Immersive haunted house Realm of Terror passionate about its scare tactics

Back in full force for its 20th year, Realm of Terror Haunted House in Round Lake Beach aims to live up to its name.

Promoted as "Illinois' Ultimate Haunted House," the attraction closed in 2020 as a result of the pandemic and opened in limited capacity last year.

"This is our first real big year back since 2019," said Stephen Kristof, who first opened Realm of Terror in 2003. "We're going crazy and having fun doing it."

Expanded and remodeled this year from an "over-the-top" haunted house into a destination at 421 W. Rollins Road in Round Lake Beach, Realm of Terror now features a bar and grill, food trucks and a gift shop.

It has grown out of Kristof's passion to entertain.

"We keep doing it because we love it," he said.

Miguel Ramos, of Johnsburg, scares visitors as they go through the Realm of Terror Haunted House in Round Lake Beach. Ramos did all his own makeup and made his costume. Candace H. Johnson for Shaw Local News Network

The haunted house definitely is more of an adult attraction, Kristof said, designed for those at least 16 and older. It's best described with the word "intense," he said.

"We're here to be the scary one," Kristof said. "We're here to make you cry and send you home with nightmares."

For those looking for a more family-friendly event, Kristof opened The Halloween Experience in Elgin. That attraction features a drive-through music and light show with large decorations and a pumpkin patch inside Camp Big Timber at 37W955 Big Timber Road.

After a few years of limited activities because of the pandemic, Kristof is hoping people are eager to get out and have fun this month.

"We're expecting it to be a great year," he said.

Described as an immersive experience, Realm of Terror relies on a team of makeup artists and an average of about 150 actors a night throughout the Halloween season.

Makeup artist Liz Cannon, of Gurnee, uses an airbrush to apply makeup to Nick Weber, of Mundelein, before a night of terrifying fans at the Realm of Terror Haunted House in Round Lake Beach. Candace H. Johnson for Shaw Local News Network

"I tell my staff, 'The day it stops being fun, stop coming,'" Kristof said. "It's hard, grueling long hours well into the night. ... We get people from all walks of the earth, people who work corporate jobs and people who travel with circuses and everything in between. We all come together every night to put on an incredible show.

"There's something magical about it."

The attraction's makeup effects are managed by Stevie Calabrese, a contestant on season nine of the SyFy show "Face Off." Calabrese, of Grayslake, came in sixth place on the reality show, which challenged makeup artists to compete against one another for a cash prize with one contestant typically eliminated each week by the judging panel.

Cat Turowski, of Memphis, Tenn., puts hair protein on her hair and body as she gets into character before visitors arrive at the Realm of Terror Haunted House in Round Lake Beach. Turowski has been a performer at the haunted house for 15 years. Candace H. Johnson for Shaw Local News Network

Professional set designers create the sets and environments at Realm of Terror, and the scares begin in the parking lot.

Among four makeup artists, Tiffany Beaudry of Fox Lake also dresses up as a swamp witch to scare people in line. A nanny by day, she's been part of Realm of Terror since 2008, when someone saw her at a costume contest and suggested she apply for a job.

She's always loved Halloween and enjoyed doing her own and her friends' makeup. Realm of Terror is a dream job, she said.

"It's great to see how much joy you can bring to actors and to people who come through," she said. "And you get to scare people, which is fun."

Dozer the Clown (Martin Nelson) sits with Cameron Houghon, of Round Lake, and Ella Franck, Maya Colon and her twin sister, Mariah, all of Wauconda, while waiting to get into the Realm of Terror Haunted House in Round Lake Beach. Candace H. Johnson for Shaw Local News Network

Dressing as Dozer, the red and black clown, for the past decade at Realm of Terror and at least 10 years before that at other haunts, Martin Nelson of Round Lake Beach looks forward to Halloween season every year.

He has a day job but transforms into Dozer at night with his own personal costume and makeup special effects.

"I either make people cry or puke," said Nelson, who has plenty of scare stories. "It gets pretty intense. ... It's a little addicting. It's kind of like you get to be somebody else for a night."

Realm of Terror is one of several Lake County haunted attractions looking to draw fans this October.

Created in 1997, Dungeon of Doom Haunted House ( has found a home in a former 45,000-square-foot factory at 600 29th St. in Zion. Along with a Buried Alive experience, visitors can brave the never-ending corridors of Mercy General Hospital, the gore of Quimby's Slaughter House, the endless maze of The Underworld and the paranoia of The Condamned.

Beck Shedbalkar and Joe Spaw, both 12, of Johnsburg stand in a coffin at the Realm of Terror Haunted House in Round Lake Beach. Candace H. Johnson for Shaw Local News Network

At Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Fright Fest ( features numerous haunted houses and scare zones as Halloween terror takes over the amusement park on select days. Family-friendly activities are available during select daytime hours.

Fright nights: Where to find haunted houses in the suburbs

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