Pennhurst Asylum – Haunt Review 2017
Location: Church Street and Bridge Road, Spring City, PA, 19475
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.
For those who have visited Pennhurst Asylum regularly, many of the attractions will feel familiar. Extensive changes were made to the “Tunnels” attraction; now known as “Containment” which received the largest overhaul this season. 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 features four attractions, 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 extremely pleasant and professional which is key to ongoing success when managing such a complex attraction.
Pennhurst Asylum (Administration Building)
Pennhurst Asylum (Old Administration Building) is an aggressive, nonstop chaotic entry into an insane nightmare. Major 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 nonstop 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 extremely 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 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.
Pennhurst Asylum is a fast-paced and aggressive central attraction and with a few logistical tweaks can take it to the next level. Despite a smaller crowd, we found ourselves walking into other groups which hurts show quality, as actors quickly have to reset and perform each scene. Line management and backup within the attraction has historically been an issue for the Administration Building as little is done inside the attraction to control guest flow. Scare actors can help reduce this problem pacing their scenes to reduce long “conga” lines, especially during less busy nights. Despite this issue, the Pennhurst Asylum is a generally terrifying experience. This is one of the few attractions that has a defined “grand finale” which is utter chaos and challenges one to escape the sheer insanity.
Dungeon of Lost Souls
“Dungeon of Lost Souls” starts off as a journey through the laboratory of a demented, mad doctor who encouraged us to drink what he called “urine”, take our medicine, and used dark humor to start off the attraction in a memorable manner. made some hilarious off-color jokes. “Dungeon of Lost Souls” is an intense experience, using sensory triggers to induce fear. Large props and animatronics hid scare actors within each eerie, gritty set piece. Insane actors aggressively attacked us around each corner, relentlessly trying to scare and pop out of the most unexpected locations. “Dungeon of Lost Souls” is legitimately scary and disturbing. scare actors each scene disorientates, confuse and scare guests.
“Dungeon of Lost Souls” is an all-out assault on one’s senses, featuring talented scare actors, disturbing imagery, disorientating lighting effects, spectacular set designs and disgusting smells which constantly augment fear. We felt alone and isolated during this attraction, which made the entire experience far scarier since we felt at the mercy of the asylum’s vicious inmates and diabolical, nightmarish design.
The traditional “Tunnel Terror” attraction, has been re-christened as ”Containment,” and changes made to this has been a point of controversy on social media as it is a change of pace for those expecting the traditional attraction. 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. What has been added to the attraction is a sci-fi themed futuristic “cryogenic research” facility. 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. “Containment” is a risky departure thematically from the other attractions hosted at Pennhurst Asylum, and demonstrates that this team has no problem taking “chances” with new themes that go against the grain. While not as “scary” as the traditional attraction, the experience borders on the bizarre, and strange. The extensive tunnel system underlying the Pennhurst campus. In future seasons, it might be a wise decision to further separate “Containment” from the former “Tunnel Terror” attraction, to differentiate the new experience from those typically expected on a visit to the Pennhurst Asylum.
Mayflower After Dark
The fourth attraction is a self-guided tour through the Mayflower Building and needs major changes to retain its value and has lost its appeal as a “Ghost Hunt.” It is nice to be able to “explore” the abandoned building, but each floor is roped off and illuminated taking away from experience. Furthermore, the once interesting museum has lost its purpose as truly telling the “story” behind the rise and fall of Pennhurst State School, and it is perhaps time to retool this “attraction” to allow guests to have either more access in smaller groups or consider modifying it to be an actual haunt. We thoroughly enjoy the historical aspect of the attraction but the museum itself has lost its charm and is just a shallow series of pictures and a few relics of the past. “Mayflower After Dark” is a great concept allowing guests to “explore” the campus but due to logistical reasons prevents guests from having true access to this amazing property.
Pennhurst Asylum is a mature and aggressive attraction that is not for those who are expecting a family friendly haunt. Design of each attraction is aimed at recreating nightmarish scenes in which the insanity of the scare-actors creates a constant urge to escape. Despite some logistical issues, Pennhurst Asylum once again reigns as one of the truly “scariest” haunted attractions you can visit this season. As expected this is an extremely popular haunt and your personal experience may vary as lines increase, but we suggest guests visit on an off-night or purchase a VIP ticket to experience evil insanity locked behind the walls of the Pennhurst Asylum.
Pennhurst Asylum can truly be a year-round destination for those who have interest in “horror” as well as history. Partnerships with companies such as “Ghost Hunts USA,” and photo tours are aimed at building greater public awareness and exposure to the Pennhurst campus beyond the traditional haunt, which is a positive step in the long-term preservation effort to save this campus. For those strictly interested in the “haunt” aspect, a repurposing of the museum and “Mayflower Building” attraction can drive interest in the other the non-haunt events hosted at Pennhurst Asylum during and after the regular haunt season. The fear is very real at Pennhurst Asylum!