ScareHouse owner Scott Simmons is used to hearing the roar of chainsaws … just not in broad daylight.
Since vacating the company’s longtime headquarters in Etna last June, he and his crew have been working to create a temporary Halloween venue in the Strip District until a new ScareHouse opens in an undisclosed location in 2020.
Right now, the Penn Avenue location is a construction zone. On Sept. 27, it becomes The Scream District.
The former is a familiar concept to ScareHouse fans, but brings brand new props and scenes to the mix. After signing a waiver, guests 18 and older are thrust into a hellish world that’s more in-your-face than the average haunt. Monsters bark orders, grab visitors and demand respect. Diehards can choose to endure the 40-minute nightmare alone or with a friend.
The Basement “may contain high voltage effects, very low lighting, tight spaces, strong scents, profanity, moments of complete darkness, water, violent scenarios, and high impact scares,” according to the ScareHouse website.
On the other side of the building is a pulse-pounding escape room. Up to eight thrill-seekers at a time have one hour to solve a series of puzzles before the murderer’s lair fills with poisonous gas. Although there are no actors on the set, jump scares, eerie lighting, sound effects and PG-13-rated gore abound.
“I think we were ready for a change,” Simmons said. “We’re always looking to shake things up. The building we’re in now allows for experimentation.”
The Scream District will operate Thursday through Sunday evenings until early November. Reservations are required. Private groups can book “Stalked by a Killer” for corporate team-building exercises during extended daytime hours, adding spookiness to the average Tuesday lunch break.
The Strip spot is roughly half the size of the old Elks Lodge in Etna, where ScareHouse was stationed since 2007. Despite boasting three floors of terror, internal structures blocked the company’s ability to expand.
Before closing the doors for good, Sales and Marketing Director Katie Dudas walked through the corridors and bid adieu to the phantoms she befriended there over the years.
“Emotionally it was rough,” she said. “I don’t think we realized how we were attached to things.”
Over the summer, ScareHouse held a garage sale to downsize its inventory of severed heads, coffins and Styrofoam tombstones. The resident ax-wielding bunny, a fixture during the Halloween season, was forced back into his burrow until next fall, but other familiar ghouls will be on the loose this year.
ScareHouse is once again teaming up with The Original Oyster House in Market Square to present Zombie Den, an immersive pop-up bar featuring freaky photo ops and stiff drinks inspired by “Night of the Living Dead.” The monsters take over the joint starting Sept. 24.
Through the month of October, fans also can get a different kind of chill at Burgatory locations. The local burger chain is offering the ScareHouse Shake, combination of vanilla ice cream, house-made vanilla pudding, crushed Oreos and gummy worms (and spiked chocolate vodka if you’re of-age). Portions of the proceeds benefit Make Room For Kids, an initiative of the Mario Lemieux Foundation.
In addition to restaurants, ScareHouse is unleashing its brand of terror on The Rangos Giant Cinema at Carnegie Science Center. Zombies will lurk in the darkness during special screenings of horror classics such as a 4K restoration of “Evil Dead II,” “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” “Dawn of the Dead 3D” and “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” (with an appearance by star and Pittsburgh native Tom Atkins).
Reanimated corpses also will participate in Stroll the Strip on Oct. 5 and perform karaoke at Cake Pittsburgh nightclub.
Over the past 20 years, Simmons has watched the small, seasonal fright fest he started with his dad, Wayne, mutate into a year-round cultural phenomenon, one that’s developed a cult following complete with salaried employees and ScareHouse tattoos.
Despite his success, Simmons is happy to bring a more intimate experience to town, one he hopes will create horrific memories for a new generation of Pittsburghers.