13 Spooky Picks for October in Chicago – Tricky Treats for Grown Ups Looking for Arts, Culture and Frightening Fun

(Courtesy of The Old Joliet Haunted Prison)(Courtesy of The Old Joliet Haunted Prison)

Find your own darn pumpkin patches and corn mazes. This is a list for adults who love the spooky season just as much as those costumed kids with their candy bags.

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There’s some family fare here, but I’ve pulled together picks mostly meant for those of us over 18 whose favorite holiday is All Hallows’ Eve

1. “House of the Exquisite Corpse”

A team of top Chicago theater artists populate an immersive haunted house in this puppet horror show. They found inspiration in a house care book published in 1883 (sample chapter: “The Evils of the Common Closet”). The “exquisite corpse” exercise was invented by the surrealists 100 years ago. It’s a collaborative work in which each artist adds to an existing work. Here, six different puppet peepshows promise to be exquisitely creepy. Recommended for ages 13 and over.

Opens Oct. 13 at Rough House Theater Co. at Steppenwolf’s Merle Reskin Garage Space, 1624 N. Halsted (NOTE: formerly Chopin Theatre)

2. “Haunted Objects Live!”

A live show-and-tell claims to tell true tales of hauntings. Two paranormal investigators display their collection of weird stuff – including a piece of the Amityville horror house, a haunted clown doll (isn’t that redundant?) and a box rumored to contain a demon. If you’re not rolling your eyes, you’re probably ordering tickets. Oddly enough, the show takes place at Fitzgerald’s, the venerable Berwyn music club. Please note: it is one-night only in early October, and the first show is already sold-out.

Wed Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. (sold out) and 9:30 p.m. at Fitzgerald’s Nightclub, 6615 Roosevelt Road, Berwyn

(Courtesy of Malliway Bros)(Courtesy of Malliway Bros)

3. Malliway Bros. Magic & Witchcraft

Drop by for a spell. Or a charm or a potion. From occult books to potions and candles, nothing says “every hour is the witching hour” like Malliway Bros. in Rogers Park. Located in an old corner pharmacy, it’s a cool space chockful of unusual things. The last time there, I overheard a customer ask “And what does one do with a penis candle?” They also host workshops in spirit conjuring and the mystic arts. Think of it as Walgreens for witches and warlocks.

Open seven days a week, Malliway Bros, 1407 W. Morse Ave.

(Credit: Martha Gabriela Driessen)(Credit: Martha Gabriela Driessen)

4. Dia de Muertos

Well worth a yearly visit, this ever-changing exhibition consists of striking visual art and ofrendas – memorial altars made to celebrate the lives of lost loved ones. The tradition has roots in Mesoamerica and Spain, and this annual show at the museum is sure to be an eyeful. In 2023, the exhibit memorializes people who died in earthquakes, as well as women who’ve been victimized by violence. Aside from the serious tone of some of the work, there’s always room for breathtaking beauty among the bones.

Through Dec. 10. National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St.

5. “The Revenge of Hallowzine”

An anthology of horror comics created by Chicago artists, “The Revenge of Hallowzine” is the 5th edition in the series. Twenty stories range from kooky to spooky in 100 pages of black-and-white graphic art. Artists include Andrea Pearson of the zine series “No Pants Revolution” and Eric DeSantis. It’s an inexpensive way to support artists in Chicago – and get a collectible that exists only because of a collective vision and a Kickstarter campaign.

Available soon in digital and hard copies.

(Courtesy of Candlelight)(Courtesy of Candlelight)

6. “Candlelight: A Haunted Evening of Halloween Classics”

Spooky music played in a cemetery by candlelight. What could go wrong? The Candlelight concerts group emphasizes unusual settings with music performed by the Metropolis String Quartet. Here they’ll play favorites, including Saint-Saëns’ “Danse macabre,” the themes from “Psycho” and “The Exorcist,” and left-field choices like the Cranberries’ “Zombie.” Locations include St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, the Stan Mansion in Logan Square, and Bohemian National Cemetery.

Oct. 18-27, Various locations

7. “Witch”

When the devil arrives in town to bargain for souls, a woman already shunned as a witch sees a chance to get revenge on her neighbors. This contemporary play by Jen Silverman is a darkly comic retelling of a 17th century English drama, “The Witches of Edmonton.” The earlier play was inspired by the true story of Elizabeth Sawyer, who was put on trial for, among other things, feeding her blood to the devil. She was found guilty and hanged in London in 1621.

Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave

8. The Old Joliet Haunted Prison

The prison was built with convict labor before the Civil War. Closed in 2002, it’s the only Chicago area penitentiary converted into an annual haunted house. This year, the prison yard in Joliet has been turned into a labyrinth with chainsaw-wielding inmates. There’s also a cellblock of horror and, like any self-respecting haunted historic prison, laser tag and two full bars. May be too intense for children 12 and under.

Through Nov. 4, Old Joliet Prison, 401 Woodruff Road, Joliet

9. “Splatter Theater” and Burlesque at Annoyance Theatre

A horror parody that features 13 stock characters from slasher movies and buckets of stage blood. Yes, if you sit up front you may get wet at this annual show that trips over the tropes of scary movies. The sketch comedy showcase was created by Mr. Annoyance himself, Mick Napier. Annoyance also hosts “Burlesque is Gore” – a bloody burlesque show on Saturday nights in October. Plus, you have to love a theater that boldly bills itself as “Chicago’s Only Funny Comedy.”

Through Oct. 31, Annoyance Theatre & Bar, 851 W. Belmont

10. Haunted Halloween at the ISAC Museum

Okay, this one is for families, but it’s in an enticing location that may also interest the adults in the room. The Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures (formerly the Oriental Institute) is a great backdrop to bring your budding archeologist/trick-or-treater. Beyond face painting and crafts, there are 10,000 years’ worth of artifacts from ancient civilizations. You can also register in advance to give the kids an interactive look at the process of Egyptian mummification.

Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures, University of Chicago, 1155 E. 58th Street

11. “Wolves” at Redtwist Theatre

Expect edgy intensity in this gory, gay re-imagining of Little Red Riding Hood. The intimate black box theater brings immediacy to a tale of isolation and paranoia between two former lovers who are now roommates. Part of Redtwist’s “Season of Pride,” the show is billed as a “queer horror show” and explores adult themes of sexuality and violence. In other words, get a babysitter. Dusty Brown directs from a script by Steve Yockey.

Through Nov. 5, Redtwist Theare, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr

12. “American Psycho: The Musical”

Duncan Sheik has had an unpredictable career – earning a Grammy nomination for pop music in the ‘90s and then winning a Tony Award for “Spring Awakening.” He also wrote music and lyrics for “American Psycho,” based on the best-selling novel that became a film starring Christian Bale. It tells the story of an investment banker whose side hustle is serial killing. The original score also features pop hits from the ‘80s, including “In the Air Tonight” and “Hip To Be Square.”

Through Nov. 26, Kokandy Productions at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St.

Remedios Varo. Creación de las aves (Creation of the Birds), 1957. Museo de Arte Moderno. INBAL/Secretaría de Cultura. © 2023 Remedios Varo, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VEGAP, Madrid. Photo by Rodrigo Chapa.Remedios Varo. Creación de las aves (Creation of the Birds), 1957. Museo de Arte Moderno. INBAL/Secretaría de Cultura. © 2023 Remedios Varo, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VEGAP, Madrid. Photo by Rodrigo Chapa.

13. “Remedios Varo: Science Fictions”

You still have time to see amazing surrealist artwork made by Remedios Varo, an artist based in Mexico who created trippy, otherworldly visions. She was also a true believer in the occult and a practicing witch. The exhibit includes her notebooks, complete with spells. The curator described her to “Chicago Tonight” as “a very complex, curious woman.” Don’t miss this rare show steeped in weirdness, dreams, and magic realism. It’s the best visual art show I’ve seen all year.

Through Nov. 27, Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave.

Lastly, this is Chicago – when in doubt, see a play. And don’t forget there’s almost always a steep discount for local stage shows at Hot Tix. Hope to see you haunting theaters, clubs and museums. 

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