Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary
22nd Street & Fairmount Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19130View All Details
Paid Parking, Restrooms On-Site, Food/Concessions, Gift Shop/Souvenirs, Special Events, “Hi-Tech” Attraction, You may be touched, Original Characters, Uncovered Outdoor Waiting Line, Indoor/Outdoor Attraction
Team Crypt Creepers reviewed this attraction on September 16, 2016.
Final Score: 8.88
Terror Behind the Walls is a massive walk through haunted attraction set in Eastern State Penitentiary. Inside are 6 individually-themed haunts that tie into the overall prison theme. All of the attractions are included with admission. The first haunt you’re sent into is Lockdown: The Uprising, set in the cellblock area of the prison as well as several halls. The storyline is ‘monsters that have been imprisoned in the cellblock are breaking free.’ As you enter, you meet a harried guard in riot gear telling you of the situation as he herds you in. Once inside, you’ll encounter a collection of monsters in the cells and riot police “helping” you get out safely. Haunt #2 is The Machine Shop – a haunt chock full of ghastly prisoners and the heavy machinery they used in their prison jobs. Instead of chasing you out as they had in Lockdown, the prisoners want you to join them. They make good use of multiple paths to separate visitors from their groups for some one-on-one time. Detritus is an outdoor haunt, set in an overgrown garden/greenhouse area. Inside, you’ll find assorted, murderous prison workers with garden tools, attack plants, and nasty earth spirits wandering the maze-like layout. Next stop is the prison infirmary where you’ll run into a collection of crazy doctors and prisoner patients.This area is intense – both the patients and the doctors play crazy well and don’t be surprised if you get pulled aside for a checkup of sorts. Building off the infirmary, Quarantine is a trippy, neon, black-lit, 3D area that’ll give you the impression that you picked up some good drugs from the crazy doctors on your way through. Then there’s Breakout, which loops back to the prison escape motif in a more maze-like area. TBtW features a touch option that you can opt into by wearing a glow necklace. You can remove this necklace at any time if the contact becomes too intense!
Warnings: This haunt uses fog machines, strobe lights, laser lights, and 3D effects. You may need to crawl, slide, go up and down stairs, navigate moving floors, traverse a ball pit, push past inflatable barriers, and pass through a revolving tunnel!
Their cast is top notch! Everyone was believable, energetic, ready to scare and no area felt ‘dead’ for lack of actors. All are professional, paid, and receive training. Many did a great job of using their setting to their advantage for maximum scares (shout out to the Machine Shop workers, Detritus ghouls, and the polka dotted guy!). Many actors would interact with people, tailoring dialogue to the person for the best scares or insults.
Lockdown: The Uprising:
I really liked the intensity and urgency the riot officers brought to this section – I found myself moving quicker than I normally would thru a haunt at their behest. The monsters themselves weren’t as intimidating as elsewhere, but as this was opening night, they may not have found their groove yet. I have faith.
I LOVED this section! The actors here were really in character and made good use of the machinery and metal set pieces – they got me good a few times with a well-timed bang.
Detritus: This attraction featured my haunt nemeses – actors disguised as plants. These guys always seem to scare me and it’s become a running joke between our review group. Keep your eyes out for the Tall spirits – they’re my favorite creatures in the entire place!
Infirmary: I want to give kudos to the actors in this area that let us separate ourselves from the group of shriekers that glommed onto us. They understood that our interlopers were spoiling our enjoyment of the area and were cool with us hanging back a little so they could get ahead. High five guys and thanks!
Quarantine: Many of the actors in this section are well hidden by the 3D effects and will scare you before you see them coming.
Breakout: I was a little disappointed by this area. Nothing really stood out as “OMG cool!”, however one actor scared me good enough that I jumped into the wall and bruised my tush. High five dude!
Outside the haunt itself, the non scare staff (ticket takers, line handlers) are dressed as ghoulish doctors, nurses, or guards which help give them an air of authority. Those tasked with scaring the line are in the stereotypical striped prison outfits. These outfits are incredibly realistic and feel like they came right out of the prison’s store rooms rather than a costume shop. Makeup is more ghostly than gory but also very well executed – movie set quality.
Inside, we find more of the wonderfully done guards, doctors, nurses, and prisoners but they also add in some great monsters and some really clever disguises (watch out for the plants!). I mentioned the tall spirits earlier. I’m sure they involve some level of stilt walking and puppetry and I’d kill to get a look up those costumes!
Customer Service: 9.5
Haunt is easy to find at the corner of 22nd & Fairmount Avenues. Parking, not so much (street or unassociated lots), but there are buses that will shuttle you there. Before you enter, the outside lines are patrolled by ghastly guards and escapees who will happily give directions/answer questions and then scare the bejeezus out of you! Watch for specialty performers like stilt walkers and sliders too. In between each haunt, you will need to get in line to wait again. Don’t worry, this wait is short and works to your advantage – you can collect any party members that you’re separated from and it re-separates groups that have clumped together so you get the best experience.
Tickets are timed with a half hour entrance window. On entry, you will go thru a bag check/pat down, will need to sign a waiver, get your glow necklace, snap a picture, and then will be lined up for actual entrance. Once inside the Prison Walls (and past the security checks), ESP keeps you entertained with line heckling monsters and an occasional dance number in the main courtyard. Once you exit the haunt, you’ll find the photo pick up, a souvenir stand, a concession stand, and the Speakeasy Lounge. The Speakeasy Lounge is an additional ticket ($10) that will get you into an area of the prison block featuring Al Capone’s cell. Inside you’ll find a small bar (beer, wine, soda, and a house special mixed drink), costumed characters (undead guys and dolls), some displays, blackjack, card magic, tarot readings, and a live singer. First drink is included with the ticket!
Since TBtW is set in an actual prison, not much needs to be done to let you know what to expect. I’d even postulate that staying minimalist with decorations and avoiding things like music playing helps keep the prison vibe alive.
Special Effects: 8.5
TBtW features many really cool special effects including animatronics, obstacles, and 3D. All are very effectively used but there’s nothing innovative enough that I can say they’ve reached peak scare. 3D neon paint is no longer a novelty in haunts but ESP possibly makes the best use of it thematically – it doesn’t seem thrown in for the hell of it. The rooms range from simple patterns in 3D to everyday items that are warped by the paint giving them a disquieting feeling.
You might get separated from your group and tossed into a ball pit. We were both dodged this side trip, much to our displeasure. The bouncy bridge and revolving tunnel are unavoidable, so deep breaths for those who hate those tunnels as much as I do.
The haunt makes great use of the prison setting and does a great job of fitting all 6 wildly differing sections into the overall prison theme. Lockdown and Breakout both give you what you would expect from a prison setting – Bars, guards, and prisoners. Machine Shop and Detritus take a step outside what’s expected and takes us into the prison work programs – we still get prisoners but new locals for them to mess around in. Infirmary is not unsuspected in a prison setting but the 3D Quarantine section uses it to justify a trippy neon setting in the otherwise drab prison.
Fright Effect: 9
I really need to start a counter of how many times I’m scared at a haunt – TBtW made me jump more than most. Scares are many, varied, and often unpredictable and the actors make good use of the sets and distractions to maximize their effects. I really like that TBtW re-lines up between haunts so you can stick to a smaller group – this allows for everyone to be effectively scared. In the Machine Shop I was asked to “check a pipe” for them down a crawl space. I exited into an area with 2 guys working a drill press who decided I needed a hole through my hand (they press stamped a ‘hole’). One of our group members was sent down a slide, and I saw another visitor pulled into a service elevator! The maze-like structure of Detritus allows actors to scare multiple times and the long paths allow for some ‘chasing’. You’ll possibly run into a chainsaw wielding maniac but, unlike most haunts where this is tossed in as a big scare, he actually fits the scene. Infirmary had lots of good scares and the scare in Quarantine were a bit sneakier. In Breakout there are opportunities to be separated from your group and a couple of the claustrophobia inflatable obstacles were in this area.
We timed our walkthrough at 33 minutes. At the lowest price point ($19), this breaks down to 1.74 minutes per dollar, which is well above the average of “1.5” (calculated from all of the haunts The Scare Factor visited last season); at the highest ($50), it breaks down to 0.66 min./$. You can save yourself some money by buying online, stopping by on Sundays for Kids/student discounts (1/2 price), going as a group (20+), or grabbing a coupon at various convenience stores.
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