Longtime readers may know that Eastern State Penitentiary: Terror Behind the Walls is my favorite haunted attraction in the northeast.
Set inside the massive castle-like walls of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, the setting for Terror Behind the Walls is creepy in itself. Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a lost world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers.
Terror Behind the Walls has grown from a single-night event in 1991 to a 29-night event with shows selling out far in advance. Terror Behind the Walls features Hollywood-quality sets, custom-designed props, animatronics, and digital sound effects, all taking place within the walls of the prison. It takes an elite team of 14 makeup artists almost three hours to prepare the cast of more than 200 performers each evening.
This year, ESP is debuting 2 new attractions: The Gauntlet is a new, high energy opening attraction for the show, featuring overhead catwalks and custom props above a massive outdoor maze. The second new attraction, Break Out!, is a new finale to the show and consists of an outdoor scare zone in the final courtyard before visitors leave the event.
For the past several years, I have paid full price to go to ESP on my own. This year, I was invited by ESP to tour the attraction and partake in some invite-only events. (I’ll post pictures of that in my next post.)
The Gauntlet: This new attraction replaces Intake as the initial attraction leading into the prison. Intake was good, but my group thought that The Gauntlet was a significant improvement. The thing that ESP gets right is the idea of a narrative. The attraction isn’t just throwing random things at you – they are telling you a story. First you get taken, led through the maze to where your mug shot would be taken and sent through a bus facade that symbolizes your arrival at the prison. There is one great section of prison dog crates where a GIANT animatronic dog jumps out at you. That was really cool.
I do think that this section can be (and hopefully will be) built upon in the coming years. There were some kind of empty spaces that could use some more “stuff”. The only other thing we noticed is that the crowd was light on the day that we went but the line to enter Lock Down was a significantly backed up through The Gauntlet. This threw off some of the scares. All in all, a really great new attraction, though!
Lock Down: This returning attraction never fails to amaze. Some of the scare actors did a great job of making up their own back and forth chatter. There are no less than 3 Tesla coils inside this attraction. You end up climbing the stairs to the second floor of the prison and can see downward at the carnage. The best room is the one that is lined with people – you never know which one is going to jump out at you. Great fun!
Infirmary: This attraction is (obviously) a medical-themed attraction. It is awesome. All sorts of deranged doctors and nurses chase you. Psychotherapy, hydrotherapy, and medical experiments gone wrong are some of the rooms. There also is a giant custom sterilization chamber. We had a blast in here.
The Experiment: I normally don’t like 3D attractions, but this one was really well done. You go through places that look like an insane Iron Maiden album to a spider room to a room where the walls try to grab you. The actors are painted to blend into the background. The finale is now a laser room.
Night Watch: This attraction is a “pitch black” attraction. You guys know how much I hate dark attractions because very often they are used simply to save money on set pieces. That is not the case here. The attraction is lit with very low lights so that you can still see enough to (kind of maybe) get around – and you can see the scary set pieces they have inside. You are given a flashlight, but it is very dim. Actually Harknell’s was really dim and when I asked if we could get another one the guy out front laughed at us and said “Have fun!” LOOOL! That guy was awesome. This attraction exits into the food truck and souvenir shop area.
Break Out!: Maybe I missed something. Maybe I am an idiot, but I have no memory of this attraction. Harknell claims that it was the section after Night Watch that led to the exit. The press release I got says that it is an outdoor scare zone, so that would make sense. Harknell said there was like one guy in it and a few props, like cars. Still, I totally forgot about Break Out! until I was in the car on the way home and I asked Harknell if we missed it. I think they need to tweak this one for next year. I just saw the food trucks and thought that was it.
Conclusion: ESP: TBTW is (as always) awesome. The Gauntlet is a worthy addition to an already amazing haunt. Break Out! seemed to be a misfire (unless I just totally herpa derped and went the wrong way down the path or something.). Considering the entire attraction has to be over 30 minutes long (at least) you are still getting your money’s worth here. I highly recommend Terror Behind the Walls to you. If you are a haunt fan and live out of town, I’d say it’s even worth a road trip. There is a reason I go nearly every year to this one.
Oni Hartstein is a Los Angeles-based CMO and entrepreneur that is obsessed with progressive rock / metal, marketing, and nightlife. Please direct all business inquiries or review requests to the "Contact" tab on the top nav bar.
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