Once again, Hollywood Gothique finds itself transgressing the borders of its native soil in pursuit of Halloween events of northern climes of California (in this case, the Winchester Mystery House Fright Nights), leaving us without adequate time to fully review all the great Halloween attractions in Los Angeles. Allow us to rectify this error with a trio of mini-reviews, focusing on Old Town Haunt, FrightFair, and Wicked Lit.
Each member of this terrifying trio made it into our one of our lists of 2012 Halloween Recommendations, so it should be no surprise that we have more howls of praise to sing here. Rather than reiterating the consistent strengths of each event, which have been addressed in previous reviews, allow us to focus on what is new or different this year.
Wicked Lit 2012 Halloween Plays are back in the Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery. Perhaps even more than last Halloween, the location is exploited for atmospheric effect, as the audience follows characters from scene to scene, passing through marble hallways and granite tombstones. There is a bit more playful interactivity with the "Tour Guides," who keep the audience on the right track and then play (sometimes unexpected) roles in the plays themselves. Halloween 2012 also sees the introduction of brief mini-performances (poetry readings and storytelling) to fill the instertitial spaces between the trio of one-act plays that form the core of the evening's entertainment. We think the plays themselves tend to be a bit too front-loaded with expository dialogue, but the slow build-up always pays off nicely in the end. The Dead Smile features impressively ghastly makeup in a shocking revelation in the tradition of the unmasking of the Phantom of the Opera; the climax of Count Magnus is particularly chilling, and the dramatic denouement of Wake Not the Dead is literally and figuratively heart-rending. Update: Read the full-length review here.
FrightFair Screampark had plans to revamp its mazes for Halloween 2012, but circumstances intervened. Nevertheless, the night terrors feel fresh and alive, because the trio of FrightFair settings (the Factory of Nightmares Haunted House, the Insane Reaction Maze, and the Creatures of the Corn trail) have always functioned mostly as lairs for the various monsters lurking within. So whether or not the pathways and props remain the same, the cast of characters come at you from new and unexpected directions, terrorizing you and then taunting you for your fear. This year, Insane Reaction stood out for us. Its concept is simple but effective: an actual maze that requires some considerable effort to escape. What pumps up the PKE valances here is the the ghoulish inhabitants, who derisively torment you, mocking your inability to find a way out. Read more about FrightFair here.
Old Town Haunt 2012 retains all the strengths from previous years, with a few nice additions. The old gag with the mock-up of car headlights aimed at you as if on a collision course has been replaced with a mini-subway train - much more appropriate for Old Town Haunt's subterranean location. Lighting effects have been enhanced in several places. The head of a T-Rex (last seen in Rotten Apple 907's Nightmare at the Museum two years ago) pokes through a gap in the wall, as if the tunnel has broken through to some underground, prehistoric world, a la Jules Verne. There is a pitch-black section, and the crawlspace (also pitch black) has been re-positioned and (we think) extended, for even more tense moments on hands and knees, tormented by taunting voices in the darkness. Some familiar denizens remain, but new monsters are mixed in, and as always, just when you think you have escaped safely back up to street level, sliders are lurking in the alleyway to deliver one last scare - or maybe two or three. Click here for details on the Old Town Haunt Halloween Attraction.