Extreme haunted house concepts are not really my thing. Fun for me is not feeling like I am in any real danger. Let’s be straight here – my rough past was real. I’ve had enough real danger in my life already. I don’t find Fear Factor gross outs to be fun, either.
This is why when The Scarehouse in Pittsburgh, PA asked me to review their new extreme experience, known as The Basement, I didn’t make my final decision to do so until the morning of the day we’d be there – literally 10 minutes before the deadline. I am normally an obsessive “plan in advance” type of person.
The only reason I agreed to it was because The Scarehouse is one of the best haunted attractions in the country (2011 review is here. 2012 review is here.). Years ago after I began posting about how I felt, I met the folks who run it who were obviously happy to hear from a total stranger who loved their work. I started blogging not knowing anyone in the haunt industry, but because of this blog I have met a lot of the owners after the fact.
Co-owner and Creative Director Scott Simmons has always been super nice. The real person to blame for this post is actually Margee Kerr. She works for Scarehouse and presented her Scare U web series at my convention this year. Basically they both have built up enough trust in me that I actually went against my better judgement, jagoffed up and did it.
That and Margee promised me there would be no roaches or fear factor bullshit. I don’t care how much I like you – that stuff is off the table.
After cross-checking my admittedly salty intestines we drove into Pittsburgh, recording my thoughts along the way. Margee met me up front and told me it was OK if I dropped out.
But I was all like, “I ARE AMS WAS NOT EVER FOR TO BE OF HAVING THAT SHIT.”
I made no sense but the TL; DR is that I made my decision and I don’t back out. So, after filling out a waiver I was deposited into an outdoor waiting area. One by one our groups were called, wanded for metal, and put up against a wall.
A person dressed as a police officer in riot gear is minding the door. She calls the groups up, tells you the rules and messes with you a little bit before depositing you inside the attraction. In my case she gave me a bear hug and joked that I look like I’ve been on my knees a lot.
Going down the candlelit stairs I actually said, “this is the worst decision I ever made”.
I was immediately grabbed and pulled around by a guy in a mask who was making bizarre sounds and sniffing me. I think he sat on me at one point. You have about 5 rooms before the attraction gets “extreme” in my opinion. They clearly designed it to ease you into it. Each scene the touching and threatening gets progressively worse.
They are going to use profanity. They are going to threaten you while having you in a head lock. If you aren’t comfortable with being touched or having an actor’s nose touch your nose or possibly kiss your cheek, this is not the attraction for you. In my case I have been through so many haunted houses and I live in NYC/NJ. Just the other day there was a guy with no pants on the subway swearing at his armpit. I took this all in as not that big of a deal.
I did observe what was said carefully. It did seem that they were more mindful than other attractions to train their actors not to use many disparaging insults which are typically used at women. They said I was repulsive because the scene called for the actor to get fed up with me and throw me out, but did not have the actor try and insult my actual physical appearance. He was insulting me for insane reasons that stemmed from his internal narrative. This was made clear to me in the scene.
Some of the stuff later was a bigger deal than the touching, pushing you around and insults.
You will have to crawl, and you will be restrained at some point. It’s not a thing that happens in 1 room. They have divided up the space in a really inventive way with props and sheets and simple but very effective items to create a journey through a haunted house in which the actors can screw with you more in each scene.
I found most of The Basement to be quite fun and not over the line into what I would consider a “personal S/M experience” rather than a haunted attraction. It was CLOSE. But they didn’t go over the line.
They managed to ramp it up while at the same time keep the personality and humor of The Scarehouse intact. I think that is why it worked for me. This essentially was a haunted house that was a bit more experimental. They want you to make it through – the goal isn’t to make most people tap out,
That said, 2 of the scenes screwed me up to the point that I am still disturbed a couple of days later.
Harknell did not go through. He doesn’t believe this is for him due to one of these scenes.
1 scene involved me being “cut” with a fake knife. The actor doing that needs to calm down just a little bit because 3 days later and I still have a red, irritated scratch where he did it. I think that was a mistake. The scene itself was disturbing even if we aren’t talking about that.
The other scene involved a medical procedure. Nothing went wrong here – this is just a personal issue of mine almost as bad as my thing with the roaches. This means they did their job well. I actually came close to using the safe word and sprained my boob. Apparently that can happen. Self-inflicted boob spraining. Heh.
It was kind of funny that I was struggling and apologizing to the actor at the same time. I knew they weren’t going to actually hurt me. But there are things that I actually can’t control in my reactions to certain stuff.
The end of the attraction had a loose-narrative which takes you out next to the line where you will probably get asked by every customer there what you just saw while still not being sure yourself.
I was pretty destroyed after this to the point where I was frame-dropping. They were giving out free t-shirts that night. Somehow one got in my purse. I have no idea how that happened. When I was speaking with Scott, Margee, Terry, Glenn, and whoever else afterward – I can’t remember what the hell I was saying to them. Probably something involving the phrase, “I got a key”. You get a key if you make it out. Everyone that I spoke to after going through here needs to know that I have no idea what I was saying or what was happening.
We recorded my reactions after I came out, which I also have no memory of so expect a video later that will probably cause you to laugh your ass off at me. If only they’d give me a copy of the video surveillance tape. HA!
I didn’t expect to like The Basement, but I actually did. That said, this is not for everyone.
It’s not for someone who still gets nervous before going into regular haunted houses and can’t handle being grabbed or harsh language.
There is no nudity, nothing goes in your mouth, and there are no real bugs. The scenes are constructed by tricking your senses.
What I’d like to see next year:
What I’d like to see in the future from them is an actual narrative that runs through the entire attraction. Many of the scenes seemed to just be unrelated, which is fine and expected for something that is just testing out its first year. The sound is creepy and even though they were using sheets and simple things to create rooms I couldn’t detect any sound pollution from the other rooms like I often can with similarly-constructed attractions.
I think they need to institute a locker system for coats. You will want to wash everything you wear into this attraction and coats are generally harder to clean. Now that everyone is taking a bus here and it’s cold, it won’t be possible to lock it in your car.
The sets were simple but effective. Most of your attention is on the actor who is working with you. I loved the bit of story at the end.
I can’t wait to see what they are going to do with this next year. I believe that they have managed to innovate a piece of theater that is uniquely them and a totally different product from all of the other shows like this that I am aware of.
If you have a friend who is terrified to even try the regular Scarehouse show, don’t be a jerk and force them to go to this until they are ready.
See this one if you can handle the regular Scarehouse easily. Do not wear clothing that can’t be easily washed.
The Scarehouse and The Basement runs until November 2nd. Tickets are available at $29.99 per person or you can go with a friend at $44.99 ($22.49 per person, two tickets per transaction).
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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