It all started with a couple of tombstones, a coffin and a little haunted house. Now in its fourteenth year of fear, Midnight Terror House sports a freestanding haunted house and 28 moveable animatronics, some without heads.
Justin Cerniuk, 24, the creator of the haunting yard display at 5755 W. 97th St. in Oak Lawn, was doing some final prepping of the 16-by-50-foot haunted house built entirely of plywood and village-approved.
“It started as a hobby and has evolved into craziness,” Cerniuk says, as he takes me on a tour of the Mental Hospital. Last year’s theme was the Butcher Shop.
“This needs to be minimized more,” he says, inspecting a computer screen in the wall, playing a video of a man banging on glass.
He’s especially proud of the walls that close in on visiting guests creating a claustrophobic effect. Skeletons and figures in straight jackets lunge from dark corners, and actors leap out from false walls.
At the end of the tour, the ceiling drops suddenly and rice falls on your head, all of which are operated by pre-programmed computer controllers and motion detectors. “Did you feel claustrophobic,” he asks.
Yes, I respond. I felt like I was getting an MRI.
With the exception of the four years when he was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as a U.S. Marine and the pieces were in storage, Cerniuk has been spooking his yard unabated since he was ten.
Last year, 5,000 area residents stopped by to take pictures
of the yard, a veritable movie set of spinning demons, bloody heads, skeletons
that grab at passersby, and creaking coffins, all operated by a couple of
A wedding and event photographer by trade, Cerniuk made all the figures and sets himself.
Every year, the same group of twelve friends comes back to help Cerniuk scare the snot of neighbors and trick-or-treaters. Visitors are also treated to free popcorn from a popcorn machine.
“We’re a tight family,” Cerniuk says.
Admission to the Mental Hospital is free, but Cerniuk is accepting donations for the Autism Society of Illinois. His family also offers visitors free popcorn from a popcorn machine.
Midnight Terror House is located just down the street from the legendary Bone Yard, where Cerniuk would go and “scare” when he was eight, at 5755 W. 97th St. Hours are 6 to 10 p.m. Oct. 11-13; Oct. 17-20; Oct. 24-27; and Oct. 29-31.