For whatever reason, some people’s idea of a good night out is to go to a place where there’s screaming, crying, blood, and demonic laughter and we didn’t mean to describe every hospital. There are a ton of haunted house tours out there, but the real challenge is sorting through what’s clearly built out of stuff you can buy at the seasonal costume shop/dollar store hybrid and what someone took time to design and craft in their specific horror image. If you’re looking for the season’s scariest haunted attractions, these are a few places you might want to find.
Terror Behind the Walls
For those of you who might not know, Eastern State Penitentiary is a prison turned museum on Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia. It’s creepy enough during a day tour, with its crumbling cellblocks, long echoing hallways, and ominous guard towers. Beyond haunting aesthetics, the place comes with a healthy serving of paranormal phenomena, enough to get it featured on multiple ghost hunting specials and to be the center of enough urban legends to fill a tome. Then they turned it into a haunted house.
Terror Behind the Walls is a series of six separately themed attractions in the prison, built through various areas of the site. There’s a new theme introduced each year, and tweaks are made to the themes of past years, so people often make it an annual event. Inside those six themes, as well as outside, wandering around amongst the crowd, local actors are hired to flesh out the experience and they are intensely committed to the gig, playing their parts with enough conviction to make DiCaprio jealous.
The Dent Schoolhouse
The haunting potential of a school isn’t the first thing we think of when we think of primary education, but we have to admit it makes sense. The few times we’ve been in regular schools without adult supervision or the lights on, we’ve been sufficiently creeped out. And yes, we recognize that sentence could lead to the wrong conclusions, but we were helping set up for a Beef and Beer, so it was a volunteering thing and we were bettering ourselves socially. If anyone should feel awkward about it, it’s you for not helping us.
The Dent Schoolhouse is in Cincinnati and focuses around the (fictional) legend that the school janitor abducted and murdered a bunch of children. Now it’s one of the most critically acclaimed haunted attractions in the nation and is updated every year. They also love to play into the old horror movie cliche of terrifying cheerleaders, though, who can really blame them?
Blackout is one of the more exclusive haunted houses, as the only way to get into the main one is by invitation. It changes year to year, so while an article or two have been written about past years, they won’t really tell you what to expect beyond the fact that it gets real weird real fast.
They also have a virtual reality experience you can sign up for as well as a documentary that’s supposedly restoring people’s faith in the horror genre, if that was a thing that people had lost. This year they’ve rejoined with the San Francisco Armory for Hell in the Armory, and reviews for every experience they sponsor are positive, so if you’re in the area and a fan of haunted houses, it might be something worth looking at.
It’s unclear what it says about the world when a place like McKamey Manor has a 24,000 person waiting list. Maybe it means people really like to push their own personal limitations and see what they’re capable of. Maybe it means people are willing to put themselves through four to seven hours of torture because they hate themselves and are secretly hoping they’ll die. Maybe it means Vlad the Impaler wasn’t the exception, he was the rule, and maybe he had more willing victims than the history books let on. Whatever it means, we’re pretty sure we won’t be going to San Diego for a little while, just in case the “free and willing participants” thing is some kind of legal jargon McKamey uses to stay out of trouble.
For a place that bills itself as the most bad ass/extreme haunted house, they might have actually accomplished it. It’s an energetic, chaotic, insane area that incorporates indoor and outdoor scares that gets and stays in your face. It’s the kind of place that everyone in your grade school said they went to but actually just stayed home and watched Halloween with a blanket over their heads. It’s something of a pilgrimage for horror fans, and it consistently gets great reviews and draws thousands of people in its few short weeks of operation. It’s definitely not the kind of place where people can go and lay low or the kind of place you should visit if you are startled by bugs or small mammals.
The Victim Experience
If you’ve ever watched a slasher movie and thought, “I sure would like to be one of those victims,” then you’re, somehow, not alone. The Victim Experience is produced by the Freakling Brothers Horror Shows in Las Vegas and originally opened in 2013. They’re in their third year of it now and people (again, somehow) seem to be enjoying feeling like they’re going to see their own intestines by the end of the night. The experience comes with a safe word and not everyone makes it through, but those who do are rewarded with their lives and also an exclusive free T-shirt. You can also stick around to watch other victims attempt to survive the course, which why wouldn’t you do that? Laughter’s just a spectating experience away.