In the past few decades, the haunted house has evolved from hayrides and corn mazes to full on theatrical productions. What was once thought of as small-town mom-and-pop side projects has now transformed into its own kind of experimental performance art, drawing on a plethora of disparate influences including paranormal investigations, true crime, torture porn, and BDSM.
As October festivities explode in scope and size, haunters have grown increasingly experimental with their spine-chilling strategies, employing extreme measures to get screams.
So where are the most innovative experiences, scariest sites, and accursed attractions in the United States? These are the top seven craziest haunted house experiences out there. Check them out — if you dare.
1. The Darkness in St. Louis, Missouri
Founded by industry expert Larry Kirchner, The Darkness is the product of the King of Halloween's decades of expertise. A classic blend of frights and fun, visitors must traverse through a 50,000 square foot maze while encountering gruesome obstacles along the way. And if you can't make it in October, The Darkness transforms into a Christmas-themed nightmare come December.
2. The Blackout Experience in New York and Los Angeles
Pushing the boundaries of theater itself, The Blackout Experience employs psychological torture within a compelling, experimental narrative hailed as a triumph of cruelty. In fact, the experience is so dramatic that attendees are given "safe words" like one uses in BDSM.
The Blackout Experience is so infamous that there's a 2016 documentary on the attraction, which followed customers who repeatedly returned for even more masochism.
3. Asylum 49 in Tooele, Utah
Before this site was an October mainstay, Asylum 49 was known as Tooele Hospital. Widely considered one of the most haunted places in America, the facility is populated not only with actors seeking to spook eager crowds, but with the ghosts of the patients who once wandered its halls.
Asylum 49's website gives a sense of the terror inside:
"#1 YOU CAN BE TOUCHED GRABBED SEPARATED FROM YOUR GROUP DETAINED IN SMALL DARK AREAS AND LEFT STRAPPED TO A METAL BED AND WORKED ON BY THE CRAZIES.
#2 IF YOU CANT HANDLE RULE #1 THEN DONT COME WIMPO."
4. This Is Real: Horror Stories in Cold Spring, New York
"This is NOT a haunted house," warns the This Is Real website, which gives you a sense of how ominous it is.
An avant-garde deconstruction of the haunted house experience, guests at This Is Real are blindfolded and guided through the attraction via a headset. What they may encounter along the way remains a tightly guarded secret.
"You will be blindfolded the whole time," the site threatens. "Your other senses will be engaged, including taste, but you will not be traveling through a maze."
5. Terror Behind The Walls in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Located at the Eastern State Penitentiary, Terror Behind The Walls uses the backdrop of an actual crumbling prison once frequented by notorious criminals like Al Capone and Willie Sutton as its setting. Transforming from a historical site to a haunted attraction every October, the facility is increasingly of interest to paranormal investigators — in fact, it's visited by more than 60 supernatural detective teams each year, according to the location's website.
Terror Behind The Walls is consistently ranked as one of the top haunted attractions in America, garnering praise from The New York Times, Forbes, and "The Today Show."
6. Headless Horseman Hayrides in Ulster Park, New York
Tim Burton's horror classic "Sleepy Hollow" explored the myth of the legendary decapitated equestrian, but this site truly brings the story to life. Providing a full immersive experience with over 350 actors and employees, the Headless Horseman Hayrides have been ranked as a New York favorite for years. It's even been praised by esteemed horror magazine Fangoria.
7. McKamey Manor in Nashville, Tennessee and Huntsville, Alabama
A controversial spot for industry insiders, McKamey Manor is perhaps the only location on this list with actual victims. Described as an "extreme haunt" and "survival horror experience," the site became the subject of scrutiny after some guests came forward with alleged near-death stories. Utilizing various means of physical intimidation amid a staged abduction, the makers of McKamey Manor claim that no one has ever actually completed the full tour.
McKamey Manor was recently investigated on the Netflix series "Dark Tourist," which explored the psychology behind the space's ghastly appeal.
[Photos: Getty Images]
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