AS FAR AS crybabies go, I’m the biggest one I know.
I have issues walking my dog at night if someone so much as mentions the Mothman, I dropped nachos all over the theater floor during a late-night showing of The Blair Witch Project, and the last time I browsed the paranormal Subreddit before bed, I made my boyfriend stand guard outside the door while I took the most panicky shower ever.
So it makes complete sense that I’m fascinated with the rash of “extreme” haunted house attractions that have been popping up in cities across the country in recent years. Maybe it’s because I know for an absolute fact there’s no way I’ll ever make it through one without covering my eyes and running blindly for the nearest emergency exit, so reading spoilers and walk-throughs is really all I have this time of year.
Here’s where you WON’T be finding me this Halloween:
13th Street Morgue
Red Oak, Texas
After the obligatory spooky drive down a bumpy dirt road, you wind up at Reindeer Manor. Despite its jolly-sounding name, the property is (of course) known to be haunted, thanks to a few generations of tragic and untimely ends met by various members of the Sharp family, the previous owners. And because property-buyers don’t tend to clamor over creepy houses that have been the location of multiple mysterious deaths, the house was abandoned until its new birth as a haunt attraction.
Reindeer Manor’s haunted house is full of scares, sure, but on the other end of the property is the 13th Street Morgue, a smaller house that was allegedly once the scene of a Christmas-themed revenge-fueled multiple-murder-suicide. Rather than opting for the typical “jump-out-and-scare-you” tactic, the 13th Street Morgue chose a more subtle approach. With the help of meticulously placed period-specific details chosen to elicit dread, they aim to suffocate you with that unsettling feeling that you’re totally intruding on the space of someone who REALLY doesn’t want you there. Except that this someone is see-through, died almost a hundred years ago, and basically wants to kill you. Free hayrides, though!
Would I go in? I could probably be talked into this one. If things get too scary, I’ll just spend my energy trying to convince myself I’m browsing an old-timey Pinterest board and ignoring those unwelcome unidentifiable touches on my face and hands.
Spring City, Pennsylvania
The website alone nearly made me shit my pants. I probably should have been prepared — this haunted house takes place in a 100-year-old abandoned mental institute known for mistreating and neglecting imprisoned wards ranging from the criminally insane, to the physically and mentally handicapped, unwed pregnant teenagers, and troubled kids with extremely sadistic parents. For the last 20 years, Pennhurst Asylum has been left to deteriorate into the overgrown, ghost-inviting mess it is today.
The location itself is so terrifying that the blood-covered actors lumbering around kind of drowns out the creepiness, so it’s the Ghost Hunt that really has my palms sweating. This attraction capitalizes on a century’s worth of human suffering for the benefit of giving you the willies: You’re introduced to the Mayflower building, one of the property’s many former patient dormitories, which is now covered in graffiti and littered with actual asylum artifacts, handed a flashlight, and basically left there on your own to explore (or to slide slowly to the ground in fetal position, crying).
Would I go in? Mmmyeah, how about you go in and I’ll just watch the Mayflower building’s Ghost Hunters episode in my house with all the lights on.
Delusion: Masque of Mortality
Los Angeles, California
Written and directed by a former Hollywood stuntman, Delusion (which insists on being called an “interactive haunted play”) functions a lot differently than your typical walk-through haunted house. Rather, this is a fully immersive storyline about plague doctors with questionable motives wearing grim-looking costumes that takes place in an eerily lit Silverlake church.
The interactive part of the deal means that if you want to get the hell out of there, you’re going to have to do what the actors tell you, including possibly getting dragged away from your group entirely by the most nightmarishly dressed people you’d ever let escort you anywhere. Audience members also have to frequently complete various tasks, including grabbing items from shelves, crawling through secret passageways, and/or sprinting like mad for their lives.
Would I go in? Despite the fact that Delusion combines two of my biggest fears — creepy imagery that burns itself into your memory and public speaking — I can’t very well pass up the chance to watch a stuntguy do his thing while wearing an unnerving costume in the middle of a Baptist church. That’s basically art, isn’t it?
Chambers of Horror
The way Chambers of Horror sees it, who needs ghosts and vampires and other mythical creatures when the scariest situations on earth are created by people (or people-ish things)? After getting mediocre reviews for running a tamer, more PG-13 version of this attraction, creator Lucas Godfrey took some liberties from a few of those gross-out “tortureporn” movies that I worked so hard to forget, and created an X-rated, exploitation-style gore-and-boobs-fest.
The storyline behind their TerrorCo “urban horror tour” is something about a crime syndicate, human trafficking, and twisted bio-mechanical experiments that resulted in mutant half-metal torturers with power tools. Or maybe it’s a psychotic steampunk street gang armed with staple guns and handsaws out for vengeance? Whatever the storyline, it’s not important. All you need to know is that massive quantities of fake blood and guts are spilled in every chamber of horror, and one prosthetic penis gives its tiny, rubbery life for the benefit of this show every single night.
Would I go in? While Chambers of Horror sounds more comical and super-sexist than scary, I still think I’d rather wait by the bar. It just seems a little too suspiciously like the setup for an episode of Law & Order: SVU for me to want to experience.
Freakling Bros.’ Trilogy of Terror
Las Vegas, Nevada
Before you even enter, you encounter a pedophile priest and get chewed on by a fire-breathing clown. There are three main attractions here, including a circus-themed maze that’s very far removed from the “clowns with chainshaws” thing you used to pride yourself on surviving in junior high. There’s also a similarly well-done vampire castle, but both of these are just priming you for the Gates of Hell, Las Vegas’ only “R-Rated” full-contact haunted house.
Once you’ve signed your Gates of Hell waiver — which uses the words “torture” and “abuse” way too many times — you get to experience your own death and descent into hell, where actors scream obscenities in your face, grab at you, and otherwise do everything they can to get you to terror-vomit all over yourself.
Rumors began last year that the final group through the Gates of Hell were getting a bonus shit-storm of “special attention,” so this year, the Freakling Bros. made it official: For a select group of people who just clearly have absolutely no sense of self-preservation at all, they sell 5 tickets per night for “The Victim Experience.” This event comes with another special waiver, along with ominous requirements that participants be in good physical shape, be willing to “stay a while” (whatever that means), and to be totally prepared to trash their newly destroyed clothes after the event. Not really what I had in mind for a strip-mall parking lot haunted house attraction.
Would I go in? The website for The Victim Experience says it right there on the page: “This experience is not ‘fun.'” There aren’t enough wetnaps in the world to clean myself up after an experience like this, so I’ll just hang out outside where the food trucks park and wait for you to spill out of the trailer, hands bound behind your back, crying.
Blackout Haunted House
Los Angeles, California / New York, New York / Chicago, Illinois
When a haunted house attraction comes with a safe word, that’s pretty much a guarantee I’ll be using that safe word.
A totally disturbing cult favorite, Blackout Haunted House is strictly 18+ and comes with a vaguely rape-y set of rules: no talking unless it’s screaming, do as you’re told, don’t touch the actors, wear a surgical face mask, expect a lot of creepy and weird nudity, don’t mind the psychological abuse, and the one rule guaranteed to induce more loss-of-bodily-function incidents than any other haunted house on this list: YOU MUST WALK THROUGH ALONE.
Rumors from past events have included things like (spoiler alert, you sick maniac who actually might want to pay money to have these things done to you) being suffocated, licked, left in complete and terrible pitch darkness and dead silence for uncomfortably extended stretches of time, having things shoved into your mouth (and by “things,” I definitely mean a presumably fake but still disgusting wet feminine hygiene product), and then getting actually waterboarded. It’s not uncommon to have people call out the safe word within just minutes of entering this house, and victims of sexual assault have been warned strongly against participating.
The event gets changed up every year, so if you thought the rumors were bad, this year’s event is likely to be a hell of a lot worse. Just check out the preview: