Field Trip: The ScareHouse Basement
After Dark’s 2013 Halloween Spectacular rolls on with a journey into Pittsburgh’s most intimidating haunted hot spot.
Jason Cohn, courtesy ScareHouse
As the Halloween haunted-attraction industry grows and matures, it seems there are two distinct reactions among those who brave these souped-up spookhouses. Some people get truly and viscerally scared at your average haunt, rattled and screaming at the terrors within; others mostly chuckle at the scares, appreciating the details and settings the haunt’s creators have offered.
If you’re in that first category, The Basement is not for you.
Those who’ve considered making a break for the emergency exits at the sight of a particularly aggressive zombie or an escaped mental patient with a chainsaw should not even consider a trip to The ScareHouse's new attraction. Stay upstairs, where the main event has been revamped and expanded; much of The ScareHouse’s first half is brand-new, redesigned sound effects add terrifying atmosphere and Creepo's Christmas in 3-D is better than ever.
Maybe you’re in that second group, though. When an animatronic prisoner is executed, are you admiring the detail on the model? When ghouls are popping out from around corners to shriek with rage, are you noting the excellent set dressing and lighting effects? Have you (like me) driven upwards of three hours for new and inventive Halloween activities?
Then we’ve got something for you. But don’t get cocky; even the most hardened fans might find themselves screaming the safe word in The Basement. (Yes, there’s a safe word.)
Partially inspired by — and, in some ways, modeled after — Bricolage Production Co.'s uncanny interactive theater experience STRATA, The Basement can only be experienced solo or with one partner. (I’d go solo, for reasons I won’t spoil here.) A series of rooms will continually up the ante, as you’re harassed, restrained, intimidated, threatened and manhandled through scenarios designed to invoke the actual experiences associated with our greatest fears.
The waiver you must sign to be admitted specifies that all of these things will be done to, at and around you. (It’s posted in full here if you’d like to review it beforehand, but trust me — if you’re not sure you can handle it, you can’t handle it.)
Rachellynn Schoen, courtesy ScareHouse
The experiences in The Basement were in no way what I was expecting, and I was surprised and lightly-to-heavily disturbed in almost every room. Because it was such an unpredictable experience, I won’t reveal any of the very intense and creative scenes here; I will, however, quote this warning from ScareHouse’s website:
“ScareHouse's ‘The Basement’ haunted attraction contains high voltage effects, very low lighting, tight spaces, strong scents, profanity, moments of complete darkness, water, physical contact, sexual and violent situations, and high-impact scares. Not recommended for pregnant women or people with heart conditions or respiratory problems.”
Once again: If that doesn’t sound palatable to you, don’t go.
If you can handle it, though, you will be richly rewarded by an experience I can truthfully say is like no other. In The Basement, you’ll not only be brought face-to-face with events and people that terrify you, you’ll also be made to feel the real-world sensations and — yes — traumas associated with them. When you finally emerge into the night, you’ll feel as though you triumphed over an incredible challenge.
There is no ironic distance possible here. No matter how tough you are, there are things in The Basement that will truly disturb you.
It’s very, very troubling. But it’s also one of the only places, worldwide, where a Halloween attraction has been elevated to the level of high art. Those who are able to endure until the end get to witness an unparalleled — if unsettling — Pittsburgh treasure.
Now through Nov. 2. Thursdays & Saturdays, 7 p.m.-10 p.m.; Fridays & Saturdays, 7 p.m.-midnight. One person, $19.99; two people, $17.49 each. Tickets available here.
Parking for the ScareHouse is now at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, 7340 Butler St., Pittsburgh, Pa. 15206; parking and shuttle to the ScareHouse are free.
Limited tickets available; reservations strongly recommended. All entrants must be 18 years of age with photo ID and must sign a waiver before admittance. Additional rules apply, and can be reviewed here.)