Eastern State Penitentiary: Terror Behind the Walls

Hi Folks,

 

 

 

So I know we’re running late but I took this weekend to spend some much needed time with Bright Dyke and luckily for you one of our excursions is absolutely blog worthy.

Now normally I have to admit I’m not a big haunted house girl. I don’t like them. Not because they don’t scare me, they do…because they don’t scare you in the right way. Anyone and their mother is going to freak out if they hear a chainsaw fire up behind them, or if you make a loud noise behind them, or if you spring for the full façade of a semi truck replete with working headlights and a horn sound effect. Or just generally put freaky shit really large and unexpected in front of them…

 

Like this?

 

Uh…no but nice try…I guess.

 

These are cheap thrills, you set them up once and they’re exactly the same every time and replicating near death experiences doesn’t really take much artistry or talent.

 

Like THIS?

 

You’re getting closer… anyway…

 

 

So I suppose what I should say is that I don’t like BAD haunted houses and lord knows around this time of year there are an awful lot of them around. So what I’m going to do tonight is give you a heads up on a REALLY, REALLY, REALLY good haunted house. If you’re trying to decide how to spend your haunted attraction money this year look no further.

 

 

 

Mommy...

 

 

 

Eastern State Penitentiary: Terror Behind the Walls

 

 

Seriously how could this possibly miss?!

 

 

Hmm, let’s take an abandoned 18th century prison, one of the creepiest places in the world on it’s own in the daylight, and put a bunch of shit in there aimed at fucking terrifying everyone who comes through the gate…

 

Clearly this took a genius to conceive.

 

Fast Facts

 

Eastern State Penitentiary on Fairmount Avenue in the lovely city of Philadelphia PA (the current base of operations for Fright Dyke.com by the way) is by far the coolest historical landmark in a city that is fit to bursting with historical landmarks.

 

Yeah yeah constitution blah blah blah

The prison was still in operation as recently as the 1970’s and while I’m not going to give you the building’s history (may I suggest a tour? If you’ve never been, you’re missing out and they run all year long) I will say that having been through twice in the daylight for education and now once at night for entertainment…this place is CREEPY AS HELL.

 

even without the new decor

There are several sections of the site that are condemned and in bad disrepair, now while unfortunately you can’t go through these under any conditions, guess what that means? The entire building comes pre-set dressed for a haunted house. There’s dust and debris and crumbling masonry and rusted out cell bars and detritus from when it was a working prison EVERYWHERE. Many of the cellblocks are overgrown with weeds and even flowers, tree roots snake down into some of the lower areas of the building and did I mention that from the outside the entire thing looks like a giant fuck off castle?

 

Yeah

This is what it looks like normally

 

THIS IS PERFECT.

 

Terror Behind the Walls has been a yearly attraction at the prison (who also do Bastille Day and Break Out Weekend) for 20 years now, they’re still adding new sections to the ride and I’ve got to tell you I have never been so scared of something like this in my life. It is done EXTREMELY well and everyone involved (including over 200 performers and 14 professional makeup artists, not to mention staff and security) take it very seriously.

 

VERY seriously

Observations

 

Ok so Bright Dyke and I have been meaning to do this up for some time now and I have to say to start, that it was absolutely worth the wait.

 

After you get your tickets, you queue up in front of the penitentiary’s very impressive façade and wait your turn to go in, while you’re doing that there are a dozen or so performers in extremely good makeup (it apparently takes the makeup artists three hours every night to get all of these folks ready) waiting around the line for you to be looking the other way so they can scare the crap out of you. They have personal space issues, just a warning for people that that’s an issue for; this experience is not for you.

 

Now I’ve done a fair number of these things before so I know the rules and they are as follows:

1.NEVER BE THE FIRST – the reasons for this should be obvious, there are a bunch of people waiting in the dark to scare the crap out of you. If you’re the first one they see, you’re the first one they get. Plus this puts you in the navigator position, and particularly at Eastern State, that can be pretty daunting. You’re the first one around every blind corner and the first bit of fresh meat they’ve seen in a few minutes, they are out to get you.

Yeah do you really want to be the one responsible for getting out of that?

2.NEVER BE THE LAST- So if you think you’re gonna hang in the back and watch your friends shit themselves for your amusement. You’re dead wrong. These people are professionals, they love the guy at the back, because he’s the chicken who wouldn’t go first, plus they have a few minutes to chase your sorry ass around before the next group comes so be prepared to make some new friends.

Don't worry they got your back...

3. NEVER GO ALONE- You stick out like a sore thumb, plus your bravery will be taken as a personal challenge to every freak in prosthetics. Plus you’ll probably get put with another group to expedite things and they WILL put your sorry ass in the front or the back.

Do you really feel like being alone with him?

4. NEVER GO IN A GROUP WITH SMALL CHILDREN- Particularly if they aren’t yours, generally speaking kids under 15 are going to get a bit of a free pass from the performers at the more extreme attractions, and they’ll even target the grown-ups worse for the kids’ amusement.

Yeah they'll pretty much do anything to you to make her smile again.

5.DON’T ACT LIKE A MACHO DOUCHEBAG- Again it’s the personal challenge thing. Plus everyone else in your party will laugh at you when you inevitably scream, the performers don’t like douche-bags either and will try as hard as they can to terrify you for their own amusement.

Don't do it

6. DON’T LOOK LIKE A DEER IN THE HEADLIGHTS- The more scared you look, the more scared you’ll get. If they think you’re an easy target they’re gonna go for you…BIG TIME. Small women with large boyfriends beware, they’re gunning for you, then they’re gunning for him.

Also they think nailbiting is gross

7. DON’T LAUGH, BE A SMART ASS OR OTHERWISE ANTAGONISE THE STAFF- Again they don’t like douche-bags and anything you do to distinguish you from the group will automatically get you special treatment. Like following you around and staring at you intently for twenty minutes kind of special treatment.

See what being cheeky gets you?

8. DON’T USE THE SAFE WORD- Many places do have them, if you’re going to an attraction that uses one, saying it will get you off the hook from a bad scare, but you’ll never hear the end of it…ever.

Not the person you'll be speaking to

9. DON’T STOP MOVING- If you stop, they have to try to make you move…guess how they do that.

That's right...flashing you

10. DON’T SAY ‘THAT WASN’T SCARY’- Not only because no one will believe you, but being dumb enough to say it immediately after exiting the show will result in someone who works there overhearing you and making you very, very sorry.

 

Just trust me

 

So now that we got that out of the way…none of these rules will do you a damn bit of good at Eastern State Penitentiary. First off, you aren’t going through in big groups, the way a lot of haunted houses work, so it was just me and Bright Dyke navigating our way through the seven sections that make up this charming little adventure, now given; you will see other people between sections and if you’re in a small group they may give you your staggered entrances a bit closer together, but unless you’re actually running through this thing 90% of the time it’s just you and the people you came with.

 

And there were only two of us.

 

Now given we were warned, sorta, by the guard at the gate; that it was extremely difficult to do this thing with two people. I wrote that off of course as just being another crowd warmer upper before we headed inside. I was wrong.

 

First off, if there’s only two of you; guess what:

 

One of you is the first and one of you is the last, and you’re so close together, you’re actually kind of both at once.

 

The smaller the group the more individual attention you get.

 

The more obvious it is that you’re a couple, the closer they will try to bring you.

 

Let it be known that Bright Dyke and I connected on a very deep, primal level tonight and not at all in a fun, naked way. Very much in a “If you let go of my hand I WILL NEVER SPEAK TO YOU AGAIN.”  Running, screaming through the dark kind of way.

 

I like to think it looked a little like this

 

The tour’s about an hour long if you don’t rush your way through the sections, that’s a long time for a haunted house (and makes the slightly higher than average price tag totally worth it) and while a fair portion of it (I’d say about fifteen minutes or so) is waiting in line to get portioned into the actual attractions; you really can’t let your guard down until you’re about a block away from this place.

 

So yeah, seven sections.

 

One of the really nice things about this place is that they use the building to their advantage so well. This is absolutely a themed haunted house, which gives the entire thing a very cohesive feel and really lets you get into the storyline they’re making you follow.

 

YARD OUT

 

They make you watch these guys on TV the horror has already begun!

This is essentially the second line you get on to go in, they give you a couple of minutes to be completely in awe of your surroundings, give you the strobe light/ pacemaker warnings and remind you to please not assault the staff if you lose your shit. While this is going on; much like the first line you were on, you’re getting pestered by people in really good makeup who are trying to get you in the mood for this thing.

 

THE GAUNTLET

 

Because that sounds good...

This is apparently a new section this year and this is where shit starts to get a bit more intense. I went first, because “You’re the butch dammit! Now act like it!” (*Author’s note: Bright Dyke would come to question whether or not she made the right decision here…) There were a ton of blind corners as you weave your way through the intake process for a prison. Don’t expect to come away learning anything about corrections here, they will make you pee yourself. The zombie guard dogs absolutely made me lose my shit, in front of god and everyone. I actually admitted, out loud that I was afraid of wolves…y’know right in front of the guy holding a chain with an animatronic rabid wolf on it. We can all guess how that ended right?

 

GODDAMN YOU NEVERENDING STORY!

 

LOCKED DOWN

 

Creeeeeeperrrr

This was by far my favorite part of the show; this is the first time you go into a cell block; everything else has been in the prison yard up to this point, it’s dark, the lighting’s perfect, the fog machine’s going and guess what…you’re in the middle of an undead prison riot. I don’t want to give anything away here; but I wouldn’t expect those bars to give you a whole lot of protection.

 

INFIRMARY

 

Don't worry, he'll take good care of you...

This was the best section in terms of productions values, the makeup is amazing, particularly a few performers that were made up to look like VERY realistic burn victims. I mean, all of this is jump scares, that’s what makes it fun, but when you get to the psych ward and things get really weird really fast, prepare for some prolonged encounters with people you wouldn’t want to see in broad daylight, walking through a field of daisies and singing folk songs.

 

THE EXPERIMENT: IN 3D! (DAMMIT!!!!!)

 

Dude you need to wash...

This is essentially what it’s probably like to go through heroin withdrawal, you’re sent into a black-lit room with glowing paint spattered everywhere and given a pair of 3D glasses (which of course were completely useless for me apart from blurring the lines of the walls to make it trippy…but Bright Dyke assures me the experience was enhanced by her new eyewear) this is where the inventiveness of this little production really shined. For the first and only part of the tour, the building isn’t the main backdrop and they manipulate the sets nicely to give you a few really good shocks, (including disembodied screaming heads and walls that bulge out) throw in what I’m sure is good 3D imagery and I will totally buy that it’s hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t.

 

NIGHT WATCH

 

Yeah...that's you...

Ok…this is the climax of our little game here and they REALLY give it to you for the ending (Bright Dyke came out of this a gibbering mess, I am proud to say that I did not panic, but did come out a bit worse for wear) they give you a tiny LED flashlight and send you through a PITCH BLACK cell block, that little keychain attachment you  have is your only source of light.

 

Yeah try not to be sad you can't see all of him...

Bright Dyke has informed me that I am allowed to say that she pretty much unequivocally lost her shit in this one. Prompting the two of us to go through this a bit faster than I had planned for, but I can’t say I’m really complaining.

 

It’s claustrophobic, it’s pitch dark, it is NOTHING BUT sharp corners and blind turns and there is not a lull in the festivities at all from beginning to end.

 

Plus again there's the 'which way are we going?' factor

The performers in this section are REALLY good and again they come very close to you, this is the only section of the show that we actually ran in, and I don’t mind telling you that I had to duck and weave a couple of times to avoid making contact

with performers who were not prepared for our accelerated rate of speed.

 

Or our escalated appreciation for good makeup work...

BREAK OUT

 

This is actually the logo, shouldn't there only be six hatch marks?

This one isn’t really a section as much as it is set dressing for the exit; after you’ve been to the gift shop and gotten a snack to replenish you from the adrenaline letdown, you can wander through the prison yard to the front gate at your leisure, just be prepared for a couple more jumps if you don’t look like you’ve been terrified enough.

 

And you won't

 

Final Thoughts

 

If you have the time, the means and the desire; GO. You will not regret it…ok you will but only for a couple of minutes. Even Bright Dyke, who needed deep fried Oreos to restore her spirits afterwards; had a really great time.

 

Though we skipped the salon...

It’s fun, it’s really well produced and if nothing else, Eastern State Penitentiary is worth knocking around for a night in October. The fact that the proceeds of the haunted house go to the upkeep of this amazing historic landmark is icing on the cake.

 

Come on guys...it's for a good cause

 

 

You’ll come out glad you went, just don’t expect to come out with your dignity intact.

 

 

 

 

LIKE THIS?

….yes….like that Wall Cat…

 

 

I win?

 

 

…sure…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your freaked Screamstress,

 

 

~Fright Dyke

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