The ScareHouse in Pittsburgh, PA has a reputation for being one of the scariest Halloween attractions in the US. Every year, they prepare a series of walk-through adventures designed to scare the living daylights out of you while at the same time impressing you with the level of detail.
This year, they’re trying something with a scifi twist. It’s a steampunk themed saga called Rampage and The ScareHouse’s creative director, Scott Simmons, came on by to tell us about it.
How did the whole steampunk idea come about?
Scott: Last year, many of us on the design team realized that we had all been fans of the kinds of designs that fall under the steampunk genre without even realizing what it was called. We were constantly building boiler rooms and industrial areas that were heavily influenced by Disney’s film version of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea or drawings of Victorian-era machinery or other concept art we would find online.
In 2008, we created a 3-D haunted house that was inspired by cyber-goth culture as well as techno/rave dance clubs and it was (and still is) a huge hit with our fans. It really gave us the courage to push the idea of what you can do within a haunted attraction, and to really create something that was based around a much more in-depth “story” and environment.
RAMPAGE is the last haunt our guests experience, and we knew we wanted it to be much more aggressive and hard-hitting that anything we had done before. Our attraction is very large, and I think you need to keep altering the kind of experience they have or else it can become a little tedious. , “Hall of Nightmares” is more slow and creepy, “Delirium 3-D” is more fun and energetic, and last year it felt like our 3rd haunt was just too slow-paced. We needed something that would really push and pump-up customers.
This isn’t your typical Halloween maze, right? Rampage tells a story.
Scott: Our attraction has a definite story. The idea is that the workers and scholars within this facility have been oppressed and victimized by The DieRector and his well-armed security forces for years, but now they have finally risen up to fight for freedom.
In 2008 we had introduced two characters with heavy steampunk influences (“Daphnie” and “The DieRector”) and they were instantly popular, so we thought it would be fun to expand their mythology and create an entire attraction around them… while also giving ourselves the freedom to create an attraction that exists with a kind of industrial warzone. I think many of the steampunk characters and stories tend to be very Victorian and refined.. we thought it would be fun to create a world that was supposed to be tightly ordered and sophisticated, but then just exploded into chaos. Bullets fly, mutants are released, and you – as a customer – are trapped in the cross-fire.
How do you see this scifi theme in relation to the typical horror style haunted house? Any film or art in particular that influenced your design?
Scott: The challenge is to be faithful to this high-concept idea, and to really ramp-up the action and technology inside the world we’re creating … while also creating something scary and menacing. Certainly the first ALIEN was a huge influence. We wanted our sets to look as organic and “lived in” as possible, which means that we are constantly adding layers and layers of detail and distressing to everything. Most of RAMPAGE has the kind of well-worn feel of the nostromo or the various sets from SERENITY. We try to convey the idea that you’re in the bowels with the working class, and everything is covered in grime.
We’re also huge fans of the BIOSHOCK video game, which is a perfect combination of technology and terror. That game heavily influences other parts of the attraction, with the concept that certain sets looked very pristine and clean … until the carnage and fighting started. Now the lights are broken, nothing’s working right, and you know that all kinds of bad things are hiding in the dark to get you.
With so many Halloween attractions popping up all over the US, what makes The ScareHouse unique?
Scott: I think that many haunted house designers, just like many Hollywood producers, can sometimes fall back on the same clichés and ideas that have driven entertainment for so many years. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with haunted mansions, killer clowns, or chainsaw maniacs… but why not add something new and unique when bringing those environments to life? Create your own killer clown instead of copying “Pennywise,” or mix up influences from radically different genres to see what happens! There are so many talented artists and fantastic resources available, so why would anyone choose to try and create something that so many of us have all seen so many times before? I don’t want to spend months trying to re-create the same sets and characters from a popular movie, I would much rather create unique worlds and experiences that can only exist at The ScareHouse.
If you live in the Pittsburgh area, please do visit The ScareHouse and tell Scott and the crew that SFUniverse sent you (then come back here and tell us all about it). Even if you don’t live in the area, visit The ScareHouse website for a behind the scenes look at Rampage and their other spooky Halloween attractions.
Photos courtesy of The ScareHouse