The former state prison at Moundsville, W.Va., is a hulking, Gothic Revival sandstone structure filled with a history of violence and despair.
It's featured Wednesday at 10on Syfy's "Stranded."
"A state prison, with all its secrets and pain, was a natural for 'Stranded,' " said producer Jason Blum, founder and CEO of Blumhouse productions. "The history of the prison and the activity associated with it made it a perfect location to leave people to their own devices for a bunch of days."
The premise is simple: drop off some everyday Joes at a site notorious for ghost-like activity and have them wander for the better part of a week. No camera crews -- around 30 fixed-lens cameras are strategically placed throughout the haunted location -- just increasingly frightened people equipped with handheld cameras.
In this episode, married couple Amber and Christopher Conerly and their friend, Tyler Parson, arrive at the forbidding front entrance as the sun is setting.
The three, who live in Hamilton, Ohio, say they were expecting something else, perhaps, a hotel. From the get-go, the prison, with its revolving entrance of heavy iron bars, could not be less welcoming.
"The scares don't work unless the audience actually cares about the people and becomes invested in what they are doing," said Mr. Blum, a creative force behind the "Paranormal Activity" movies and a lifelong fan of Alfred Hitchcock.
The three come across background materials, and the history of the prison is gruesome, indeed. Around 100 executions (via hanging and in later years, electrocution) were carried out during its operation, from 1876-1995.
Two violent prisoner uprisings in recent memory occurred in 1986 and 1973.
"America is filled with haunted places but the important thing is to find the right ones and locations that help us tell interesting stories. Haunts and scares on their own don't work. They have to be part of a broader narrative and story."
It's up to the trio to make contact with some of the spirits of the past. Their success depends much on interpretation, theirs as well as the viewer's.
"It is important to guide the audience but also leave them enough room to create a terrifying situation in their own heads, based on their life experiences. The mysterious nature of the settings really helps that process," Mr. Blum said.
The ghosts at Moundsville are hardly lonely. Among shows filmed there: an episode of Syfy's "Ghost Hunters," as well as MTV's "Fear."
Pam Ryan, who works in the office for the Moundsville Economic Development Council -- which oversees the maintenance and commerce of the penitentiary -- said she's never seen anything, but has encountered the inexplicable, such as doors that stick for no reason.
She said four years ago, when a film crew was working there, a colleague and several others witnessed "something coming through the door in a white mist."
Interested in visiting the prison? Ninety-minute tours begin April 1 and run into autumn. Information: 1-304-845-6200.
Maria Sciullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG. First Published March 12, 2013 4:00 AM