2014 Halloween Haunt Award Nominees: Lifetime Achievement

In this category, we celebrate Halloween attractions that have shuffled off their mortal coil and taken up residence in the Graveyard of Lost Halloween Haunts, but which deserve to be recognized for high standards of excellence maintained over the course of many years.

2014 hit Halloween fans particularly hard. Not only did some favorites have their last hurrah; one of the greatest was abruptly cancelled without the benefit of giving a final, farewell performance. In some cases, we live in hope that these haunts may return, after either finding a new location or resolving whatever difficulties led to their demise; in other cases, the disappearance is permanent. Either way, here we acknowledge their long years of service and scares, which lead us to mourn their passing.

And the nominees are...

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House of Restless Spirits

Levitated by an unseen hand, a slab moves above a grave.

As Halloween attractions evolve, trading traditional spirits for psychos and chainsaws, the old-fashioned haunted house increasingly seems a quaint remnant of a bygone age. One of the finest examples of the form was this home haunt display, which featured an incredible array of special effects in and around a private residence in Santa Monica. There were no overt shocks, no live actors, only a succession of spooky illusions (shadows of unseen beings, ghostly footprints, materializing phantasms), the cumulative impact of which was almost as impressive as visiting a real haunted house.

After seventeen years, the House of Restless Spirits closed its doors because of concerns over neighbors. Its future is uncertain.

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House of Horrors at Universal Studios Hollywood

House of Horrors at Universal Studios Hollywood FrankensteinTaking over the space formerly known as Van Helsing: Fortress Dracula, this walk-through officially opened in April of 2007, though it had been already been temporarily branded "House of Horrors" in October 2006, when Universal Studios Hollywood launched Halloween Horror Nights. Much of that old Fortress Dracula remained intact, such as Frankenstein's laboratory, but new rooms were added to create a sort of tour through the history of horror movies, both classic and contemporary. In effect, this was a year-round haunted attraction, which could be enhanced and augmented for Halloween. Besides such perennial icons as Norma Bates, the Mummy, and the Brides of Dracula, over the course of the next eight years, House of Horrors hosted characters from The Strangers, the Chucky franchise, The Wolfman, and SyFy's Face Off reality series. Benefiting from its permanent location, the House of Horrors offered an incredibly extensive tour through some of the most convincing horror environments imaginable, and it was the only Universal walk-through in which one could reliably expect to find the studio's classic horror icons (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc) represented.

2014 was last year for House of Horrors. The structure it occupied will be razed to make room for more shopping options on the Universal Studios tour.

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FrightFair ScreamPark

Fright Fair Logo cropThis Halloween haunt, in various permutations, had been scaring Los Angeles Halloween fans for so long (at least eighteen years) that it was almost no longer news. A single-maze attraction for the first half of its life (billed as "four haunts slammed into one"), FrightFair morphed into a multi-maze attraction (including a Halloween Harvest Festival) in the new millennium. Though the expansion was shaky at first (resources seemed spread thin), the haunt eventually regained its former glory, multiplied by three: the Factory of Nightmares Haunted House; the Creatures of the Corn Trail; and the Insane Reaction Maze (a literal maze, by the way). The harvest festival also included a corn maze, rides and games for the kids, a petting zoo, lots of food options, and a great produce store (all your pumkin needs under one roof - well, under the open sky, actually). The funhouse-type settings were never what set FrightFair apart; its strength lay in the aggressive tactics of its cast: always eager to do more than simply glower and yell "Boo!", the confrontational characters all seemed to have their own personality quirks and routines, interacting with frightened customers long before the "interactive" became a buzz word. The haunt's signature icon was a gargantuan Tesla coil that sent sparks flying into the night sky like something out of Frankenstein's laboratory; out of action for several years, it was recently resurrected, making a final appearance in the Insane Reaction maze for 2014.

FrightFair ScreamPark is being evicted by its landlord, Pierce College, which wants to re-purpose the property on which the haunt has been located since 2005. With luck, FrightFair may find a new location, but there is no guarantee.

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Theatre 68 Haunted House

Theatre 68 2009 monster and girlLong before Jon Braver got into the business of theatrical haunting with Delusion: A Haunted Play, the 68 Cent Crew was offering intimate interactive scares in Hollywood.  Transforming their modest theatre into a haunted house walk-through, the acting troupe went mano-a-mano (figuratively) with its audience, allowing in only one or two visitors at a time, who received the full attention of the madmen and monsters inside. The Theatre 68 Haunted House was not as elaborate as some professional haunts, but the sets and costumes were nice, and the available space was put to good use, offering a handful of startling illusions (e.g., a moving wall to reveal a hidden exit).  Most important was an innovative element that has become almost de rigeur today: triggering the scares to activate when the audience entered a room, so that it always felt as if what was happened was for your "benefit," so to speak. This creative fright experience offered perhaps the best scream-to-cost ratio in Los Angeles.

Theatre 68 went dark in 2013 when the 68 Cent Crew moved to a new venue that could not accommodate their Halloween performance. Though hopes were expressed for a new venue, Halloween 2014 also passed without the Theatre 68 Haunted House, while the 68 Cent Crew focused on staging traditional theatrical entertainment. The haunt is not officially dead, but we fear we may not see its return for the foreseeable future.

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