What’s new at Eastern State Penitentiary’s Terror Behind the Walls

Jenny Tomczak is a zombie at Terror Behind the Walls. Credit: Eastern State Penitentiary
Jenny Tomczak is a zombie at Terror Behind the Walls.
Credit: Eastern State Penitentiary

This year, they’re changing the rules.

For the first time in Terror Behind the Walls history, visitors to Eastern State Penitentiary’s famed haunted house can choose their own adventure. Tour the museum attraction that’s named among the best in the world for all its gory glory, or opt for the scarier path and be pulled into a dark corridor, grabbed by brain-hungry zombie or forced to run from knife-wielding clowns.

Yikes.

“We actually had to scale back so we don’t scare people too much,” admits Amy Hollaman, creative director for Terror Behind the Walls.

Hollaman and her team decided this was the year to turn things up a notch. They visited other haunted houses and brainstormed on the paranoia of scare—things besides blood and guts, like bugs, snakes and claustrophobic spaces.

“There are delusions happening,” Hollaman says. “People are confused. You can’t tell what’s human and what’s not. All of a sudden, there might be a clown waiting with a knife.”

But don’t worry, zombie lovers. The undead still roam the former prison’s walls. Jennifer Tomczak makes sure of that. Starting her 10th year, Tomczak is head zombie guard.

“There’s nothing like that moment,” she says, “that one moment of fear you see in a visitor’s eyes. It’s that one moment when they realize there’s a gruesome zombie standing before them. There’s nothing quite like it.”

An insurance professional by day, Tomczak, and more than 200 others, are transformed by a team of 14 costume and makeup artists into sickening creatures that scare the living daylights out you each year for 29 evenings. The hour-long show goes thorugh six attractions including the gauntlet, the infirmary and right into the prison’s cells.

“It’s the perfect setting,” says Hollaman. “Eastern State Penitentiary is only right here in Philadelphia. There’s nowhere like it in the world.”

Safe word: Monster be good

Chose the scarier path and worried you might wet your pants in fear? You can opt out at any point. Just hand off the zombie-attracting GPS tracking device you were given and the brain-eaters will leave you alone. And, as always, kids can say “Monster be good” and the actors will slink away.

“The show is definitely going to be scarier,” Hollaman says, “but we still have the level of professionalism and care.”

Terror Behind the Walls
Eastern State Penitentiary
2027 Fairmount Ave.
Through Nov. 9
$13-$39, 215-236-2985
www.easternstate.org


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