The final installment of Hollywood Gothique's 2012 Halloween Haunt Odyssey finds us retracing our steps over previously explored territory, as we head out on October 31, seeking those ephemeral haunts open only on All Hallow's Eve. From Glendale to Sherman Oaks to Northridge and finally back to Woodland Hills (again!), we wander through the ghost-infested night, in search of new forms of ectoplasmic entertainment, before winding up the evening with a return visit to an old favorite. Come along with us...if you dare!
Hollywood Gothique began its Halloween Haunt Odyssey with a trek toward Glendale, where we encountered a revamped version of a pre-existing haunt, one that we had never explored before...
HOLLYWOOD HAUNTER'S HAUNT ON GARDEN STREET was known as Mishap Manor during previous Halloween seasons. The new name is not just a case of putting old wine into new bottles; rather, it suggests a new approach: what used to be only a decorated yard haunt now includes a scary walk through maze. The yard itself represents a wonderfully spooky cemetery: fog seeps through the air; sticking out of a coffin, a pair of legs thrashes fitfully; a skeleton perched atop a crossbeam rattles while two victims dangle and shake, one of them upside down.
A short trek brings you to the entrance of a tomb. The caretaker and his wife (actors in costume and makeup) invite you to enter. Inside, the narrow corridors are dark with danger: a hellish light glows around the edges of a closed coffin lid, suggesting infernal powers within; invisible hands (actually jets of air) brush your ankles; dangling bodies block your way.
There are few jump scares. Instead of masked monsters, the effectiveness of the Haunt on Garden Street stems from some fairly convincing construction, some carefully placed props and decorations, and a few simple effects. It doesn't hurt that one or two adjacent houses (depending on the year of operation) get into the act, creating a sense of a haunted neighborhood. Overall, this home haunt is not too intimidating for children, but it does deliver a chill or two. You can visit it next year at 1547 Garden Street, Glendale, California 91201 or follow its on Facebook here. This year, the yard display was on view for the last week of October, but the walk-through was available only on October 31; with luck, the Hollywood Haunter may open the tomb's gates for more than a single next Halloween, making it easier for Los Angeles fright fans to schedule a visit.
From Glendale, we headed along the Ventura Freeway toward Sherman Oaks, in search of a relatively new haunt that sounded as if it had a few interesting tricks up its sleeve....
VAN OAKS CEMETERY is a simple Halloween yard haunt is in its second year of operation. The display (which was quite impressive in the full-moon light on October 31) consists of tombs, static skeletons, ominous but subtle music, and a couple of nice effects. There are no moving animatronic figures, but a restless spirit seems eager to escape his tomb: the lid shifts back and forth, with a very convincing sound effect suggesting that this is indeed heavy granite sliding upon granite.
Even better, the phantom figure of a made periodically passes through a front window. A ghostly white, she reads a book, occasionally looking up to note the strangers outside, staring in at her. The effect is remarkable for an amateur haunt - one of the most aesthetically pleasing gags we have encountered this Halloween season.
The Van Oaks Cemetery is free of crude shocks; you will see neither blood nor chainsaw, only atmosphere. It's a little too low-key to be worth a trip all on its own, but if you happen to be passing by next year, on the way to some other Halloween haunt in Los Angeles, it's worth making a detour to get a look at the ghost maid. Located at 5822 Norwich Avenue, Sherman Oaks, CA 91411, Van Oaks Cemetery is usually in full operation for a few days during the last week of October.
Next, we took the long trek out to Northridge, for we had heard tales of a terrifying new attraction that we dared not miss...
BIG WORM'S SHERWOOD SCARE is a brand-new yard haunt, created this Halloween to raise money for the Big Worm's Cystic Fibrosis Life Foundation. (The "Big Worm" moniker comes from the nickname of the CF victim who founded the organization before his death; his family now keeps the foundation going.) As the haunt's name implies, Sherwood Scare intends to scare you: this is no decorated yard; it's a full-blown walk-through terror tour, loaded with monsters and mayhem.
There is something about Northridge; perhaps because it is a college town, it is loaded with teens and young adults eager for scares on Halloween night, resulting in lines down the block whenever a good yard haunt is around. True to form, Sherwood Scare has a throng of prospective victims waiting outside when we arrive. There is a ticket booth, fashioned to suggest a haunted house, where visitors pay a $3 donation to the foundation in exchange for a chance to be frightened. Inside, there is a waiting area, where a ghostly bride (a projection upon a cardboard cutout) speaks in enigmatic aphorisms,while visitors are detained before being allowed through in small groups.
The haunt really begins in a small room, where a nervous man (expecting the FBI rather than fright-seekers) fills in some of the back story, while a painting seems to come to life almost like a television screen, before a monster pops out. Even more impressive, you leave by the same door you entered - but the path has completely changed during your time inside! The rest of the1800-square-foot maze features several rooms and corridors with a nice variety of looks; some seem to utilize existing structures, while others seem entirely fabricated for the event. There are several unexpected pop-scares, and some of the rooms have been very carefully crafted and lit to hide the ghosts lurking within (in an all-black room, we were virtually looking right at one black-clad phantom without seeing him until he sprung his scare on us).
Our favorite room was the last, whose walls - sharply angled to a point overhead, suggested an upstairs attic, where the ghost at the root of the haunting waits in shadows, back turned, until victims approach too closely. Scenes like this do a good job of creating a convincing sense of being within a haunted house (rather than of walking through a slap-dash scare show).
We had heard one Los Angeles Halloween fan laud Sherwood Scare as the scariest amateur walk-through he had ever experienced. That praise seems overstated in a town that can boast The Backwoods Maze, The Haunted Shack, and Wilsley Manor (not to mention the less overtly shocking but still quite spooky and amazing Forest of Mirrors). Nevertheless, the debut of Sherwood Scare easily earns a berth in Hollywood Gothique's Top Ten Yard Haunts, and we will be keeping an eager eye on the Big Worm's CF Foundation website to see whether Sherwood Scare will be resurrected next Halloween. This year's address was 8856 Encino Avenue, Northridge, CA 91325.
For our final stop, Hollywood Gothique wound its way on surface streets from Northridge to Woodland Hills, seeking an elusive old favorite, one that manifests only on Halloween Night. Fortunately, its hours were extended until midnight this year, allowing us time to reach this mysterious netherworld before it could disappear like Shangri-la, lost in mists of mystery...
THE FOREST OF MIRRORS is hard to describe in terms that convey its impact when encountered in person. "The miraculous mirrored attraction" is the phrase we coined. We had encountered the illusory on one previous Hallow's Eve, a few years back, and recall being amazed at the illusion of an endlessly extended garden of forking paths, leading to arches that turn out to be not passages but mirrors. The effect is quite surprising, because the mirrors are carefully placed so that you do not notice your own reflection until you are almost ready to step through the looking glass - and suddenly realize you are on a collision course with yourself.
What we did not recall was the overlay of seasonal atmosphere. Sound effects out front set the mood. Thick billows of fog waft through the back yard, where the Forest of Mirrors is set. Flickering flames illuminate a garden filled with stone skulls, suggesting a petrified outdoor ossuary. The mood is quintessential Halloween, more than enough to make the Forest of Mirrors a memorable experience.
But watch out! Amidst the foliage and camo-netting, lurk leafy bog monsters that blend into their surroundings until they strike. These unexpected scares may be mild compared to those at other Halloween haunts, but the enchantment of the Forest of Mirrors overwhelms your usual defenses so completely, that you drop your guard, becoming unexpectedly vulnerable to surprise attacks.
The Forest of Mirrors is a unique, must-see Halloween attraction. Look for it next year at 6124 Lederer Ave, Woodland Hills, CA 91367-1329, but make plans to be there on October 31 between 6:30pm and midnight. You can double-check the schedule next year and view pictures at the official website.