Griffin Sendek | Staff Writer
It’s that time of year again. The leaves change color, the weather gets cooler and pumpkin spice is back at Starbucks — all signs that the spooky Halloween season has begun.
What better way to kick off the season than with Kennywood’s Phantom Fright Nights?
Though not my first visit to Kennywood, this marked my first Fright Night, and I had no idea what was in store for me. Does Fright Night live up to the name of one of the best haunted attractions in Pennsylvania?
Along the line, someone at Kennywood learned the strength of what a few smoke machines, dimmed lights and eerie music can do to create a creepy atmosphere. A few slight tweaks, and the happy and colorful Kennywood Park was completely transformed into an ominous hellscape — the perfect mood for Halloween.
The entrance to the park was prefixed by a fog-covered pathway illuminated by a faint green light. Three menacing silhouettes could be spotted through the haze; a closer inspection found they were three men fitted in clown makeup who gave a deep, uneasy stare, without speaking a single word. The path came to a tunnel filled to the brim with thick mist. In the tunnel were a series of other frighteningly costumed actors jumping out at every opportunity. Before even entering the park, Fright Night lets you know it is not for the extra squeamish.
For those who have visited Kennywood in the past, the first glimpse at Fright Night will be inherently familiar but surprisingly new. It is no exaggeration to say that fog blanketed the whole surface of the park. In some places, it was so thick that it was impossible to see more than a few feet ahead.
As if the fog and darkness weren’t enough to create scares, scattered all throughout the park were dozens more actors costumed as a variety of spooky characters. From crazy clowns and zombies to bloody victims and weapon wielding maniacs, Kennywood had it all.
Each of the actors made the characters their own. Some went for intimidation and others for laughs, but the majority favored the jump scares, screaming in the face of all park-goers that crossed their path. At almost every turn, someone was jumping out of the shadows and screaming in my face. It happened at such a frequent rate that I began to see it coming and prepare myself. Despite my best efforts not to be scared, one lucky asylum nurse caught me off guard and sent me shooting into the air out of fright.
Not only had the scenery been changed, but to my surprise, the roller coasters were different as well. All of Kennywood’s coasters are as good as ever, but this time around, the lights illuminating the track were switched off. I never imagined I would get something unique out of the coasters, but riding in the near-pitch darkness created an entirely new feeling. In the dark it’s harder to predict when there is going to be a big drop or a sharp turn, creating a more suspenseful and overall scarier riding experience. The effect was even more significant in Kennywood’s singular indoor coaster, The Exterminator. Traditionally, the ride is dimly lit, but this time around there was not a single light source. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, let alone the track’s numerous twists and turns.
Kennywood went all out with its haunted house style events, such as emptying the water from the ride Raging Rapids and shifting it into the Voodoo Bayou, a winding path filled with many swamp themed props and actors lurking in the dark corners to jump out. Though not the scariest of the attractions, it was a rather fun experience. Those seeking the best scares Fright Night has to offer should look no further than the Mortem Manor. The cafeteria was completely transformed into a maze of rooms with tight, claustrophobic corners, most fitted with hidden spots for performers to jump out from. One actor even followed right behind me for several rooms. The Mortem Manor honestly had me jumping at almost every turn.
Keep in mind that Phantom Fright Nights are limited compared to Kennywood’s regular season, as several rides, restaurants and stores are closed. However, they make up for it by giving a fun and scary Halloween experience while also providing many of the exhilarating roller coasters Kennywood is known for.
Phantom Fright Nights are open at Kennywood Park Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until Oct. 28; tickets are $30.