Jason Goes to Kennywood

This year’s installment of Phantom Fright Nights is bigger than ever and makes hair-raising use of the park’s new 4-D theater.


PHOTOS BY SEAN COLLIER
 

When I received notice that a “Friday the 13th” attraction would be appearing at Kennywood Park's annual Phantom Fright Nights, I assumed a fairly tame appearance by the killer from Camp Crystal Lake.

The celluloid madman has taken his machete to the park’s new 4-D Theater, which opened earlier this year and usually houses an “Ice Age” short. On a summer day, parents can deposit their children in a comfortable (and blessedly air-conditioned) space for about 10 minutes while an animated squirrel cavorts in 3-D, with some tangible effects — wind, water and the like — built in for a harmless thrill.

So what, I wondered, is Jason doing in an attraction like this?

He’s slaughtering a baker’s dozen people in R-rated fashion, with the audience feeling every bone-crunching blow and getting sprayed with every blood splatter.

Now is a good time to note that Kennywood is serious when they say Phantom Fright Nights is not for children under 13 years of age.

OK, OK, the “blood” is water. But it’s plenty shocking when it happens, as are a handful of other effects I won’t spoil here. In a nine-minute short, the audience is shown all the brutal moments from 2009’s “Friday the 13th” reboot in 3D while the theater’s army of robot chairs makes things particularly interesting. It’s a quick diversion, to be sure, but a fine addition to the October offerings at Kennywood.

Elsewhere in the park, a half-dozen walkthrough haunted attractions (and another four short-form haunts scattered throughout the park) will provide the atmosphere and jump scares. My favorite has always been Voodoo Bayou (pictured above), newly revamped for 2015; I love the theme, but more than that, I love a stroll through the Raging Rapids. Yup — this particular haunt winds through the drained Rapids course, an oddly claustrophobic experience.

Also new on the haunt front for 2015: the Pirate-themed Haunted Ark, which turns Kennywood’s iconic funhouse (more) sinister, will switch gears to “Ark in the Dark” after 11 p.m. each night. For an additional fee, guests will wind their way through the historic attraction without the benefit of light. Like, at all.

Many of the park’s 250 costumed creatures are stationed in the aforementioned haunted areas, but plenty more float silently throughout the park, ready to jump at you while you’re waiting in line for the Potato Patch or just trying to find your way to the Thunderbolt. And speaking of rides, they may be the best part of Phantom Fright Nights — the roller coasters and thrill rides take on a much different tone when all the lights are turned off and Kennywood is covered in eerie, dimly lit fog.

It’s not the scariest Halloween attraction in town, and many attempts to spook you will be met with more chuckles than shrieks. But Phantom Fright Nights is the best of Kennywood covered in everything we love about Halloween. Along with The ScareHouse and Hundred Acres Manor, it should be an annual trip for every spooky-minded Pittsburgher.

 

Categories: After Dark