The 5 Scariest Halloween Experiences in the U.S.

Words: John Gaudiosi
Photo: Courtesy of Scarehouse

Halloween is just around the corner, but it’s never too early to get scared. 

Everyone from theme parks to actual haunted houses are open for business, ready to capitalize on the national pastime of being scared. In fact, some haunted themed attractions are open year-round, which makes sense given that Hollywood tries to scare audiences every month with horror films.

Given that there are different levels of scares, this list includes some haunts that are for most readers. But we’ve also thrown in one that’s so intense, you have to sign multiple waivers and show proof of health insurance before they’ll even accept you on their 27,000 person-long waiting list.

© YouTube / The ScareHouse

Halloween Horror Nights: Universal Studios Orlando and Hollywood

Scares are on-going at both the Florida and Los Angeles theme parks, at least through Halloween. While there’s some overlap between the parks with similar giant themed haunted houses from American Horror Story: Hotel, The Exorcist, Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, each park also has exclusive attractions. And every one of the haunted houses features an original maze, year after year.

According to T.J. Mannarino, senior director of entertainment, art and design for Universal Orlando, the “must see” attraction this year is The Repository, a hybrid live action story-driven four person experience that includes 10 minutes of virtual reality scares baked into the maze. The supernatural storyline sends a team of four in search of a key that unlocks a portal between our world and the other side.

“Virtual reality is a different style of show, where it’s a little more theater and mystery rather than the high-intensity scares of our nine haunted house experiences,” Mannarino said. “It’s also a longer experience at 30 minutes, which is twice the length of our haunted house soundstages.”

While it’s not as scary as some of the haunted houses in the theme park, it’s a very cool interactive experience in which the “scaractors” are constantly working off the guests. It’s also a look at the future of scares – in virtual reality.


© Courtesy of Scarehouse

ScareHouse: Pittsburgh, PA

Theme parks don’t have the exclusive on frights. ScareHouse takes place in an actual 100-year-old haunted building, which serves as the home to frightful experiences that are built from the ground up every year by a staff of 150 people. Scott Simmons, the mastermind behind this attraction, has concocted a trio of new scares that fill 20,000 square feet of the huge warehouse.

“I’ve noticed that more and more haunted attractions are playing it safe and avoiding certain topics and characters involving demons, witchcraft and Satanism, which is completely confounding to me,” Simmons said. “A haunted house, just like a good horror movie, should allow you to confront what scares you the most. Infernal is one of two new attractions we’re premiering this year and it’s packed with demon possessions, arcane rituals, and a very dark and twisted finale that’s heavily influenced by the works of Clive Barker and HP Lovecraft.”

In addition to Infernal, there’s the 1932-set horror experience, The Summoning, the killer clowns nightmare Nocturnia, and also an adults-only (18 or older) The Basement. A waiver is required before one or two people enter that experience, which includes touching, restraining, and a much deeper level of interaction with the actors.


© Courtesy of Scarehouse 

The Dent Schoolhouse: Cincinnati, Ohio

This haunted house is set in an old schoolhouse that was the site of an urban legend involving a murderous janitor, Charlie McFee, who allegedly killed a number of children between 1942 and 1955. School can be scary enough, without needing horror masters like Josh Wells, Chuck Stross and Bud Stross to turn this ghost story into a reality year after year at Halloween.

Not touched since the 1950s, the decrepit school tells the story of McFee and the children he murdered. There are over 50 actors involved in the attraction, which has a deep backstory that includes online stories about the legend. The Strosses said they took an idea that was already talked about in the local area and turned it into a live action horror movie thrill ride. With people waiting in line for over three hours for the annual attraction, the owners of the schoolhouse have added a second scare next door called the Queen City Slaughter Yard, which is haunted by mad butchers wearing pig masks.

© Courtesy of Scarehouse

The Trilogy of Terror: Las Vegas, NV 

Sin City is the perfect backdrop for Halloween. In addition to the many parties and concerts in October, there are also three haunted experiences from Freakling Bros. Horror Shows. The Gates of Hell is an R-rated (17 or older) journey that requires a waiver and involves verbal abuse, touching, and even groping, by the actors paid to scare visitors. This maze even includes a room where all visitors will be electrically shocked (for how long depends on how fast you run). Freakling Bros. co-owner J.T. Mollner said all of the best horror movies were R-rated, so he wanted to deliver those types of scares in a haunted house. The other two houses seem tame in comparison, offering frights aimed at the broader audience. The Coven of 13 explores witchcraft, warlocks and black magic, while Castle Vampyre brings the undead to life.

McKamey Manor: San Diego, CA

Not only do you have to be 21 or older and sign a waiver, but proof of health insurance and a psych evaluation are mandatory just to be placed on the massive waitlist for McKamey Manor. The horror takes place inside the real-life house of creator Russ McKamey.

The Navy vet enlists Marines and other former vets to serve as actors in his horror boot camp, which involves extreme terror situations like being soaked in fake blood, submerged in cages underwater, thrown in a clothes dryer, and locked in coffins and tight spaces with live cockroaches and tarantulas. The year-round experience constantly changes (not just annually, but every time) and the horror can last from four to eight hours straight. McKamey said guests are pushed mentally and physically to extremes, but those who survive become part of an elite group and wear the experience like a badge of honor.

Before guests are duct taped and kidnapped (which is usually how the experience begins), they’re given a safe word. And most people end up using it. While other extreme haunts can charge an arm and a leg for admission, McKamey only asks for dog food to be donated to Operation Greyhound. 

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