Joe Pantano, co-owner of the Disturbia: Screams in the Park haunted house in Rosemont, likes to stand near the exit to see the faces of people who've just spent roughly 40 minutes being scared out of their minds.
Sound a little sadistic? It isn't, really. Pantano does it because he wants to make sure that Disturbia's scares are working. If customers don't look thrilled as they exit the haunt, he knows he'll have to make some changes.
Disturbia: Screams in the ParkWhen: 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (closes at midnight Friday and Saturday and 11 p.m. all other days); open through Nov. 5
Where: MB Financial Park, 5501 Park Place, Rosemont, disturbiascreams.com
Tickets: $25 on weekdays, $30 on Fridays and Saturdays
Also: Appropriate for ages 13 and older. For an extra jolt of fear, the Nov. 4 and 5 haunts take place in total darkness.
"It's also very rewarding to see people who have obviously had a great time inside," Pantano said. "I love seeing that every year."
Disturbia: Screams in the Park is owned and designed by Pantano and his brother, Mike. The two have been fans of horror and haunted houses since they were kids growing up in River Grove, where they used to build makeshift haunts in their garage every fall. Now, they oversee a 36,000-square-foot haunted-house experience that includes sophisticated special effects, intricate sets, and between 80 and 85 actors.
Pantano said that while construction of the haunt usually begins in June, the planning phase begins long before that.
"Starting a week before we close in October, I'm already thinking about what we'll do the following year," Pantano said. "I do research, making sure I'm on top of the trends in horror. It's really a 365-days-a-year kind of process."
Roughly half of this year's version of Disturbia is new, Pantano said. The haunt takes visitors into a Victorian-style house that appears normal at first. But then visitors start to descend into the house's lower levels. With each descent, the environment grows more terrifying.
"It's a journey from the normalcy of life into the bottom of the barrel of horror," Pantano says with glee.
Throughout the journey, people can expect their deepest phobias to be exploited. There are areas of utter darkness, tight spaces and creepy-crawlies. A highlight of this year's haunt is a meticulously designed underground sewer, Pantano said, complete with running water and electricity.
"It's spectacular," Pantano said. "It's something we've wanted to do for a while. I don't think people have ever seen anything like it."
Pantano said he and his brother view Disturbia as a labor of love. They both have full-time jobs -- Joe is a personal stylist; Mike is a custom homebuilder -- but they genuinely enjoy putting on the haunted house each fall. Joe said he likes it so much that he spends time in costume inside the haunt.
"I try to act in it every year, and I always have a blast," he said.
Ready for other good scares?
Here are some of the bigger and better-known haunted houses open for business in the suburbs through Halloween. Dates and hours may change, and some are not suitable for children. So check before you go and have a frightful time! (A full listing of Illinois haunted houses can be found at hauntedillinois.com.)
Psychosis, 882 Anita Ave. Open Friday through Sunday now through Oct. 30, plus Monday, Oct. 31. Hours vary. Children's matinees will be open on select weekends. Every Sunday night is Ladies' Night. General admission tickets cost $20; Ladies' Night tickets are $10; children's matinee tickets cost $7. Go to psychosishauntedhouse.net.
Basement of the Dead/Shattered, 42 W. New York St. Open Thursday through Sunday from now through Oct. 30, plus Monday, Oct. 31, and Saturday, Nov. 5. Hours vary. General admission tickets start at $19.99. Go to 42fear.com.
Fables Fright Nights, Santa's Village Azoosment Park, 601 Dundee Ave. Open select days through Oct. 31. Tickets cost $30. For hours, dates and tickets, go to fablesfrightnights.com.
Evil Intentions, 900 Grace St. Open at 7:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday and select weekdays through Oct. 31. General admission tickets cost $25. Go to evilintentions hauntedhouse.com.
Six Flags Fright Fest, 1 Great America Parkway. Open select days through Oct. 31. Hours vary. Tickets start at $46.99. Go to frightfest.sixflags.com.
House of Torment, 8240 N. Austin Ave. Open select days now through Oct. 31, as well as Nov. 4-5, which are special blackout days. Hours vary. General admission tickets range from $19.99 to $32.99. Go to houseoftorment chicago.com.
The 13th Floor, 1940 George St. Open select days now through Oct. 31, as well as Nov. 4-5, which are special blackout days. Hours vary. General admission tickets range from $19.99 to $32.99. Go to 13thfloorchicago.com.
Round Lake Beach
Realm of Terror, 421 W. Rollins Road. Open at 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday (and select weekdays) through Oct. 31. General admission tickets $25. Go to realmofterror.com.
Insanity Haunted House, 3800 E. Main St. Open at 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday now through Oct. 30, plus Monday, Oct. 31. Tickets start at $15. Go to insanityhh.com.
Dungeon of Doom, 600 29th St. Open Friday through Sunday and select weekdays through Oct. 31, as well as Nov. 4-5. Hours vary. Tickets start at $25. Go to dungeonofdoom.com.