Forget the movie theater this October and immerse yourself and your friends in the real-life like horror at the Castle of Chaos! Get locked in a coffin and more at this unique haunt in Midvale, just 27 miles north of Utah Valley University. If claustrophobia is too much for you and your squeeze to handle, have no fear (no pun intended) because there are five levels of horror you can choose from to suit your personal tolerance. Tickets start at $25.
Multiple “scare-tastic” enclosures
You and your squad will be impressed while exploring multiple creative, scare-tastic enclosures. One of these rooms is equipped with a familiar living room featuring an alphabet on the wall and adorned with Christmas lights (from the Netflix hit Stranger Things)—if you’re lucky, you might even meet its not-so-friendly Demogorgon. You could also encounter a popular clown in another room (from the newly revived It movies) with strange personality issues and badly needed dental work. Of course, your night won’t be complete without meeting Freddy Krueger, hearing his razor-sharp wisdom, and witnessing a lot of blood-spattered sinks, furniture, walls, and bodies.
There is no guarantee that the floor won’t fall out from under you or that rickety walls won’t try to guillotine your body parts, but that just adds to the fun. OSHA inspectors would not be pleased, because rumor has it bodies are stored in basement freezers there. We were impressed with a room full of suspended hockey masks and clown faces that come to life with a flickering black light.
A very special girl wasted no time summoning our goosebumps by grabbing our ankles as we tried to escape a barred room with low visibility. “Papa” told us all about how yummy his late wife was and how he wanted to taste our [chicken] fingers (good thing we elected Level 3 instead of Level 4, or he just might have). He even banged his knife around so we knew it wasn’t fake.
Choose your level of fear
The business owner’s stepdaughter, Naomi, explained to us the levels of horror customers could elect to experience, indicated by the type of glowing device they wear. As a family-friendly venue for UVU extended studies students, Level 1 (Monster Be Gone) gives you a glow stick so that the monsters scare you and your kids but don’t get in your face. Why pay a babysitter when you can traumatize your children with Level 1 for you and your honey’s date? Level 2 (General Admission) ups the ante a little and transforms your walkthrough into a normal, in-your-face haunted house with no physical contact from the monsters — no after-shower required.
If you’re brave enough to wear a glow-in-the-dark bracelet (Level 3, Hands-on Horror), you will be grabbed, petted, and pinched throughout the experience, and no, we did not see hand sanitizer installed anywhere. Furthermore, if you want to prove your bravery to your partner, go ahead and wear a luminescent necklace (Level 4, X-Scream Hands-on Horror). This will signal the pernicious creatures within that they have full permission to pick you up, restrain you, threaten you, separate you from your group, test your phobias, and maybe give you a little more than you bargained for. We did see a coffin and other strange tunnels for those poor souls that elect level 4. We were told by the general manager, Dalton, that those customers are sometimes taken into the mystic “Cartel Room,” which he considers to be the scariest room in the building. This secretive room was a leftover from the facility’s prior establishment (the Tropicana), which has secret passageways, stowaways, and a broken safe that the staff can’t open.
If you don’t care about your hair, your sanity, or perhaps if you’re a sadist with a sick mind, you might actually enjoy spending $50 for the Level 5 Ultimate Hands-on Horror experience (by appointment only — what a great gift idea!). Our tour guide spoke of Level 5 as, “other than like murder or stuff that would get you in trouble with the law, if you have any question about whether it can be done, the answer is yes. We’re not going to kill you. We’re not going to do sexual stuff to you, because that’s just messed up, but if you walk out of here bald, don’t be surprised!” These special customers are required to sign their life away on camera basically, so the Castle of Chaos is cleared of liability should you regret the trauma dumped upon you.
The evolving industry of the haunt
“Haunted houses are not what they were 20 years ago,” our guide said, “people have become so desensitized.” He went on to explain that theirs is an evolving industry and that the Castle takes the job and their professional training seriously. Planning for Castle of Chaos is a year-round operation that takes a lot of preparation, brainstorming, financial planning, purchasing and construction, in addition to their ongoing escape room operations that are not October-based.
Security was tight at the venue. There were at least 10 security guards on-site, more than are normally seen at a haunt. They had metal detector wands, so they’re no joke. Don’t plan on getting trashed before admittance, and don’t plan on fighting back with the bad guys, either.
We were shown the makeup room as actors were being dolled up for their roles. While there, we asked how characters get picked for their jobs. Nicole Judson, makeup artist, told us “basically how the actors get here is they go down to casting, they cast for a specific role in a specific room, and then they come up to costumes which is next door, and they tell them what role they are, they get the costume, we go grab ‘em, ask them what they are, and then makeup, and that’s the final step.”
Castle of Chaos a family
Consisting of general staff of about 100, the Castle of Chaos serves as a family. This is especially the case for those employees that are going through tough times in their lives. TJ in the makeup room, being dressed up and blood-spattered as what he referred to as “The Judge,” told us that the Castle gives him a place of belonging and identity and a staff that is family to him.
The casting director, Chase Dunfield, coaches and picks people for their roles and deals with any customer issues that arise. When asked about what he draws his inspiration from in the haunt industry, Dunfield explained that his background is “kind of weird because I used to be terrified of the dark … I was the kid that would watch a horror movie and would sleep in their parent’s bedroom.” Dunfield talked about a school friend that encouraged him to check out working at the haunted house and offered him a connection. “Alright, I’m home,” he said as he reflected upon finding the Castle of Chaos tribe, and that those were the beginnings of his haunting career at age 12.
In business since 2001, Castle of Chaos owner James Bernard has experimented with several different venues ranging from locations in Holladay to South Salt Lake to Orem (at the old Office Depot building on University Parkway) to their current location at 7980 S State St, Midvale. Their website has all the details for you and your UVU crew at www.castleofchaos.com.
Tanya Skousen (2019 UVU alumnus) and Alyssa Zahne contributed to this article.
Austin Skousen is a communication student at Utah Valley University who enjoys Christopher Nolan films, motorcycling, philosophy, and political analysis.