MALTA – Picture this scary scene: It’s so dark outside, you can barely see your hands in front of you. The moon’s faint glow guides you in the darkness through a path in a large cornfield. The only sounds are of wind rustling corn stalks and your blood pumping echoes in your ears until you hear noise in the distance – the sound of a chainsaw and a blood-curling scream.
It’s not the set of a horror movie, it’s Jonamac Orchard’s haunted corn maze, 19412 Shabbona Road in Malta, where the blood is fake, but the frights and screams are real.
The haunted corn maze was scheduled to open the first weekend of October, but because of rain and wet conditions, it opened Oct. 12.
“Safety is our biggest concern, guests often can’t see the ground,” said Kevin McArtor, co-owner of Jonamac Orchard. “Since it’s in a cornfield, the soil can be slippery. We make sure that the ground is dry and even lay down some hay for safety.”
The design of this year’s corn maze celebrates of the Chicago Bears’ 100th season. There are two separate parts of the maze, with only the second half being haunted.
The regular corn maze is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 27. Admission is $5 for children and adults. Children younger than 2 are admitted free.
The haunted corn maze is open Friday and Saturday nights in October, with admission from dark until 10:30 p.m. The haunted maze is recommended for ages 13 and older. Tickets cost $13 a person. Flashlights are not allowed, only glowsticks or pen lights.
McArtor attributes the success of the haunted corn maze to the talent of the scare actors, called spooks. The actors portray different fright-inducing characters and monsters, including zombies, clowns, dead brides and scarecrows.
“Haunt enthusiasts and horror film fans love the haunted corn maze, maybe because of ‘Children of the Corn,’” McArtor said. “It’s not gory or violent, it’s all about being a little scared and having fun.”
Megan Smith of Sycamore has been a scare actor at Jonamac for more than 10 years. She spends about an hour and a half applying her face makeup before each night of the haunted corn maze.
“I love Halloween, I wish I could celebrate it every day,” Smith said. “Halloween is Oct. 31, and I start planning for next year’s Halloween on Nov. 1.”
Jesse Rubo of Malta has been a scare actor for four years. Each weekend, he dresses in costume as a military zombie.
“This is a part-time job, but I’d love to do this year-round,” Rubo said. “It’s fun scaring people, they have fun being scared. It’s all harmless fun.”
Most scare actors return each year, but new actors are welcome to join and come as a popular horror character or create a character of their own.
Actors who created their own characters this year include Chelsea Banks of DeKalb, Colin Gorman of DeKalb and Ashlee Gniech, a Northern Illinois University student from Hoffman Estates.
Banks dressed up as a character she named “Aunt Foulweather,” complete with a bald bat-like mask, red eyes, claw-fingered gloves and a sound effect scream taken from an “Indiana Jones” movie, Gorman dressed as “Persnickety Panda” and Gniech dressed as a character she named “JoJo the Clown.”
“You can’t go just anywhere and be scared,” Gniech said. “It’s fun to create a character and scare others, especially since so many people have a fear of clowns.”
Jose Herrera of South Elgin took his girlfriend, Nicole Nelson, to the haunted corn maze for the first time. Nelson recently moved to Illinois from Florida.
“This is my first time at a corn maze, my first time at a haunted corn maze, I’ve never done anything like this before,” Nelson said. “It had great reviews and sounded like fun, even though I’m not a fan of scary movies.”
Emily Beach from Stillman Valley has been coming to the haunted maze for at least five years. This year, she came with her boyfriend and two friends.
“I love being scared and the actors are really good,” Beach said. “I’m usually not too afraid, I just love the excitement and rush. Haunted houses and corn mazes are usually only during October, so it’s the perfect time to come out, be with friends and be scared.”