Photo courtesy of ScareHouse.

It’s been a nightmare year, but ScareHouse owner Scott Simmons has more thrills and chills in store.

The haunted attraction — a long-time fixture at the old Etna Elks Lodge — is possessing the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills in Tarentum for the 2020 season and beyond. It will operate on select dates from September 25 through November 14.

“We intend this to be our permanent home,” says Simmons, who opened the business in 1999. “After so many years of searching, we’re more than ready to devote our attention to expanding and enhancing ScareHouse every year. I don’t want to get behind the wheel of a moving truck again anytime soon.”

The new venue occupies the former H&M store, a 20,000-square-foot space that’s nearly twice the size of its former Etna location. The site features 100 percent new construction, fully created with the pandemic in mind. Unlike previous years, which saw the attraction divided into several different haunts, the 2020 version will be one continuous story broken up into three acts.

Because ScareHouse is inside a mall, there will be a few nods to George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” which was filmed at Monroeville Mall in 1978. Simmons says they won’t go overboard with the zombie gore, since their 2018 season celebrated the 50th anniversary of the late director’s “Night of the Living Dead.”

In the wake of the real-life pandemic outbreak, organizers will utilize timed ticketing and a virtual queue system so customers can remain safely outside before entering, without waiting in a long line. The mall’s massive parking lot provides ScareHouse with ample space for crowd control. Other safety measures include no-touch, hand-sanitizing stations throughout the building and masked monsters.

Photo courtesy of ScareHouse.

The site’s 50 percent reduction in occupancy also applies to the cast. There will be at least 30 actors in costume every night. Having smaller groups of guests, with longer pauses in between groups, will give the ghosts a better chance at giving mortals a good scare. Think you’ve got what it takes to make people scream? ScareHouse is holding open auditions this weekend.

“While we’ve reduced our cast, we’ve actually increased the amount of security and customer service agents on-site to enforce our COVID safety protocols and social distancing,” Simmons says. “We’ve also hired a new team of ‘creepy cleaners’ who are responsible for sterilizing various locations on-site multiple times all day and night.”

Simmons has been looking for new digs for ScareHouse since 2015. While the 100-year-old Elks Lodge provided the perfect setting for a haunted house — and was prone to its own paranormal activity — it just wasn’t big enough for the growing business. The area’s lack of parking also caused a lot of folks to freak out.

Over the years, workers visited at least two dozen buildings — from grocery stores to indoor soccer fields — before finding a home at Pittsburgh Mills. Design work started in 2019, but COVID delayed major construction until May. The crew is fueled by caffeine and terror as the deadline approaches.

Simmons is also busy running two year-round attractions at 2420 Penn Avenue in the Strip District. Bold Escape Rooms features a pair of adventures: Stalked By A Killer (a great experience for true crime fans) and data/bass, a high-tech mystery set inside a techno dance club. There’s also Steel City Axes, where you can throw sharp weapons in an intimate setting. Due to COVID, they’re only accepting private bookings.

The Basement, a more intense haunt for diehards aged 18 and over, is on hold until 2021.

Not all Halloween traditions are canceled in 2020. Burgatory will host their ScareHouse Shake again this October, with proceeds from ticket sales benefitting local kids in need.

Monsters might not have a pulse, but they’ve got a lot of heart.

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.