By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — Dustin Tumeo’s voice almost instinctively drops into a low, gravelly tone as soon as he gets into makeup.

Tumeo plays a hunchback, disease-ridden character named Boil that lurks inside the dark at Twisted Crypt Haunted House, 5420 E. State St., near the old Circuit City. But the character tends to come out of him long before the lights go out inside the 10,000-square-foot mix of chaos, gore and creepy entertainment.

“As soon as I get my costume on it’s just like Boil takes over me. He starts getting this low, grumbly voice, you know, he’s kind of nasty, you know,” said Tumeo, changing his voice in a backstage makeup chair last Friday. “It’s very fun to just project this new persona.”

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Tumeo, a Poplar Grove resident who is in his third year at Twisted Crypt, is among 56 crew members who bring the haunted house to life for its 10th year in Rockford. Some are aspiring actors who relish the role, others are just in it for the sake of the scares.

“I don’t do it for anything other than enjoyment. I enjoy scaring people,” said Krystle Pyfer, who works processing warranty claims when she’s not raising her 7- and 5-year-olds. “I take my frustrations out on scaring people. I look forward to it all year long.”

Pyfer has been with Twisted Crypt for all 10 seasons, mostly playing the role of a victim. Now she’s in the role of Maddie Flowers, part of the disturbed family that fills the show rooms inside Twisted Crypt.

“It just clicks and goes. It’s part of who I am I guess, my alter-ego,” she said of getting into the role. “My husband would probably say that it’s the other side of me.”

Zachary Webb of Loves Park helped build the set 10 years ago. These days he plays Tavis Duson, whose last name is a nod to the creators and owners of Twisted Crypt, Peter Dunn and Matt Johnson. He said that getting into character comes with putting the costume on.

“I think a lot of us here, once you get everything on and get moving, it all falls into place,” he said.

Scaring the $#*! out of you

The aim for several actors, including Webb, is to quite literally scare the you know what out of you. And it happens “frequently,” Webb said. So frequently that there is an actual Code Brown for a cleanup crew to come in. Pyfer learned to play off it to keep the show moving after an unexpected bowel movement.

“At one point they were keeping track, and they would mark on the door — tally it,” said Brianne Jankowski, a 20-year-old actress and student who last year won the Jim Warfield Acting Award for her portrayal of Molly the Dolly.

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Jankowski first went through Twisted Crypt at age 12 with her father, who was dressed as Captain Spaulding, the infamous clown character from a series of Rob Zombie horror movies.

“We went through, and I was scared, but as I watched my dad mess around and have fun, I started having fun, too,” she said.

Brianne Jankowski puts on makeup before opening night on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, at Twisted Crypt Haunted House in Rockford. Jankowski won the Jim Warfield acting award last year for her portrayal of Molly the Dolly in the haunted house. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

Jankowski, who is working on a bachelor’s of fine arts degree in acting from Northern Illinois University, started with the cast shortly after. She has also volunteered at Starlight Theatre and is part of a theater troupe called Irrational Masters, which shadow casts the 1975 film “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

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For years now she’s found a home scaring people inside Twisted Crypt.

“I myself haven’t had any instances where I’ve scared someone so bad that they wouldn’t recover, but I know my father has,” she said. “He made someone poop their pants at least once.”

Jankowski created the possessed broken doll character Molly the Dolly, which stammers and repeats words with a glitch-like effect.

“On the spot I just started saying words out loud,” she said. “That’s how I came up with the Molly the Dolly catchphrase in a way. … It was just kind of workshopping it on the fly.”

Kadie Kirby puts makeup on Dustin Tumeo of Poplar Grove on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, before opening night at Twisted Crypt Haunted House, 5420 E. State St., in Rockford. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

Most of the actors, like Jankowski, create or co-create their characters. Tumeo built his with inspiration from video game characters including Nurgle, a god of disease and decay from the game Warhammer.

Getting into costume and makeup can take anywhere from about 20 minutes to close to an hour and a half. Tumeo said attaching the boils and other makeup is at the shorter end of that range if he gets an early makeup chair. Jankowski finds her preparation time at the longer end of the scale.

Both find camaraderie with their fellow cast members and enjoy the thrill of proving patrons aren’t as fearless as they may think.

“I love the people here,” Jankowski said. “I love coming back and being among the family. Being involved in the community we’ve created here.

“Even though it is a lot of work. It is rewarding.”

About | Twisted Crypt Haunted House

Where: 5420 E. State St., Rockford

Hours: 7-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays Sept. 15-Oct. 14; 7-10 p.m. Sundays Oct. 1-15; 6:30-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays Oct. 20-28; 6:30-10 p.m. Sunday Oct. 22 and Oct. 29-31.

Admission: $15


Twisted Crypt cast
Kadie Kirby puts on makeup for her character, Zellie, on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, at Twisted Crypt Haunted House, 5420 E. State St., Rockford. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at or follow him on X at @KevinMHaas or Instagram @thekevinhaas and Threads @thekevinhaas

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