Reviews & Awards
Voted #1 by HauntedHouseChicago.com 11 out of the last 13 years.
“4 out of 5 stars”
“Sickest thing we’ve ever seen”
Kris Zarobsky, HauntedHouseChicago.com:
“A new dimension to haunted attraction terror!”
CBS Chicago’s Best Haunted Houses:
“Chicago’s Most Hard Core Haunted House”
“It’s the scariest, most intense haunt in the region. Since 1996, Statesville Haunted Prison has been terrifying Chicagoland.”
Chicago Quirk, ChicagoNow.com:
“It's like walking into a movie. I forgot to be scared about half the time because I was so amazed by the scenery!”
"Statesville Haunted Prison is one of the best haunted attractions I’ve experienced. I actually felt like I was a prisoner."
“One of Chicago’s Best Haunted Houses”
“The idea of having a prison as the setting of a haunted house is pretty masterful.”
HauntedHouseChicago.com 2013 Official Review
Reviewed on: Sunday, October 13, 2013
For the past umpteen years, we, the HHC Review Team, have gone to countless numbers of attractions within 150 miles of Chicago. (Because a great haunted house is worth the drive!) While there is a ton of planning that goes into our scheduling efforts, we don’t usually arrive until after the attraction has opened. (So they have a chance to warm-up.) But, for the first time, we arrived at Statesville Haunted Prison and City of the Dead early!
As we awaited the opening of the gates watching patrons gather, the line quickly extended past the entire length of the attraction and down into the back parking lot. (And this was only a Sunday!) The clock struck 7:00pm, and shortly after, it was almost as if the beast had awakened. Music started playing, lights dancing, a 50-caliber gun started firing, screams from prisoners inside, and a host of their trademark characters filtered out onto the grounds. Like rock-stars arriving to greet their starving fans, each of them was met with applause and excitement. (And a few fans that seemed to head back to their cars!)
Call it amazing marketing and branding, call it great acting and entertainment, or call it a nice mixture, but this is part of the revolution we are in the midst. The days where actors and actresses put on generic outfits and masks is slowly going by the wayside. Today, more are creating identities and personas, with trademark characteristics and costumes. Fans know the characters by name, and welcome their torment. Because of this, haunt fans aren’t just coming for the tour through the house, but for the entire experience.
No one is leading this revolution more than Statesville Haunted Prison and City of the Dead.
From the moment you get out of your car, to the moment you leave, the show is on. And those key characters? They are everywhere! Inside the prison, outside in the waiting cues, in your thoughts, and peeking into your dreams. The Captain, Fluffy, Heretic, Vladimir, The Cleaner, Nurse Mama, JuJu, Mad Dog, Cog, The Warden, The Blood Bitches, The Clowns, The Sisters, The Maniacs, The Guards, and the list goes on and on!
These characters give a tremendous accent to a show that is simply amazing. I’m not sure if it is still appropriate for the folks from Barnum and Bailey to still call their show the greatest, because they would have some steep competition. This year’s submission has to be the top entry they have had in their entire run.
For an attraction that was already on the top of their game and didn’t need any major facelifts, they took advantage of the off-season and made more changes than we have room to write. The most notable? The Warden’s Room. For years, this opening scene has captured haunt-goers like moths to a flame. After experiencing the 2013-edition of this room, the changes are quite evident and beautifully constructed. (And there is a nice little surprise at the end.)
The changes and upgrades only start there. Throughout both attractions you will easily notice tons of changes and upgrades that only heightened our experience and continued to make the atmosphere the most complete yet.
Now, let’s talk fear. Statesville and COD are VERY good at playing at people’s fears. They take it seriously! While everyone has a different phobia, they make sure you can’t escape it. In addition to all the creatures and clowns, they incorporate LIVE animals into their show. Just when you begin to settle into that comfort zone, they hit you square in the face with real rats, cockroaches, and a big snake. Inside of finding out what’s lurking behind the walls of Statesville, now you get to find out what’s INSIDE of them! This is just another method they take you into a new dimension of terror.
While Haunted House Chicago has awarded our Top Haunted Attraction Award to Statesville Haunted Prison and City of the Dead for a number of years, they have also received national accolades from Travel Channel, Top Haunts Magazine, America Haunts, and the Huffington Post. Call them the new-age freak show, call them rock stars, or simply call them one of Chicagoland’s best haunted attractions, but this is definitely one attraction that you can’t miss!
- Entertainment: 19.5 out of 20
- Scare Factor & Fright: 9 out of 10
- Acting: 10 out of 10
- Sets & Room Detail: 10 out of 10
- Costumes: 5 out of 5
- Make Up: 5 out of 5
- Sound: 5 out of 5
- Lights: 5 out of 5
- Props & Special Effects: 9.5 out of 10
- Originality & Story Concept: 10 out of 10
- Management & Owner Presentation: 5 out of 5
- Website: 5 out of 5
Total: 98 points out of 100 points possible
- Official 2013 Haunted House Chicago Review Team Review
HauntedHouseChicago.com 2012 Official Review
As reviewers, we are faced with the challenge to remain unbiased and uninfluenced when it comes to haunted attractions. Just because we liked an attraction's show in the past, doesn't mean their current efforts will result in the same favor.
Now, at this point, most people know Statesville has been perched atop Haunted House Chicago's Top 13 list for over a decade now. Sure, there have been a couple of years where they weren't king of the mountain, but they always placed in the top three.
This is important to note as we write about our mind-set walking into Statesville Haunted Prison and City of the Dead. In fact, we should say that we walked in with a fine-tooth comb and a magnifying glass, looking for problems and reasons they shouldn't repeat as our top selection. Call it unfair or whatever you would like, but we can admit we wanted to find flaws in this year's performance.
Boy, were we in for a challenge.
History shows us that the team here is extremely talented and executes incredible shows each night. With them setting the bar, they control the decision of how aggressive they would like to be for any given season. While many attractions would sit back and only make minor changes, the team here put the pedal to the medal. We truly had no idea just how busy they had been in the off-season.
As we arrived at the attraction, we were escorted through the main entrance to the front of the attraction. Met with a detailed prison facade, some metal music, and a cast of wandering monsters just drooling to welcome you. And don't even think about getting out-of-line, as they have a nice .50 caliber gun to assist with crowd control.
As actors roamed the area and helped establish that there were no safe areas, guests are escorted from the waiting tent, to the "dog cage", and finally to the holding cell immediately adjacent to the entrance of the prison. Our hearts raced with curiosity, as we finally were told that it was time to be admitted to Statesville Haunted Prison.
Once inside, Statesville began the show with their traditional Warden opening. Accented by a host of electric sparks and a state-of-the-art sound system that rattled the walls, the Warden set the table for the adventure ahead.
As we ventured through the prison walls, we encountered numerous prisoners. Some were asking for help in the bathroom or offering to play with your entrails, as others serenaded guests in the shower. Of course, there is always a host of prisoners just dying to scare the life out of out you.
The first major change to this year's attraction was the Blood Room. The amount of detail in this newly designed boiler room was beyond anything we could imagine. But, what really makes the room is the actresses that rule this room. Known for years as, "Blood Bitches," these ladies are scantily clad and covered in blood. Just their facial expressions and body language would have been enough. Except, they had this intense desire to cover you in blood. (Preferable, the victim's own.)
Another major change to this year was the Electrical Room. Regardless if you are a firefighter, police officer, or just a normal patron, everyone knows that water and electricity don't mix. Well, apparently, the demented minds behind Statesville didn't get that memo and did just that. Easily one of the most memorable scenes to date, this room combines broken pipes, sparking electricity, and water, water, water. Above you, aside you, and all around you, we quickly buried our hands in our pockets and enjoyed the amazing details.
Other incredible rooms include the newly re-envisioned Sisters Room, the always crazy Clowns, and the truly insane maniac ward. AND don't let us forget about the newest addition to the Statesville cast: cockroaches! Serving as Mad Dog's new cell-mates, these creepy insects will keep your skin crawling.
Finally catching our breath, we escaped Statesville Haunted Prison. As the chainsaws buzzed our legs, we headed to the second part of the journey, City of the Dead.
For years, City of the Dead has been referred to as the "baby brother" to Statesville. Although not as intense and in-your-face, City of the Dead has continued to grow and progress into an amazing attraction on its own. After last season's major facelift to the facade and entrance, we were invited to experience what the design team has been busy with for the past year.
Themed as a mine-shaft, we began the second part of our adventure watching the Gatekeeper explain that the lost and buried souls of the Statesville prisoners were buried here. Traversing from room-to-room, we were greeted by actors that rock and twitched, and even spoke in their own language. (This definitely takes fear to a new level!)
As our journey into the burial ground continued, we turned the corner and literally dropped our jaws. Staring us in the face was the major change & upgrade that had been teased for months. Replacing multiple rooms, guests now stood in the middle of an open cavern inside the mine shaft. But, while the scenery was indeed breathtaking, the bigger highlight was the new addition to the cast: a live snake.
(We at HHC are not snake experts, so we don't want to improperly identify the reptile. But, for description sake, we believe it was a Ball Python or Boa.)
Regardless of the breed, guests are given a face-to-face meeting with this new addition, which is the first of its kind in the Chicagoland area! It was done so well, that it sent half of our seasoned review team running into the next room. It is easy to say, job well-done.
(Please note, as we did inquire, both the cockroaches and snake are handled by professionals and are not in any harm. Also, they do not touch the patrons.)
Did we mention bringing fear on a new level?
As we concluded our journey through City of the Dead, we made our way to their new "Midway" area. Here, you are able to purchase souvenirs, take a photo with a zombie, and play their Zombie Hunt game. In this game, you have to manage to take out the zombies with the laser guns before time runs out, or the zombies eat your brains!
Overall, Statesville Haunted Prison and City of the Dead had another extraordinary performance for this season. The detail and the major changes that we experienced inside both attractions simply blew us away. Even though we tried as hard as we could to find fault, the show here is better than it ever has been. (And if they continue to make this level of changes each year, there will be no stopping them!)
Highlights we scream about: The massive changes in City of the Dead, the electrical room, and the live animals.
What to expect for 2013? This year took us completely by surprise. Honestly, we have no idea what to expect for 2013! (Be on the look-out for a special feature on the Travel Channel!)
- Entertainment: 19 out of 20
- Scare Factor & Fright: 9 out of 10
- Acting: 10 out of 10
- Sets & Room Detail: 9.5 out of 10
- Costumes: 5 out of 5
- Make Up: 5 out of 5
- Sound: 5 out of 5
- Lights: 5 out of 5
- Props & Special Effects: 10 out of 10
- Originality & Story Concept: 10 out of 10
- Management & Owner Presentation: 5 out of 5
- Website: 5 out of 5
Total: 97.5 points out of 100 points possible
- Official Haunted House Chicago Review Team Review
HauntedHouseChicago.com 2011 Official Review
For some, just hearing the name sends chills down their spine. While its formal name is Statesville Haunted Prison and City of the Dead, this attraction has escalated to the status of being known by one name. And that name would be, "Statesville."
Having won the Haunted House Chicago Haunted Attraction of the Year Award for the majority of the 2000's, as well as 2010, Statesville definitely knows what patrons want and need in a haunted attraction.
From the moment guests enter the parking lot, the atmosphere of Statesville comes alive with its prison facade, blaring music, machine gun, and screams of victims already in the attraction. (Oops! We meant patrons.)
As we walked through the common-area to the waiting line, a good handful of actors were lingering, watching our every move, and ready to sniff out our every fear. When it finally came time for us to enter, a prison guard herded us into a holding cell. As we are prepped for the experience and terror we are about to receive, guards fulfill the illusion and make each guest feel like a prisoner ready to enter the big house.
As we awaited our turn, it is always enjoyable to watch the other patrons around us. They hide behind their group, or in the arms of their loved one, hoping they won't be seen by the guards. While others, take in every minute of it, and try to make one of the actors break character. Without a doubt, it is always some of the best wait entertainment we experience throughout each Halloween season.
As we began our tour through Statesville, we started with their trademark opening scene, meeting the Warden and hearing about the lost souls that we will encounter. With many renovations that Statesville did this year, the biggest observation was the sound quality. For the first time, every word the Warden said was understandable, and the booming of his voice made the walls rattle. Definitely a great way to get a tingle into your system - and this was only the beginning!
At all times within the attraction, you are surrounded 360-degrees by prison decor and detail. They even make sure not to miss the dirtiness and smell! It is so well-presented, that it is extremely easy to let yourself believe that you actually are in a real prison. (Especially with guards circling as a constant reminder.)
We twisted our way through a number of hallways lined with cellblocks and different chambers of the prison. We visited the Cleaner in the showers, took a walk through the well-known "Sisters" room, and came upon one of our favorite scenes.
We entered the room that looked and smelled of excrement and found a large man wearing ONLY a diaper, sitting on a table. He found that his name was "Mad Dog." We attempted to walk past him, only to be offered a taste of whatever he was covered with. As we refused, he decided that he wasn't going to let it go to waste, and enjoyed consuming some on his own! He even made sure to sing us a song or two. (Coincidentally, this actor, was awarded the 2011 Jim Warfield Acting Award for his work in this scene.)
In 2010, Statesville unveiled the new Maniac Ward, and it was quite a sight to see then. But, for this year, they stepped it up yet again by increasing the number of actors in this room. There are so many that it will set your senses into a frenzy! Actors work in teams to disorient you and keep your attention searching for the exit. As you try to pay attention to one actor, another readies their attack right behind you. The intensity is at its highest and we aren't quite sure on how, but the actors never slow down!
As we continued on our trek, Statesville continued to amaze us as we encountered their newest and most intense addition for the 2011 season, the new and improved Clown Room. Completely redesigned, the Clown Room is one unlike any that we have seen before. With a variety of clowns in every direction, this will send Coulrophobia-sufferers into an instant shock! One of the main features is a clown attached to a bungee harness. Showing that practice makes perfect, the actor is able to make unbelievable jumps and get within a few inches of patrons on the way down.
And just as you thought it was safe to leave, the final hallway helps to leave a lasting impression that you won't forget!
As we finished our journey through Statesville Haunted Prison, we followed the path to enter the City of the Dead. While City of the Dead may not be as intense as its big brother, it is an outstanding journey through the underworld and packs quite a punch.
This year, a ton of time and effort was spent on renovating and updating the entrance to City of the Dead. (And seriously, what an amazing job!) Feeling right out of the set of a movie, City of the Dead has guests descend into the burial pit of caves through mine shafts.
Beginning the tour, we are introduced to the Gatekeeper and explained that he houses the souls of the former Statesville inmates here in the City of the Dead. As we weaved in-and-out of tunnels, there always seemed to be an actor ready to attack. If you let your guard down for even a minute, they would make sure they took advantage. They even have their own language they speak that is extremely creepy! By far, we have never seen actors take it to this level before!
While the twisting path kept us guessing where the next attack would come from, we found ourselves surprised time and time again. Of course, the trademark exit left us with smiles on our faces and craving more.
The last feature that Statesville Haunted Prison and City of the Dead present to their patrons is the Zombie Hunt game. As you exit City of the Dead, patrons are offered the chance to shoot 6 bullets and try to hit 2 zombies. The challenge is to make sure that you didn't let the zombies have a chance to grab a defenseless puppy! Even if you don't play, it is extremely entertaining just to watch the action and those that do participate.
Overall, another outstanding year for the reigning champion! They showcased trained actors in beautifully detailed scenes to gave patrons the entire package. Proving once again why they have been selected as a Haunted Attraction of the Year Award recipient for multiple years.
Highlights we scream about: The new Clown Room, "Vladimir" & "Mad Dog," and the re-designed City of the Dead entrance.
What to expect for 2012? As we've seen in past years, Statesville is second-to-none when it comes to reinvention. Each off-season, they are constantly tinkering, reconstructing, and redesigning. Might we see some other big changes next year? Guess we'll just have to wait and see. But, if we had that magic 8-Ball again, signs would definitely point to, "Yes."
HauntedHouseChicago.com 2010 Official Review
Reviewed on: Thursday, October 7, 2010
Admission Cost: $30
Sometimes, and it is very rare, but sometimes, people or destinations earn enough popularity or street credit to be referred and referenced by a single name. For instance, Bono, Madonna, Vegas, Cabo, etc, etc.
In the Chicagoland haunted attraction market, it could be argued that there is only one that can be referred to by a single name, and that would be known as Statesville. It may also earn the credit for the longest full name as well, which is, Statesville Haunted Prison and City of the Dead.
Statesville has even established such a reputation that one of my new review staff members, who has only worked with me for one year, trembled at the very sound of the name. Prior to her visit during our review night, she had only heard stories, urban legends, and fairy tales.
(Remind me to tell you about the 13-story haunted house that you get your money back if you get out.)
Did you know that Statesville Haunted Prison is actually based off of a real prison called, “Stateville Correctional Center” (Notice the singular tone.) It too is located just down the road in Crest Hill, IL. It is a maximum-security facility and opened in 1925. Not only is it one of the few facilities in Illinois that carried out executions, but has also been featured in several Hollywood productions such as, “Natural Born Killers”, “Bad Boys”, and several soap operas.
Speaking of executions, did you know that John Wayne Gacy was executed there?
One more fun fact: Did you know that the design behind Stateville was designed by British philosopher, Jeremy Bentham? (Ring any bells, Lost fans?)
I must admit that the very first time I headed to Statesville, circa 1998-1999, I too had delusions of a haunted house set in a real prison. Although it isn’t actually located near the real cellblocks, the legend and lore still add to the creepy aura that surrounds this attraction.
From the moment we stepped out of the car, Statesville slaps you in the face. Metal tones blaring, police gumball lights spinning, and prison bars covering the face of the monster you are about experience.
As we waited to enter, a good dozen prison guards milled about. Some monitoring, some yelling, and some turning sharply and shining their flashlights in our eyes. There was even a maniacal clown running loose, jumping on the cages, and bleeding all over. She even offered to share her gum; how nice.
With patrons eager and waiting on edge, the atmosphere couldn’t be more perfect. Most were too nervous to stand still. Some kept looking around cautiously, while others hid in arms of loved ones. Without a doubt, there wasn’t a dull moment and has to be among the best wait entertainment we have seen at a haunted attraction.
Inside, Statesville began with their trademark “Warden” entrance. Fun fact: Did you know that the song played is, “O Fortuna” from “Carmina Burana” by Carl Orff? The full name of the movement is, “Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi.”
(Today must be history day; so many facts!)
As we braved our way through a number of cellblocks, jails, and chambers, our first memorable scene came as we somehow wandered into the men’s shower room. Standing before us was a half-naked, rotund prisoner standing under a showerhead, rubbing his body, and singing a classic Divinyls track. There was even real, running water coming from all the showerheads. Not only did our focal point get wet, but even our group got a little sprinkle!
If I might say: one of the creepiest encounters ever. AND not a spot of make-up on this actor… just some baby oil.
It’s ok; I will wait for you to get that mental picture out of your head.
AND speaking of “sprinkles”, there was even a prisoner, how should we say, “relieving himself” in the trough. And if I remember correctly, it was glowing.
Just as we thought it was safe to peer out from behind our virgin eyes, we landed in a very disturbing room, inhabited by quite a large man covered in what seemed to be his own waste. Not only was he covered in it, but he also decided that it looked tasty… if you get my drift.
Wow. And really, folks, this was only the beginning. Not only does Statesville do the pop-scares and sneak attacks, but the mentally disturbing barrages really add a new dimension to haunted attraction terror!
Of course, Statesville kept staples like the “Ring” room and their famous Clown room. But, 2010 unveiled a brand new maniac ward and that is absolutely something special. With mental patients literally everywhere, it is probably the busiest room I have ever experienced. There were actors in wheelchairs, hanging through the ceiling, dangling from ropes, and even breaking straight out of the walls! We were told the real number later, but during our experience, we felt there had to be 50 people in that room alone!
With some of the best path and room designs yet, Statesville actors never stopped to breathe while zigging and zagging us through their fortress of terror. Whether we were walking through slanted walls, crouching down, or tiptoeing around obstacles, our eyes never stopped spanning for what was next…and we weren’t done, yet.
As we tried to catch our breath, we were lead to the gates of City of the Dead. City of the Dead is slightly less intense than the big house, but not an ounce less effective.
As we walked through scene after scene, resembling the underworld and beautifully crafted caves, hordes of actors, speaking some unknown language, assaulted us at every turn. Winding us around stalagmites, over bridges, and inside caverns, nearly every step brought us closer to another actor ready to strike.
Just as we thought we were out of the woods, and the end was in sight, City of the Dead pulls out a last shocker that was newly added for this year. It caught our entire team off-guard! (And no, we can’t tell you what it is; that would ruin the surprise!)
With all the updates and changes made, City of the Dead is finally an outstanding companion to its older brother and really helps to make this haunt combo a perfect 1-2 punch!
As we finally made our way to the parking lot, we couldn’t help but to have some of the biggest smiles on our faces yet. Statesville’s motto may be, “Feed the Beast,” but these monsters are aggressive, relentless, and hungrier than ever. In the 10+ years that I have been reviewing this show, this is definitely among their best performances yet.
If you were ever considering seeing the show before and haven’t yet, now is absolutely the time. And don’t worry about bringing them any snacks; with you there, they will have plenty of fresh meat.