Scarehouse is Pittsburgh’s ultimate haunted house experience. (That’s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by the way, not Pittsburg, Kansas. You’ve got to point that out when you’re in the Kansas City area.) It got a lot of press this year when Legendary Films partnered with its organizers to create its “scariest season ever”. You can read the haunt’s history on the Scarehouse website, but all you really need to know is that it’s endorsed by Guillermo Del Toro and Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat). I had the good fortune to find myself in Pittsburgh last week and got to personally visit Scarehouse. Therefore, I am able to share with you my experience firsthand.
Scarehouse is actually the name of three haunts: The Summoning, Creepo’s Christmas in 3D and Pittsburgh Zombies: Blackout. All three are literally connected and you venture through them one after the other, for a single ticket price of $24.99. (For an additional cost, you can also visit The Basement, a more intense, adults-only interactive haunt where the actors are allowed to touch you. I did not participate in this haunt or any touching.) I assumed it was the first haunt, The Summoning, which was getting all the attention; however, it was my least favorite of the three. But before we got there, let me tell you about the experience arriving to Scarehouse…
There is no parking at Scarehouse. Instead, you park at the Pittsburgh Zoo/Aquarium and ride a shuttle bus to the actual Scarehouse location. Although you reserve a specific time to go through Scarehouse, you are requested to arrive at the parking area 30 minutes before that schedule time. There, you’ll find a line for each of the next couple of time slots. If the weather is chilly (which it was), an industrious entrepreneur has set up a tent where you can purchase hot cider and other treats. Already, I discovered a missed opportunity, though. It should have been a haunted bus ride to Scarehouse! At least, the driver could have been in costume and the bus could have been decorated for Halloween.
When you arrive at the shuttle drop-off, you walk around two corners of the building to stand in the entrance line. Here, there are also different lines for different reserved time slots. There’s a little “pre-show entertainment” as a demented, axe-carrying bunny strolls up and down the line and a… I don’t know what to call him/her (see gallery below) sets up a boom box in the street and yells at the people who are waiting to get in. These “characters” will pose for pictures, although I didn’t want to get that close to either one of them! Already, I was disturbed by Scarehouse, and I hadn’t even entered the haunted house proper.
Inside the lobby of the building, you’re greeted with disclaimer signs, posters advertising Scarehouse merchandise and a pumpkin carved with the Legendary Films logo. At the top of a short flight of stairs, your ticket (or barcode downloaded to your smart phone) is scanned and you enter the first room of Scarehouse: an old, 1930’s theater lobby. There’s a bizarre woman dancing on stage (see the video embedded in this article), who is then replaced with an emcee, who I couldn’t really hear or understand as he explained the fabricated history of the theater and what we would experience once inside it.
We stood in this lobby quite a while, as groups of four people were periodically lead inside. There was a lot to look at: scary dolls in glass cases, vintage theater concessions and other authentic relics of the period. I saw a doll who looked very much like Annabelle and a gypsy fortune teller coin operated machine. I swore the gypsy inside was a real woman, waiting for us to walk by when she would raise her head and yell at us, making us poop in our pants. But that never happened. Another missed opportunity, I wonder?
With this set-up, I expected to enter the backstage or balcony of a theater. However, once inside the actual doors, it was just a series of other kinds of rooms. Frightening as can be, yes, but no consistent theme of being inside a theater. Eventually, you get to a theater room where you walked up the aisle as all kinds of creatures, dead and alive, were sitting in the audience as the projector light flickered in your face. If there was a consistent theme throughout The Summoning, it was that we were being led to the haunt’s big bad. I can’t remember for sure, but it was called something like “The Master.”
In one room, we participated in a seance, actually placing our hands on a table. As it jumped up and down a few inches of the ground, I was identified as “the one”. The medium told my group that later, when we were asked who “the one” was, I was supposed to let them know it was me. That moment never came, though, so I’m not sure what that was all supposed to be about. The other rooms hosted typical haunted house scenes. A morgue, a prison, etc. I don’t actually recall most of them. The thing I remember, though, was the detail of these sets. The decoration, the props, the costumes… everything was Hollywood studio quality.
My favorite room in The Summoning was circular with several doors. We were supposed to open each of them until we found our way out. All but one led to dead ends. Inside one, we thought we had found passage out, but it circled around and opened back inside the room with all the doors. As surprising as this was, it’s where we got behind in our adventure and another group of four people caught up with us. There’s something wrong with the timing that could be improved.
Creepo’s Christmas in 3D was something I’ve never experienced before. As we entered, we were handed 3D glasses and told to wear them as we proceeded. “What a gimmick,” I thought; however, the effect was unbelievably unsettling. This section was a bizarre winter wonderland with neon colors and all kinds of bizarro holiday creatures. It wasn’t necessarily scary, but there were real 3D effects. For example, when you looked down at your feet, as you travelled a psychedelic path, colored shapes seemed to dance around your calves. It sounds silly, because you’re not watching a movie; a live environment is already 3D. Maybe we should call it a fourth dimension, but the 3D effect definitely added something scary and unique.
Pittsburgh Zombies: Blackout was the most terrifying part of Scarehouse for me. Mostly dark and claustrophobic, we were trying to escape a zombie attack. We travelled down narrow hallways as people shouted at us, asking if we’d been bitten and growling zombies walked past us. The entire route was, I imagine, an accurate depiction of the aftermath of an apocalypse… burning labs, broken chain link fences and survivor campsites. I don’t recall a “conclusion” to the story; we were just suddenly through it. But I loved one added touch of detail: small signs posted throughout that looked like CDC warnings and announcements about the outbreak.
I haven’t been to one of Kansas City’s big haunted houses (The Beast, The Edge of Hell, etc.) in years, so I don’t know how Scarehouse compares. I thought overall it was an impressive production. However, I can’t help but think of a few things that might have made it even better. I’ve pointed out a few already. Most notable, I would have liked a more consistent theme or story for The Summoning; something that tied it together better. This had the potential to be the highlight of Scarehouse, but was instead only average for me. Creepo’s Christmas in 3D, however, was an unexpected delight. And with Pittsburgh Zombies: Blackout, I finally got the scares I expected from such a critically-acclaimed Halloween attraction.
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