We’re back with the second installment of our Haunt Season 2016 series! In mid-September we visited Terror Behind the Walls, a great haunted attraction in Philadelphia (you can find our write up here). So we thought it’d be a great idea to travel to the other side of the state to hit a haunt that we have been hearing about for years: Pittsburgh’s legendary ScareHouse!
ScareHouse has a huge cult following and has attracted the attention of horror buffs and celebrities alike. Guillermo del Toro, Mike Dougherty, and Elijah Wood are fans. One time Disney super-blogger Ricky Brigante dedicated an entire podcast to his trip through ScareHouse’s infamous walk-through, The Basement. Last year, ScareHouse even teamed up with the folks at Legendary Films for two attractions based on recent horror movies – Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus! (Fun fact: Krampus is now a house at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights)
Anticipation is a big part of the allure at ScareHouse. With no on-site parking available, nervous guests are instructed to park at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and take a short bus ride across the Allegheny River into neighboring Etna, PA. The bus drops everyone off at the back of large and ominous (but otherwise nondescript) building in the middle of town. From there, it’s a five-minute walk to the back of the building where the entrance to ScareHouse is located. Guests enter the lobby area where TV overhead plays a loop of Elijah Wood’s visit to the Late Night with Seth Myers show where he gushed about ScareHouse. The lobby also houses the required warning sign featuring your run-of-the-mill “enter at your own risk” verbiage. It’s just enough to get the blood pumping.
We exited the lobby and entered into the first real staging area within ScareHouse. It had the feel of a 1930’s era speak-easy (more on that theme later), with one creepy accordion soloist who entertained the waiting crowd. At this point, we could already sense that the production value was top-notch. The quality of the acting, make-up, music and sound effects were stunning. This fact would be reinforced in each of the different areas of ScareHouse. And we shouldn’t have been surprised because the ScareHouse team, led by Creative Director Scott Simmons, works year-round to bring the haunt to life. It’s a real testament to the entire team that we were fully invested in to world of ScareHouse within minutes of stepping foot in the door.
Once we scanned our tickets, we were led to a queue where we lined up with four other guests. We could hear the shrieks of joy (aka terror) coming through the walls from all direction. Before we had time to back out, a green light switched on above us indicating that it was our turn to enter the ScareHouse and we were off! What followed was a tense but thrilling 30-minute shuffle through various jump-inducing sets. Each of the three segments had a different theme:
- The Summoning – returning attraction set during Halloween 1932 for maximum Depression-era creepiness (we got our first taste of this set in the room adjacent to the lobby mentioned earlier);
- Infernal – a new addition for 2016 featuring a show-stopping “Forest of the Damned” set that Simmons says is one of the best set ever created at ScareHouse; and
- Nocturnia – another new addition for 2016 that has a psychedelic, 3D feel without the glasses.
The Summoning and Infernal were particularly creepy, with some fantastic jump scares and costuming. The movie theater scene half-way through The Summoning still stands out as a favorite and the one set piece that really got under our skin. We thought Nocturnia was the weakest of the three, but even that isn’t much of an insult when you’re talking about a place as high quality as ScareHouse. It pretty much delivered everything we had heard it would.
It was fun to see the scareactors really getting into each scene. If performers aren’t selling the performance at a haunted house, it is not going to be a good experience for the customer. But there was a genuine thrill watching these actors jump out of a hidden spaces, shriek and growl in your face, or just stand motionless, peering out with ice-cold eyes.
Did we have any complaints? Sure, but they were minimal. There were several instances were it felt that we were the only ones in a particular set. Maybe they were short-staffed that night or just working out the kinks. There were also some pacing issues, which we found with Terror Behind the Walls as well. Because we were in a group of 6 most of the night, the folks in the back usually missed the scares that were executed for the first or second person who entered the room. We trust these are the kinds of issues that work themselves out after a weekend or two.
But truthfully, the verdict was pretty clear from the start and only reinforced by the end: ScareHouse is a top-notch haunted attraction and one that somehow lived up to the hype. It took us years to get there, but we will definitely be back!
We were able to snap a few pics during our visit:
If You Go:
- ScareHouse is open every Thursday through Sunday in October. Fridays and Saturday from 7pm to midnight, Sundays and Thursdays from 7pm to 10pm.
- Tickets are available online for as low as $17.99, and they must be purchased for a specific half-hour time frame. RIP (Front of the Line) Access is available for an additional $40 each night. We did not spring for the RIP access and the wait time wasn’t excessive. That said, we imagine that on busy weekend nights, you will need to think about skipping the lines.
- Parking is available (and highly recommended) at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium. We waited about 10 minutes for the shuttle bus to arrive and the ride over to ScareHouse was about 10 minutes, depending on traffic. It is recommended that you arrive at the parking lot at least 15 minutes before your scheduled entry time.
- The Basement is a separate $35 ticket. To be honest, we chickened out on The Basement! Something about being touched, poked, shocked and generally degraded, all in the pitch darkness, was a bit beyond the Dis Downlow’s comfort level! If that’s your thing, though, you can read all about it here.