Nightmares…

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Pennhurst Asylum – 2014

Pennhurst Asylum in Spring City PA is an indoor walk through haunt located on the grounds of the long abandoned and dilapidated Pennhurst State School. Their tagline “The Fear is Real” is all too appropriate as the facility itself has a very long and troubled history, and looks like something straight off the screen from a high end horror film.

Pennhurst includes 3 indoor walk-through haunts and the Ghost Hunt (no scare) historical tour. The attraction begins moments after turning off the main road as the entry lane is a long, rough, winding, hilly, overgrown access road through the woods that easily sets most passengers and drivers on edge. While it’s a fantastic drive in, anyone on a motorcycle should take caution.  Upon arrival at the free grass parking lot, there is a fire and floodlight illuminated walk through the woods prior to arrival at the darkened main entry. Most of our group was on edge well before even arriving at the ticket booth. As with most larger Pro Haunts, there are separate lines for VIP tickets, online ticketing, and on site purchases. Purchasing online is a time saver, and VIP is a good option on a busy night at Pennhurst pulls in huge crowds on October weekends.

Pro Tip: Because it is a highly interactive haunt, Pennhurst uses metal detectors to ensure the safety of patrons and their actors. Leave anything metal other than your keys in the car, it’s a LONG walk to the parking lot and back again.

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The show begins with Pennhurst Asylum in the upper floors of the Admin building, and continues to the Dungeon of Lost Souls in the basement of the same building. Finally the Tunnel Terror is a seemingly endless walk in a concrete tunnel under the grounds of the facility. In queue for the asylum roaming actors dressed as doctors nurses and patients keep the crowd entertained. Two clever photo booths as well as a fire performer are situated just prior to entry into the Asylum.

All three attractions are filled with highly interactive actors who all have their own jobs or reasons for being a patient at the asylum. While there are certainly startle scares, most actors have lines much more clever than “boo” or “Get out”. The most impressive though is the facility itself, so much eye candy as the facility is an actual old building filled with artifacts from it’s time as a state school.

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The creativity within these walls goes to the extremes as Pennhurst is not afraid of controversial content and pushing it’s patrons further than most other attractions. Hilarious scares such as the rapid fire maternity ward brought about just as many laughs as scares, but the humane use of live animals, allowing actors to touch and grab patrons and doing so unseen from all angles, as well as illusions that make patrons question what exactly they are seeing are all elements that really set Pennhurst apart from the crowd.

Particularly notable is that all three shows stick to the common theme of what the place was, is, and could turn into in your nightmares. While there are a few creatures in the Tunnel Terror, rightfully so as underground tunnels do tend to make nice habitats for unwanted critters, squatters, and the like, the characters all fit in, as well as the patrons who are welcomed as new inmates who are of great interest to the inhabitants, not just as unwanted visitors.

I will admit to one slight gripe, technical in nature, which was an excess of fog in some parts of the Dungeon of Lost Souls. It just felt a shame to miss out on so much eye candy. Most of the time haunts use fog to hide lack of detail or to hide actors in plain sight, but neither were at all necessary here as the scenery is amazing and the actors skilled enough not to need to hide. It’s possible a fog machine just went rogue, but it did seem excessive at times and a bit out of place.

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After the 3 haunted attractions, there’s still plenty to do at the courtyard a snack bar with occasional actor visits was good for a snack with a laugh, as well as two new additions, the dollar scare booth and the coffin ride. The two dollar scare kiosks allow patrons to view CCTV cameras inside the attraction and trigger an automated scare via button for a dollar. A genius and fun add on for any haunt. The Coffin ride is set in a beautiful cemetery with two coffins available, a single and a double wide for two. Once inside, the motion controlled coffin has a sound system inside which plays back a pre-recorded show so that patrons hear, feel, and smell what goes on outside the coffin as the show progresses. The sensation of movement is surprisingly convincing when synced with the soundtrack, and best of all your friends can watch your experience via night vision cameras installed inside of each coffin.

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All in all, Pennhurst Asylum remains at the top of the game for the Philadelphia area and Mid Atlantic region in general. Their beautiful facility, progressive haunt techniques, and skilled actors make for a top notch experience. Just be sure to arrive early or come on a weeknight or Sunday to avoid the long lines that come along with any top notch haunt.

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