Slaughterhouse recap

But first, some history…

2010: The Beginning

In 2010, a new haunted house appeared in Des Moines: Big Al’s Slaughter House. The cost was $12. It was not open when I tried to visit, but I recall it listed a whole bunch of nights of operation. They were clearly thinking big. This began the evolution that led to today’s downtown location.

2011: Skate South

In 2011, the haunt returned as simply “The Slaughter House.” It also moved to a different location – 10506 Southwold Rd. (just behind Skate South, and currently home of an auto repair store). The cost remained $12 (or $10 with a coupon). This was the first time I visited. This was also the first video interview I did for this website:

Slaughterhouse 2011

This in-character interview with “Trig” let us all know that this would be a different type of haunt. The theme was a pig rendering plant — with visitors acting as the pigs. In the interview, you can see some clips of the original “long metal wall hallways” that made up the majority of the path through the haunt. I do not know if the 2010 location “rolled visitors in” on a platform like 2011 did, but you can see this concept appeared very early on in the evolution of this attraction.

2012-2013: Pleasant Hill

In 2012 and 2013, the haunt was held at The Batter’s Box at 1300 Metro East Dr Suite 126, in Pleasant Hill (currently Becky’s Dance Studio). The price remained $12 and a $15 “front of line” ticket was offered online. These early editions of the haunt features crawling, and the cart to pull visitors in was upgraded. I seem to recall they used a movie dolly track.

In 2013, they were awarded “Best Actors” (always in character) and “Best Theme” (consistent throughout) by Des Moines Haunted Houses.

2014-2016: Slaughterless

And that, we thought, was the end of The Slaughterhouse. No event was held in 2014, but the website had some interesting messages:

And while today they have over 11,000 followers on Facebook, that wasn’t the case back then. Here is a list of Facebook likes after 2014 to show where The Slaughterhouse was after three years of operation:

The event did not return in 2015 or 2016.

2017-2019: Downtown

In 2017, Slaughterhouse returned in a brand new downtown location. Instead of temporary metal walls put up and torn down each season, they had a location that allowed them to build permanent sets. These sets were incredibly detailed and looked like something from Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights or even a movie. The price for this upgraded experience was $20.

In 2018, something happened that changed the landscape of haunted attractions in Des Moines forever: Slipknot. Slaughterhouse partnered with the Iowa-born band and got national attention. News articles that formerly would list all kinds of haunted houses to visit began only reporting on “the Slipknot haunted house.” My news alerts went crazy that year, picking up articles and blog posts from across the country discussing this collaboration. To this day, when folks join my discussion group on Facebook and are asked “what is your favorite haunted house?” quite a few will still simply type “Slipknot.” The price remained $20 with a $30 VIP ticket available.

Things continued at this location in 2019.

2020: Locust Street

In 2020, the haunted would move deeper into downtown at 500 Locust St. The new 20,000 square foot facility allowed building even larger sets and gave it room to add a heavily-themed escape room experience and, coming soon, a speakeasy (bar) called The Haunt. The new bar is expected to open in November 2023.

After four years in the same location, it looks like Slaughterhouse has found a permanent place to call home. Along with this new home, a new theme has replaced the “here, pig!” rendering plant motif. Visiting today leads guests through a detailed story about finding old coal mines below ground and exploring them to find all kinds of places—including a hideout once used by Al Capone. About the only thing remaining from the “pig rendering” versions are their actors who refer to guests as “pigs” or “piggies.” (So don’t be offended if someone calls your significant other a “short pig.” It’s not like that. 😉


DMHH visited on Halloween night. This was my first time going through since it moved to this location. We purchased tickets in advance and were part of the first group to enter when they opened at 7pm. After being wanded for weapons, we were give the chance to get a photo at a backdrop which featured a “face in a hole” over two human torsos.

After this we waited for a bit, then a group of about eight of us was lined up against a chainlink fence. An amplified worker gave us the rules (basic stuff like no touching, no lights, etc.). The outdoor music was very loud and drowned out most of what she said, but we all got the gist. (There is also a warning sign next to the entrance door.)

About about two minutes, we entered the building. We wandered through some halls and were lined against a wall by another worker. She quizzed us on the “gosh darned rules” we just learned outside. Someone answered wrong and was sent to the back of the line. Hopefully they was able to rejoin their group later 😉

A minute and a half later, we were sent down a hallway to a flight of stairs. (A bypass elevator is available, so be sure to ask about that if you have trouble doing stairs — you’ll have stairs coming up when you exit as well.)

Our group of about eight kind of got lost down a backstage path and had to be nudge back on course which they did as soon as they found us about thirty seconds later.

“This is not good. We’re lost already.”

Someone in our group

We were ushered in to an “elevator” (which worked perfectly fine and absolutely nothing terrible happened to it), and then we were lined up against a wall a third time (akay, is this a Slaughterhouse kink?). They started splitting us up and loading us in to four-seat mine cars which where then pushed through what can only be described as a “kick ass classic carnival dark ride.” Nothing in town comes close to this. It was my favorite part of the visit.

Up to this point, I think most of the experience could be described as “rules and preshow.” At about ten minutes in, we leave the cart and a more traditional haunted house experience begins. For the next twelve minutes, we wander through dark hallways, amazing sets, scenes of gore, caves-, and basically more different scenes than I can recall. The final one is a walk through The Haunt, the upcoming speakeasy that is one big show scene during the haunted house.

It finally exits through the gift shop where you can buy shirts, coozies and more. (There are no photos allowed while inside the haunted house, so this photo was taken on the day I did the video interview with Ian Miller. The normal work lights were on. Even the gift shop is spookier when the haunt is in operation.)

Our total experience from being lined up outside to exiting the gift shop was about twenty-two minutes. Oddly, we came out alone and do not know what happened to the rest of the group we were initially in. Did they get out before us? Or did they get stuck inside? (There is one particular thing in the haunt which caught us off guard — even though we had been shown it during the interview — which may have allowed us to get separated from the rest.) If you are with a group that is more cautious (I was leading for the beginning section of the tour, blindly walking in to the darkness without hesitation because I’m totally that brave), I could see the whole experience lasting longer.

It is a heck of a bang for the buck.

I have never seen a haunt in Des Moines that had sets as detailed as the ones here. The place is designed with many (many) actor hiding spots that allow them to “boo” at groups multiple times as they twist through the hallways. There are several very large moving props (our favorite was in the “sewer”), a squish hallway, a laser swamp and even a Vortex Tunnel. It felt very much like the Universal Orlando Halloween Horror Nights houses, except is was four times longer and the actors get to be characters rather than just endlessly acting to a sound track throughout the night. (This let some ass-hat hidden in the walls call out my name repeatedly during the first section. Hey, Slaughterhouse! NO ONE LIKES THAT. Which is exactly why the haunts love to do it…)

It was a fun time. For those who appreciate details, the rooms were generally too dark to really catch the level of detail they have. Many areas could have just been black painted plywood as we bumped our way through them. But, when they do want you to see something, it’s usually large, epic and scary.

Slaughterhouse separates itself from other haunts in the area by being more of a “lifestyle.” It has a huge following of loyal fans. This makes it unique and it stands apart from anything else we have in the area. Whether you find it scary or not is up to what scares you — just like with any other haunt around.

And if you missed out, they will open for one special night on December 2nd, 2023 for a “Christmas” overlay featuring Krampus. We already have our tickets, and you can get yours at

Maybe we’ll see you there. (Or not. Since this version is a “lights out” version.)

Until then…

Barnum Circus of Freaks recap

DISCLAIMER: These posts should not be taken as reviews. They should be taken as my interpretation of what the attraction is like. See “what is scary” for more details.

The official title of this haunted house, according to their Facebook page, is:

Barnum Circus of Freaks: A Haunted House Experience

Their website describes it as follows:

Prepare to be mesmerized, horrified, and utterly captivated by the twisted and the bizarre. From spine-tingling spectacles to jaw-dropping curiosities, our haunted attraction is a chilling journey through the macabre. Dare to witness the eerie, the unsettling, and the supernatural as you navigate through darkened corridors and shadowy chambers. With every creak of the floorboards and every flicker of candlelight, you’ll find yourself immersed in a realm where the normal is anything but.”

This doesn’t really describe what is inside this nearly 12,000 square foot maze of rooms, passages and total darkness. I’d call it a “twisted creepy sideshow funhouse” but that doesn’t look as good on a sign.

When we arrived on Saturday evening, there did not seem to be many folks in line. We learned they use a timed ticket system where visitors will get a text message when it is their time to enter. If the weather is bad, folks can wait in their car. If you drive by and say “oh look, there’s no line!” you may be disappointed to find you still have a wait.

During the time I was there, the courtyard filled up as folks gathered to watch Sabba Circle, a fire show. Fire shows seem to be popular at area haunts — I’ve seen them at at a few other haunts in the area.

I suppose this gives folks an incentive to hang around and get a snack at the Kool’s Sweets & Treats food tent. The food included circus fair such as cotton candy, funnel cakes and hot dogs. There is also a photo backdrop featuring a circus wagon.

On with the show…

When it is your turn, you walk up a long ramp to a doorway. A “circus performer” bursting with happy enthusiasm will welcome you inside. From there, you go from room to room, either through openings, doors, slitted plastic or large flaps. Sometimes you are in a completely dark hallway where your pace becomes very slow as you navigate the twists and turns waiting for something to jump out at you. Other times, you cross through open rooms with barriers keeping you on one side. You later discover than your path will take you through the other side of the same room. Sometimes you encounter other groups heading in the opposite direction, and wonder if they are going where you just were, or if you are headed to where they are.

One room had a small stage and a performer on it – a contortionist, but the looks of the shape they could bend themselves in to. Should you stop and watch? Or will lingering get you some undesired attention from something else nearby?

The rooms all have a general circus/carnival type theme. Our favorite was probably the funhouse area. If you go looking for a creature in a cage, you probably will find it. If you wonder where that smell of cotton candy is coming from, you definitely will find it. If you are observant and notice details, you might even find out what happened to circus legend P.T. Barnum.

And yes, there are clowns. There are also a few automated props — the first one actually caught me off guard and made me jump. Our favorite character was probably the mime that you run in to several times as your path winds in and out of its room. It is a very clever and efficient way to have an actor be able to cover multiple scare zones. The mime was funny, as he pulled us towards him with his invisible rope.

The entire walk takes about 20 minutes, but I could see it taking longer if you were hesitant to approach something at the end of a hallway. And, although “haunted house” appears in the description, I think the key word is “experience.” You are walking through a twisted circus-themed funhouse of lights, sounds, and creatures. This is not your typical “walk in to a room and someone jumps out and screams at you” haunt, though there were plenty of those moments.

I find it hard to describe, and even remember all the scenes (it just kept going, and going, and going), but I know I enjoyed it. It was not what I expected, and I want to see it again. I think a second time through would be even more fun. The first time, we were constantly on the lookout for folks to jump out and scream at us and likely missed plenty of details.

This haunt has a number of jump scares, but if you can handle those, I think it is more accessible to a wider age range than some extreme haunts are. We saw families with young kids coming out without any signs of trauma. While there were some minorly graphic scenes (butcher shop, some random body parts), it was not at all a gory splatter fest. It’s a circus, after all. Just a weird, dark, and twisted one.

Barnum Circus of Freaks was actually the first area haunt to reach out to me this year and invite me out to see what they were up to. I was too busy and did not have time to event start working on this website until mid-October. I regret not making time to visit with them earlier. I feel like I was late to this party.

If you go see it, tell them DM Haunted Houses sent ya. Thanks.

Trail of Terror recap

DISCLAIMER: These posts should not be taken as reviews. They should be taken as my interpretation of what the attraction is like. See “what is scary” for more details.

I first learned of the Trail of Terror many years ago when I was working in Masrhalltown. I had seen a small wooden sign along the highway, but couldn’t find any information about what it was. The following year, I somehow learned it was a fundraiser for Baxter Fun Days. I remember doing a video interview with them one evening after work while still in my work shirt and pants. Fun times.

Trail of Terror is held at the Ashton Wildwood Park in Mingo, Iowa. Upon my first visit, it instantly became one of my favorite haunts because of how many volunteers they had scattered along their half mile walk through the woods. It took about twenty minutes of continuous walking to get through it. The scenes were varied and fun, and most had multiple volunteers that would “tag team” to scare you. Someone would jump out on one side, and then someone popped up from the other, and so on.

Due to the rough terrain of the trail, they started making folks read and sign a waiver (read it; it is important).

They also loan each group a small flashlight to light the way. Use it. Keep an eye on the ground. There are some small steps, and some large ones. But also look around (and up) to see the various random decorations. One year there were trees full of baby dolls. For some reason.

It has been several years since I visited, and getting back there tonight was great fun. While the walk is the same long (LONG) walk I remember, that was about all that seemed familiar. There were multiple volunteers in each scenes, lots of body parts, baby dolls, and even a random butcher shop (in the woods?). There was a clown scene (loaded with far, far too many clowns), and a few loud surprises along the way. (One was very effective at getting your attention.) There were plenty of “low level” folks waiting along the path as well. (Again, keep an eye on the ground…)

And don’t fall for their dirty tricks. They love to try to get you attention while a few others leap out at you.

They let groups in five minutes apart, so lines can move quite slowly. BUT, this space makes for a better experience. During our 20 minute walk, we did not have anyone catch up with us, nor did we catch up with the group in front of us. (This probably will not be the case if you run; but DON’T run. The trail does not like running.) This also lets their volunteers mess with you for far too long 😉 You might find yourself with a few clowns (or other nasties) following you.

“Scary” is always subjective, but we heard plenty of screams while we were there. Some folks freak out when they realize they are being followed. Some folks find someone jumping out from dark bushes to be terrifying. And some folks just hate clowns. So many clowns.

This haunt has one of the cheapest prices of anything around here – $15. Since it is a fundraiser, the folks volunteering are doing so to help out, and not just for a paycheck. That gives it a fun vibe that commercial haunts don’t always have. The people here all seem to be enjoying themselves and having a blast. Even if a path with eight clowns doesn’t scare you, you can at least know your money went to help a community event.

If you’ve never been, and can handle the long walk, it’s worth the short drive to Mingo, Iowa.

Oh, and come hungry. They have El Meson Taco Shack they’re serving their “fluffy tacos” and other hot Mexican food. Tell Juan and Jesus the website guy says hi!

What is Future Nightmares?

DISCLAIMER: These posts should not be taken as reviews. They should be taken as my interpretation of what the attraction is like. See “what is scary” for more details.

Today (Saturday, October 14, 2023), I finally got to experience Future Nightmares in Merle Hay Mall.

Future Nightmares is the creation of musician Sparky Sinn. Some of you may remember him from when he performed in 2013 at Sleepy Hollow Sports Park (long before Sleepy Hollow was sold to Polk County). His lights/sound/bass musical performance was called “Future Nightmares.”

SINN-X – October 5, 2013 – Sleepy Hollow Sports Park

Apparently that name stuck with him, because here we are a decade later and SINN-X is back with an all new Future Nightmares that has nothing to do with the DJ-centric show he gave us back then. Well, almost nothing. During that 2013 Sleepy Hollow event, I was part of a show that featured a talking skeleton. That skeleton originally appeared in the park as “DJ Bones” before getting his own show. And at that show, Sparky was there.

Sparky Sinn with DJ Bones – October 5, 2013 – Sleepy Hollow Sports Park

Perhaps this inspired Sparky to want his own animatronic talking skeleton. Or two of them, as the case may be. But more on this in a moment.

After learning that SINN-X was back in Des Moines and working on a new “year ’round” attraction, I headed to the mall to see what was going on. That’s when I found this:

Pressing that button causes an animatronic skeleton head to pop up from behind the circuit board, inviting the viewer to go to “future nightmares dot com” for more information.

Pressing the button again did something different. Then another something different. Then another. At that point, I knew this wasn’t going to be a DJ music show. But what would it be?

About the Show

Future Nightmares is located on the lower level of Merle Hay Mall just past the escalators to FLIX Brewhouse. A monitor in the window describes it as a “20 minute sci-fi horror show” and invites folks to visit to buy tickets. The cost is currently $15 for adults (a 25% sale), and $5 for kids (a 75% off sale). Beyond this, the website only describes it as:

Mad Scientist Sparky SINN and his glitchy robot servant 53rv0 use music to guide an audience of scientists through an experience of innovative lab experiments at SINN X LABS…

Experience Experiments… that always seem to go SCARY wrong…..

Now that I have seen it, I will attempt to describe just what kind of show this is.

Experiment-al theater

At the top of each hour, a group will be led through an entrance room and in to a second completely dark room. The scientist/usher leads the way with green flashlights (they remind me of short light sabers, or those lights folks wave on airport runways to guide the planes).

Once in the main room, there is very little you can see beyond three rows of four metal folding seats.

When the show starts and some lights come on, you will notice a stage up front. There are walls of black fabric/cloth on both sides, and a tall robot skeleton off to the left. There is also some weird contraption to the right of the stage. All of this becomes very important as the show goes on. This is where our scientist (Sparky) gets things started.

Without giving too many spoilers, the show is a series of “experiments” that audience members get to participate in. Don’t worry – most of this participation is pushing a button or flipping a switch. One or two “lucky” audience members may get to see what the contraption to the right of the stage is for.

As the show progresses, we learn that all of the lab equipment is very power hungry, and runs on a special type of fuel.

Nightmare fuel. (Okay, now I get it.)

The experiments start fun and pleasant, then get more nightmarish. Various effect happen — electric firecrackers, fog, air, animated props, lighting, video and more — during the course of the experiments. The robot skeleton serves as the main narrator and Sparky explains the experiments and wrangles the volunteers.

Music during the show is electronic and thematic, and appears to be performed live by Sparky. He runs various control from the stage, along with a synthesizer keyboard and a clear light up guitar. He is basically a walking light show.

As the show progresses, new things are revealed (it’s difficult to describe without spoiling things), and various jump scares happen. A good description I heard was:

“Pure sensory overload. It’s like he took the entire budget of a wanted house and put it in one room. The family in front of us were jumping at every little thing. Tons of interaction with volunteers. He has a moment where he [SPOILER REMOVED]. I won’t spoil it but it may be the most I’ve laughed in a haunted attraction.”

My Trusted Source, who saw it before I did.

So what is it?

It’s a show where you sit down in a theater and watch a guy and a robot talk to you … while all hell breaks loose around you. There are some massive props in this room, including some I hadn’t seen “in the wild” before. There’s even a neat hologram effect. Things can get loud so be prepared for that, especially if bringing kids. (They offered us nice ear plugs.)

It is still hard to explain what this show is — but I like it, and I want to see it again. Hopefully the second time around I can catch even more things going on. Early on, something happens off to the side, which pulled my attention away from something happening on the other. Maybe next time I can catch both.

Is it worth it?

I thought it was a value at $15. I’ve certainly paid $25 to go through a haunted house that had less effects and took less time and gave me less jumps. But it is really hard to compare the two experiences. Some folks prefer being chased by clowns with chainsaws.

About the only thing I will critique is that some of the dialog sections seemed too long. There may be a technical reason for this, but some times you have to listen to that robot drone on while you think “okay, we get it, make stuff blow up!” 😉 Since this show is only performed on Friday and Saturdays, and only started this month, I expect the presentation to evolve as he gets more audience reactions.

For now, though, it’s an inexpensive and unique Des Moines offering that I would recommend. Much like buying a ticket to a movie, you never know if you are going to see a bomb or the next Oscar winner. Tastes are different. And with something like this, it’s hard to know what anyone will think.

But my trusted source was correct. It was “pure sensory overload.”

And he plans to stick around with evolving shows. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Oh, and say hello to the cyborg if she is there. She seems nice. And much like The Terminator, you’ll probably want to come with her if you want to live.

VR horror escape room thoughts.

DISCLAIMER: These posts should not be taken as reviews. They should be taken as my interpretation of what the attraction is like. See “what is scary” for more details.

Tonight we went to Merle Hay Mall to check out Future Nightmares and White Rabbit VR Arcade. Future Nightmares had just started a show, so we roamed down to check out the VR offerings:

We chose to do House of Fear: Call of Blood (I think — it was the one set in an asylum). Here are our thoughts on the experience.

Virtual Reality

You wear a virtual reality helmet to do this experience. You see three-dimensional video and headphones give you stereo sound. You can hear things from beside you, and even hear other members of your group (up to four at a time) as they talk, and they can hear you. This allows you to communicate during the experience.

In each hand you hold a controller. In the helmet, you will see digital “hands” floating in front of you. You will be able to pick up and drop objects, and even swing an axe or use a saw 😉 Instead of walking around, you point the controller where you want to go and press a button. You then teleport to that location. Other buttons let you rotate your view left or right, allowing you to be seated (if in a wheelchair, or just unable to stand for an hour) and still turn around.

If you do step too far, a “wall” appears in the game letting you know you are at the boundary. This prevents you from walking out of the area you are in.

Time Limit

The game begins with a tutorial to explain how to use the controller. The game is timed, so your 60 minutes begins counting down. In the game we played, we could see our virtual hands floating in front of us. The left hand had a watch and you could look at it and see how much time was left. There were no on-screen counters or displays to take you “out” of the game. (There would occasionally be the words “STEP BACK” if you got too close to something.)

Escape Room meets Haunt

If you have ever been to an escape room, you know they are usually just one (or a few) rooms you are stuck in as you solve puzzles (mostly trying to find numeric codes to unlock combination locks.)

The White Rabbit experience is virtual, so it can be much larger. Ours took place over two floors of an asylum and contained many rooms. We could freely explore from room to room, trying to figure out how to get through a locked door, or up some stairs we couldn’t get to.

Objects could be picked up and carried (such as a flashlight or an axe). Some objects were crucial to getting to new areas (such as a key, or a door key card). Sometimes there were puzzles. What do you need to put out a fire? And where do you find it?

Everything was creepy. Dead bodies, giant spiders, scary nurses, attacking monsters and more. Some things would “jump” out at you, and others would appear down a hallway and come straight at you. It was quite the adrenaline rush!

Experience not required

We have played escape rooms before, which really helped us out. If we saw a number, we figured it would probably be used to open a lock or at a keypad (it was). If we saw weird symbols on a wall, we knew to remember where they were since we expected to need to use them later. Every lock meant there was probably a key somewhere. Some of the puzzles were very easy to figure out (like using a key to open a door), and others took a few steps (what did the baby crib need, and where did you get it?).

This game helped out by having painted white arrows appear on the floor guiding us to the next step (or, in one case, actually pointing to a clue — though we did not realize that at first). Objects that were goals would be glowing, letting you know you needed to do something with them. That should help first timers out considerably. (We were told that was a game option. The game we played would have been MUCH harder without these clues.)

Much like getting to the end of a haunted house, this experience had an end as well…if you could figure it out in the allotted time. In our case, two of us were able to make it through all the rooms and figure out all the puzzles in 38 minutes. Knowing what we now know, I expect we could go back and do it in under 20 (assuming the game is always the same).

Is it a haunted house?

No. It is not a haunted house. It is a haunted house themed escape room. BUT, when “walking” through the asylum, things could appear and scream at you or chase you down the halls. Things would pop out at you, or crawl out from under a bed. This was VERY much like a haunted house. Unlike a haunted house that forces you from scene to scene, you could freely explore the environment (within limits; once you get to the second floor, the gate closes and you cannot go back downstairs). This means you could run and hide from the monsters, but it was more fun to go find an axe and fight back — something you never get to do in a haunted house 😉

Is it worth $35?

We have played escape rooms that were $27 on up to $60 (Universal Great Movie Escape). There are some that are less, and I am sure some that are more. $35 is certainly within reason of standard escape room pricing – and would be dirt cheap if this were a physical place built to the scale of what you encounter inside the game.

If you are expecting a ten minute “people jumping out at you” experience, this is not it. If you like creepy environments, and want to actively participate in them, this is far more unique than your typical $25 haunted house.

As always, your milage may vary. Nothing can match the claustrophobic feeling of crawling through that opening hallway at Linn’s Haunted House, but no haunted house gives you a two story asylum to freely explore. It’s a very different experience.

Drop by the mall and take a look. It might be one of the funnest things you’ve ever tried.

And if you play the same one, let me know if the bats make you jump. They sure got me.