Halloween is the best time of year for those who enjoy a good fright. Thrill-seekers often look to regional haunted houses to supply them with the ultimate adrenaline rush.
We wondered: how do you take an empty space and turn it into a terrifying experience? Eyewitness News Anchor Emily Waldron took a trip to the Screamatorium in Brodhead to find answers — and a good scare — and got the chance to become part of the haunt itself.
Anne-Margaret Naber has been creating haunted houses — “haunts” for those in the know — for nearly two decades.
“We started out at the YMCA Camp Winnebago [in Rockford] in 2002. That was our first year,” she said. “It had a very small crowd, but it kind of grew after that, and 17 years later, we’re here.”
Naber found an old middle school in Brodhead which had been built in 1906 and has been left abandoned for the last 20 years.
“My first reaction was, this is absolutely perfect for a haunted house,” she said.
Before Naber could even begin designing the haunt, she and her partners had a lot of work to do to clean it up.
Co-owner Bill Wolter said, “We hauled four semi-loads of garbage out of there: old dry wall, old ceiling tiles. Everything was just in piles down the hallways, in every single room. For six months, we just hauled garbage out.”
Naber said the building was spooky as the found it, and claims she and others who spent the night in the cavernous space have heard voices, footsteps and slamming doors.
Wolter adopts the persona of “Twisty the Clown” from FX’s “American Horror Story: Freak Show” at the Screamatorium. He says once the building was cleaned out, Naber got to work designing the 20,000 square feet of horror.
“She walked through and she said, ‘This room’s gonna be the asylum, this room’s gonna be the maze,'” Wolter said. “And then, she sat down on the computer and blueprinted it out, where we needed to add walls, where we need to put walkways.”
“We have a lot of detail throughout our attractions, which I am really big into. I believe it adds a sense of reality to the scenes,” Naber said.
The Screamatorium starts out in a space designed to represent a creepy mental asylum, and then takes the visitor through mazes, a ghoulish carnival, and even a deranged butcher’s shop.
Actors play the parts of ghosts, boogeymen and chainsaw wielding maniacs.
“I’m a victim,” said Bridge Ware, a makeup artist for the haunt who also participates in the horror. “I do a lot of screaming for help, begging for my life, that kind of thing.”
Each actor’s makeup can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or more, depending on how complicated the final creation will be.
Anchor Emily Waldron was put into the makeup chair to be transformed into a ghoulish creature, with maggot filled scabs added to her face, and white makeup with black highlights added to her features to create a cadaverous effect.
After some menacing-looking eyebrows, more dirt and more blood were added to the costume, she was ready to pounce on unsuspecting guests.
But you’ll have to watch the video attached to this story to get the full effect.
“I don’t usually enjoy haunted houses,” said one of the night’s visitors. “I’m not very much a person who likes to get scared, but this was a pretty good one.”
Wolter says it’s reactions like that which make it all worth it.
“I like to see the look on people’s faces, to know that I entertained them, and our actors entertained them, and everyone had a good time,” he said.