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We review Pittsburgh's top three haunted houses.

Zombies, clowns, even weird elves are prepared to scare.

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Zombies, demons and clowns — oh my! Yep, it's that time of year. A time when fallen leaves crunch, pumpkin ales are on tap and our most disturbing nightmares become reality. For some, dark hallways where monsters quietly wait in the shadows are just too frightening; others yearn for them. I spent the past two weeks at local haunts and chose the top three.

THE SCAREHOUSE. As always, this place is amazing. Etna's ScareHouse has the most innovative set designs, plus gruesome special effects and truly terrifying actors. They understand the science of scaring the living daylights out of you. The actors are deeply committed to their roles and aren't afraid to get extremely close. The addition of Creepo's Christmas provides a unique perspective into a trippy, dark Yuletide world. Even if you're not especially unnerved by psychedelic elves, it's the perfect place to catch your breath between the two other haunts. No chainsaws needed, this place will give you nightmares for weeks. GO! Thu.-Sun. through Nov. 3; also Oct. 24, 30 and 31. $14.99-19.99. 412-781-5885 or www.scarehouse.com

HUNDRED ACRES MANOR. A perfect blend of aesthetics and gore. Upon arrival, you are greeted with the echoes of screams, horror music and the foreboding presence of the creepy castle nestled in the dark woods of South Park. The whole production flows seamlessly from room to room, with lots of twists, turns and chainsaws. If you're into mazes, this is your place. The actors are tremendously committed, relentless and unforgettable. They really amped up their game this year, so expect more terrorizing surprises with heart-wrenching scares from every angle. It's the perfect place to kick off your Halloween season. Daily through Nov. 3. $18. 412-851-4286 or www.hundredacresmanor.com

TERROR TOWN. A really good scare in the Strip District. Impressive haunt, especially in just its second year. The fact that it's held in an actual haunted location intensifies the entire experience. Terror Town has the perfect blend of dark corridors, grisly corpses and horrifying demons who will hunt for you in all directions. Be especially aware of those lurking behind you! Sound machines are utilized in surprising ways and they even incorporate a few new animatronics that seem completely realistic. Terror Town is truly a unique experience, one you shouldn't pass up. Fri.-Sun. through Oct. 30 (also Oct. 18 and 25). $18.99. 412-315-7331 or www.terrortownpgh.com

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