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This attraction was reviewed on October 19, 2018 by Team White City Devils.

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Final Score: 9.3

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Statesville Haunted Prison (SHP) creator, Paul Siegel, grew up experiencing the terror of living nearby the original Stateville Correctional Center, watching as guards surrounded the prison area to ensure no prisoners escaped. In 1995, he started a haunted hayride on his farm that unfortunately was shut down. The next year, an abandoned building on the land was up and running as SHP.
In 1998, John LaFlamboy, founder of Zombie Army Productions, came in to play and helped make SHP what it is now.

By 2003, City of the Dead was added to the haunt attraction. With a solid theme and a strong team of dedicated actors, their work and performance are highly recognized as one of the top teams in the industry.

Prison: 9.42
CotD: 9.19

Cast: 9.16

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The variety of 150 to 175 actors that take control of SHP make for a high-energy and intense haunt that leaves no breathing room!

The Prison:
Using their skills, the cast successfully painted a picture of how a prison taken over by maniacs would play out. It gives us all the more reason to never want to step foot inside a real prison!

The night we visited, it didn’t feel as if there were many dead spaces with the actors. The number of cast members was plentiful but also not overwhelming. The only times we felt there was a tremendous number of actors were in appropriate scenes like the sanitarium room. All the laughter, screams and chaotic sounds clashing all at once was enough to disorient anyone.

Whenever an actor presented themselves to us they also managed to use their surroundings effectively to capture our full attention. One particular scene that stood out for us was the moment we had been given our bundle of jail clothing and bed sheets. Big Momma stopped us on our tracks by moving a bunk in front of the path. She demanded we give her a present to let us through. Feeling vulnerable and confused, she didn’t hesitate to snag our prison gear to keep for herself. When one of our team members tried to take back the gear while her back was turned for a moment, she noticed right away and yelled right into his face, breaking down any sense of bravery. Big Momma did an outstanding job on making us feel like the vulnerable and small ones in the moment. If anyone needs a comparison, it kind of felt like (what we imagine) being a kid on one of those ‘scared straight’ reality shows would feel like.

Many of the other actors throughout the prison were appropriately insane. Some of the victims of the prison rioters gave us a believable feeling they were in trouble and fearing for their lives.

City of the Dead:
City of the Dead (CotD) had a tad less amount of a cast to work with, but it did not take away from an excellent performance. The actors here had common dialogue as if they were speaking/screaming at us in tongues. With the surrounding setting of a cave and a very ancient feel, it was appropriate and creepy to be in the middle of.

The actors in CofD were interactive and did trail us from time to time even in awkward spots we wouldn’t expect such as the inflatable crushing walls. The cast did a great job on staying in character throughout our tour and helped achieve extra points for being believable.

SHP as a whole has a variety of different characters roaming around that ensures nothing is repetitive. Along with that, there is also a variety of scares and interactivity. The majority of the interactivity and dialogue felt organic and ‘in the moment,’ which effectively flowed with the environment. There is no doubt that every visit wouldn’t be the same.

Prison: 9.5
CotD: 8.83

Costuming: 9.29

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The costumes were well put together and are of high quality. The hard work that was put into the outfits can be recognized right away. Whether we ran into an individual character or a group of clowns (more on them later), the clarity of who or what they were was well executed and stood out in their respective scene.

The costuming in the prison varied but was appropriate for the theme. Costuming included prison riot gear that did not look cheap, but rather had an authentic feel as if the crew of the haunt knocked on the doors of Joliet prison and asked to borrow some gear. The inmates also had fitting costuming, the orange jumpsuits were accurate and added to a realistic feel. Big Momma (as we mentioned before) was one actor in this costume. Combining her attire with the scene and her overall attitude, it let us feel really threatened by her.

We did eventually wind up in a clown sector of the prison, and it was a thing of nightmares. The clowns had on face paint for the most part but it was applied well enough to give the feel as if they have been locked up in the prison for quite a while. Some of the clown masks used were of high quality and gave off a frightening feeling. They all had a matching red and white checkered pattern in their clothing and we could tell right away they must have been brought into the prison as a group.

One character who was a real stand out was Fluffy. In an all-white jumpsuit (really a straitjacket) his mask had a small smile on it that gave a false impression as he was unpredictable. He carried around a teddy bear, which we came to understand is how he was given his name (by ripping open stuffed animals).

The costuming in CotD was also appropriate for the theme. When we first entered, the actors were dressed more like some kind of backroad, country folk. They were gritty-looking, suggesting they were the people who found the entrance to the cave that is CotD, or were they the people to help contain what’s inside? (answers ahead in a different section!)

Once inside the cave, the actors were dressed appropriate to the theme. Some of the masks used gave a fiendish goblin kind of look, giving the impression they were cast here from the prison riot. The dwelling actors throughout had well applied makeup that helped us feel as if zombies had freshly risen. All added latex, prosthetics, and adhesives were well-disguised under the makeup and assisted in giving an overall impressive look.

Considering the short amount of time the makeup artists at SHP have for upwards of 175 actors, the quality was impressive. To be able to dish out that many well-executed applications is a feat not many can do on a single night, yet here we are with the artists of SHP!

Prison: 9.5
CotD: 9.08

Customer Service: 9.61

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Since this was our first-time attending SHP, we decided to hit the website for all our information. Directions, hours, prices and all FAQ’s can be found on there. Their website gets a bonus for the interactive Control Room, which gives a bit of history on the main rooms and a mini clip (click on any/everything).

The easiest way to get to SHP would be off of Weber Road on I-55 (only a short drive south of the exit). Upon arriving, we noticed signs to an open parking lot (free parking!) on the side where Siegel’s Cottonwood Farm is located. There are many staff members there to help traffic along and they got us parked in no time! If the lot is full, there is another open lot located across the street, off the property. Due to a city order, anyone parked across the street has to take a shuttle bus to help with foot traffic.

Since SHP is located inside a farm, finding the ticket booth is a little tricky. It should be noted that if tickets are purchased online (through 3rd party websites), they will only redeem printed out copies. It is stated on their website and posted around the establishment but sometimes people may miss that. Staff was helpful and professional and kept the line going. There are concession stands, gift shops that sell whimsical Halloween gifts and a bar to keep the adult patrons entertained and happy.

It’s always great to see helpful staff that are passionate with what they do, SHP is clearly a proud group!

Atmosphere: 9.38

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After acquiring tickets, there are signs leading to the queue line located under a tent. Along the way there is a guard tower occupied by actors in riot gear holding guns. As we walked by the tower, bursts of gunfire went off unexpectedly. We had to stop and look around to see if what we had heard was real or a recording. It’s enough to startle anyone every time it happens.

As we walked down the roped queue lines, we were stopped by a few actors giving an intentionally awkward confrontation. Fluffy actually took one of our team members’ beanie and posed for pictures. We normally experience minor touch like hair touching and hover hands, but here they keep a clean and fun touch experience. One moment that stood out for us was when someone passed by with a hoodie on, the actor pulled on the strings which temporarily impaired the customer.

The overall facade of SHP is made to look like a giant prison. There are guard towers all around surrounding the cemented walls of the building. The overall vibe we got from the environment outside was a good tone setter as to what was to come.

Before entering the building to be brought into the introduction room, we were locked in the ‘Dog Cage’ with others as to better help move the queue lines. A few of the prisoners welcomed us to their prison and warned us of what was waiting in there. The actor looked around to find guests to pick on, and he eventually made eye contact with one of our team members, one thing led to another and the entire cage was in unison singing the BSB ‘I Want It That Way.’ As fun and unusual as it was, it almost made us forget the horrors that would lie within the prison walls. That tone was quickly stripped away as the Dog Cage opened and we were well on our way to all the torment ahead.

Special Effects: 9.27

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Zombie Army Productions has built and designed all changes to Statesville since 1998. With their extensive list of crew and experience, it is no wonder they have received such high praise. A large variety of animatronics were used but were effectively spaced out to give actors room to interact with customers. We did find out that there are engineers on-site to deal with broken down animatronics, giving them creative freedom to change it up if needed.

Prisoners have taken over and chaos is heard at all times. The sounds of alarms and distant maniacal laughter disorients effectively to achieve random bursts of scares.

As we walked through, we saw great detail from corner to corner in every room. One room that caught our attention was the shower/bathroom scene. It was complete with tiles covering it from wall to ceiling giving an entire 360 environment feel. Another simple, yet creepy room was the sisters’ room. Simply using mirrors gives the illusion of more than just the twelve sisters occupying the room and it forced us to keep our hands out in front of us as to not bump into any mirrors. It was effective and made it very difficult to pinpoint which one was going to jump and scare us at any point.

Another really cool effect was an actor screaming for help stuck inside a giant meat grinder. One of the prisoners was pushing her down even more into the grinder. It gave us a good idea as to why visitors are known as ‘Meat.’

The animatronics used throughout proved to be effective with providing jump scares. The room with clowns actually had used an effect we have yet to see anywhere else! One actor is set up in the distance, and within a second was right next to us. Its very creative the way this effect is done, but we will not go into full detail, as one really needs to see it for themselves.

In CotD, the ceiling was covered in moss and vines crawled down the cave walls. Insects covered the walls to complete the overall feel of being in the middle of a natural cave. One of our team members went a good portion of the haunt eyes closed as she has a fear of spiders (it was hilarious). The animatronics in the cave were of high quality and were as effective as the ones we found in the prison.

There is a pretty cool animatronic that made it seem like a group of zombies were coming towards us all at once. With the surrounding setting in the cave, it gave the feeling of being in the classic Lucio Fulci film, City of the Living Dead.

Although a different tone, CotD uses some awesome old-school tricks effectively, such as fog surrounding scenes along with laser lights to break through. Overall, the high-quality details were very convincing in both attractions. Accompanied with the high energy from the actors, it’s no wonder why SHP has been a must-see attraction for so long.

Prison: 9.4
CotD: 9.14

Theme: 9.28

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Simply put, the theme is in the name of the haunt Statesville Haunted PRISON. That’s it! All jokes aside, the theme is very unique on combining both attractions to a single storyline.

The high security prison is home to countless inmates convicted of countless, unimaginable crimes. They have rioted and taken over the prison for their own. The prisoners await the fresh meat (that’s us!) for the hungry prison to feast upon. The story is told by the Warden and done so in an introduction only Zombie Army Productions would be able to pull off towards the beginning of the haunt. The entire haunt is a visit through the prison. We walked through cells, shower rooms, the bus that drops off prisoners, halls, and the iconic clown room! It is also the home to a circus group called ‘Circus of the Dead’ who were imprisoned for luring people (then killing with chainsaws) and using their body parts in their traveling circus.

City of the Dead ties into the prison theme as it is the resting place for all passing souls belonging to the worst of the worst prisoners of Statesville’s prison. The country-looking folk we mentioned before are basically the gatekeepers of the cave to make sure nothing gets out. For City of the Dead, we were again given an astounding introduction by someone called George (you’ll need to meet him for yourself). Throughout the catacombs of the City, we became witnesses to all the restless dark souls trying to escape the cave.

Prison: 9.5
CotD: 9.06

Scare Factor: 9.15

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SHP is a successful example of how a professional haunted house should operate with a skillful team of actors, quality costumes, highly detailed atmosphere and help from proper engineers. There are a few times when there’s queue lines inside to control the traffic of groups, which makes sure every group has a time gap, so the actors are not seen in action by the upcoming group.

The beginning of our prison tour was anything but normal and only became more intense the further we went in. Predictability is not a rule the inmates follow. Considering all the details we easily got lost in, we became easy targets for multiple scares as we were vulnerable most times. The actors did a great job on singling us all out on more than one occasion. We were affected by multiple types of scares including pop ups, environmental, and rough dialogue that was fitted for the prison setting. The prison did a great job on creating an overall intense feeling throughout our visit which made us constantly stay on guard.

The actors were able to use the environment of the cave and catacombs to their advantage. A few times some actors in camouflaged costumes were successful at blending in and catching us with last minute scares that were timed perfectly. The environment itself gave us multiple scares throughout and was amazing overall. The entire experience is very overwhelming as we could see anyone nervous trying to find any idea of ‘outside’ to help ease their peace of mind, and its not going to happen. City of the Dead does great work on giving new meat the feeling of being deep underground.

Prison: 9.16
CotD: 9.14

Entertainment & Value: 9.4

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General Admission tickets are $30 both online and in person which includes admission to the SHP and City of the Dead. VIP fast pass tickets are $45 online and $50 in person. There is a $5 off special on Thursdays, which is a recommended day to go for little to no wait time with the same number of actors on any night. On any other day, VIP fast passes are worth it.

Haunt time ran around 37.58 minutes, which does not include the ‘Dog Cage’ part or the queue line from the prison to CotD. This brings the MPD (minutes of entertainment per dollar spent) to $1.25 which is a great value. CotD did run the shorter portion of the haunt clocking in at just over 12 minutes, but it’s a very entertaining and pretty scary attraction overall. The prison is well put together (as mentioned before) and has more of an actor need to minimize any possible dead space.

There are free photo opportunities in set up locations, gaming attractions to win prizes and merch booths all round. The haunt does take place at Siegel’s Cottonwood Farm, so we did have an opportunity to try out some of the benefits of the farm inside the gift shop (apple cider doughnuts!!).

It is clear as to why SHP has been around for over 20 year. The haunt is a Chicago landmark in the haunt community and is well worth return visits every year, as we plan to do!

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