VILLA PARK – As visitors to the Asylum Xperiment twist their way through the artfully-eerie room designs of the haunted house, they’ll make their way to the kitchen where Mrs. Cleaver is busy preparing dinner for the holidays.
She’s briskly chopping vegetables, singing to herself and it’s not until guests are fully in the room that they’ll realize all is not right in the kitchen. The seemingly perfect hostess has gone insane from the stress.
During a special tour through the house Monday afternoon, Alexandria Gamble of Lombard played the role of Mrs. Cleaver, and will be acting in the room periodically throughout the month-long run of the Asylum Xperiment at the Odeum Sports and Expo Center.
This is the fourth year of the Asylum Xperiment and Gamble’s second year acting in the house. Fitting with her character, she’s a wife and mother herself. She had acted in haunted houses during high school before getting away from the hobby to raise her children. After the birth of her now 4-year-old child, Gamble said she was diagnosed with cancer and nearly died during surgery. It was during recovery that she had an epiphany.
“I’m not living yet,” she said. “I do everything right, but I don’t have anything out there.”
Then, she saw a posting for the Asylum Xperiment looking for actors and decided to jump at the opportunity.
Now in her second year with the haunted house, she’s a floating actor, meaning she’s assigned to different roles each night, sometimes it’s Mrs. Cleaver, sometimes it’s a housemaid and sometimes it’s a totally different role.
“It brings me out of my shell,” she said. “It’s something new every night and it’s freeing. Some people have yoga or running. I have haunting.”
45,000 ‘scare feet’
The Asylum Xperiment is 45,000 square feet, or “scare feet” as the creators call it, developed by co-owners Mike Skodacek and Dave Link. The two worked together on haunted houses in the past before combining ideas to create one together.
It’s essentially three scares combined into a single tour for fear-seeking visitors. The haunted house starts in the courtyard outside a manor house that is preparing for the holidays and features a series of themed rooms in Home for the Horrodays. The second haunt is Subterranean, which takes visitors under the house to view the creepy creatures that live 500 feet below the surface of the earth. The final haunt is Big Top Terror, which showcases a turf war between clowns and a motorcycle biking gang.
The house combines the scare techniques of the two creators. Skodacek said he prefers the bloody, gory haunted house, while his co-owner Link develops his scares into an extensive artistic production.
“Our biggest thing is that we want to entertain people whether they’re scared or not,” Skodacek said.
Every year the Asylum Xperiment is a little different, he said, to prevent it from becoming stale for visitors. The house is something Skodacek and Link think about and plan for year round. The house officially opens today, but they’re already planning for next year.
The host of the Asylum Xperiment, the Odeum Sports and Expo Center has a long history in haunted houses. One of the owners of the family business, Phil Greco, estimated that this year is the Odeum’s 17th haunted house.
They hosted B96’s Scream Fest and Hades Haunted House on separate runs through the late 80s, 90s and into the early 2000s. It was after the 9/11 attacks that Greco said the business suspended its haunted houses.
When Greco connected with Link, it had been about nine years since either side had done a haunted house. And the Asylum Xperiment was born.
“We didn’t want just any haunted house,” Greco said. “It’s been a really, really good relationship. I told Dave and Mike, the levee of what they’re bringing to this house, is the best I’ve seen at the Odeum.”