For 29 years, the Brookfield Jaycees have been presenting their Annual Haunted House to the unsuspecting public. This year's Frightfest is their "Haunted House 2005: Where Insanity Begins." Like Brookfest, it's located at the Jaycee-Ehlert Park, 4315 Park Ave. But this is undoubtedly more scary.
It all began back in 1977, when, by the light of the full moon, the Jaycees created their first haunted house out of old coffin wood, moldy bones and fresh blood. And other things you don't want to know about. But they disguised it as a couple of long black trailers to get around the building code. Victims, I mean visitors, screamed with delight once they were inside. Some even managed to escape.
Like a mutating monster, over the "passing on" of years, the haunted houses have evolved with technological gruesomosity. Ross Vondrak, involved with the Jaycees from 1981-85 and still an ardent supporter, has noticed some significant changes.
"I was amazed when I saw in the makeup trailer that they were air-brushing the monsters' faces," Vondrak said. "But then, when you think about it, you have to do 40 monsters in 40 minutes, and how else are you going to be able to do it? The haunted house has gone high tech, or at least as high tech as it can go, right now.
"Some of the technology changes, the music changes, the things the monsters wear change, but in running a good haunted house, the elements that go into [doing] that are never going to change," he added. "It takes a lot of planning, it takes a lot of manpower, hammering and acting. We use a nail gun, more of that new technology, but we still use hammers, too."
Since 1984, visitors to the haunted house have been faced with the traditional giant white skull out front. According to Operations Chairman Greg "Beef" Jirac, the skull had "been out here since 1984. It was once part of an exhibit in a room, but afterwards we just couldn't get rid of it, so we put it outside. It was papier-mache, with chicken wire, Then this guy Bruce Walden, used to live over in Congress Park, he was into theater sets and brought over this canvas to put over the skull, and we used some plaster of paris on it, and now it's waterproof. Now we've added flaming eyes and a movable jaw."
"The eyes only look like flickering flames," added Vondrak. "We cannot have any open flames here at the haunted house ... it's because of fire regulations, so that's been another challenge. How do you make something that isn't a live flickering flame look like a live flickering flame? Another one of the illusions that they have to create."
Mr. John "Poptart" Hernden is a Jaycees veteran of 15 years, and has also noticed the changes.
"Inside, we've used motion sensors to make lights come on, suddenly," Hernden said. "But we still like to do the 'Coming out of a trap door and scaring someone half to death!' stuff. You can't beat the classics."
Even the membership has changed. Vondrak pointed out that "in 1981, our chapter was in fast growth. We had grown from about 40 to 65, and then it sagged down for a while, and now it's in a period of regrowth, again. You join Jaycees to learn things; you learn leadership, you apply these techniques to running projects for awhile, and then prove yourself, and then teach this to the next group of people coming up. So it's self-perpetuating, self improvement. And here we see the improvement they've made; they find ways to utilize new technology."
Speaking so much of change, you might ask, what about the weather? Even though it's been chilly nearly to the point of freezing, it has been worse.
"Weather is always a factor," admitted Hernden. "When it rains, people don't come out. But when it's freezing cold, people do come out here. We actually had snow out here one year, just flurries, no accumulation. Rather a large crowd came out here that night. I've heard we once had an inch, but people came anyway. One year the wind made us lose power, but we got a portable generator, loaned to us for that night.
"But we've also had a few Octobers where it was in the 70s, and beautiful out, but when we're all inside the house, everybody was just sweating, with the masks and costumes on. Jenny Spacek does our makeup, and she does a really good airbrushing job on our monsters. Some guys also are able to make themselves look all gory and nasty."
Returning to the subject of make-up, Vondrak observed, "We used to have small squadron of makeup artists ready, with four or five stools, no waiting, and now you have one person doing it with an airbrush, on about two minutes per person."
Hernden added, "We also have some of the monsters who do their own makeup, and they put latex on with gouges. And one of our members, Dan, he'll take Oreos, and crush them up, and put them on his face. And then he'll add on our fake blood. I can't tell you how we make it. It's a secret, but it is edible. You can eat it, [and] you'll get a sugar rush off it. Dan'll just put this all on his face, and go out into the crowd and just peel it off his face, and eat it. grossing them out."
"In past years in Trailer One," said Vondrak, "We've had the 'Pit and the Pendulum,' and 'The Zebra Room,' where everything was in black and white stripes, and there was a very slow strobe, and the monsters were in black and white stripes, too. And every time the strobe went off, the monsters would jump a little closer to the people, because they were blinded by the strobe momentarily. Then the monsters get a little closer, and then they're right on top of them, and then the people would jump out of their skin. That one just kind of evolved from what was supposed to be a Vanishing Room, with a fake perspective.
"Jaycees playing the monsters also sometimes alternate their characters," Vondrak said. "The odds are pretty good that if you get a three-night ticket, you will see different people being different monsters."
The Jaycees monsters go through three hours of "monster training from experienced colleagues. Jirac handles all of the scheduling and planning out every detail to handle the sometimes immense crowds.
"By Halloween, even if it's a clear night, even if it's cold, the people will probably be lined out past the jet," Vondrak said. "That's 300, 400 people, on a good typical night on Halloween weekend or on Halloween itself. A couple of hundred-foot-long line."
In addition to the monsters inside the Haunted House, there are now "outside monsters," too, who swoosh out at you across the ground, sounding like they're sliding on crunching skeleton bones.
One of the sliders is Hernden himself. Since the whole effect is unscripted, anything can happen.
"It gets very improvisational, at times," Hernden said. "You do things right off the top of your head. It's haunted improv. If I can't scare the people, I'm at least going to make them laugh, so maybe I'll just walk up to some girls and make some kind of a joke, like saying, 'At this point, you're supposed to pretend like you're scared and run away from me.' Sometimes the girls play along."
All this high technology still can't replace the customary and basic methods of shocking visitors.
"The most effective scaring is to distract them with something, and then the 'gotcha' comes from somewhere else," said Vondrak. In other words, it's traditional, and it still works.
"We don't spend a lot of money on new props, either," said Hernden "An old doctor's table, we got free, and then a furniture store had a half-off sale. We get cheap props from Wal-Mart."
"Every dollar that they don't have to spend is another dollar that can be put back into the community," agreed Vondrak.
"Within the last year, we've done donations, where we bought new playground equipment here at Ehlert Park," said Hernden. "We do what's called 'Christmas At Your Doorstep,' where we take kids from deprived families out to buy Christmas gifts for their siblings. Things of that nature, and there are a lot of those things. This is one of the ways we raise money for those projects. This is a very big fund-raiser for the Jaycees.
"We have kids in it from other towns, besides Brookfield, such as LaGrange, LaGrange Park, Westmont, even Wisconsin. We have college students who come up on the weekends to help us out, that have been doing the haunted house, and other projects, since high school."
What do the people who dare to venture into the Haunted House have to say about all this effort? A teenage boy shoots out of the door waving his arms, exclaiming, "That was awesome! That was cool!"
This year the Jaycees ask, "Do you think you have what it takes to survive our ghoulish collection of monsters? We hope you do, but we give you fair warning! You may never be the same after experiencing our nightmarish house! You may end up haunted ... for LIFE!
Your chances of visiting the Jaycees' Haunted House are dying away. Opening time for all days, Thursday, Oct. 27 through Monday, Oct. 31 is at 7 p.m., when the shrouding darkness lays its dark shadows of dread across the land. Closing times Friday and Saturday are at 11 p.m., a scant 60 minutes before the Witching Hour. Otherwise for Thursday, Sunday and Monday, a time of 10 o'clock is the hour of doom. Admission price is $7 for each adult or child.
There is a "Lights On" Children's Matinee for young people who may find the combination of utter darkness and heart-stopping terror too intense. This special showing of the spooky real estate takes place on Sunday, Oct. 30 from 2 to 4 p.m. Admission is $2 per child, but parents get to go in free with their children.
For more information, visit the Haunted House's cobwebsite at http://www.brookfieldjaycees.com/Pages/HH/index.shtml. Click at the bottom of the Web page and you'll receive a $1 off coupon.