Houses of the Unholy: A Guide

We score the gore at five Philadelphia-area haunted houses

2200 South Swanson Street, Philadelphia; 215-33-GHOST;
$25 general admission

THE SCENE: Hidden in an aging industrial lot with a creep factor all its own, this place could very well be haunted. Homicidal lunchladies and undead students mutter and writhe while self-flagellating lunatics trail you through narrow halls.
THE SCARE FACTOR: 4 out of 5. These ghosts will not hesitate to speak their minds: Their screams are truly blood-curdling and chilling taunts are personalized for their targets. Fear becomes physical when you attempt to walk through a spinning ghost-infested tunnel. You’ll lose your bearings trying to make it through this one.
THE KIDDIE FACTOR: Don’t be surprised if, hours after visiting the Fright Factory, your tots awake shaking. Also, this attraction seems to be particularly popular with the rowdy teenagers. Fill up the Caravan and buckle up the car seats at your own risk.


22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue; 215-763-6483;
$20 weeknights, $25 Friday and Sunday, $30 Saturday

THE SCENE: The architecture of Philadelphia’s historic penitentiary creates a haunting backdrop as you encounter ghostly prisoners plotting their escape or threatening to maim visitors. Don’t look to the prison guards for help for they, too, have gone beserk.
THE SCARE FACTOR: 3.5 out of 5. A waiver that must be signed by every visitor before entering adds to the fear factor. In addition to killer animatronics and unsettling sound effects, the 3D skull-and-bones-studded catacombs were a treat. You will find your mind playing tricks on you as you travel through dark, fog-filled passageways lit only by a small personal LED flashlight.
THE KIDDIE FACTOR: Children under 7 are not admitted and the layout is rather extensive, possibly requiring some parental assistance at times. Kids 7 through 12 are encouraged to visit on Family Nights, when the ghouls may be tamed by saying “Monster be good!”


V2200 West Drive, 422 Business Center, Oaks; 610-666-0600;
$15 admission, four for $55

THE SCENE: Located in the back of Arnold’s in what used to be a B. F. Goodrich locker room, this haunt begins with a rickety, broken down elevator. The attendant demands that you take the stairs and continue down the hall, but prepare to be scared!
THE SCARE FACTOR: 3.5 out of 5. Blaring horns and lasers, black lights and shooting air make for fear-inducing special effects, in addition to spooky animatronics and a host of ghoulish actors, as you wander past bloodied sinks and showers.
THE KIDDIE FACTOR: This fully indoor attraction is appropriate for anyone who can navigate two sets of stairs, and any tearful youngsters may be rewarded afterwards with a visit to the go carts or the arcade. Try going on Sunday night when the Fun Center isn’t as crowded.


1835 Middletown Road, Glen Mills; 610-459-0647;
$12 Sunday-Thursday, $15 Friday and Saturday

THE SCENE: Be prepared for the cute and ordinary gone horribly, horribly wrong — you’ll find a demented granny in the parlor and dead youngsters on the playground. Black-light effects and crashing trap doors will pump up your heart rate as you race through the dim, freak-filled rooms.
THE SCARE FACTOR: 3 out of 5. The motel ranges from kitschy to creepy, and the actors are ankle-grabbers who won’t keep their hands to themselves. Unfortunately, this one is a whirlwind, and it’s over before you know it.
THE KIDDIE FACTOR: It’s a relatively mild fright; kids who aren’t overly sensitive should be OK.

354 South Warminster Road, Hatboro; 267-241-3443;
$25 adults, $18 children 12 and under

THE SCENE: You will find yourself feeling along the walls in complete darkness (possibly trembling and emitting shrieks all the while) to escape this four-room maze of ghouls and monsters.
THE SCARE FACTOR: No score. While the Haunted Nightmare is, indeed, scary (the aptly named “Claustrophobia Room,” the chainsaw-wielding maniac), I experienced what I consider to be safety issues that need to be addressed. In one section, my tagalong friend accidentally burst through a splintery wall that was not, much to our surprise, a door. When I felt something sharp stabbing into my foot, I discovered that the actors are not the only one with a screw loose, as a metal screw actually found its way through the sole of my Chuck Taylors and broken the skin. Upon exiting, I tried to inform three or four staff members of these problems, but no one wanted to listen. Finally, the actors can get a little out of hand here: One harassed my friend the entire time, to a point that went far beyond the level observed at any of the other haunted attractions, aggressively blocking a passageway and later stealing his hat (it was later returned but only after I made a scene). Yes, you want to be scared shitless — but that doesn’t mean you want to be annoyed. Not for $25.
THE KIDDIE FACTOR: Though kids under 12 are admitted, sensitive youngsters should probably stay home. Anyone without medical coverage, do likewise (although slip-and-fall attorneys, take note). Anyone who is remotely afraid of the dark or affected by strobe lights should not even attempt to enter.