Zombies! Evil janitors! Mad scientists! The top 10 haunted houses in the United States are especially spooky this year.
Need Halloween weekend plans? Make a trip one of these top 10 haunted houses in the U.S., as selected by the Haunted Attraction Association. (Yes, that's a real organization! Their awards banquet is called the "Oscares.") To reach the top 10, houses are judged on multiple criteria, from meeting safety standards to introducing new features. Expect everything from state-of-the-art special effects to truly disturbing scares—some operators even consult psychologists on how to craft the best experience. Budget tip: Go with friends for discounted group ticket rates or on a weekday for a lower entrance fee.
Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Cost: From $19, easternstate.org
Why it'll freak you out: One haunted house in an actual abandoned prison is scary enough, but Eastern State Penitentiary offers six. The Machine Shop attraction, where "evil pervades," is the penitentiary's most interactive attraction yet. Willing guests are grabbed, separated from their group, dragged into secret passageways, and sometimes end up as part of the show.
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Cost: From $19.99 Thursdays and Sundays, from $24.99 Fridays and Saturdays, scarehouse.com
Why it'll freak you out: This is truly diabolical: The ScareHouse has a sociologist on staff who has studied the science of fear. Bear that in mind as you enter The Summoning attraction, new this year. You think you're being inducted into a secret society in October 1932 (with period costumes and props), but then things take a nasty turn.
Nightmare New England
Location: Litchfield, New Hampshire
Cost: From $39.99, nightmarenewengland.com
Why it'll freak you out: If campfire ghost stories leave you shivering, the legend of Litchfield's reclusive Bishop family, a mysterious clan suspected of foul play when locals went missing decades ago, will get your attention. Nightmare New England's Bishop Legacy attraction is devoted to the myth...or is it reality? Don't miss the Haunted Hayride, a new attraction for 2015.
Location: Pontiac, Michigan
Cost: From $23, hauntedpontiac.com
Why it'll freak you out: Four stories of unique time-travel dimensions make up this huge attraction, based on the legend of a mad scientist who invented a time machine gone horribly wrong...and disguised it as a haunted house. Now you're Dr. Colbert's guinea pig. The Slice of Time feature trains 45 cameras on you and snaps a 180-degree image of you screaming. Talk about a souvenir.
Location: Waukesha, Wisconsin
Cost: From $13, wisconsinfeargrounds.com
Why it'll freak you out: New this year is Morgana's Escape, a terrifying haunted house experience that you alone have the power to escape. The doors are locked, leaving you trapped in the dark—the only way out is to find the three keys that unlock the tomb.
The Dent Schoolhouse
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Cost: From $20, frightsite.com
Why it'll freak you out: Is there anything creepier than child ghosts? Legend has it that crazed Dent Schoolhouse janitor Charlie McFee went on a long, drawn-out killing spree, stuffing bodies of students into the walls and hanging them in the basement, before angry families infiltrated the school and found the carnage—which you'll tour. Vintage '50s decor makes the building extra-chilling—as does the fact that Dent Schoolhouse was once a real school.
Busch Gardens Howl-O-Scream
Location: Tampa, Florida
Cost: From $60 to $70 depending on which night you go, seaworldparks.com
Why it'll freak you out: If animatronics don't faze you, physical terror might. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay morphs into a Halloween fright fest now through Oct. 31st. Falcon's Fury, a new ride that opened last year, is the continent's tallest freestanding drop tower: Reach the top, and the ride pivots 90 degrees so that riders make the 60-mph drop facedown. Or rattle some corpses by shooting zombies in the Zombie Containment Unit.
The House of Shock
Location: Jefferson, Louisiana, just outside New Orleans.
Cost: From $25, houseofshock.com
Why it'll freak you out: Satanic imagery and large-scale pyrotechnics define this 23-year-old NOLA institution, located under the Huey P. Long bridge in Metairie. This year's main attraction is called "The Resurrection," a fitting name considering the New Orleans community came together to save the site after the 25,000-square-foot haunted house was slated to be shuttered after last year's season.
Houston Terror Dome
Location: Houston, Texas
Cost: From $20, houstonterrordome.com
Why it'll freak you out: Two words: evil clowns. More interested in the party than the freak show? Groove with full-body-airbrushed zombie dancers and a live (or would it be "undead"?) DJ on Saturdays.
Location: Sanger, California
Cost: From $15, hobbsgrove.com
Why it'll freak you out: The dead rise from the grave in The Hollows haunted forest, and bloody limbs dangle from ceilings in the Hobb's Grove Haunted House. For milder scares, the haunted hayride is open to families with kids under 8.