A guide to Wisconsin's fright nights, horror houses, terror traps, zombie zaps

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Despite being gay since birth, I must admit that Halloween is not my favorite holiday. My husband Rick Karlin is happy to don a costume, drag or otherwise, at a moment’s notice. He loves Halloween parades, trick or treating (but not tricking), Halloween parties and popcorn balls.

I usually sit out Halloween, cowering in the dark. But I know I’m in the minority when it comes to observing Halloween, the gay national holiday. 

The following are a gnarled handful of suggestions for the month of October – and early November, too – for those Halloweenies out there.

Also visit hauntedwisconsin.com for more information.

For 20 consecutive years, Fright Factory (janesvillehauntedhouse.com) has been called the premier haunted attraction in Janesville (following Paul Ryan’s childhood home, of course). Located at 1405 Riverside, Fright Factory incorporates plenty of scary devices, including flashing strobes, loud noises, fog machines, a variety of props, “cinematic gore and power tools,” and, just for the heck of it, pitch darkness. Fright Factory wants to terrify you.

The “haunted adventure” known as The Dark Side (thedarksidehaunt.com), at Charlie Murphy’s farm in Ixonia (aka Glacier Rock Farms) is a screampark, incorporating five haunts of horror, including Backwoods Revenge. The legend of Murphy’s farm and the history of disappearances there could be taken as a warning. Or it could just be an invitation to get the daylights scared out of you.

Stoughton’s The Haunted Barn (the-haunted-barn.com), at the Triple T Ranch, was ranked the top fright in southwestern Wisconsin in 2010 and 2011. Like Murphy Farm, the Haunted Barn’s history can be traced back to the 1800s, when unspeakable things occurred within its walls, or so the story goes. Regardless, the “happy family” cast of characters (zombies) currently inhabiting the place – which features indoor haunt areas as well as outdoor trails, woods and a cemetery – promise a scream or two. 

You might be shocked and horrified to discover that Jellystone Park in Fort Atkinson is the site of Dr. Scary’s Haunted House (drscaryshauntedhouse.com), but it’s true. Why be afraid of bears (Yogi Bear, Boo Boo and that big hairy gay guy over there), when you can experience this re-designed haunt, with more than 30 rooms, including 10 new and 10 re-purposed ones? From dungeons to mazes, the fun and fright never stops. Never!

Described as an “old school interactive theatrical haunt,” House of Bathory (deadbydawn.com) in Manitowoc features a talented cast of actors and unusual themes. Take its new “Tribute to Stephen King” as proof. With King’s vivid imagination as inspiration, you can be sure that the horrors will be both familiar and horrific. Can you say “Creepy Carrie”? Yikes! 

Now in its 14th year, Terror on Rural Street (terroronruralstreet.com), a 17-room haunted house in Hartford – next to the Schauer Arts Center and Wisconsin Automotive Museum – combines live, costumed actors and animatronics for a hair-raising experience that threatens “to make you afraid to return home alone.”

Claiming to be “Wisconsin’s only truly haunted house,” The Mars Haunted House (MarsHauntedHouse.com), located on the second story of a late-1800’s Milwaukee  building, delivers sets and actors poised to attack from every angle. If that’s not intense enough to draw you in – or keep you away – the tight maze makes for perfect, virtually inescapable traps. Be afraid! Be very afraid!

Haunted Attraction Magazine voted The Wisconsin Fear Grounds (WisconsinFearGrounds.com), on the site of the Waukesha County Expo, the top haunted house in America in 2011. With three Victorian theme attractions, including Morgana the witch’s Morgan Manor, Shadowlands and the basement-situated Morgana’s Torment, no one is safe from the horrors that abound. Consider yourself warned!

The Berlin Tannery (nightmarefactoryhaunt.com) in Berlin is the haunted home of the newly relocated Nightmare Factory Haunt. The massive 75,000-square-foot location has a history practically dating back to the birth of the nation and is said to be haunted not only by those who perished there in a 1920s fire, but also by victims of near-death experiences and hideous industrial accidents. 

Who doesn’t love a haunted cornfield? The Meadowbrook Haunted Cornfield (meadowbrookfun.com/hauntedcornfield.php) in West Bend begins with a bonfire and then escalates to almost an hour’s worth of night terrors, consisting of lurking creatures, fog and shadows. What could be more pleasurable than to be stalked among the stalks?

There are zombies in Milwaukee! And I don’t mean the people driving around with Romney-Ryan 2012 bumper stickers. Thankfully, training for how to deal with a zombie infestation is available at Monster Mayhem Haunted Laser Tag (listerfx.com). We’re counting on you!