MAZON – Deb and Darryl Punke typically don’t like watching people panic, scream and cry.
“But at least we know we’ve done our job,” Deb Punke said of when it does happen around them. “You have to have a little morbidity about you to work in a place like this.”
The Punkes are in the business of scaring. For the last 14 years, the husband and wife duo have coordinated one of Illinois’ favorite haunted houses and one of Mazon’s largest fundraisers – the Dungeon of Terror.
“People come from all over the country,” Deb Punke said. “We’ve had people from Kentucky, Minnesota, Indiana. All over.”
The dungeon was voted Illinois’ favorite haunted house in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and has scared as many as 825 people in one night. A percentage of the profits is used to keep the house running while the rest is donated to Mazon’s all- volunteer fire department. To date, the dungeon has raised enough money to buy new trucks and tools for the firefighters, the Punkes said.
“It’s by far the largest fundraiser for the fire department,” Deb Punke said. “We absolutely could not do this without the support of the community.”
That support comes in all forms. Between 30 and 40 people from throughout the area volunteer their time to work as monsters. Local restaurants donate food to feed workers every night. Many supplies are donated by area retailers. The gurneys, for example, were supplied by the coroner’s office.
The Punkes and others work on the house year-round. Every year, all 16 rooms of the dungeon must be different “or people will stop coming,” Darryl Punke said. The couple spends countless hours finding and building props; they even search through dumpsters to find new supplies.
The couple also annually attends a haunted house convention in St. Louis, where they buy supplies and find new ways to scare people. Darryl Punke admitted that after so many years, it gets harder to think of new rooms.
“No matter what, we always have a clown room,” Deb Punke said. “I don’t know why, but people hate clowns.”
The 5,000-square-foot Dungeon of Terror houses a life-size, robotic dog, among other impressive props, and includes a separate 850-square-foot maze. Attendees are on their own to find a way out of the winding, pitch-black labyrinth.
“Usually, after about 30 minutes, we have to tell people where the door is,” Darryl Punke said.
The house opened three weeks ago and will close Oct. 27. Tours begin at 7 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Next Saturday night at 8 p.m., The On Broadway Dancers of Coal City will be dancing in the street to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Admission is $10. There are no refunds.
“If you think you can’t make it, I’ll walk you through,” Darryl Punke said. “We want to be sure everybody has a good time.”