Scare tactics: Lake County's Dungeon of Doom adds drive-in horror to haunted house thrills
Last spring as theaters, theme parks, nightclubs and other entertainment venues closed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the future looked bleak for The Dungeon of Doom, a sprawling haunted house in Lake County.
Owners Peter Koklamanis and Anthony Relken obtained a $20,000 Paycheck Protection Program loan, but realized it wouldn't sustain their business beyond a couple of months.
"To avoid bankruptcy, I had to make a decision ... Zero cash flow would have put us out of business," said Koklamanis, who jotted down an idea for an outdoor drive-in movie theater he dubbed Scare-Vision Theater.
Last week, his idea became a reality. And if patrons embrace it, Scare-Vision Theater may become a permanent component of Zion's Dungeon of Doom, which Relken, Koklamanis and Koklamanis' father-in-law established 23 years ago.
"Scare-Vision was going to be an option for people stuck at home" who wanted to do something fun but in a safe way, he said. What makes this drive-in different is that members of the Killer Crew (actors who portray ghouls and monsters) roam the drive-in lot frightening moviegoers.
Now that state officials have relaxed restrictions for group gatherings, what was conceived as a COVID-safe alternative to the indoor haunt has become a companion to it, Koklamanis said. Moreover, it gives people visiting the haunted house something to watch while they await for their admission time.
"I think people are enjoying it (Scare-Vision)," he said. "I hear a lot of screaming and laughing. Can you imagine screaming and laughing in a venue this year?
"I can't be more pleased," Koklamanis continued. "We work for screams and laughs. That's what we do."
Precautions instituted for the haunted house include limiting groups to six people or fewer and introducing timed admission, which ensures groups are separate "from start to finish" by at least two minutes, he said.
Patrons wait in their cars until their admission time, enter together and remain so during the duration of the haunt. Cash transactions will be limited and online reservations are recommended. Capacity will be limited, which translates to about 600 attendees nightly -- down from the 1,500 the haunt typically attracts.
In addition, the owners have installed hand-sanitizing stations throughout the haunt as well as acrylic sheets to separate actors and patrons. High-touch points will be sanitized throughout the evening. Actors and staff members will receive temperature checks, and all patrons and actors must wear face coverings.
Among them is Killer Crew member Jonathan Unick, who became a Dungeon of Doom actor about nine years ago at age 16.
"I've always had a passion for Halloween," he said. "It's my favorite time of the year."
For the last six years, the Antioch native has played his original character Little Devious Diddles, a mischievous prankster who supplies comic relief.
COVID-19 guidelines, especially physical-distancing requirements, have been a blessing and a curse, said Unick, a film school graduate who also does videography for Dungeon of Doom.
"It gives us time between groups to catch our breath," he said of the Crew's mostly improvised performances. "The two-minute gap makes it a lot easier on us."
While the physical demands have eased, the vocal demands have increased.
"We have to talk louder," he said.
Still, Unick and his castmates -- including students, tradespeople, businessmen and women and a veterinarian -- are determined to give visitors their money's worth.
"We remind our actors that you can't scare every single person who walks past you," he said. "So if you can't scare them, make them laugh. Entertain them."
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The Dungeon of Doom Haunted House/Scare-Vision Drive-in Theater
When: Friday, Saturday and some Sundays, from Sept. 25 to Oct. 31. Haunted house reservations begin at 6:50 p.m. The last reservation is at 1:20 a.m. Movies "Sinister" (R) alternating nightly with "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" (PG-13) start at 7, 9:30 and 11:55 p.m.
Where: 600 29th St., Zion, (847) 262-3666 or dungeonofdoom.com
Tickets: $59 (four-person max per vehicle) Scare-Vision Theater only; Dungeon of Doom and Scare-Vision (two-person max) $90; (three-person max) $120; (four-person max) $140; (five-person max) $165. Advance reservations recommended.