2014 Halloween Haunt Award Nominees: Best Amateur Haunted House Walk-Through

Home haunts have undergone a seemingly exponential evolution during the decade that Hollywood Gothique has been tracking them. Once upon a time, decorations and displays ruled the night; now, walk-through terror-tours have become increasingly popular, many of them rivaling their professional counterparts - and even exceeding them in one particular area. Unburdened by the theme park's need to push hundreds of customers through, amateur attractions can afford to send trick-or-treaters into their labyrinths in tiny, terrified groups, moving at their own pace - slowing down to savor the scares or running in fear to escape.

This category celebrates the dedicated work of those who spend months planning and building these haunted house attractions for our benefit. Please note that last year's winner The Backwoods Maze is out of the running (no two-time winners allowed unless the haunt changes drastically). Also, we did not see The Haunted Shack or Revenge of the Ninja this year, and both Curse of the Devil Swamp and the Haunted House at Punta Del Este were too impacted by rain to qualify.

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The King of the Dark Realm
The King of the Dark Realm
Beware the Dark Realm

In its second year of haunting, this amateur attraction in Santa Clarita benefitted from an impressive castle facade, some professional-looking makeup, and a sustained theme regarding a curse that had corrupted a king and his subjects. Halloween 2013 was Hollywood Gothique's first trip to Beware the Dark Realm; we were amazed at the overall level of quality on display and immediately added it to our list of must-see home haunts.

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The Haunt at Hellizondo 2013: Witches of Scabtree Hollow skeletons with pumpkin headsWitches of Scabtree Hollow at The Haunt at Helizondo

Recycling its theme from Halloween 2013, the Haunt at Hellizondo offered an impressive Salem-style village in the driveway, a lavishly decorated front yard (including the bodies of witches burned at the stake), and a short interior walk-through with several clever hiding places for its monsters. There were some good jump-scares, but mostly we remember the beauty of the black-lit rooms, with some marvelous pumpkin-headed figures. This Simi Valley yard haunt is eerie and enjoyable.

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pumkin jack's haunted house

Pumkin Jack's Haunted House

Not far from Beware the Dark Realm in Santa Clarita, this home haunt consists of a walk-through with eight rooms of terror, providing a smorgasbord of different frights. The journey, though not very long, is very hectic, with numerous frights to startle your senses and confuse your mind, creating the impression of a much bigger attraction. We had found this labyrinth to be memorably scary during our first visit a couple years ago; it was even more so this Halloween.

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Sherwood Studios entrance Sherwood Studios at Big Worm's Sherwood Scare

In its third year, Sherwood Scare, located in Northridge, remained the master of storytelling, cleverly delivering exposition in the early scenes to set up scares that arrived later, thus creating a dramatic sense of anticipation that most home haunts (and many professional ones) lack. The sets provided a remarkable simulacrum of a real movie studio, and the low-key lighting did an excellent job of making the dwellers in darkness look all the more sinister. As in 2013, the haunted ended with an eye-catching image of horror, providing a memorable climax.

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Wilsley Brothers House of Fun 2014 revised flier Wilsley Brothers House of Fun at Rotten Apple 907

After haunting a manor for two seasons, the fictional Wilsley Brothers returned to Rotten Apple 907 in a new guise, as proprietors of a funhouse; the twist was that the fun was had by the inhabitants at the expense of the visitors. The only thing crazier than the clowns in this walk-through were the sets, with spongy floors and tilted angles that were enough to induce vertigo. There were also some cool effects (done with mirrors) and a bumper-car room. Insanity reigned throughout this Burbank home haunt, which stands on par with many professional efforts.