Eastern State Penitentiary holds terror show

It’s probably a fair assumption that most Americans have been to some sort of “haunted house,” whether it be a rinky-dink setup at someone’s house during Halloween, or something as large as Philadelphia’s world-famous Eastern State Penitentiary.

For fans of fear, Eastern State Penitentiary’s “Terror Behind the Walls” is an absolute must. It’s a haunted house setup – as in, attendees venture their way through various scary attractions and obstacles.

But it’s also so much more. It is set up inside (and outside) of a 184-year-old historical structure, one that had housed, from 1829 until it’s closure in 1971, more than a century of some of the nation’s worst and most insane criminals – notably Al Capone from 1929-30.

Even for the paranormally skeptical, that’s a pretty disturbing backdrop for a haunted house … or prison, rather.

Terror Behind the Walls, or TBTW, is not a new attraction. Run by the Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, TBTW began in 1995. The proceeds help the organization preserve the historical landmark.

According to easternstate.org, TBTW is the single largest source of revenue for the historic site.

Many people have visited the haunted attraction over the years, but each year the sights and frights are different and improved. Organizers are claiming 2013 is the scariest and goriest season to date.

The prison opens its gates for Terror Behind the Walls event at about 7 p.m. and it runs until about 11. On a recent Saturday night, energy and apprehension was high.

Constant screams echoed from inside the dark cement walls. Creepy undead penitentiary staff, complete with gory makeup, wandered around the line, keeping people scared as they waited.

Once inside – after, of course, attendees sign a waiver – the screaming doesn’t stop. It’s non-stop terror, one surprise after the next. And when you think it’s over, it keeps going and going.

Arguably the infirmary part is the creepiest: insane doctors and patients hide in every corner, patients in electroshock therapy that seems too real, and bizarre experiments all make you feel like you’re on the set of the 1999 version of “House on Haunted Hill” or perhaps “Shutter Island.”

Also, for the first time, TBTW gave attendees the option of being actually lightly touched and grabbed by the monsters and undead inmates. If you dare choose to do so, you were marked with a bloody X on your cheek. Attendees being grabbed and pulled away into a trap door in the wall by an inmate wasn’t unusual.

“Those who opt in for true interactivity may be grabbed, held back, sent into hidden passageways, removed from their group, and even occasionally incorporated into the show. They will deal with the consequences of their decision through six long attractions,” the website states.

Terror Behind the Walls is not to be missed for fans of fear and seekers of terror. Though, it’s certainly not for the faint-of-heart.

For more information, visit www.easternstate.org/faq.