The Slaughterhouse, a Des Moines haunted house embodying Slipknot imagery, music and iconology, opens Friday at the Barnum Factory. Des Moines Register


Local fright conductor Ian Miller briefly described working with Iowa’s master of macabre metal, Slipknot, as a “pinch me” moment.

The 37-year-old’s been spinning music from Des Moines’ marquee nontet since the 1990s, a time when calling Iowa’s capital city “Dead Moines” had less to do with Halloween and more to do with its cultural output, he said.

But “pinch me”? Not brutal enough.

“It’s been a suspension of disbelief,” said Miller. “Pinching myself — err — hacking myself in the leg.”

A hack to the leg. Now that sounds like a Halloween collaboration worthy of Iowa’s unearthly export.

The Slaughterhouse, a Des Moines haunted house embodying Slipknot imagery, music and iconology, opened Oct. 5 at the Barnum Factory. Miller, creative director, and Dave Hukill, Slaughterhouse co-owner, teamed with the award-winning heavy metal outfit in bringing to life characters from the band’s two decades of masked madness.

The haunt runs every Thursday-Sunday in October, plus Halloween night. General admission tickets cost $20; an estimated 12,000 could attend this year’s Slaughterhouse, up from 8,000 in 2017.

“It’s all about a special experience, making it one-on-one, almost,” said Slipknot percussionist M. Shawn Crahan. “It really is going to be a moment in our history, in their history. And our history in Des Moines.”

Here’s a sneak peek at what Slipknot fans — “maggots,” they’re called — may see inside the local fright:

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The lore of Iowa’s nine

Fright-seekers swing open Slaughterhouse doors and first spot inescapable mug shots from Slipknot members Crahan, Corey Taylor, Sid Wilson and Jim Root. “Missing” plastered on the posters, it’s an introductory taste of maggot fanfare cooked into Miller’s concoction.

The Slaughterhouse hired about 40 actors to bring the band’s catalog masked characters to life. Band members alter costumes and on-stage personas slightly for each new album, which gave Miller five cycles of masks and jumpsuits to replicate.

He spent about a month working Slipknot mythology into the 20-minute haunt.

“A lot of our scenes, they already cater to the lyrics and the presence and the energy Slipknot embodies,” Miller said.

Grime-spattered lyrics — “The only thing I ever really loved was hate,” from 2004’s “The Nameless” — cover a wall in one room. Another brings to life a window-smashing music video from the same year.

In one pocket of the haunt, fright-seekers find stacked shelves of barrel drums and a bloody “Welcome to Iowa” sign, nodding to Slipknot’s beloved 2001 album. Tucked between the barrels, an eerily static television flashes the band’s name.

Screaming, mutilated bodies dressed in Slipknot shirts jump to life as unhinged hospital patients blare the band’s music through boomboxes.

“It’s not a collision of cultures,” Miller said. “It’s a seamless integration. … that fact makes it really seamless; a diabolically happy experience.”

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It’ll put you off-balance

The Slaughterhouse bombards visitors’ senses with intensity at every turn. The house debuted on Des Moines’ south side in 2010, bouncing between locations and inactivity before calling the Barnum Factory home in 2017.

Sliding floors, walls painted with dizzying designs, a claustrophobia hallway, explosive lighting — each calculated corner puts the frightened more off-balance.

And easier to scare.

“They have agreed and allowed and paid for us it put them into a very vulnerable situation where we get to control the entire experience of their waking reality,” Miller said.

“At the Slaughterhouse, the people are the pigs. … We’re processing you.”

Miller implements a technique called “one-two-boo”: Open with a visual fright, follow-up with a motion scare and come in for a knock-out punch with an actor.

It’s part of creating a “walk-through cinematic experience,” he explained.

Lifelike robots controlled by air pressure, called animatronics, help give the haunt a pulse. Miller enlisted 16 pneumatic props this year, including five animatronic characters.

“We doubled capacity for compressed air in order to facilitate these props,” he said.  

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It's not just for maggots 

Miller approached his Slipknot additions in moderation. He took the band’s management through the house earlier this year, where it was agreed not to oversaturate attendees in the band’s canon.

“A big part of that conversation was (that) it shouldn’t be blatant, just banging you over the head,” he said.

The tour moves fast, Miller said, with groups of six entering at about 15-second intervals.

Direhard maggots should catch a few hidden treats without Slipknot newcomers feeling out-of-place. After all, the Slaughterhouse isn’t meant to exclusively terrify metal fans.

“I hope people get exactly what they wanted,” Miller said. “An escape from the true horrors of their waking reality; the droning day-to-day business of life. To me that’s far more terrifying than anything we’ve built inside this attraction.”

If you go …

What: The Slipknot Slaughterhouse 

When: Each Thursday-Sunday in October, plus Oct. 31. 

Where: The Barnum Factory, 97 Indiana Ave. 

Cost: $20 general admission. VIP packages, including Slipknot meet-and-greet, also available. 

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