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, 2017.
Final Score: 9.44
Booking travel arrangements online can be a hassle; flights get delayed, taxi drivers navigate city streets at speeds that would make Nascar professionals wince, but no aspect of travel can be more frustrating than choosing a hotel room. Is it in a good part of town, will turn-down service be available, and don’t even get me started on bed bugs!
Apprehensive travelers, ease your troubled minds, because Pittsburgh’s Scarehouse has you covered. They’re opening their newest attraction this season, Sunset Lodge, as a thank you to the continued support they’ve received from the local community. An homage to hotels of the past, this colorful lodge has plenty of available rooms and an abundance of staff to make your stay completely unforgettable. Accommodations may not EXACTLY be in the 5-star range, but their customer retention rate is unbeatable – no one who visits ever seems to leave!
Come on down to Etna, Pennsylvania this haunted season for a trip through the Lodge and returning attractions Nocturnia and Infernal. Reviewers agree, Sunset Lodge is the perfect get-away this haunt season.
Allow me to begin with the bottom-line : by Scarehouse’s established standards, the overall quality of acting took a step back this season. The greatest contributor to this trend, I think, were a decrease in the overall number of interactive characters and a lower quality of performance put forth by those that did exist. Because Scarehouse has perennially been amongst our highest-rated attractions for this category, it was somewhat disappointing.
That’s the bad news, obviously. The good news is : though the cast wasn’t quite up to Scarehouse standards this season, it was still quite effective (for extended good news gushing, see Special Effects and Customer Service below). Foremost exemplified by a very creepy closet-clown, whose already imposing stature was further amplified by a giddily-leering menace, we still encountered a handful of stand-out portrayals. A tweedle dee/dumb-esque pair who ostensibly manned the Lodge’s lost and found, albeit CONTRIBUTING more to the former than the latter, a very twitchy museum receptionist, an overzealous, needle-slanging nurse, and a laughably-T.M.I. young woman tending the continental breakfast (you did WHAT in the corner?) were our favorites. Each of these provided excelled at ensuring our time at Scarehouse was both unsettling and entertaining.
Scarehouse always has plenty of maligned residents, and this year proved no different. Nocturnia may have been a bit light on actors, but that realm’s real centerpiece was its 3-D sets and effects (see Special Effects), so more actors would have probably been an inconvenience.
To us, costuming has always been Scarehouse’s hallmark, and this year was no different. Whether meant to enhance the near-human features of babbling psychopaths or to completely reshape an actor into the lord or darkness himself, there was plenty of quality, thorough make-up and outfitting.
As much as we enjoyed the macabre masterworks on display, our favorite iteration was actually a lot more mundane. We were told by staff that its like had made a few previous visits to the House, but it was our first time interacting with the costume in question. Some may remember a friendly, dancing Christmas Tree from a few years back – we certainly do, as it was our previous favorite – but ol’ Douglas Fir appears to have been “unseated” finally. Is this new front-runner maliciously overwhelming? Definitely not – he acted more as a “cushion” against the evils of the remainder of Sunset Lodge, but his presence was so unexpected and amusing that there is no denying his proper spot as “chairman” of the Official Scarehouse Costuming Council.
That being said, Infernal did have the best collection of costumes overall, including a silent, foreboding chap with a giant ax who glared at us as we cautiously skirted the reach of this weapon. The variety of well-applied make-ups, masks, and full-body outfits lent a chilling authenticity to both Infernal and the other attractions as well. Nocturnia’s denizens wore garb and glamor that amplified the location’s 3-D effect quite well.
This was another visually-satisfying year for Scarehouse, with some authentic costume designs and clever characterizations. No complaints here at all.
Customer Service: 9.69
Parking at the Pittsburgh Zoo and being bussed to the attraction has become almost as much a part of the experience as the actual trip through Scarehouse. We visited on a rare low-traffic day (by Scarehouse standards), so there was only one line-scarer (an attentive fellow with the most dazzling hand-jiving you’ll ever witness) in the parking lot, which was plenty for the brevity of time spent there. Two portable toilets occupied the unusually dark lot that could have been a bit clearer to navigate/locate. There wasn’t any kind of edible concession service until the end of the attraction this year, but, again, that is likely due to the paucity of clientele on our particular choice of evenings.
Speaking of the line-entertainers, though, this year actually featured the best combination of actors that we could recall interacting with patrons. The line-proper situation outside of the Scarehouse building included 2 different, unique characters. The iconic Bunny is back again, as expected, but his demeanor is quite different this season. Due perhaps to some liberating personal triumph or successful Freudian counseling, Busta’ Bunny has become quite friendly, even jovial, diverting his internal momentum from brooding mischief into his true passion : dance! As upbeat tunes throbbed away from a nearby boombox, Bunny grooved and gyrated along, happily, always encouraging customers to join his furry two-step. “…like rabbits” usually has a very specific analogous intention, but after watching Scarehouse’s mascot rhythmically hopping through the que line, that simile may have an entirely new meaning.
Bunny’s opposite number is Sunset’s Lodges new bellhop, Timmy. Jovial and friendly, to be sure, Timmy is quick to welcome new guests as he rolls by on his scooter. An initial childlike-innocence quickly dissolves, though, as Timmy doubtlessly transitions into one of several uncomfortable social miscues. He may teach you his favorite handshake, but don’t expect it to finish with an amiable high-five.
We spent a lot of time watching both actors interacting with customers and they really performed wonderfully… never missing a beat (yes, a dance pun). The obvious shift this year to more upbeat, affable line (if quirky) entertainment was actually a nice change from the standard demeanor of line monsters, and fit the nature of the Sunset Lodge motif well.
We spoke to quite a few members of the staff as well and each one was very friendly and helpful. Extra special thank you to Katie and the owner Scott for helping us out and telling us all about Scarehouse.
A fan of taxidermy you say? Well, have I got the haunt for YOU.
The interior waiting section of Scarehouse has been redesigned to keep properly themed to the new Sunset Lodge motif. Dozens of animal trophies are the most obvious addition, lining the walls of both rooms. The Lodge’s proprietor is clearly a game hunter.
I’ll never be quite as excited about the atmosphere of city haunts, but, as noted elsewhere, the more festive pre-haunt aesthetic meant that the cityscape environment was less detrimental to the overall ambiance. Plus, the flip side of the zoo lot being a bit too dark was that its creepiness was actually increased.
While the atmosphere without Scarehouse may not have been ideal for a more traditional attraction, it ended up suiting the Lodge’s mood better this year. Dance music with breakin’ bunnies and a hyperactive bellhop completely made sense in the correct context – this context.
Special Effects: 9.6
To the moderate degree that we found overall cast performances to be sagging this year, a dramatic increase in special effect and set design quality more than counterbalanced it. Ironically, perhaps, Sunset Lodge’s set work was the least impressive on display. There were still an appreciable amount of quality scenes, but, particularly at the very beginning, design relied too heavily on an abundance of hanging sheets and mattresses. A beautifully (if such a word can be appropriate in this context) rendered set of a stereotypical motel room, complete with heart-shaped hot tub and every tacky accessory we could have imagined, did stand out as one of the high-points of the entire haunt. Additionally, the hotel bar and a well-designed hallway featured excellent detail and design.
Noturnia was markedly improved this season. The haunt industry has certainly experienced an over-saturation of “3-D” attractions over the last few haunt cycles, but Nocturnia really did stand out as one of the most effective uses of the this technology. In fact, I would say that a theme of this particular walkthrough may have been to revisit familiar haunt tropes and make them better. I mentioned previously, that the actors were a bit sparser in the middle haunt, but the attraction really felt better served for it. The vivid colors and uniquely-crafted effects were the true focal point of Nocturnia.
Our favorite set piece, though, came at the beginning of Infernal – an exterior mock-up of the misty, foreboding face of the museum that welcomes you to the attraction – perfectly executed. The rest of infernal, though, didn’t lag for a moment. After an initial tour through the museum itself – featuring rows of displays, we found ourselves in a truly disturbing environment. Walls of bone, intricately arranged to create a frightening pathway marred our journey and signaled that we had come, finally, to the darkest layers of reality.
While the first two attractions, featured several moments of impressive sound effects (a roaring boiler and appropriately-nauseating elevator music for instance), Infernal really stole the show. It began somewhere near the middle of the attraction : a pulsing, nearly-mechanical hum; an aurally-oppressive orchestra, shifting in execution across several sets, but maintaining a thick, abrasively vile non-melody, until anti-crescendoing into an assaultive, deep throbbing as we experienced the resolution of the haunt. It’s extremely rare to note a soundtrack to an attraction so greatly influencing the effectiveness of its scares. Ambiance, atmosphere and “mood music” have the potential to really accentuate an attraction’s other qualities and Scarehouse really nailed it with Infernal.
Visual effects, as well, were impressive. Nocturnia employed the best of these, as may be expected. Their spinning tunnel was very effective in tandem with their 3-D elements, and a “dot room” added an additional effect to the traditional formula that had us “rippling” in appreciation. A red-lit hallway really popped behind the 3-dimensional sheen. However, their unique take on the “swamp” effect was our favorite highlight – its execution “sunk” our spirits in a way that similar attempts at this design have failed.
With the introduction of Sunset Lodge and the continuance of Nocturnia, Scarehouse has clearly opted for an alternate route to haunt-satisfaction this year. What I mean by that is : unlike The Summoning, which represented the first third of the Scarehouse’s haunted tour in previous years, Sunset Lodge replaces it with a lighter tone – it certainly isn’t bereft of scares, it just reaches them from a different angle. As a sleazy, brightly-colored representation of a dive motel from the 70’s or 80’s, its horrors are lewd and bawdy, whereas the more traditional Summoning’s were more traditionally sinister. Nocturnia is a bit of a middle-ground, its paths and hallways an amalgamation of wicked charm and flamboyant malevolence – every bit the hazy nightmarish dreamscape that it claims to be.
Then comes Infernal – which takes all of the doom, gloom and foreboding that were carefully sidestepped and left behind by the first two attractions, adds them into its own dark furnace, and ejects the combined horrific bombast of three attractions-worth of pure evil toward the customer in a wonderfully fitting climax.
The alternating tones really help to make each attraction feel distinct from one another – not only thematically, but tonally as well. They look different and they FEEL different. The shifting aesthetics made the experience feel a lot more diverse and complete.
Each attraction held to that aesthetic quite well and made sense within their own established motifs. Sunset featured an uneasy Peeping Tom’s stroll through the eponymous hotel; Nocturnia’s theme was more nebulous (what CAN’T be featured in a nightmare?). Infernal actually has improved quite a bit from last season. The story line’s progression makes more sense and is more obvious – a visit to a museum of demonic oddities accidentally results in a tearing of reality and a one-way trip to the less appealing grounds of the afterlife dichotomy. Oops.
Fright Effect: 9.5
Scarehouse is most effective at jostling the weepy haunt-guts of patrons when combining elements. Standard boo-scares, with an actor popping out of the shadows, announcing his threatening attentions, and then retreating, often just didn’t have enough impact alone.
However, Scarehouse’s secret weapon continues to be their affinity for creative distractions and environmental distresses. A patron who shadowed our group throughout the attraction served as a perfect test subject. As she proceeded through the haunt, her initially-steely resolve began to dissolve until the back-half of the attraction, by which point she was announcing her assessment of nearly every human-sized prop we navigated past – “not real…not real…REAL” – in a macabre duck-duck-goose that she couldn’t possibly hope to win.
As entertaining an external monologue as that was, it did encapsulate the effect that Scarehouse has on its guests. Actors are embedded in set design, or above it, or coming THROUGH it from unexpected positions. Additionally, a plethora of “well, that COULD be an actor” props are distributed throughout scenes, forcing customers to remain continuously guarded, alert, and distracted from the true scare that follows moments later.
Add to this that often the environments, without actor assistance, are fully capable of interactive with customers in unsettling manners. A wide range of non-sentient tendrils seemed to be around every corner, hanging from the ceiling or raking at our thighs. In fact, the floor, itself, did its best to upend us on multiple occasions. The variety of non-human scares were quite impressive.
The moments that all of these ingredients came together were easily the best spooks of the night. So, for example… ;) Yeah, you don’t give off that easy – go see for yourself! And if you think monsters may overlook you by staying in the front or the back of your group, understand that Scarehouse was excellent about distributing scares – many actors completely ignored our entire procession until the very last of our number passed by and then : cue scaring.
Ok, Scarehouse’s pricing structure is pretty confusing this year again. Basically, the busier the haunt is expected to be, the more a ticket will cost, ranging between 18 and 28 dollars. Additionally, VIP tickets are available as well as their other attraction, more extreme, The Basement.
It took us about 30 minutes to travel through the main three attractions, which places the minutes of entertainment per dollar spent as high as 1.67 (with the potential to slip as low as 1 during busy times). It’s important to note that there were very few “quiet” moments during our tour – little to no dead spaces at all. If an actor wasn’t immediately present, the wonderful set design had our complete attention, or we were battling our way through inhuman hands or hair. There was A LOT packed into that 30 minute walkthrough – too much to even fully address in a review.
We had a great time, and, again, really appreciated the chance to finally meet some of the folks responsible for keeping this excellent attraction as one of the best haunted experiences in western Pennsylvania. We can easily recommend a visit to Scarehouse this season, as it will satisfy the haunt-pallet of even the most discerning patrons. Just be cautious of that wily bellboy… and make sure you wear deodorant.