of charge.
From the time we entered the Prison’s introduction room ’till we fled City of the Dead – not counting the transition between the two and all of the holding boxes (we spent about 6 minutes in those) – we had about 30 minutes of ‘haunt time.’ That brings their MPD (minutes of entertainment per dollar spent) to right at one dollar per minute, considering the price of general admission. Although this is below the average of 1.5 that we’ve seen most often in the past, Statesville remains one of the best haunts we’ve seen to date, so we believe their ticket price is an amazing value for the entertainment you receive.
Group ticketing information and details about the Sniper Zombie Paintball Ride can be found on their website. We also noticed a coupon on there that’s good for Thursday nights! Statesville has become a haunt that we try to visit each haunt season and it’s easy to see why they’ve earned the top spot on multiple ‘highest rated’ lists. Going to a haunt put on by The Zombie Army is unique in and of itself since these actors are not your typical haunt actors. Instead, they’ve been trained to go along with the atmosphere and energy of the haunt (which in this case is full throttle and high intensity) and they work to become a part of the living and breathing show. If you haven’t been here before, we honestly don’t know what you are waiting for and, if you have, there were some new surprises lurking behind the corners of the Prison and you need to see them this year!