By Randy A. Salas

When colleague Tom Horgen took a recent look at the Twin Cities' haunted houses, the Dungeons of Darkness and Doom in Robbinsdale hadn't opened yet. So I checked it out last weekend. It's loads of frightful fun.

Staffed by volunteers, the Dungeons purports to be different than other area haunts. It tells the story of the EvilHill family, whose diabolical parents turned to their many kids for their experiments on what makes humans evil. The tale of each insane child is told in a dozen rooms, with a tour guide taking visitors through four or five at a time. The small groups, separated  by a few minutes heightens the terror because of the isolation. And you have to hold a chain to stay together in the dark. "Let go of the chain!" the many frighteners beckon. Creepy.

The various rooms include the usual scares -- a farm, a butcher shop, clowns, vampires. But there are some nice, different touches, starting with the honest attempts at performing instead of just screaming. One area features a werewolf, a neglected monster that has taken a back seat to vampires and zombies these days. A visit to a doll-obsessed girl recalls the classic French horror film Eyes Without a Face.  That might sound highfalutin, but it's intentional, as the creators of the Dungeons cite the influence of sources such as EC Comics, Universal horror films and Edgar Allan Poe.

"Anyone can turn out the lights in a pole barn or a basement, put on rubber maks, jump out and scare you," they say. "That's easy! Our goal is to scare you with our imgination, our eloquence and our over-the-top dramatic skills."

They do that effectively, with an occasional miss depending on who's working a room. Really, the only thing they could improve is the wait outside the converted retail space they use. It's just a long line with little atmosphere -- except for the occasional visitors who literally run screaming out of the exit door.

The Dungeons of Darkness and Doom is open 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Oct. 30 and Oct. 31, and 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday and Thursday. It's located in Robin Center, corner of County Road 81 and 41st Av. N., Robbisndale. Admission is $10, or $8 with a canned-food donation. Proceeds benefit the Jaycees and the Main Street School of Performing Arts. 

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