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Nightmare on Derby Street will haunt your dreams with mediocrity

Originally published in the October 29, 2010 issue

In general, people attend a haunted house for one of two reasons: to have others scare the piss out of them or to make fun of the lame attempts to scare the piss out of them.

To a girl who was watching “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “Matlock” at the tender age of 4, I personally belong to the latter category. Attending a haunted house then gives me some mixed emotions, involving the fervent hope that I am not stuck behind a group of teeny bopper screamers as I move throughout the maze.

When deciding which haunted attraction I was going to torture myself with this year, I opted to keep things classy and attend Pekin’s Nightmare on Derby Street to become trapped in Lizzie Bordon’s nightmare as the cryptic radio advertisement claims. The run-down furniture store turned haunted house had a reasonable admission of $10 and a surprisingly short wait time considering the extensive advertising, which probably should have been a tip-off that something was amiss.

Rather than playing cryptic music to get the short line in the mood, selections including Katy Perry and Bruno Mars played on the speakers. But, I can overlook this minor distraction from detail.

However, the general ambiance of the waiting area is, in my mind, very important to the reaction of the public to the attraction. After all, as Alfred taught me, keeping the audience in suspense is key.

The shoddy decorations included orange lights and a cliche chalk outline. The creepiest part was the bloody clowns peeking out from behind the “Pee Here, Not There” sign, not because I’m afraid of clowns, but because I’m afraid of the creep behind the mask lurking around a public restroom. Before entering the maze, the woman at the door informed my group that someone (an adult) had just peed their pants. Clearly this was because they didn’t want to take their chances with the freak-tastic clowns in the bathroom.

As we moved throughout the maze, we were met with the traditional crude masks and cheap scare tactics. A few standouts were in the main character, Lizzie’s, bedroom, where patrons were directed through her closet to determine the source of her bad dreams. They were then led down a narrow crawl space filled with laser lights and forced to use critical thinking to figure out how to get the door open … or maybe that was just my non-resourceful friends.

There were many interactive aspects, like having to crawl through a van that had a monster with smoker’s cough as the driver.

Obviously there was the usual groping around aimlessly in the dark, which is all in good fun, except when you mindlessly grope a monster after being separated from your friends. Then it just becomes awkward for everyone.

The haunted house was completely indoors, which after a long day of rain was a good thing and probably drew in more people who didn’t want to be outdoors.

Aside from the fact that the quality of the monsters was sub-par, the duration was less than impressive at around 10 minutes and the set-up could have been better. Overall the storyline and thematic elements surrounding a little girl’s closet helped to make this haunted house worthwhile.

There is one thing I must mention, however. After attending this attraction, I learned some unsettling news. Apparently it had been shut down earlier in the week due to not filing the proper paperwork with the Illinois Department of Labor. This was in addition to the problems the attraction had with violating 12 fire codes, including the exits being locked.

Learning this after the fact is scarier than the actual event itself. So for those looking for a thrill and potential fire hazard this Halloween season, check out Nightmare on Derby before you get burned.

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