STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Like a monster you can’t see coming, Terror Behind the Walls is jumping out of the shadows.
Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, which by itself should give you the creeps for its appearances on ghost hunter TV shows, will open its annual haunted house theatrical production select evenings through Nov. 5.
Is Eastern State really haunted?
Built in 1829 as a true “penitentiary” — meaning a prison designed to instill regret in the hearts of prisoners — reports by officers and inmates of mysterious visions and eerie experiences started getting documented in the 1940s.
Today, approximately 60 paranormal teams visit in a typical year. See www.easternstate.org/ghosts.
Sounds like the perfect place for a haunted house.
Terror Behind the Walls begins with a critical decision: to explore the prison and watch the action, or open yourself up to fully interact with the denizens of the cellblocks?
Those who opt for full interactivity may be grabbed, held back, sent into hidden passageways and even separated from their group. Like being in the middle of a horror movie, they will deal with the consequences of their decision through six attractions.
“Lock Down,” “Machine Shop,” “Detritus,” “Infirmary,” “Quarantine 4D” and “Break Out.”
There’s a new twist on “Lock Down” this year. Those entering the façade of Cellblock 12 will discover the rioting inmates and panicked guards of seasons past have been slaughtered, and you might be next.
There’s also something called “The Hex Challenge.” At the beginning of each of the attractions, you enter a secret room and are dared to step further into the story, to become part of the action, to take on challenges, to join forces with zombies and hopefully escape. It requires an additional fee, and you have to go to www.terrorbehindthewalls.com to get it.
Oh, and the two final show nights, Nov. 4 and 5, are “REMIX: Lights Out,” when the show will be in complete darkness, and all you have is a single glowstick leading the way.
How do they do all this?
Terror Behind the Walls features sets, animatronics and custom-designed soundtracks within the Gothic walls of the prison. The production team has 14 makeup artists that spend almost three hours preparing the cast of more than 200 performers each evening.
When can I check this out?
Hours are 7 to 11 p.m. Fridays Sept. 16 to 30, Sept. 17, Oct. 2, Wednesdays and Thursdays Oct. 12-20, Oct. 18 and Halloween (tickets are $25 at the door these nights); 7 p.m. to midnight Sept. 24, Oct. 1 and 7, Sundays Oct. 9 to 30, Oct. 14 and Nov. 5 (tickets are $30 at the door these nights); 7 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Oct. 8, 21 and 28 (tickets are $45 at the door these nights); 6:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Saturdays Oct. 15 to 29 (tickets are $50 at the door these nights); and 7 to 11 p.m. Oct. 24 to 27 and Nov. 4 (tickets are $30 at the door these nights).
Should I get tickets online?
Going to www.easternstate.org/buynow will ensure that you don’t run into the disappointment of a sellout.
You need to go online to get the special Sunday half-price admission for kids 7 to 12 that’s good till 7:30 p.m. On these nights, kids can say, “Monster be good,” and they will (however, even these Family Nights may be too intense for some). Another online exclusive is Student Nights with half-price admission after 7:30 p.m. Sundays.
Where is Eastern State Penitentiary?
It’s the castle-like building at 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue. But do not go there directly. Parking for Terror Behind the Walls will be at the Philadelphia Zoo’s parking garage at 3500 W. Girard Ave., Philadelphia. A Ghost Bus shuttle takes visitors from the zoo to the penitentiary and back. Budget enough time to arrive at the Ghost Bus parking lot 30 minutes before the time listed on your tickets. Parking is $13 online or $20 at the box office. The buses loop every show night from 6 p.m. until 30 minutes past the close of the show.