Located in the already creepy castle-like walls of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA, Terror Behind the Walls has entered its 22nd year, this year upping the horror by getting hands-on with guests throughout the haunted attraction.
For the first time in the event’s history, visitors of Terror Behind the Walls thie year are confronted with a critical decision: watch the action or take part by truly interacting with the denizens of the cellblocks, getting grabbed, held back, sent into hidden passageways, removed from their groups, and even incorporated into the show - all across six long attractions.
Video: Terror Behind the Walls 2013 preview at Eastern State Penitentiary
It’s just as insane as it sounds. I experienced the new thrills this past Saturday, on opening weekend. Parking can be a terror unto itself. There is an event parking lot next to the attraction for $20, but cheaper spots area available by reserving online for $13 and parking at the nearby Philadelphia zoo. It requires a short bus trip to make it to Eastern State, but might be worth the savings.
Once that small hassle is conquered, visitors are immediately thrust into the horrors upon stepping foot onto Eastern State’s grounds. I was greeted by zombies from the moment I parked, also spotting a line of eager attendees wrapped around the side of the building with over a 2 hour wait. It’s definitely worth investing in Terror Behind the Walls’ quick pass tickets, bypassing the line and gaining entrance in just a few minutes. The whole experience takes around two hours to complete once inside.
Entertainment after entering the gate includes DJ Zombie playing music and interacting with guests as the zombie police force terrorizes unsuspecting ticket-holders waiting to reach the attraction. The open space and eerie lighting prepare visitors for a fright filled experience and the deadly police force get your blood pumping for a ‘killer’ evening.
The best and most unique aspect of Terror Behind the Walls is that it is held in a real prison and guests get to see different areas of the prison while in the attraction. This year’s new interactive option gives guests a “Tracking Device” (a glow stick necklace and a red bloody ‘x’ on your face) that gives the zombies and other insane haunters permission to touch and grab you throughout the attraction. I obviously chose to be tracked, as I wanted the full experience.
Six different attractions are combined together, each having their own theme and place within the prison walls. It flowed pretty nicely and has a storyline for those who pay attention between the screams. Guests are pulsed in groups of 6, offering a better experience in each haunted house. My boyfriend and I even let the other four victims in our group go way ahead of us so we remained alone throughout most of the 6 attractions, making the experience even freakier than being lumped into a big group or “conga line” like so many theme park haunts have.
It all begins in “The Guantlet,” with a deranged warden screaming at you. He sets up the story stating how the prison has “lost control” and “no one will make it out alive”. Down dark corridors, prison guards haven’t fared so well, cut in half, hung, or electrocuted, screaming for help. And then the interactivity begins, as guests are almost constantly being grabbed at and pulled in all different directions - a very freaky feeling, but my favorite part. Wild prisoners popped out from unexpected hiding places, even grabbing my boyfriend to held him against the wall with an axe.
The adventure then continues through “Lock Down,” featuring deranged prisoners amidst a foggy and loud environment, leaving visitors disoriented. Just when you think a zombie can’t reach you… think again. One prisoner behind bars managed to grab me and explained why he was locked up and really innocent. Awesome.
“Detritus” follows, featuring a genuinely eerie atmosphere, pitch with disembodied voices echoing “I can smell you” and “fresh meat.” Watch your hair as it might just get pulled. And just when you think everything is safe, you might just find yourself encountering a man with a chainsaw.
The “Infirmary” is the prison hospital, easily the most interactive, with scenes being acted out around you. There were tons of fake (I hope?) dead bodies and floating heads in jars. Guests quickly become the evil doctors’ patient. The dentist pulled me into his chair and started to “work on my teeth” with a drill and a light. He never touched me and wasn’t forceful so I had fun with it. Alas, he let me go because “I wasn’t his right fit” - but not before he got my name and shouted it for the other actors to call out throughout the rest of this area.
Throughout my time at Eastern State, it became clear their actors really enjoy what they’re doing and want to scare you. They are very personable and don’t mind talking about what you are wearing our asking your name or calling you out how you look. They aren’t negative or nasty, it just adds abit of realism to the haunt.
“The Experiment” isn’t as scary as the other attractions but definitely the most entertaining, a 3D maze under black light - like a rave party gone bad, or perhaps Andy Warhol’ss old cell. Who knows? It’s filled with optical illusions and plenty of hidden scares. And you do get to keep your glasses, a souvenir to remember your experience by.
The final attraction “Night Watch” was my least favorite, possibly by our own fault. We were supposed to flashlight, but since we were so far behind the rest of our group we walked through in the darkness and missed a lot. I was rarely sure which way to go. But a zombie did separate my boyfriend and I at one point, making made me climb through a tunnel alone. It definitely was an added adrenaline rush crawling in a small space by myself hearing the sounds of people screaming and waiting to be attacked.
There is no doubt Terror Behind the Walls is really scary. Don’t let our smiling faces in the photos above fool you. There were times when even my boyfriend was genuinely scared. And that is the best measure of a great Halloween haunt.
Terror Behind the Walls runs on select evenings now through November 9. More information and tickets can be found at www.easternstate.org/halloween.