A visit to the Scarehouse—and its creepy, adults-only basement

Every year, The Scarehouse, 10 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh, puts on what many locals consider the best Halloween haunted house-type show in the region--with USA Today and Yahoo both ranking it among America's best. This year, I headed over to check it out, and received a highly-polished and extremely scary experience--and a backstage tour! Here, a makeup artist turns a performer's face into a gruesome work of art.

Here's one of the classic spooks: hardly a taster, especially given what they've got going on in the basement. It's the 120 actors, artists, technicians and staffers who make the Hollywood-quality sets, characters and special effects hit home. And it takes all year to plan the next fall's event.

Not far ahead, a not-so-classic spook--a horrific, 7 foot puking baby--ups the ante. The trip is divided into three acts: one themed around the pre-war history of the area, packed with unsettling 1920s-era toys and haunts, another around a modern-day zombie infestation, and a third around a creepy Christmas nightmare.

The design of the Scarehouse is all about small, cramped rooms that leave the visitor stumbling in the dark, from one haunt to the next. Here's a bathroom that needs a deep clean, deep within what used to be the Etna, Pennsylvania, Elks Lodge. Dating to 1915, the vast, imposing structure makes a perfect venue.

The Scarehouse's Margee Kerr leads the way to Creepo's Christmas, a 3D dimensional mindfuck created using ultraviolet paints. The visitor dons polarized glasses, creating a disorienting experience that mixes old-timey carnival with neon cyberpunk colors.

The zombie breakout has happend: in Pittsburgh, as expected. Beware the YNZR virus! The Scarehouse runs through halloween, but it's already popular: be sure to reserve a time slot to avoid long lines.

Landmark diner Primanti Brothers agreed to become local fodder for biohazard horror at the Scarehouse. Here, one is served something even nastier than its trademark fry-stuffed coleslaw sandwiches.

The most spectacular attraction this year was the newly-opened, adults-only Basement, where individual visitors receive the singular attentions of a range of nightmarish crazies and supernatural creeps. It was intense and physical: those opting for the experience must sign an agreement acknowledging they will be verbally abused, sniffed, dirtied, groped, pushed and dragged through near pitch-darkness.

The overwhelming assault begins from the outset, with the noisome scent of burning sage and a gollum-like gatekeeper laying his hands upon you. He, at least, was still more comforting than the average trip through the TSA gate at Dallas. Things soon took a turn for the worse, though--just as the waiver promised.

Without spoiling the journey, let me say that it was the most terrifying and amazing improv exercise I've ever experienced in my life. The actors and scenarios are fantastic, especially the “Happy” ending, which comes courtesy of a sexy psycho clown with anger management issues. Do I like having my hair pulled? Don't mind if you do.

I asked about the strangest things they got bills for. They sent me this list.

1. Boar's urine.
2. KY jelly.
3. Horse bits.
4. Adult diapers.
5. A bloody telly tubby (The "Terror tubby")
6. 20 pairs of hand cuffs.
7. 4000 keys.
8. A posture collar.
9. Bloody premade body parts including feed, hands, heads and a torso.
10. Many gallons of perma blood.

Never leaving home without my fitness watch, I was also able to track my heart rate and calorie burn through each attraction. The Scarehouse took me to 121 bmp, and burned 68 calories through the 20-minute experience. The Basement took me to 140 bpm, burned 140 calories, and lasted half an hour.

Tickets to the Scarehouse and the Scarehouse Basement are available at the official website. Here's one of their marketing videos, a good taster of the show.