By Shannon Antinori
For more than a decade, they’ve been bringing scares to the suburbs.But four years ago, the Seneker family — brothers Jason and Craig, along with sibling David and his wife, Sara — decided to branch out, opening the Basement of the Dead haunted attraction in nearby Aurora.
Now, it’s ranked as one of the top haunts in the country, and was voted the best local attraction by Haunted House Chicago in 2012.
Born and raised in Joliet, the Seneker brothers have been known for scaring up Halloween fun since they were teenagers, Craig said.
“When we got too old to trick-or-treat, we started just decorating our parents’ house,” he said.
“We had this prop scarecrow that sat in the front yard all season long,” Craig said. “Jason would take all the stuffing out and he’d put the costume on. When kids came up for candy, he jumped out.”
The front-yard Halloween display quickly took on a life of its own, drawing fans from around Joliet.
“Every year, we did more and more,” Craig said. The family created an intricate display of otherworldly characters, adding live actors to the mix for extra frights.
Bigger and better haunts
Four years ago, the brothers decided it was time to make their hobby a business.
“We just naturally transitioned into this,” Craig said. “The time was right and the location was right.”
The location, at 42 W. New York St. near Hollywood Casino, gave the Senekers plenty of space to build an elaborate haunt.
“It took months to build,” Craig said. “Every year, we change at least a couple rooms.” The family members also attend an annual Halloween convention to get new ideas and inspiration.
Building on their artistic experience — the brothers previously ran a company that created eerily realistic Halloween masks — the Senekers have created a nightmarish subterranean world inspired by horror films and human nature.
“A lot of it we just pull out of our imagination,” Craig said. “We try to harness the dark — we try to make people see what we want them to see. We play on our own fears of being in a basement in the dark.”
Last year, the business expanded with the addition a 3D haunted house. Visitors enter the haunt via a 3D elevator — quite the bumpy ride — and wind up in the domain of “Shattered,” the deranged clown.
“There’s really not much around here that’s in 3D, so we thought it was unique,” Sara Seneker said.
Each night, it takes 60 to 70 actors and workers to operate the side-by-side haunted houses.
Sara estimated at least 500 guests go through the attractions every night. Basement of the Dead and Shattered are open from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday and Sunday (plus Wednesday, Oct. 30). Anyone still in line at closing time will get the opportunity to go through the haunted houses, she said.
The atmosphere outside the haunt is also nearly as scary as inside, with a live DJ spinning spooky tunes and costumed characters making sure patrons get plenty of scares before they even set foot inside.
The haunted attraction isn’t just popular with guests — it’s also getting recognition from industry critics.
Recently, the Senekers learned that Haunt World magazine had ranked Basement of the Dead the No. 21 haunt in the country. Last year, it was also voted the No. 1 Chicagoland attraction by Haunted House Chicago.
If you go
- What: Basement of the Dead and Shattered 3D Haunted House
- Where: 42 W. New York St., Aurora
- When: Open 7 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday and Saturday (plus Wednesday, Oct. 30) through Nov. 2
- Tickets: Available online or at the door (cash only); $18 general admission (Basement of the Dead only), $25 for both haunts and $35 for VIP access to both haunts. For the chance to win free tickets, take a photo at the haunt and tag Basement of the Dead on Facebook. Check the website for discounts.
- Website: www.42fear.com; you can also follow Basement of the Dead on Facebook and Twitter