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Location:  1205 Commonwealth Dr, Spring City, PA 19475

Website: http://www.pennhurstasylum.com

Introduction

Pennhurst Asylum (Pennhurst), Spring City, PA, is designed quite simply to create unapologetic fear. For such a mainstream, popular haunted attraction, it is refreshing to see an overall design that does not stray away from its thematic goal of terrorizing each guest. From an already ominous, must-see property, each of the three attractions has perfected the art of utilizing adult themes, Hollywood style special effects to create diverse styles of fear, from physical to deeply psychological horror. Perhaps no other attraction overall creates such an intense level of apprehension yet balances out the performance with moments of levity and creativity like Pennhurst, where the “Fear” is at times very “Real.” Pennhurst, from a design standpoint, could comfortably rest upon the reality of its environment but does not use this a creative crutch. Every single room, hallway, and corner is creatively detailed with some of the most exquisite set designs in the industry. Despite creative liberties taken with parts of the property, none of the scenes feel “out of place” and a particular flow certainly exists within the original context of each defined attraction. From life-like “frozen” morgue to a terrifying hallway in which actors played a creepy game of “knock-knock” every single scene is perfectly planned and executed to generate genuine reactions.

Pennhurst is absolutely terrifying this season and the actors exuberate pure intensity. Actors are twisted by design, aggressive, and some slightly off-color, but work their asses off to engage each customer and play out their ghoulish scenes almost entirely. Pennhurst employs a more “mature” adult-themed approach to scares, featuring a cast of the insane “characters” that will touch, will feed off reactions, and will work tirelessly to create memorable moments. From evil nurses “forcing” medication into demonic patients to massive scare-actors slamming helpless “doctors” into walls, there is a distinct level of aggression in each scene, which builds constant tension and fear.

Despite large crowds and popularity, the actors help pace each group, separate guests, and even hold some at “hostage” in this full-contact experience. Several mad doctors blocked our passageways, one put us against a wall, and each performed so flawlessly it created a sense of panic. In other instances, hulking, massive actors violently assaulted their counterparts into walls, onto surgical tables, while others seemed to hang from the sky in scenes of chaos that are the norm at Pennhurst Asylum. Pennhurst Asylum’s show this season is unforgettable, the interactions we had with the insane “scare-actors” and the overall genuinely terrifying set design has left an impact on how we view “mainstream” haunted attractions. Pennhurst Asylum focuses on “fear” first, and we will never forget the level of apprehension felt as we moved throughout the tunnel system to the sounds of two stalking actors playing a simple game of “knock-knock” as they had us at their “mercy.” Even the familiar scenes such as the tunnel of “catacombs” embraced a heightened sense of fear, submerging us in periods of complete darkness, then exposing our eyes to red lights creating such moments of tension that are hard to describe unless experienced on a personal level.

Pennhurst Asylum’s design is thematically diverse yet interconnected, and a minor backstory exists, which explains the more fantastical elements (containment unit, sci-fi themed rooms, etc.), however, where the attraction truly excels in terms of design is its simple yet effective ability to hide the unseen. The rotting grounds of the former Pennhurst State School are creepy enough, and the urban decay, graffiti, and smells of the rotting building are the perfect backdrop for a horror-filled experience. Pennhurst’s design team augments this innate “fear factor” by effectively using different lighting effects from slow strobe lights to deep shades of red, juxtaposed with heavy use of theatrical fog to create at times a feeling of being lost in “hell” and perhaps in a real-life nightmare.

Attractions

Pennhurst Asylum features four attractions (three core attractions and one self-guided “tour”), three which are a part of the actual haunt and the fourth a self-guided tour through what is reported to be one of the most “haunted” buildings on the campus. Each attraction is purposed to have a different “theme,” but overall, the flow of the haunt is rather seamless with each attraction leading into the next.

Pennhurst Asylum is a challenging property to manage and requires extensive teamwork from all staff members to maintain safety, as well as protect what is left of the campus. Parking attendants, guides, and security are all charming and professional, which is key to ongoing success when managing such a complicated attraction.

Pennhurst Asylum (Administration Building)

Pennhurst Asylum (Old Administration Building) is an aggressive, nonstop chaotic entry into an insane nightmare. Significant changes have been undertaken to not only lengthen the first portion of the haunt but to darken the atmosphere. Gone is any semblance of a “storyline,” and in its place is constant aggression, which may not be for every haunt fan. Pennhurst Asylum presents a show that makes a statement; this is an in your face attraction that this is not a “friendly” haunted house. The attraction retains much of the previous scene designs featured over the past several seasons, and each scene is exceptionally detailed, featuring rooms of violence and scenes that are almost too gruesome to view. No two rooms are alike, and at times Pennhurst Asylum feels more like a demented funhouse rather than an abandoned hospital facility. While on our journey, we witnessed the birth of a possessed “baby,” walked on the edge of a cliff, entered into the abandoned morgue, and had a disturbing encounter with a nurse who offered “feces” to each guest.

Throughout the asylum, we were touched, “sneezed on,” asked to become participants in dark experiments, and viciously grabbed as we progressed through each horror filled the room. The quality of acting, coupled with an unparalleled set design makes this attraction stand out amongst others. Animatronics and props distract from the actors who will touch and try to do everything to disturb. Intense scare acting and a rapid pace are portrayed throughout the entire journey, with a finale that is both physically and psychologically exhausting. While there are not many defined “characters” in the haunt, these actors make you believe they are insane. There is passion in their performances and create chaos throughout the attraction. Furthermore, the use of theatrical fog, interactive moments with cast members along the lengthy hallways helped manage lines and kept us in a small group. Unlike previous seasons where we felt as though Pennhurst focused more on pumping people into the attraction, we were given a more intimate, close to the action show, which greatly enhanced the fear-factor this longstanding core attraction.

The Morgue

“The Morgue,” which opened last season, is one of the most theatrical, creative attractions at Pennhurst, with some of the most impressive set designs you will likely ever see in a haunted attraction. Once again, the attraction balances “reality” with “fiction” using old, abandoned hospital remnants with the latest in “scare-technology” from frozen bodies to bodies preserved in odd-tubes, the presentation, and development of the attraction is first-class. “The Morgue” plays on one’s senses, from frozen bodies, to “incineration” the fear of death is played up upon during this attraction. Rooms submerged in “steam,” heavy use of theatrical fog effects and outright crazy scare-actors that look almost EXACTLY like their “prop” counterparts create a terrifying but brief experience. We only wish “The Morgue” was a little longer as the level of detail and overall fun generated by this attraction is second to none.

Containment

The former “Tunnel Terror” attraction, has been re-christened as” Containment,” and has evolved into perhaps the most terrifying of the three “core attractions” featured at Pennhurst Asylum.  Major scenes of the original attraction known as “Tunnel Terror” exist, such as the extensive “catacombs” and extended hallways illuminated by slow strobe lights creating a constant sense of paranoia. Scientific mutations and almost “post-apocalyptic” effects have been added to the extensive “tunnel system” which matches perfectly with a theme of “trapping” lost souls within the confines of the Pennhurst property. By building in brief storyline moments and allowing “scare-actors” to interact with guests, the sci-fi themed futuristic “cryogenic research” facility makes complete sense within the context of a larger storyline. Guests now must escape this technologically advanced series of chambers that transform the asylum into a futuristic facility that spares no expense in its creative design with massive props and detailed set pieces that transform the tunnels into fallout-inspired shelters. “Containment” balances the “new” with the “traditional” at Pennhurst, utilizing the already sinister tunnel-system to create moments of apprehension and fear. Being lost in complete darkness, guided by a slow strobe light and taunting actors is quite the terrifying experience and one that is embraced throughout this attraction.

Mayflower After Dark

The fourth attraction is a self-guided tour through the Mayflower Building and once again features a small museum and chance to take pictures of the abandoned building.  Not really a “haunted” attraction the Mayflower Building is reportedly paranormally active.

The Final Word

Pennhurst Asylum is a must-see haunted attraction and the opportunity to visit one of the most infamous, reportedly haunted locations on Earth. Over the past several years, the long-abandoned Pennhurst State School has new life as a site for paranormal research and a long-running haunted attraction. Furthermore, the property has been featured on a variety of popular paranormal television shows, such as “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures.”  Despite its popularity as a haunted attraction, controversy has surrounded Pennhurst Asylum since its inception. Last season, a sudden management change left the attraction scrambling to open, and this season is the first year a new operation team has had the chance to leave their true mark on the historical, yet infamous property.

When visiting haunted attractions, we often try to emphasize the quality of the “environment” or “atmosphere” created as a part of the design process. Pennhurst Asylum does not need to worry about this category, as no other haunted attraction, can property compare to the realism of this rotting campus. The walk to the haunt itself is downright creepy, a haunting mix of architectural beauty coupled with urban decay that creates an ominous tone, a perfect backdrop for a horror attraction. Vile smells and a sense of fear permeate the air as one cautiously explores the chilling remains of the Pennhurst State School. As these buildings become victims of time, it is likely that they will succumb to the ravages of being exposed to the elements. It would behoove you to visit this property while you can to explore this iconic property.

Pennhurst’s three core attractions each have diverse themes but have an overall general structural and thematic design that ensures sensible flow and creates an absolute continuity in the presentation. Scene and set design itself are enhanced by the overall “atmosphere” of the haunted attraction as perhaps no other haunt in the country can lay claim to the “reality” associated with environmental design featured at Pennhurst. Somehow the creative and developmental teams have successfully been able to balance “fantasy” with “reality” at Pennhurst, transforming the portions of the property used to embrace diverse themes while maintaining a core underlying “reality” focus that creates a sense of tension throughout the show. No other mainstream haunted attraction has genuinely embraced its commitment to creating genuine “fear” like Pennhurst, and while there are moments of levity, this is a “scare-first” driven show.

For those who have visited Pennhurst Asylum regularly, many of the attractions will, at first glance, feel familiar, but little changes and additions to each create an almost entirely new, intense experience. Extensive changes were made to the “Morgue” attraction, and upgrades to “Containment” added a new sense of energy to each attraction. While structurally mainly the same, the execution of the haunt has taken on a darker, more aggressive tone. Pennhurst Asylum is not a haunt for those who cannot handle a taste of the extreme, as each attraction is pure chaos. Pennhurst Asylum is pure fear, no such attraction has embraced its environment, and combines theatrical scare-acting with disturbing imagery to create an intense experience that has left us once again speechless!

 

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