Review: The region's best haunted attractions - Eastern State vs. Pennhurst

Every October we’re reminded that it’s scream season – a time for haunted Halloween hijinks.

Along with the regular fall attractions like hay rides, festivals and corn mazes, there are haunted houses and tours. But with so many to choose from, which ones give you the most bang (or boo!) for your buck? Well, we at the Tri County Record decided to brave two of the region’s most famous haunted attractions to see how they stack up.

We visited Eastern State Penitentiary’s Terror Behind the Walls Oct. 5. Each of the six wings of this former Philadelphia prison was a different section of the tour, making it the longer of the two attractions we visited.

It was notable right from the start that visitors had some control over their experience. Before entering the attraction, visitors could take a glow stick necklace to indicate that they were willing to let the actors touch them for an extra-frightening experience. If at any point the experience became too intense, the necklace could be removed, signaling to the actors to no longer touch that person. Visitors could also go the entire tour sans-necklace and not be touched.

What was most notable about Eastern State was the visual spectacle they put on. Each section had its own theme and character.

“The Experiment” had giant spider props and unidentifiable dangling hairy tentacles, and visitors were given 3D glasses for the added effect of 3D neon paint jumping off the walls at them. Meanwhile, areas like “Lock Down” and “The Gauntlet” were suspense thrillers and focused on the interactions between the actors and visitors, and the ability of the loose convicts in the scenario to surprise and scare the patrons.

Prices at Eastern State vary depending when you go. They can be as low as $13 if you go the first weekend it’s open at the end of September ($19 at the door) or as high as $39 ($45 at the door) if you choose to go on a prime night, a Saturday in mid-October. A public parking lot is available right across the street for a fee, as well as street parking. For more information, visit www.easternstate.org/halloween.

Pennhurst Haunted Asylum in Spring City was actually a very similar experience when we visited on Oct. 18. The asylum was divided into four sections, three scary attractions and one real ghost-hunting tour, called “Ghost Hunt,” in the Mayflower Building, reportedly the most paranormally active and featured on the show “Ghost Hunters.”

The other three sections include the Asylum itself, “The Dungeon of Lost Souls” and “The Tunnel Terror.” Right from the start, we could tell that the staff was very interested in entertaining patrons, and weren’t afraid to use humor. In the asylum, one woman was eating an unidentifiable brown substance. When asked what it was, she replied, “I’ll give you three guesses, but you’ll get it on number two!”

Pennhurst also tended to focus more on disorienting patrons with optical illusions, strange lighting and darkness in the tunnel. Eastern State did have a “vortex” with laser lights spinning around the walls of a tube around the walkway making visitors dizzy, but Pennhurst used its effects more, to the point in the tunnel where we had to keep our hands out in front of us in the darkness with actors brushing past and reaching out to grab us.

Pennhurst also engaged multiple senses more than Eastern State. Rooms in the asylum smelled bad. Parts of the tunnel made your skin prickle, and one man shook hands with a glove covered in slime.

After the tour, for an additional fee, visitors could also play a game of zombie laser tag in one of the courtyards.

Tickets cost $16 for each of the four sections, or $42 for a combo pass to all four. VIP passes are available for $78. There is limited parking on-site. Staff members are on hand to guide cars to the parking lot at the corner of Bridge Street and Rt. 724, from which patrons are bussed in. For more information, visit www.pennhurstasylum.com.

Both experiences were a lot of fun and will get your blood pumping. It would be very difficult to choose one over the other, but personally, I enjoyed Pennhurst maybe just a hair more than Eastern State. If you like haunted attractions, I definitely recommend checking out either of these fun excursions.

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