We have gone to Eastern State Penitentiary: Terror Behind the Walls every year. If you have read me in any capacity over the last 5 years you have probably figured out that it’s a haunted attraction in a real abandoned prison in Philadelphia, PA.
Of course I had to go wearing my Howl O Scream Hoodie. I have this policy about wearing haunt merchandise to other haunts. We almost never wear the merch of the haunt we are visiting to their haunt. Yes, we are weird.
ESP:TBTW has evolved significantly over the past few years.
In 2010 it was a pretty standard (for ESP) set up of attractions. Yes, it was scary.
In 2011 they added The Gauntlet and Breakout!.
In 2012 they got rid of Breakout!, which we felt was a good move. This attraction was located after the end of the attraction where you could buy your photos, food, and other items. I think most customers were too out of the mindset of being in a haunted house for it to work. They added a garden-themed attraction called Detritus. Detritus was not the strongest attraction at the time, but we felt it was a good start.
At the end of 2012 we went to their REMIX event, which was (in our thinking given that we run our own events) a beta test for what was to come this year – the option in which you can be touched and pulled into area be the scare actors.
We told them after the REMIX event that they should do this all year ’round.
This year you have the option of opting in to be touched. This means that your chickenpants friends can come, too. They signal this by having you wear a glow necklace and a red “X” of fake blood. (Don’t worry, it’s just a corn syrup based mixture, not Ben Nye stage blood which can cause allergic reactions in some folks.) If you get too freaked out you can just remove the necklace and the actors will stop touching you.
(Yes, I know the pictures aren’t the best. STFU unless you are a photographer who can join our haunt crew for the payment of free haunted house admission and LOLZ.)
We said in our review of REMIX that the actors seemed (understandably) too tentative with the whole touching thing. It was new to everyone. This year we went on opening night, so I was prepared to modulate my review to accommodate opening day training issues. It was not needed. I found that they seemed all very up to speed with how to do this.
I got grabbed for 2 experiences and Harknell got grabbed for 2 experiences.
Harknell got grabbed by the neck and his heart “removed”.
He also got pulled into a secret passage in the 3D room and menaced by the actors behind the walls.
I got grabbed in the medical room and pulled behind the wall. I was instructed to scream, “NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!” when he pulled the curtain open as if he were killing me. I did so and royally creeped out my friends. After that I was told to jump out at them around the next corner as if I were one of them. I did. It worked wonderfully. I was amused and my friends were freaked out. I call that a win.
I also got grabbed and asked to crawl under what might have been a graveyard after that in Night Watch.
All in all I have to say that these bits of people-snatching were extremely well-done. I haven’t seen any other haunted attraction do this in a high-startle attraction. Usually these kinds of things are done in more theatrical, low startle attractions.
I highly recommend Eastern State Penitentiary: Terror Behind the Walls. The attractions don’t change a lot, but they always seem to evolve in innovative ways to make you want to come back. In video game terms, this is now very “re-playable” because you never know what is going to happen to you inside of this place now. It was definitely the a great move to implement this.
I don’t know how often these experiences happen within the attraction overall – I have to be honest with you and let you know that the actors did know who I was when I was going through.
The one thing that we did notice was that the ending was not as “big” as in past years. They moved the set pieces in that room to the end-middle of Night Watch. There is a guy in there who does something to startle you, but perhaps we were “off” for that scare. I saw the guy before he moved and the folks behind me were wondering where the finale was. So I think they should look at that final room just a little bit.
This is not to take anything away from the quality of the attractions. Eastern State Penitentiary: Terror Behind the Walls is not just one of the scariest haunted attractions, they are also one of the most innovative attractions I have seen. Do this one!
One more thing happened to me after the attraction that I don’t believe is a thing that happens to regular customers so I didn’t include it as a part of my review above. It’s pretty funny, though and does show you the playfulness and the positive attitude these guys have when it comes to haunters.
After completing the haunt I looked around and 5 SWAT team cops were there and arrested me. They took me down a long hallway and locked me in one of those scary cells where there were photos from my blog set up like Dexter’s kill room. They then proceeded to get out a medical bag and inject me (not for real) with an “I survived!” stamp. This was totally hilarious! They pulled off this prank flawlessly! Who knows, maybe next year they will be able to punk out other folks, too!
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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