Pittsburgh’s Halloween attractions up their scare game this year

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Image courtesy of Glenn Syska

Characters at Scare House Pittsburgh.

By Jessica McKenzie, Senior Staff Writer

The memory of midterms isn’t the only thing working its way into students’ nightmares this Halloween season. According to Scott Simmons — co-founder and creative director of ScareHouse, a haunted house attraction in The Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills — scare actors and designers work year round to give guests a Hollywood-quality scare.

“We’re definitely trying to make it feel as immersive and real as possible,” Simmons said. “I think we’re well known because we do things a bit differently — when you go to a lot of other haunted houses, you see a lot of the same kinds of scenes and a lot of the same kind of interactions. Whereas with us, we experiment and try a lot of weird imagery.”

A Pittsburgh native, Simmons first became fascinated with haunted houses during his college years. As a Pitt student in the ‘80s, he said he volunteered at many local haunted house attractions during the Halloween season.

“They actually used to do a haunted house-style walk-through at Phipps Conservatory and I just always really enjoyed it,” Simmons said. “Throughout the ‘90s, there was this generation of people my age who grew up working at volunteer and charity haunted houses and really loved it. We kind of collectively created this industry, and now I can say I’m a full-time haunter.”

The attraction is open from 7 to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 6 to 10 p.m. on Sundays. According to Simmons, guests can always expect to be surprised in the walk-through because it contains many different scenes and characters of the horror genre.

“The walk-through is kind of a wild medley of different kinds of scenes and different kinds of scares. Every few minutes, the vibe changes and the characters change,” Simmons said. “I have a different favorite part of the walk-through every night, depending on what kind of mood I’m in and what the actors bring to it.”

Besides the Halloween walk-through, ScareHouse includes year-round escape rooms in the Strip District. Simmons said one of the most popular escape rooms is “Stalked by a Killer.”

“Choosing my favorite escape room is like a parent choosing their favorite kid, but ‘Stalked by a Killer’ is especially loved this time of year,” Simmons said. “People just think the premise of being stalked by a killer is fun around Halloween.”

Simmons said the ScareHouse walk-through is definitely not for the faint of heart. For guests who don’t want to be chased by scare actors in the dark, ScareHouse offers “Behind the Screams” tours every Saturday and Sunday.

“People can actually walk through the haunt with the designers with all the lights on. That’s probably the best way to see all the detail and all the thought,” Simmons said. “We try to design something that looks as good as any kind of film set, but it has to exist in 360 degrees.”

Another spooky attraction drawing crowds this Halloween season is Kennywood’s Phantom Fall Fest, which offers guests family friendly activities during the day from noon to 6 p.m. and haunted houses and scare zones at night from 6 to 11 p.m. The festival is open on weekends for the month of October, at night on Fridays and during the day and night on Saturdays and Sundays.

Sarah Good-Lang, a sophomore history major, said she enjoyed the fright portion of the festival because Kennywood incorporated rides into the spooky atmosphere.

“Kennywood definitely preserves its tradition with the rollercoasters. That’s really the heart of the park,” Goode said. “But it was cool to come off the rides and interact with the scare actors 一 they were really committed to their acts. If they didn’t scare someone the first time, they would get creative and find another way to do it.”

Mark Frazee, Kennywood’s public relations and social media coordinator, said the scare actors are an essential part of the fright experience.

“Our actors are the heart and soul of what brings Phantom Fall Fest to life. The one thing that’s really cool about our scare actors is they’re incredibly dedicated to what they do,” Frazee said. “We have some actors that have come back every single year since 2002, but we also hire lots of new actors each year, and the efforts for that usually begin mid-summer.”

This is the first year that Kennywood is combining day and nighttime festivities for its Halloween celebration. According to Frazee, this change was made in an effort to include a larger audience in the park’s Halloween experience.

“We were finding that people were wanting to get that daytime community experience but also that nighttime experience,” Frazee said. “We wanted to appeal to a wider audience and age group and make sure that everyone could still enjoy Kennywood during the fall and the way that they couldn’t before.”

The fright portion of Kennywood contains five haunts and four scare zones. Guests can walk through haunts such as “Villa of the Vampire,” “Kennyville Cemetery,” “Dark Shadows,” “Voodoo Bayou” and “Shady Grove.” The scare zones include “Fear Fest,” “Manor Estate Sale,” “Hellbilly Hollow” and “The Departing.” Frazee said one of his favorite haunts is “Dark Shadows,” a psychological haunt centering on sensory deprivation.

“It’s very dark and you can’t see much in front of you,” Frazee said. “Of course, the scare actors do an excellent job in Dark Shadows, but it’s also about how you cope with a lack of senses, and a lot of people get really scared by that. It really messes with your head.”

The last weekend of October is college weekend at Kennywood 一 college students will get 30% off admission price with their student ID. Goode said Pittsburgh’s Halloween attractions are a great way for students to take a break from their studies.

“Events like these allow students to connect with an important tradition of the city of Pittsburgh,” Goode said. “It’s a great destressor after lots of homework and exams.”

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