Carbondale Escape Rooms: Trapped with a Hungry Zombie

Venues & Businesses

Who: you
What: Carbondale Escape Rooms (interactive theater)
Pictured: The creators and cast of Carbondale Escape Rooms.
Chris Wissmann
Video Comentary

You and your friends are trapped in a room with a zombie. And he’s hungry. He’s chained to a wall, but the restraints are slowly failing. You can get out before he breaks free, but first you need to find the key. Discovering where and how it’s hidden will require teamwork, focus, and the ability to move just a little faster than the zombie. A dungeon master of sorts, Dr. Susanna Gold, joins the group, providing vague hints and encouragement but generally allowing you to make your own mistakes and earn credit for your successes.

That’s the current situation in which groups can find themselves at Carbondale Escape Rooms, the creation of owners Kale Meggs, Frank Dykstra, and Greg Evers. There, a group of seven Nightlife employees and friends recently faced down the zombie and narrowly... lost. We’re now doomed to shamble the world as undead husks, spreading the plague by consuming the brains of the living.

But what a great rush, even if we eventually fell victim to the walker.

Without giving away too much— the fun is as much in trying to discover what the challenges are as it is in overcoming them, and real terror always derives power from the unknown— getting out of the Escape Room requires an assortment of different people. In our case, everyone brought something unique to the table— a skill or perspective that helped advance the cause of escape.

The experience really promoted the values of diversity and teamwork— but without the motivational-speaker clichés or lame exercises often foisted on employees and volunteer boards.

And the implications of failure— getting eaten alive and then joining the ranks of the walking undead— proved a double-edged sword. On one hand, it added a lot of urgency to the effort. Then again, it wasn’t always easy to concentrate in the presence of a voracious, stalking monster. The zombie was extremely realistic... and well-trained. It always seemed to know how and when to raise the group’s anxiety levels. “He’s an easy-to-please employee as long as we keep him fed with live human flesh,” Meggs says. “That’s convenient, because humans pay us to be fed to him.”

Minor-key horror-movie soundbites and music added to the tense atmosphere.

Many hours later, I was still revved up from the experience. I’m pretty sure the entire group was. But I know that when the real zombie apocalypse comes— as we all know it will— there are seven people I’ll want close by to help each other figure out how best to survive.

Those who wish to participate in the Carbondale Escape Rooms adventure need to make advance reservations through the EventBrite website. (A direct link is available at <http://www.CarbondaleEscapes.com>.) For those who have already gone through it, the owners can present a completely different set of challenges within the same concept.

We are working on another zombie room where teams compete, separated by a cage,” Meggs says. “The cage has a zombie that you are trying to unleash onto the other team by opening their cage door on their side before they open yours. It’s called Winners and Dinners.”

Anyone who finds the zombie motif unappealing can watch for additional scenarios, from other horror themes (Frankenstein’s Lab, The Mummy’s Tomb, The Witches’ Coven) to more realistic settings (Hostage Crisis).We also plan on some more kid-friendly rooms,” Meggs says.

Keep an eye on the Carbondale Escape Rooms website and Facebook page for more information.

Meanwhile, Meggs feels happy with what he, Dykstra, and Evers have thus far created.

“We wanted something a bit different than the zombie stories of other escape rooms,” he says. “We think we achieved it.”

who: you

what: Carbondale Escape Rooms (interactive theater)

where: On the Island


when: by reservation

Haunted Happenings: Where to Get Scared in October

October is spookily busy month, with many activities celebrating Halloween. Hayrides and haunted hou
Jennifer “Jay” Bull
Video Comentary

October is spookily busy month, with many activities celebrating Halloween. Hayrides and haunted houses are just two of the many activities that people love during the fall, and a few have operated annually for years.

The Carterville Lions Club Haunted Hayride, for example, operates Thursday through Saturday, October 29 through October 31.

“It’s the weekend before Halloween, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday— that way it doesn’t interfere with the stuff the kids do,” organizer Ed Smith told Nightlife. “It’s just strictly at night time in the dark. They go from James Street Park in Carterville, which is right where the intermediate school is. They ride in tractor-pulled wagons that have hay in them to Canon Park, where scenes are set up by not just Lions Club members, but a bunch of groups of people. Some have come from SIU in the past or come from Rend Lake College, they are like theatrical groups and the good part about that is they get extra credit if they come out and do this work.”

After seeing the spooky scenes set up in Canon Park, the Hayride returns to James Street Park.

“It’s a lot of fun and there are a lot of scenes set up,” Smith said of the family friendly event. “This is an annual event that has been going on for probably I guess thirty-some years. It’s grown a lot over the years, with more participation and stuff like that, so it’s a lot of fun for anybody that wants to come.”

The Big Muddy Monster Hayrides, named after the seven-foot, 350-pound creature that terrified Murphysboro in 1973 before suddenly disappearing, run Thursday through Saturday, October 22 to October 24 at dusk.

“It’s pretty much the same as last year, but we might add something this year,” Mary Kay Campbell said, referring readers to the event’s Facebook page.

If your preference is more for a haunted house, a few elaborate offerings terrify Herrin.

Chittyville is located on the north end of Herrin.

“We have a total of three haunts in one location, one of them being geared towards kids, and we have the School, which is the inside haunt, and the Lair, which is mostly outside,” Mike King told Nightlife. “The Lair has actually expanded this year to be bigger than ever before. We’re starting on October 2 and going to be open weekends in October, but if [readers] need any more information, we always want to direct them to our website. We’re looking forward to seeing everybody, and scaring the you-know-what out of everyone. That’s a fun time.”

For more information, visit <http://www.chittyville.com>.

Herrin also offers up a very scary experience in the Haunted Cellblock. Nightlife recently spoke with Ray Elam of Slaughterhouse Productions about his haunts.

“This is our actual final season for the Cellblock,” Elam said. “We have other haunts across the country. This year we are doing something that is family friendly. Also, we are doing something that people have seen on television, on Travel Channel or something like that— we are doing zombie safari paintball this year. It’s called Zombie Apocalypse: Warehouse 51. You go, you get locked in this room, and then you literally have to shoot the live zombies before they escape. It’s geared around the whole family, not just the adults, but the youngsters, too. It’s not over scary, it’s fun.”

Since this will be the last year for Cellblock, the final weekend of the season will be completely different.

“The Cellblock is scarier than most, its environment is darker, and the actors are a little older, so it is a little more intense than your basic haunted house,” Elam said. “On the very final weekend, which is All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween week, we’re doing something that we’ve never done here before that we have done in the West Coast. The finale of the Cellblock is called Blood Night.”

Those who go to the Cellblock before Halloween weekend can return for Blood Night and receive a completely different experience.

“Everything will be different— it will be an entirely different haunt,” Elam said. “We’re even going to explain to people that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring clothes that you don’t really mind getting blood on, because it’s going to be bloody, it’s going to be gory, it’s for the true, hardcore haunted-house people that want to be scared. Of course it’s not real blood, it’s just like Hollywood, all special effects. Some things are water, but you’ll almost be wet, there’ll be blood spray, and that Halloween weekend only. It’s for the not-so-timid, so to speak. That will be a one-time only thing.”

While the Cellblock is not child-friendly, Elam said Zombie Apocalypse: Warehouse 51 should appeal to those with families.

For rates and detailed schedules, search for the Cellblock on Facebook.

Finally, Scott Thorne, owner of Castle Perilous Games and Books, has collected local legends and ghost stories for years, many of which he details on his Carbondale Gazette blog. He will conduct walking tours of haunted locations in and near downtown Carbondale October Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. starting October 9 and concluding October 30. Past tours have offered information about the Carbondale Anomaly Corridor, the Illinois Central Railroad Death Vortex, and hauntings at Hundley House, the D.C.I. Biologicals building, Oakland and Woodlawn Cemeteries, Shryock Auditorium, and the recently demolished Sunset Haven. Tours run about ninety minutes.


Participants should dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Reservations are recommended at (618) 529-5317. Half of each $10 tour fee will benefit the Humane Society of Southern Illinois.

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