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Halloween is around the corner, and if you are anything like me, you are getting into the “spirit” (spooky pun) of the season. Take it from me, a lawyer who enjoys bad puns, your best bet for big “Boo!”s is just an hour outside of Chicago in the Aurora Area of Illinois.

One of my favorite Halloween activities is finding the genuine frights you can only find at a professionally produced haunted house. When I was young, the classic haunted house I remember visiting was a community center converted into a pitch black maze you fumbled through while teenagers in Jason masks yelled at you, for charity. Sometimes, if you were lucky, there was even a strobe light. Nowadays, haunted houses are a big business, with special effects and animatronics that rival the quality of a Hollywood movie set, complete with permanent staff of paid actors who spend eleven months of the year devising innovative methods of scaring you out of your ability to achieve restful sleep.

Living in Chicago, options within the city limits are fairly slim. As luck would have it, two of Illinois’ biggest and best haunted houses are just an hour outside of Chicago in the Aurora Area: Basement of the Dead, and Massacre Haunted House. The best part of visiting these two haunted houses is you can make a night or a weekend of it: dinner, drinks, and unspeakable horrors pair nicely with some holiday shopping and outdoor recreation.

Two Haunts Worth Traveling For: Basement of the Dead and Massacre Haunted House

Basement of the Dead sits in a rather charming riverfront pedestrian mall in downtown Aurora, where every weekend in fall you can enjoy a party atmosphere as haunted house enthusiasts line up for their journey through its lower level confines. True to its name, it is a subterranean experience, the perfect setting for scares. Basement of the Dead has a well-earned reputation for being one of the more intense haunted houses you can find anywhere. Ear-splitting sound cues, disorienting visuals, and some of the best haunt actors in the business make this a trip that is not for the faint of heart. You will run into your fair share of clowns and zombies, and the tight basement space makes for cramped and close encounters. The experience is very chaotic, truly terrifying, and not at all appropriate for children.

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It's a wild time, but also a fun one—as noted, it’s basically a big party when you're not tunneling through the haunt, trying not to scream, wishing you had more refined tastes, like opera—and I usually make a point of visiting every year with a big group of friends. Parking is readily available at nearby Hollywood Casino lots, and the casino itself is a great place to wind down with table games after the haunt. Steel your nerves with a drink from Ballydoyle or Gillerson’s, both within steps of Basement of the Dead, or sample award winning craft beers at nearby Two Brothers Roundhouse.

In nearby Montgomery, Illinois is the Massacre Haunted House. Massacre is located in a large strip mall storefront with a big, covered queue area. As a heads up, the main entrance is actually in the back, along with additional parking—head straight there especially if you’re trying to avoid inclement weather. At the Massacre, Basement of the Dead’s claustrophobic darkness is exchanged for large, intricate setpieces populated with a lot more actors than you’d expect: on our last visit, we encountered over 20 actors swarming across a single room. Like Basement of the Dead, Massacre is an intensely scary adults-only experience, but one that relies more on theatricality and less on terrifying jump scares. It’s an impressive attraction, where cavernous settings like churches and factories take advantage of the huge space and the tall ceilings. Don’t forget to take your picture with their gigantic, Instagrammable statue of Pennywise the Clown on your way out of the Massacre.

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Fun Things to Do in the Aurora Area After the Haunt

When it’s time to get back to reality, major attractions and events in the Aurora Area offer a worthwhile visit overnight or for the weekend. You can get a start on your holiday shopping at Chicago Premium Outlets and Fox Valley Mall, take in an award winning Broadway musical at the Paramount Theatre, visit a Mies van der Rohe masterpiece at Farnsworth House, and find outdoor adventure on and along the Fox River. Get your copy of the Aurora Area Go Guide, the official visitors publication of the ten communities of the Aurora Area in Illinois, and find out how you can #EnjoyAurora all year long.

Patrick Hajduch is a patent lawyer, musician, dog lover and haunted house enthusiast. He grew up in the western suburbs and has lived in Chicago since 2004. 

This is a guest article for the #EnjoyAurora blog—contribute your own, and help us tell the world why the Aurora Area is such a great place to live, work, and play, by writing in to