This weekend, Hollywood Gothique extended its reach beyond the confines of Los Angeles, braving the dark depths of Ventura County's Simi Valley, in order to experience 13 Nights of Terror. Well, we experienced one night of terror; the haunt, obviously, is named after the number of nights it will be open. This is a new Halloween attraction, part of the three-week long Golftoberfest, which is raising money to support the Gull Wings Children's Museum. As a newbie on its first weekend, it was not quite up to the level of established haunts, but it was nonetheless a fun thrill ride that provided an above-average quota of scares.
13 Nights of Terror is situated in the Lost Canyons Golf Course, located in the wilds of Ventura County - a perfect setting for a haunt. Freeway close, the area is characterized by dark empty roads apparently heading to nowhere, creating the perfect ominous atmosphere even before you set foot on the grounds. Signs will be added next weekend to help hapless drivers find their way; on the night we went, we were guided only by sounds of distant music and the glow of stage lights (and a GPS, of course).
13 Nights of Terror is a mini-event, with food vendors, live music, etc, but its main attraction is a walk-through haunted maze, provided by Shipwreck Productions, the company that used to operate the Queen Mary Halloween Terrorfest. Set up inside a permanent structure on the golf course, the haunt uses flats to transform a storage area into a den of terrors. Some of the settings are fairly simple (white corridors spattered with blood and illuminated by strobe light) but others give a decent impression of brick walls and other settings, suggesting that you truly are inside a haunted house.
The sets are enhanced with a handful of mechanical props that activate upon approach, to startling effect (e.g., a snake head that pops up with a hiss of air), and the cast does a nice job of using these animatronics as cover for their own predations: One monster stands beside a mechanical man waving the torso of an unfortunate victim, and you assume all three figures are part of the display - until the monster lunges forward as only a live actor can do.
Though not overly elaborate, the maze is effective. We went through twice, the second time with a group of five or six fellow victims, who screamed at every turn, terrified of what might be lurking around the corner. There were perhaps half-a-dozen ghouls working the corridors, but they did excellent work, making the maze seem haunted from beginning to end, lurking as if ensconced in their own particular domain or relentlessly pursuing us from room to room. We understand that more actors and animatronic props will be added for next weekend.
On the night we attended, there were booths offering beer and wine, decent fast food (pizza, fries, onion rings, etc), souvenirs, face-painting, and glitter tattoos. A hotly contested Battle of the Bands was taking place on stage, with some young but rather serious-looking judges clearly dedicated to assessing the merits of the contestants. DJ's and other live music will be offered on subsequent nights.
13 Nights of Terror continues on October 21-24, 27-31, starting at 7:00pm each night. The address is Lost Canyons Golf Club, 3301 Lost Canyons Drive, Simi Valley, CA 93063. (The 13 Nights of Terror website warns that Mapquest's listing is inaccurate, so rely on Google Maps, Bing, or better yet a GPS to navigate those lonesome roads.)
Golftoberfest climaxes on October 30 with an all-day Halloween Family Festival, which runs from 11:00am to 7:00pm. On that day, there will be a lights-on, family-friendly matinee of the haunted maze from noon to 5:00pm, for only $5.
Full Disclosure: A representative of the non-profit children's museum contacted Hollywood Gothique in August, seeking a referral for someone to create the haunted house for their Halloween Family Festival. Our suggestion led to Shipwreck Productions getting the job, which extended from a single-day event to include "13 Nights of Terror."