Let's face it, Halloween will never be as cool as it was when you were a kid. Yes, as an adult you get the joy of slutty costumes and spending the evening drunk, but it's just not the same. Haunted houses aren't scary, costumes are lame and the parties are just cardboard decorations and people weeping quietly (your experiences there may vary).
Well, it turns out you just need to know where to go. There are some places where the true spirit of Halloween lives on in grand fashion ...
#5. Eastern State Penitentiary's Badass Haunted House
First, let's talk about the Halloween staple, the haunted house. Unless you're 12, you probably can't remember the last time you were actually scared at one of these. Sure, you might have been startled at one, when the guy with the hockey mask and toy chainsaw jumped out at you. But not scared. You're far too old and jaded to ever go running home to mommy because of some big building with cheesy horror decorations taped to the walls.
Now allow Pennsylvania to prove you wrong with Terror Behind the Walls. It's a Halloween attraction (talk about stretching a term) set in Eastern State Penitentiary, a goddamn bona fide haunted prison complex.
Once you enter, you can never leave (except through the gift shop).
Built in 1829, the ESP had a reputation as a pretty nightmarish place when it was operational -- a visiting Charles Dickens described it as "worse than any torture of the body."
"Although a lot of that is just Philadelphia."
And the people who ran the place were as insane as the environment -- they happily imprisoned and messed up prisoners as young as 12 and even goddamn dogs. Combine that with some fairly creative torture methods, such as "the mad chair," and it should come as no surprise that reports of paranormal activity on the site have been pretty abundant. And now, every Halloween, the long-closed penitentiary opens its doors to allow the public to revel in its arrested decay.
They've even kept some of the prisoners around on a steady diet of man flesh.
This, by the way, means the building is as abandoned as Chernobyl and about as well preserved, so it might be a good idea to make sure your Halloween costume includes a hard hat.
And maybe a dental dam.
The Terror Behind the Walls event is a "low gore" walk through the pants-shitting premises, with plenty of actual gory historical facts mixed with balls-out-insane ghost stories to go with the top-notch production values. It all adds up to the scariest Halloween event in America.
An honor taken last year by that terrible Rocky Horror episode of Glee.
Yeah, if you think you're too cool to be scared by masked actors chasing after you, you need to experience it happening while you're walking through the crumbling real-life equivalent of Arkham Asylum.
A haunted one.
This is why Batman has Robin -- bait.
And while we're on the subject of haunted houses ...
#4. Steampunk Haunted House: Through the Looking Glass
If you don't have a "clearly really haunted" prison to turn into a haunted house, you can still present a pretty kickass experience. All it takes is a high production value and a little style. For instance, there's the Steampunk Haunted House in New York.
It has so many advantages over its "fake blood and plastic skeletons" peers that it's almost unfair. First off, it's steampunk themed, which is creepy all by itself. Second, it's based on Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, the freakier sequel to the already pretty deranged Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
We're not sure what the label on her cupcake said, but we're not touching it.
And trust us, that unholy combination works. Until NASA finds a way to actually enter Wonderland through a steampunk Stargate, Third Rail Projects' Steampunk Haunted House: Through the Looking Glass remains as close as you'll come to Looking-Glass Land this side of American McGee's Alice. Third Rail's take on the Ye Olde Haunted House routine is basically a straight-up steampunk museum in a century-old playhouse decked out in a Wonderland theme. It focuses on only the darker themes of Carroll's work, and also all your favorite Alice characters and settings now look like this:
This is far more accurate than the Disney version ever was.
And while you do have a tour guide, his main function is, in true Carroll fashion, to deliberately get you lost, give you impossible tasks and turn off the lights just when you need them.
Adding to the insanity cake mix is the fact that the whole building is as deliberately nonsensical as New York housing law will allow. In short: Picture dropping acid before watching the animated Alice in Wonderland, and you'll have a fraction of an idea what you're in for.
Taking acid before visiting the Steampunk Haunted House ends with either the morgue or a bestselling children's novel.
#3. Halloween at the House on the Rock
So as you can see, the best Halloween hangouts are the kind of places that are terrifying year-round. Which brings us to House on the Rock, aka The Most Insane Place in America.
Architect Alex Jordan Sr. and his son Alex Jordan Jr. started building House on the Rock as a way to get back at Frank Lloyd Wright, who thought Jordan Sr. was a hack and kicked him out of his art school. We can tell Senior took this a bit personally, because he immediately started planning and building the most mind-bending house his peculiar architectural style could come up with -- in the vicinity of Wright's own house in Wisconsin. Then, the son turned the house's rooms into loosely themed crap exhibitions and proceeded to live his life in seclusion like a poor man's Howard Hughes.
In terms of taint-curling horror and giant sea monsters, he was as rich as creosote.
Every single inch of the House on the Rock is a horror movie waiting to happen. Let's begin with the Infinity Room, which juts out 218 feet for no other reason than to mess with your head.
Well this just seems infinitely unscary.
The terrifying part is that the room is quite high from the ground and has no supports underneath. Here's the outside:
When you enter the Infinity Room, you're essentially walking a 200-foot long plank, hoping against hope that Jordan Sr. (who, remember, was laughed out of the profession by one of the most influential architects in history) had his shit together.
Speaking of which, let's take a look at the other rooms. The house features several "exhibitions," with all exhibits out in the open and contributing to the peculiar smell of rot that permeates the building. One room gives us what is allegedly the world's largest indoor carousel.
Or at least the largest possessed carousel.
Another features a frozen orchestra of mannequins.
No music. Just a steady stream of muffled coughs and far-off screams.
There's a circus room ...
... a room full of organs ...
All completely unplayable by the hands of man.
... an indoor old-timey street that brings to mind the Rapture ...
"Those hats belong to the previous occupants. They left rather suddenly."
... and another orchestra, only these are controlled by invisible robots, because everything is better with robots.
Wow. That's just ... wow. It's as if they've taken everything even remotely sinister in life and put them under the same roof to bear upon the wary visitor.
And then there's the Halloween parties. Last year, for instance, the House on the Rock hosted a costume contest (judged by Neil Gaiman), and the winners got to ride that enormous carousel. Although, as evidenced by their disclaimer on Facebook, this is not necessarily a reward -- the riders are specifically told not to bring "open flames, weapons, smoke and sharp projections" and that "as the carousel was not meant to be ridden, there are sharp claws, fragile appendages, etc."
So, it's a carousel with sharp claws that was not meant to be ridden, and you're specifically told not to take weapons with you? There is no way you're getting out with your soul intact.
Or your lunch.