October 23, 2015 by Matthew Coakley
If you’re looking to experience true terror this Halloween season, look no further than Philadelphia’s own Eastern State Penitentiary. Presented by Lukoil, “Terror Behind the Walls” is an interactive haunted house held within the confines of a deserted prison. The hour-long tour is divided into six sections, two of which are newly-added for the 2015 season: Breakout and Quarantine 4-D. Each section of the prison features hundreds of props, sound and light effects, and an abundant cast of actors garnished in realistic special effects makeup. Perhaps its most advantageous asset is that the Eastern State Penitentiary is an actual National Historic Landmark, providing the most authentic of settings for a haunted house.
At the beginning of the tour, participants are given the option to wear glow-in-the-dark necklaces which let the actors know that they are allowed to touch you or pull you away from your group. Lockdown, the first section of the tour, takes you through the cellblocks where real prisoners stayed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and even exhibits the cell of infamous American gangster Al Capone. The actors, dressed like prisoners, are very convincing in their portrayal of deranged criminals. Hysterical outbursts and banging sounds from the cells resonate throughout the halls and build tension as you pass through.
Detritus, the outside portion of the tour, showcases the decaying courtyard of the building and highlights death row. Actors dressed from head to toe in camouflage are virtually invisible among all the overgrown foliage. Through a seemingly endless labyrinth, groups are led inside to face the next section of the frightening excursion: the Machine Shop. Surrounded by rusted chains and strange metal contraptions, the group stumbles through an abandoned industrial work area. The Infirmary, the fourth of the six sections, is a nightmarish excursion into the depths of the prison’s infirmary wing. Gory zombie nurses crawl the area along with undead patients in the morgue.
While one of the new additions, Breakout, is remarkably similar to the Lockdown section, Quarantine 4-D is like nothing I have ever experienced. You are given 3-D glasses and led through a disorienting frenzy of colors, mirrors and 3-D images. There are dizzying optical illusions that make it seem like the rooms are spinning. This area quickly transitions from fascinating to terrifying when you start to notice creepy-looking clowns lurking at the edge of your vision. After those who manage to survive escape, they are escorted to an obligatory gift shop where they are left to reflect on the petrifying experience that is “Terror Behind the Walls.”
“Terror Behind the Walls” is definitely the most creepy and well thought-out haunted house attraction I have ever been to. Apart from the naturally eerie setting of the Eastern State Penitentiary, one thing that stood out to me was the quality of the staff. Not only was I impressed by the number of actors and the quality of their costumes, but also how immersed they were in their roles. I would recommend “Terror Behind the Walls” to anyone and everyone this Halloween season — if you think you can handle it.