8240 Austin Avenue, Morton Grove, IL
Fables Studios is unique in the sense that it is a haunted house that provides some scares but also attempts to sell an entire story. While many haunted houses have a theme, Fables Studios sets itself up as a type of traveling freakshow from the turn of the century, complete with circus tents, carnival barkers, gypsy fortune tellers, and many of the classic traveling show tropes.
Visitors enter and find themselves in a room of the macabre, featuring specimens in jars, pictures of carnival freaks and other things. They are welcomed by a carny who tells them of the wonders they will experience inside, and then they are led from room to room, each of which is its own miniature scene. Various scenes included a little girl’s room, a fortune teller segment, and a carnival game segment, all of which had its own self-contained story, usually with a twist at the end.
We have seen such setups before, and they usually succeed or fail based on the acting involved. Sometimes the stories used to set up the reveal are too long, and sometimes the actors just don’t seem realistic enough to pull it off, but Fables Studios manages to avoid both of these pitfalls (for the most part – there were a couple of scenes at the end that kind of fell flat due to lackluster storytelling). Each room was creative and different enough to keep our attention, and the stories used were not too long and were engaging. One standout was a little girl’s room full of various dolls, inhabited by a crazy man with a burlap sack on his head, with drawn on X’s for eyes and a wavy line for a mouth. He implored us to help him find his doll, so we all looked around. Then the lights went out and I think you can guess what happened then!
Another excellent setup was a gypsy encampment inhabited by an old gypsy fortune teller, reminiscent of Bela (Bela Lugosi) from the Universal classic horror movie “The Wolf Man,” who warned us of bad omens then had one of us pick a card and move into another room where a soothsayer with a crow mask on would interpret it.
As he/she did so, the wind picked up, the lighting went down, and the soothsayer was lifted slowly into the air by wires – it was creepy, unnerving, and served as an excellent distraction as we never quite knew if a surprise was waiting for us elsewhere in the room.
Each room in Fables Studios was like that – a setup and a reveal – and most worked well. Extra points to the organizers for taking time to create an all-encompassing world for their characters to inhabit, and for hiring actors and actresses who were able to sell the fantasy. The 2013 setup was much longer than the 2012 one, which was one of the our issues when we first visited. For anyone looking for a more unusual setup that will provide some good laughs and some cool scares, as well as something to talk about afterwards, we recommend checking Fables Studios out. We’re looking forward to 2014!