Ken Spriggs spent 13 years running Dream Reapers Haunted House in Melrose Park, tweaking the attraction each year to squeeze fresh screams from veteran customers.
"We try to change with the themes, to focus on new technologies and new scares that people haven't seen," he said. "It's hard to find new ways to scare people, but we always have some tricks up our sleeves."
Dream Reapers closed last season, but now Spriggs is at the helm of the all-new CarnEvil at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates.
The attraction is actually multiple haunted houses in one. There's Carny Town where you travel through the sewers, visit a rotting trailer and see what carnival food is really made from, a doll factory where new people are made and a zombie-filled cemetery. As at Dream Reapers, there will be actors entertaining guests while they wait in line.
The new space offers opportunities for even more entertainment so you can go ice-skating on orange ice or ride a Tilt-a-Whirl with a zombie.
Competing with new haunted attractions -- and finding original ways to creep out repeat visitors -- is a challenge faced by all haunted houses.
Mark Kaschube, artistic director of Screams in the Park in Rosemont, based his haunted house on the story of H.H. Holmes, a serial killer believed to have committed more than 200 murders during the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Kaschube even used blueprints of Holmes' home to recreate some of the rooms. For the house's third year, he's added 13 new rooms while revamping 25 of the original scares based on visitor feedback.
"For anybody who's been over the past two years, it will be a very different experience for them," Kaschube said. "We can watch you while you're going through the haunted house, so we know what's working and what's not. We interview patrons as they're exiting as to what they like and what they don't like."
The Asylum Xperiment in Villa Park keeps things fresh by never reusing anything.
"We build from the ground up every year," said spokeswoman Lisa Molloy. "We have a lot of new, different rooms and a lot of new animatronics and some really cool special effects. I think that people who have been very loyal and come back every year will still enjoy us this year."
They've made waiting in line more fun this year by providing stations with a video feed of guests who are already inside so that people in line can use them to trigger sound effects in the haunt. The Asylum Xperiment is also striving for more realism by giving rooms their own smells such as rotten meat in the meat locker and a big top area that smells like cotton candy. It's snowing in a holiday-themed area, and an elevator makes you feel like you're descending into a basement.
"We tend to lean less towards blood and guts and people jumping out at you and more towards psychological horror to make it more immersive," Molloy said.
If you're looking for some fresh scares, head to one of these suburban haunted houses:
Basement of the Dead
42 W. New York St.; 42fear.com
When: Opens at 7 p.m. Oct. 10-13, 17-20, 24-26 and Oct. 30-Nov. 2. Closes at 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 p.m. other nights.
Psychosis Haunted House
200 N. Spring St., psychosishauntedhouse.net
When: Opens Thursday through Sunday, plus. Oct. 30. Closes midnight Friday and Saturday, 10 p.m. other days.