I’m not over here blowing on my fingertips or anything, but I am basically the (un)official Pittsburgh haunted house tip line, OK? Of all the things to be an expert of….Anyway, I decided to repost this thing I wrote a few years ago since it’s the beginning of the haunted house season and people* are already asking me questions about which places to take their kids to, etc. Even though some of the things in this are dated (some of the referenced haunts aren’t around anymore), it’s still PRETTY HELPFUL — so read it, don’t read it, print it out and send me your heavily red-lined copy of it — it’s a free country. Also, if you live in Pittsburgh and want to go to a haunted house with me and Chooch, WHY YES WE WOULD LOVE TO.
*(Real ones, too! Not imaginary ones like usually.)
Every Halloween season, I get pretty nostalgic about the “old days.” Way back in the age of flowing flannels and Contempo Casuals (where I would buy all of my slutty “I’m a slut who has money” slut uniforms), it was possible to go to two, sometimes even THREE haunted houses in one night for under $20. True story! It seemed like every last VFW, YMCA and Boy Scout Troop had hoarded enough black garbage bags over the course of a year and used their dues to stock up on slipshod Halloween masks from K-Mart to pull off a “haunted house.” And it may have been hokey and rudimentary, full of blacklit Jason Voorhees masks and “accidental” boob-brushes, but fuck if it wasn’t fun.
In high school, I would scour the newspaper for haunted house ads and then my friend Lisa and I would stuff her parents minivan with our ragamuffin group of friends and proceeded to exercise our god-given vocal prowess. We were Those Kids that everyone else hated standing in line with. And I was That Girl who flirted obnoxiously with Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, hoping to make my crush Evan jealous. (HE NEVER EVEN NOTICED.) There was the Bethel Park Haunted Yard, Clairton’s Haunted Pool, the Glassport Haunted Fire Station, and then all of the Haunted Schools: Castle Shannon, Victory, the Tri-City Jaycees one that I lost my keys in and then it burnt down (no correlation to my keys). Before there was Hundred Acres Manor, there was Phantoms in the Park and Terrors By the Lake. Before Kennywood had their Fright Nights, Station Square transformed into Station Scare and offered carnival rides just in case all of the fog machines, hyper-jealous boyfriends and diet pills* didn’t get you nauseated enough.
*(What? My weight issues go waaaay back.)
But then the behemoth, corporate haunted houses started popping up and taking over. The ones that pay to have haunted house listings and the Travel Channel call them the #1 Haunted Attraction. The ones that make you wait in line for upwards of 3 hours because OMG WE ARE THE BEST IN THE BIZ SO STAND AND WAIT, JAGOFFS. They pour loads of money into their advertising, production and animatronics, but they lack the true Halloween spirit and moxie that the smaller haunted joints have. Money can’t buy moxie, you guys. I’d rather walk through a haunted trail lit by flaming jugs of moonshine in some hick’s backyard than give those corporate bastards my money, if we’re being totally frank here.
People are usually shocked when I start waxing contrary about the city’s most popular haunted attractions, so I have compiled a list to offer some insight into what makes a “good” haunted house.
Here is the official Oh Honestly Erin Haunted House Criteria:
1. Will There Be Chainsaws?
It doesn’t matter how many times Henry exasperatedly assures me that there are no chains on the chainsaws, the moment I hear that whirring, no matter how far away it is, I am suddenly in booty shorts at Camp Crystal Lake and Jason Voorhees is mad as fuck because I just had sex on a hammock, and where the hell did this adrenaline come from? I don’t know, but look! I can scale the backs of the people in front of me!
Even when I’m standing in line chanting, “I hope there are no chainsaws. I hope there are no chainsaws” the truth is that there better be at least one fucking chainsaw guy who takes his position really fucking seriously because I just gave you $15 to scare the shit out of me, so please, do just that. Henry does my laundry, so what do I care.
*THIS SEASON’S UNOFFICIAL WINNER*: Chainsaw Guy at Cheeseman Fright Farm. It was really cold that night on that bale of hay, and your persistent wielding provided warmth to my shivering extremities. Also, you didn’t give up even when I used my 7-year-old son as a shield. Good for you, Ambitious Non-Hockey Mask-Wearing Chainsaw Guy. You were way better than the apathetic Voorhees-wannabe at Freddy’s Haunts who whir-whir-whirred for approximately 10 seconds before walking away.
2. Will There Be the Possibility of Simulated Horror Porn by Michael Myers?
So, maybe it’s just me, but when I’m singled out in a crowd by some dude who looks like his face got violently bear-hugged by bologna slices and green olives, maybe even corners me and snorts and snarls in my ear, I am REALLY FUCKING EXCITED to be there at that haunted attraction. Especially if it’s a particularly sexy-savage Michael Myers. And for those 30 seconds you’re towering over me with your fake machete and vacant eyes, I promise to pretend that you’re not actually some pizza-faced 17-year-old band nerd. NO, YOU ARE A FUCKING HOT PSYCHOPATH WHOSE EVERY PRIMAL INSTINCT IS TELLING YOU TO KILL ME, BUT WAIT! WHAT’S THAT!? YOU ARE FALLING IN LOVE WITH THIS CHUBBY MOM-BROAD WHO IS SCREAMING HER FACE OFF!
And then I’ll go home and write about it in my haunted house journal and it goes something like this: Holy fuck, I am so hot for Michael Myers! I bet he doesn’t pay that much attention to anyone else in that wing of the haunted maze! When we made eye contact, I think he winked at me but it was hard to see over the strobe lights. AND SPEAKING OF HARD! I’m not sure if that was Michael’s tumescent cock-machete or the Pizza-Faced-Kid-Dressed-As-Him’s satchel of dork dice, but I’m totally probably maybe pregnant now, you guys, right?
Just to really illustrate my alarming Michael Myers crush, my kid wouldn’t exist today if I hadn’t thought his dumb dad looked like Michael Myers when he would wear his stupid blue Weiss Meats coveralls back when we were co-workers in 2001. THAT IS WHAT MADE ME WANT TO SLEEP WITH HIM, OK?
*THIS SEASON’S UNOFFICIAL WINNER*: Rich’s Fright Farm Michael Myers. You smashed your fist into the wall in front of me every time I tried to escape and at one point BROUGHT ME TO MY KNEES while Janna stood off to the side, staring at her imaginary watch. I could feel your hot murderous breath on my neck and it was, well, fucking hot. Now your demon seed is sprouting inside my womb. Womb, womb, womb.
3. Will Someone Please Entertain the Fuck Out of Me?
Hi. I just dropped the cost of a concert ticket* down on your haunted establishment, so please prove to me that I didn’t make a mistake. *(What? I like underground bands, you guys.) If you’re charging me approx. $18 for 30 minutes, then I better come out the other end feeling like I just came. I mean, feeling entertained. Ridicule my blondness with your biting wit! Tickle my eyeballs with your macabre decor! Make me follow directions! Engage me! (No really—do you want to get engaged? Because Henry apparently doesn’t.) Pay attention to me, to me, to me!
*THIS SEASON’S UNOFFICIAL WINNER*: Castle Blood, duh. You still never fail to call me out for being a dum-dum. (Remembering three talisman is trying. IT’S HARD FOR ME TO PAY ATTENTION, OK!?) You still make me believe I’m going to be poisoned in Professor Scrye’s lab and turned into mortal mana pua by some convincingly realistic witch. (I don’t know why I picked a Hawaiian food that I have never eaten.)
But let me tell you something about this sanguine estate—if you came looking for chainsaws and robotic corpses hemorrhaging on toilets, queue the Sad Tuba soundbite. This is half past Saw, more toward Nosferatu. Castle Blood’s tagline is “Halloween the way it oughta be” and they mean it. It’s elegant and unique, it’s intelligent and interactive, it’s humble and passionate about the season. I’ve been going to Castle Blood since the late 90s and it’s still just as refreshing and inspiring as it was when I was a teenager. We’ve been taking Chooch since he was a baby (first to the no-scare matinees; he’s since graduated to the nighttime tours) and he loves it because it’s magical while still maintaining a high creep-factor—-plus, sometimes Henry gets presented with a death certificate.
4. Will You Make Me Feel Like a
Natural Woman Teenager Again?
As previously mentioned, I long for the old-school haunts of yore. The ones in vacant buildings that charge $12 and under and probably meet the safety standards of a treehouse in 1954. The ones that aren’t mentioned in the obligatory WHAT TO DO THIS OCTOBER newspaper write-up or any of the haunted house listings online. The small haunted house put together by members of a local community and advertise by tacking up flyers in Spirit Halloween stores or sticking bright orange signs in the ground next to the highway. I like giving these people my monies! They know how to crack me up while also making me pee my pants. (I had a longstanding reputation at the now-defunct Victory Haunted School, and every year, from the moment I set foot inside, the “monsters” would start chanting, “Erin’s here! Erin peed her pants!” So fucking obnoxious but I loved every second of it.
If I’m in such pitch-blackness that I need to walk with outstretched arms while simultaneously screaming to no one and everyone that I AM SO FUCKING SCARED OMG WAS THAT A BREAST I JUST TOUCHED, then this haunted house rules. If I’m told, “GET DOWN ON YOUR KNEES AND CRAWL THROUGH THE TUNNEL OF LOVE…OR DEATH!” and I literally find myself scrambling on my hands and knees over top of what I really really really hope are pieces of a CLEAN mattress and I start screaming about how I CAN’T BELIEVE I HAVE TO DO THIS! I AM SO SCARED! OW I JUST HURT MYSELF! then this haunted house rules. If the volunteers are so over-the-top with their theatrical lines and fake gunfire that I am literally doing pee-squats from laughing so hard, then this haunted house rules. If I tell the guide that my name is Erin and he decides that “Smellvin” is a better name even though that would only make sense if my name was Melvin, but everyone else thinks it’s hilarious, then this haunted house rules. If some kid pops out of nowhere and freaking feeds me a mouthful of Silly String and even HENRY laughs, then this haunted house rules.
*THIS SEASON’S UNOFFICIAL WINNER*: Ohmygod it’s a tie! Teen Quest’s Scaremare in Mon City and the haunted basement of the Sewickley United Methodist Church. Can we please admire the irony here, that two of this heathen’s favorite haunted houses are Christian-based? IDGAF, these two haunts made me laugh until I almost peed. (ALMOST, I swear!) It was like being in high school again, faced with the threat of falling down a staircase and inhaling asbestos. And the volunteers at these two places had way more enthusiasm than any of the ones anywhere else, especially Terror Town, who apparently pays their actors and that is just ridiculous because for the last two years, their “employees” were relatively ineffective and I’m officially done giving them Henry’s hard-earned Faygo money. Especially after seeing one of those “actors” on Facebook turn her nose up at people who, god forbid, volunteer their time to play zombies. The people at Scaremare and the church in Sewickley had HEART. The church even had a babydoll displayed in a very horrific, decidedly un-Christian way! I applaud them for that, for being able to recognize that it’s OK to be outrageous and controversial in the name of Halloween, and for being so balls-to-the-wall. I actually wish I had the time to revisit both of these places this month. Even if it’s just essentially dropping money into a collection plate. I’m OK with that.
5. Do You Have a Worthy Haunted House Companion?
Chances are, during this season you are going to sometimes be driving great distances and are probably going to get lost at least twice (are you going to a hayride on some jackass’s farm? Yeah, good luck trusting your GPS with that), so you better make sure you don’t bring some douchebag along with you who is going to drive you so insane that you need to buy your first pack of Camel Wides in 7 years at some sketchy gas station in the middle of downtown Sharon, PA. (True story.) And then once you’ve arrived at the haunt, you might be standing in line for an hour at least. DON’T BRING A DUD OR YOU ARE FU-HAHAHAHA-UCKED. I was lucky this year and have gone to haunted houses with quality peeps (and Henry), but I have been pretty unfortunate in the past. Your company can make or break the haunted house experience, especially if you are so fucking over-the-top annoyed at who’s ripping your shirt in faux-fear that you forget about the actual haunted house itself. Did you like it? WHO EVEN FUCKING KNOWS?!
*THIS SEASON’S UNOFFICIAL WINNER*: And the award goes to my good friend Janna. No one handles being pushed and shoved into chainsaw guys with quite the panache as she, nor can anyone tolerate my extreme giddiness with such a steely veil of patience. Except Henry, but he hates going to haunted houses. I like to believe that every time I scream, and I mean SCREAM, “JANNNNNNAAAA LOOOOOOK OUTTTTT!” that I’m actually saving her life for real. And she just kind of chuckles a little at first, but by the end of the night, I sometimes detect some eye-rolling and sighing.
Those are my unofficial winners because I still have at least four more haunts to attend before Christmas starts shitting all over my fun. And remember, all of this is subjective. The things that I look for in a haunted house might not be the same things that make you scream like Laurie Strode or make popular local radio DJs jack off into each others’ cupped hands. If your haunt isn’t going to be gonzo enough to scare the FUCK out of me, at least entertain me. Make me laugh, make me push Janna into a chainsaw guy, have a hot Michael Myers, make me have some F-U-N if I’m giving you twenty goddamn dollars out of Poor Henry’s wallet.
(And let me just tell you, now that Chooch is brave enough to go to every haunted house with me, October is officially waaaaay more costly than December.)
Some extra tips:
- Look for coupons! Sometimes haunted houses will offer them on their website. Hundred Acres Manor usually offers $3 off coupons at Eat n Park or Burger King. (They’re only good on Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, I believe.) And you know, check Groupon and Living Social or have a boss that forwards every single haunted house deal to you like I do. Maybe stop in your local corner pub and gather up enough barflies to qualify for a group rate. Just trying to save you some bucks, OK?
- Go on off-nights! If a haunted house is open on a Sunday or Wednesday night—GO THEN! You will beat the crowds and probably have a better victim:monster ratio. Have you ever gone through a haunted house with just the one person you arrived with? SCARY AS FUCK. Real talk.
- Try to remember that no haunt is perfect and “bad nights” can be expected. Maybe I went to Cheeseman’s Fright Farm last weekend and had a blast, but you went earlier in the month on a night where they happened to have a lot of volunteer no-shows. Shit happens, ya’ll, and most of it is behind the scenes. This is why I try not to do too much bashing. (And believe me, I’ve been to a few duds this year.)
- If you go to a haunted trail after it’s been raining all day, you’re PROBABLY GOING TO GET MUDDY. Don’t be that dickhead who complains about it. Maybe you should have stayed home and watched a Duck Dynasty marathon instead.
- Bitching about standing in line isn’t going to make the line move any faster and pro tip: NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR YOUR STUPID YINZER MONOLOGUE ABOUT IT, EITHER.
- Pretend that you are actually running for your life. BECAUSE YOU JUST NEVER KNOW.
Hey! Why don’t you leave me a comment and tell me about your best (or…worst) haunted house experience?