118 Locust Street, Etna, PA 15223View All Details
Free Parking, Food/Concessions, Gift Shop/Souvenirs, Special Events, “Hi-Tech” Attraction, “Extreme” Attraction, You will NOT be touched, Original Characters, Indoor/Outdoor Waiting Line, All-Indoor Attraction
Team Scary Potter and the Hauntwarts Express reviewed this attraction on September 30, 2016.
Final Score: 9.39
Scarehouse has truly hit their stride this year; featuring two new attractions, “Infernal” and “Nocturnia” and an improved “Summoning” experience, the masters of Pittsburgh haunted horror have returned with an experience guaranteed to terrify even the bravest Yinzer. Head out to Etna, PA for their newest nightmare creation.
One actor in Infernal had a really poor delivery, awkwardly complaining about his face.
There, I did it. I gave a requisite negative comment. That’s all I have.
Wow, such a great cast this year – Scarehouse is definitely notable for offering a lot of prolonged actor-customer interactions. These actors all did very well, though we especially enjoyed a body part merchant, a couple of REALLY creepy clowns, a she-cat, a man selling potions, and a woman playing dress-up. All of these actors interacted with us (including through the dialogue curve balls we tend to throw at haunt actors) impressively, never breaking character or faltering. Our encounters with them were appropriately amusing, entertaining or chilling.
It’s funny; at most attractions, it is a definite faux paus for an actor to simply stare at you as you pass by – the epitome of actor laziness. But, ironically, several of the absolute creepiest moments of our trek through Scarehouse were generated by actors… staring at us as we passed by. The degree of menace generated by a certain clown and several of the actors throughout Infernal was wonderful and likely would have been impossible if they’d attempted to boo us. The monstrous staff was never in short supply; the only “dead spaces” we encountered were during intended sections (dark passages). Excluding the singular experience that began this category, it is difficult to remember a single poor performance. There was a definite amount of variation between actors, of course, but none fell flat.
Of special note, a very young (I’m farily certain it wasn’t a small adult) actress did a fantastic job and has an extremely promising career ahead of her. We found her lurking and snarling through the halls of Infernal.
Still the king. If there is one aspect of haunted attractions that tends to be overlooked during construction and preparation, it is costuming. Too often even large-scale haunts fall back on store-bought masks and casual blood splatters when outfitting their denizens. The Scarehouse, it is my pleasure to admit, defies this tradition admirably. From the line haunters through the very last monstrosity barring the exit, the costume designers at Scarehouse never relent or waver. The costume work there is the definition of professional. From clown to demon, butcher to satyr, every character was suitably and impressively adorned. In addition to the latter, a uniquely-represented, 8-foot tall, woodland creature, the other stand-out costume for us occurred in Nocturnia; a chance encounter with an illuminated bird-person that had our party cooing in delight. Occasionally, a haunt will inspire a grind-our-heels-into-the-ground-to-stop-for-a-better-look moment, but Scarehouse generated this rare occurrence twice with their skillful costuming. Beyond these two stand-outs, understand, there is a plethora of eye candy to enjoy and I’d prefer to not give away any further wonderments, as each terrifying creation deserves to be properly enjoyed and admired in person. Great work, all around – they really did manage to nudge the bar they’d previously established last year – no simple feat.
Customer Service: 8.97
Parking for Scarehouse is at the Pittsburgh Zoo this year and, again, I have mixed feelings about it. For the uninitiated, customers park at the Pittsburgh Zoo and are then bussed down to the attraction; the process repeats in the reverse order when you are finished. Lines can grow frustratingly long both before and after this bus drive… so, on busy nights, expect to devote a substantial portion of your evening to this haunted endeavor (or purchase fast passes!). I assume that Scarehouse contracts a bus company to perform their transportation duties, but YEESH, we had a really unpleasant bus driver.
Those minor grumblings aside, customer service at Scarehouse is quite good. The Zoo lot is well-lit and hard to miss and there are plenty of friendly employees around to steer you in the right direction. With the one unfortunate exception, every Scarehouse staff member we interacted with was professional and helpful, particularly the gate-keeper gal, Sophie, who chatted with us and admitted us into the attraction.
As for line scarers, there aren’t many haunted attractions with a better lot than Scarehouse. Beyond the omnipresent Bunny (an always-wonderful, iconic mainstay), we really enjoyed the performance of Bunny’s other half: an out-going, pole-dancing princess who was clearly giving the Fluffy One a run at becoming the crowd favorite. If we see t-shirts emerge next season with that be-stubbled visage prominently featured, we’ll know there’s a new king… er… princess.
The interior portion of the waiting lobby is quite unique… embracing it’s old theater moniker perfectly. Entering this area, we were greeted by the haunting melodies of an accordionist. This somber, old-time throwback has been at the attraction for years and serves as an effective centerpiece for the theater’s ambience. As obtrusive as a wait in line in the middle of a city block can be toward lubricating the fear glands of anxious patrons, Scarehouse did an effective job of immediately establishing a creepy psychological foothold the moment you enter it’s facade. By the time we entered the attraction, we were fully under it’s spell.
Special Effects: 9.74
Scarehouse did a really good job of diversifying each scene’s environment. In the immediate aftermath of our walk-through, we felt overwhelmed; remembering each specific scene was surprisingly difficult because there was just so much to process. The Summoning still features the biggest set pieces, including a new scene that bore a strong resemblance to a scene from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life (intentionally or not). The main theater segment and the arrival of The Great One were still highlights, but each felt a little looser this year… less spectacular.
Last year, The Summoning was the far-and-away best of the three, but the two new attractions this year were actually quite well done and gave The Summoning a run for it’s money. The minimalistic surrealism of Nocturnia was definitely an extension of “Trick ‘r Treat” from last season, but was more eclectic and much creepier. Infernal felt like something of a mish-mash, including elements of the retired “Krampus” with a new storyline and settings that was pretty effective as a frightening collection of demonic tropes.
Overall, both sound and light were implemented very effectively. Probably the most unnerving segment of the haunt, for me, involved a curtain-maze segment. Traditionally, similar effects aren’t particularly unsettling, but a subtle, bizarre soundtrack was impressively jarring, grating against the subconscious to profound effect. Another segment that involves, let’s say, a chicken-little moment, was similarly heightened by the accompanying aural chaos. There were also several prolonged dark sections that worked very well. Though simple, their placement, for whatever reason, made them especially effective.
With spinning tunnels, light shows, massive animatronics, and a really cool mirror maze, Scarehouse was certainly not lacking in a varied special effect display. We did feel that several areas were hampered by a bit too much fog. There is a LOT to see in each room and, unfortunately, we felt somewhat blinded a few times.
Retraining the tri-sected nature of the attraction, Scarehouse, once again, features three themed segments. The Summoning is a slow-churning, inescapable pull toward a great evil, circa 1920. Nocturnia is an existential journey through a bizarre landscape. Infernal… honestly, we weren’t entirely certain what Infernal was. It felt like a hybrid of voodoo, zombies, and last year’s Krampus attraction. Though it did have a great deal of interesting elements, I admit that we didn’t really understand how it all fit together. The Summoning is still a unique experience, with a single member of your party singled out and given special “privileges,” and Nocturnia was a great ride, but we really would have liked to have a little more coherence with Infernal.
Fright Effect: 9.65
When you name your attraction “Scarehouse”, whether you realize it or not, you’re throwing down the haunted gauntlet big-time. Fortunately for all we loyal customers, Scarehouse delivers a knockout blow again this year. One can simply not overstate the quality of unease perpetuated by the Scarehouse. Predictability ruins the impact of so many haunted attractions – it’s not only the moments when an impending scare is frustratingly obvious, but also the effect of “fright hypnosis” – the sensation of numbness that begins to dull our haunt experiences as we pass from generic scare to generic scare to the point that we barely take note of actors scowling at us. That expected ebb and flow of scare-attempts gets boring and loses all effectiveness.
Fortunately, at the Scarehouse, you are never allowed to slip into familiarity… never provided the opportunity to sleepwalk through scares. Everything is your enemy. Each set is awash with props – dolls, stuffed animals, apparently-animated figurines; but, the trick is, some of them are alive. At lesser attractions, it’s usually quite easy to point your finger and say “you’re an actor.” Not so, here. Instead, you find yourself cautiously proceeding through each room, down every hallway, staring nervously at your surroundings, preparing yourself for a “bite” from every possible sharpened tooth. This uncertainty maintains a sense of constant fearfulness and is unshakable; worst of all, the monsters-in-sheep’s-clothing aren’t even courteous enough to perform their assaults during expected periods. You may assess a threat, deem it safe, and move on before, suddenly, it’s chasing you, screaming, from the room.
Scarehouse is great at hitting different segments of your group at different times, with their boo-scares being particularly well-placed and successful. Early on, a member of your group is chosen to be a sacrifice. While you don’t initially understand the consequence of this, it does play out significantly several times over… providing a unique opportunity for sustained (and justifiable) dread for that individual.
In the end, the best four words to summarize the Scarehouse’s Fright Effect: Be ready for anything.
It took us about 40 minutes to tip-toe our way through Scarehouse this year. Pricing is a bit complicated. 28 dollars seems to be the maximum “at the door” price (excluding vip), though customers can save a SUBSTANTIAL amount by visiting on Sundays, ordering online, or coming early – or a combination of the three, with tickets ordered online for 7 and 7:30 timeslots dipping down to 18 dollars. See their website for a better explanation of the different pricing options.
Most big-budget, professional attractions don’t change a whole lot from year-to-year. That’s just the way it is. It is frustrating but understandable to a degree. For years, Scarehouse has defied this standard and once again have completely remade 2/3 of their attraction. Not only has this made this year’s experience still feel fresh and exciting, it also has made it even better than last year’s, as the latter two attractions feel like scarier spiritual successors to Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus from 2015. We really hope that Scarehouse maintains this trend going forward as it is MUCH appreciated.
We had a great time with this season’s iteration and highly recommend a visit to anyone looking for a great haunted experience this haunted season. Scarehouse remains one of the Pittsburgh area’s top attractions and appears stubbornly unwilling to shirk that title anytime soon.