ScareHouse haunted house in Etna tests limits on torturing the senses
The door slams shut. The visitor stands alone in a dark, silent room.
He steps blindly down stairs, trying to control his breathing. His eyes try to adjust to the near pitch black but fail to do so. Then, without warning, the ghoul pounces, grabbing him roughly and placing him in a headlock.
“We're going to have some fun with you,” the creature whispers. “Tell me your worst fear.”
And that's just the start.
Haunted houses are going extreme. At venues nationwide, including ScareHouse in Etna, visitors happily sign waivers acknowledging they will be assaulted and promising not to sue, all for the chance to experience a living nightmare in which zombies lie in wait, adult content is the norm, and ideally, they will be scared out of their minds.
“It's intense and really intrusive,” said Scott Simmons, ScareHouse's creative director. “It's not for everyone.”
Yet demand is rising.
“Skeletons and bloody zombies — people have seen that before,” said Pat Konopelski, president of the Haunted Attraction Association.
“Every year you have to raise the bar. It's like drugs, to be honest. Every heroin addict remembers that first high, and they spend their lives chasing it. Once you get it, you want more of it.”
There are more than 2,500 haunted attractions nationwide, and many are going extreme, Konopelski said.
ScareHouse, in its 14th year, still offers the traditional haunted house, with ghosts that startle but do not touch the customers. For some, though, that's not enough.
“Our lives are safe and predictable now,” said Margee Kerr, director of sales at ScareHouse and an adjunct professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. “We want to spice things up. It's the same with people who jump out of airplanes — they're trying to add a little bit of excitement to their lives.”
Kerr and Simmons experimented last year, pulling willing customers out of line, getting them to sign the waiver, and sending them off through a series of rooms, alone or with one other person, while 60 actors took turns torturing their senses for 30 minutes.
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, they said.
“We thought we might as well see how much further we could go,” Kerr said.
So was born the Basement, where visitors crawl through tight passages, submit to handcuffs and are physically and emotionally manhandled.
“How do you feel about needles?” the ghoul whispers to his handcuffed victim while waving a large syringe near his face. “Want to play with this for a while?”
Konopelski, who runs the annual Shocktoberfest haunted attraction on his Berks County farm, sets thrill seekers in reality-based scenarios such as the Prison of the Dead Escape, in which zombies chase participants through a series of creepy encounters.
This year, he's added a more demented attraction: The Naked and Scared Challenge, which requires customers to strip before they enter.
“Humans are most vulnerable unclothed,” Konopelski said. “The more vulnerable you are, the better we can scare you. ... It's going over very well.”
Safety, naturally, is a huge concern for visitors and actors, officials said. Age restrictions are in place, and alcohol is banned. Extreme haunted house operators go through safety seminars, and ScareHouse conducts a personal background check on every employee. And of course, there's the two-page waiver, which asks participants to acknowledge the risks and declare that they are healthy enough to participate.
“Only a handful of people can do this,” Simmons said. “We really get into your head.”
If it gets too intense, Basement visitors can call out a safe word, automatically ending the nightmare.
But for those who make it to the end, a special treat awaits: Happy, a demented prisoner/clown girl waiting to bid them adieu.
“They locked me down here and won't let me out,” Happy whispers, pressing her body against the trembling visitor and staring with her reptilian eyes. “I'm tired of being lonely. Would you like to stay here with me?”
Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Public implored to avoid iPhone cases that resemble guns
- Tradition rules in Pittsburgh: Keep bridge color the same, poll finds
- Fireworks displays costly, but W. Pa. communities feel obligated
- South Side Slopes police chase ends with car into a front porch
- Plenty going on in Pittsburgh over holiday weekend
- Higher school taxes prevail in Western Pennsylvania, Trib finds
- Wabash Tunnel to open to inbound, high-occupancy vehicles Saturday night
- July 4 road and river closures
- Newsmaker: Tessa Jimenez
- Run-down duplex that Dormont helped to rehab not on the market long
- Pitt researchers using grant to find cures for viruses from mosquitoes