Wisconsin has numerous wickedly wondrous haunted houses during this time of year. The Hill Has Eyes in Franklin is artful and terrifying, with an operating ski lift – called, of course, the "scare lift" – that has visitors dangling in the dark night at one point. The Wisconsin Fear Grounds at the Waukesha County Fairgrounds has a massive, confusing, strobe-lit maze that will rattle even the most grounded individuals, and the Fear District’s infinite room of red curtains is genius.
But one must slip over the state border to access the most terrifying of the haunted houses within reasonable driving distance from Milwaukee: Dungeon of Doom.
In it’s 23rd year of operation, Dungeon of Doom is located in Zion, Illinois – about 50 minutes from Milwaukee – in what feels like an abandoned industrial area. Brothers-in-law Anthony Relken and Peter Koklamanis have been in the haunted house biz for 32 years. They've had Dungeon of Doom for 23, and finally had the opportunity to buy the building six years ago.
"Now we can do whatever we want," says Relken.
Dungeon of Doom takes about an hour to walk – and scream – through. During this time guests experience room after room of horrific, artistic sets with more than 100 gruesomely groomed live actors with a knack for jump scaring, pig snorting, howling and getting so close you will feel their lava-hot breath on your face.
The seemingly endless rooms of gory scenes – some, like the abandoned children’s hospital are truly unsettling – are broken up by even more immersive experiences like getting berated in a spinning cage, falling nine floors and crashing to the ground in an elevator and – by far the most intense – getting buried alive. Without giving too much away, let’s just say it’s as awful and awesome as it sounds. Claustrophobes beware. And it’s probably something you only need to experience once in your life. Maybe twice.
Relken and Koklamanis crafted by hand every last gooey eyeball, raging 8-foot mechanical beast, vibrating floorboard, ear piercing sound and padded wall in the place. It’s impressive, large-scale, the real-deal and definitely not for anyone who doesn’t appreciate the unrelenting feeling of fear.
"For us, it’s a passion project," says Relken. "I will never retire from this. They’re gonna have to bury me in there."
Dungeon of Doom is open weekends through mid-November, including a "lights out" experience Nov. 8-9. The cost is $30-50 – get the VIP package to ensure getting "buried alive."
For more information in general, go here, and be sure to read the warnings. Dungeon of Doom is definitely not for everyone – especially not kids – but it’s a terrifying treasure for adults and teens who dig this sort of thing.
Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.
As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.
She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that.
Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.
Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.
In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!
When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.