Spooky Truth: A horror ranking of St. Louis' best haunted houses

Spooky Truth: A horror ranking of St. Louis' best haunted houses
Steve Truesdell

You know haunted houses aren't real. Those bodies hanging from the ceiling? Molded latex. The creature with the half-melted face charging at you with a cleaver? That's just some teenager in a costume. Yet your pulse is up. You jump as a jet of air blasts your neck, and a strobe light flashes, revealing that you're nose to snout with a pig-faced demon who roars "Give me your eyeballs!" You know it's not real -- but still you run.

Fear exists in your head. At the same time, you experience it bodily — in that sense, it's very, very real. That's why every October visitors enter haunted houses by the tens of thousands to inject a bit of terror into their Halloween season. The greater St. Louis area is blessed (cursed?) with a glut of haunted houses competing for your screams, and these fright factories are anything but rinky-dink. They are sometimes multimillion-dollar operations staffed by dozens of actors who've undergone extensive training. It's like a finely orchestrated Broadway play but with way more fog machines, chain saws and decapitations.

Click here for an insider's look at the Darkness' Ghoul School

Steve Truesdell

So, which St. Louis-area haunting is right for you? Riverfront Times investigated, cataloged and ranked the five best haunts out there, from the sensory overload of the Darkness in Soulard to the kid-friendly attractions at Six Flags Fright Fest. It's not a power ranking — it's a horror ranking.

Pulse Rate: The intensity of the scares
Blood, Gore and More: How much carnage is packed in
Creeps and Freaks: How committed the cast is to their roles
Psych Trauma: How mentally disturbing the haunt is. Bonus points for clowns, hillbillies and creepy children.
Presentation: Production value, including things like animatronics and special effects

5. Six Flags Fright Fest
Interstate 44 & Six Flags Road, Eureka
$39.99 to $54.99, plus parking and $20 for admission to all four haunted houses

Those in search of easygoing entertainment for the whole family should head to Six Flags Fright Fest. Although the scariest part might be the steep admission and parking fees, when it comes to sheer variety of activities, Six Flags can't be beat.

Fright Fest takes over the amusement park in the evening, when zombies and witches roam through clearly marked "scare zones." If you're feeling overwhelmed by an undead bride or the white-eyed park ranger who yips like a dog, employees will happily provide you with an LED "Don't Scare Me" necklace (for $5, of course). There are four haunted houses in the park with separate admission charges: The new Total Darkness puts visitors in a pitch-black maze that should not be undertaken alone (unless you're, like, super brave). Slaughterhouse and Insanity Alley are more traditional violence-fests, while Blind Fury mixes in aspects of the other three at a demonic toy factory. The best part? You can blow through all four and still have plenty of time left to jump on Batman: The Ride.

Pulse Rate: 5/10 Geared toward easy consumption, these scares will freak the hell out of kids, but adults shouldn't expect more than mild-to-medium terror.

Blood, Gore and More: 6/10 The gore level is generally low here — though kudos to whoever designed the prosthetic baby bump being ripped open by tiny arms and legs. Nice going, you sick, sick freak.

Creeps and Freaks: 6/10 The roaming undead are a fun touch, but the haunted houses' monsters are too timid to fully turn on the heebie-jeebies.

Psych Trauma: 7/10 Total Darkness blasts heavy metal while you try to trace the wall in the dark, searching for that exit. Prepare for heavy disorientation.

Production: 8/10 Six Flags doesn't skimp, and the settings and costumes are elaborate and polished. Almost too polished, though. The place could use a coat of grime.

Pros: Lots of options.

Cons: As a "haunted attraction," Fright Fest is heavy on attraction, weak on haunted.

4. The Haunting of Lemp Brewery
3500 Lemp Avenue
$20 to $28

Three years ago parts of the old Lemp Brewery were transformed into an ambitious haunted-house project by Larry Kirchner, the horror guru behind Halloween Productions. (The company also owns the Darkness and Creepyworld.) Billed as "The Only Real Haunted House in St. Louis," the attraction plays up the true and sordid history of the Lemp family (despite the fact the infamous suicides happened at the Lemp Mansion). The only entrance is an ancient metal staircase that winds its way down, interminably, before reaching the basement five stories below. There, limestone walls drip with condensation, and visitors must navigate the mazelike rooms teeming with escaped convicts, homicidal brewery workers and a grinning butcher.

Kirchner says he has improved Lemp since its less-than-horrifying first years, and indeed, the quality of the actors, costuming and makeup achieves stomach-churning highs. Be prepared to deal with the excessive fog, which shrinks your field of vision to barely a foot in front of your face. Try not to run into anything. Or anyone.

Pulse Rate: 6/10 Underground, everyone can hear you shriek. The small spaces and heavy fog will keep you twitching around each corner.

Blood, Gore and More: 7/10 No Kirchner production is complete without a large helping of severed body parts. You won't look at table saws the same way again.

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