Daily Egyptian

Behind the spook: SIU students spare no screams with horrific haunted houses (VIDEO)

By Hannah Cooper

From small-town haunts to world-renowned attractions, SIU students and alumni are in for the scare.

Chittyville School Haunted House, a horror attraction located about 30 minutes north-east of Carbondale in Herrin, is a real — and supposedly haunted — school abandoned in 1989.

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In 1913 — the same year the school was built — a custodian heard screams coming from the boiler room, according to the haunted house’s website. Rumor has it, he went to investigate, and never returned.

Husband-wife duo, Sammie and Mike King, purchased the building in 2004. The school has been a sanctum of screams and a hotspot of horrors ever since.

Chittyville School is an abandoned and dilapidated building in the middle of an otherwise pleasant rural neighborhood. A gray metal building houses the waiting area, where dozens of giggly, twitchy and nervous customers waited to be let in Saturday night.

A few doors away inside the makeup room, rows of grotesque masks watched as SIU student Patrick Burke painted a glowing pink smile on his face beside a cobweb-lined windowsill.

Burke, a junior from Los Angeles studying theater, described his character, a Tim Burton-esque clown, as “his baby.”

This was Burke’s second year working as an actor and makeup artist at Chittyville. While going through the house three years ago, he liked it so much he asked how he could work there.

A week later, he was back — but this time, as a clown.

Before attending SIU, Burke was a makeup artist at Rend Lake College. He said the actors would often come to him for help with their get-ups.

Patrick Burke, a junior from Los Angeles studying theater, poses for a portrait in the Clown Room on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, at Chittyville School Haunted House in Herrin. "It's fun scaring people," he said. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Patrick Burke, a junior from Los Angeles studying theater, poses for a portrait in the Clown Room on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, at Chittyville School Haunted House in Herrin. “It’s fun scaring people,” he said. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

A similar dynamic showed at Chittyville, where — equipped with an earpiece — he directed the actors on where to go.

Many of the actors had a similar motif of white faces, dark eyes and red blood, but the level of gore varied from character to character and from room to room.

Some of the rooms included a demented dentist’s office, a foggy swamp and a vertigo-inducing, spinning tunnel called “the Vortex.”

“All these people come in, Burke said as he searched for his jar of fake blood. “And they see things they don’t expect.”

A pitch black maze, a wall that delivers an electric shock to whoever touches it and copious amounts of fog turned an abandoned gym into a hectic, disorienting experience.

To plan all of this, Burke said he begins preparing for the haunt about six months in advance by purchasing new supplies, making new costumes and refining his character and makeup.

But for owner Sammie King, Halloween has no off-season.

They change about 25 percent of the rooms every year, with the exception of favorites such as the dark maze and clown room. King described Chittyville as a “labor of love,” investing all the profit from the venue into the following year’s show — with 2017 being Chittyville’s 13th year in the scare business.

Patrick Burke, a junior from Los Angeles studying theater, applies costume makeup Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, at Chittyville School Haunted House in Herrin. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Patrick Burke, a junior from Los Angeles studying theater, applies costume makeup Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, at Chittyville School Haunted House in Herrin. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

But SIU’s involvement with the haunted house industry goes back even further.

“Southern Illinois University is the reason I started doing haunted houses,” said John LaFlamboy, a 1998 theater graduate and owner of Zombie Army Productions in Chicago.

After graduating, he moved up to Chicago and rented a house alongside some other theater students from SIU. From there, they began making revolutionary haunted houses that were “rock ‘n’ roll, in-your-face, assaults on your senses” and “took the science of scaring people seriously,” he said.

“I get to get up everyday and play like a kid,” LaFlamboy said.

His creative process involves making an exact model of his houses out of Legos — planning every aspect, from sound to the perspective of customers — before building anything.

LaFlamboy still has the Lego model of a house he was affiliated with called “The Fear Haunted House at Navy Pier,” which sunk to the bottom of Lake Michigan on Halloween night in 2014. Zombie props from the attraction still occasionally wash up on the shore, he said.

Dalton Gwodzik, of West Frankfort, poses while playing "Mr. Giggles" on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, at Chittyville School Haunted House in Herrin. Gwodzik has been working at Chittyville School Haunted House for two years and has worked in haunted houses for six years. (Morgan Timms | @Morgan_Timms)

Dalton Gwodzik, of West Frankfort, poses while playing “Mr. Giggles” on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, at Chittyville School Haunted House in Herrin. Gwodzik has been working at Chittyville School Haunted House for two years and has worked in haunted houses for six years. (Morgan Timms | @Morgan_Timms)

SIU professor Vicky Strei joined LaFlamboy in making houses. Their first project, Statesville Haunted Prison in the Chicagoland area, is globally acclaimed.

Though Strei died 15 years ago, the work they did together is still terrifying customers.

LaFlamboy emphasized that many of his company’s staff have been SIU students.

“It’s definitely a Saluki company,” he said of Zombie Army Productions.

While unaffiliated and many miles away from each other, the owners of Chittyville School Haunted House and Zombie Army Productions had similar things to say about making haunted houses.

Both said large amount of passion are necessary to make it in the industry.

“We love Halloween, and we love that other people love Halloween,” King said.

LaFlamboy also encouraged those interested to devote a year to attending conventions and classes, reading books and planning.

But for Burke, who plans to continue volunteering at Chittyville, it’s less about the business and more about the fun.

“We do it for the love of scaring people,” he said.

Staff writer Hannah Cooper can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @hcooper_DE.

To stay up to date with all your SIU news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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