2014 Halloween Haunt Awards: Winners

It's great to be nominated, but who won? It's time to find out!

At last, the time has come to announce the winners of the 2014 Halloween Haunt Awards. Since the nominations have already been posted, along with explanations for their inclusion, there should be little need for preamble here. Instead, let us move swiftly to the task of identifying this year's Best Halloween Attractions in Los Angeles.

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BEST HALLOWEEN HOME HAUNT YARD DISPLAY: Boney Island

Boney Island cauldrons
Boney Ilsand

This category included a variety of very strong but quite different contenders. Hollywood Haunter's A Night in A Haunted House was great but not as extensive as its Halloween 2013 offering, Graveock Gulch. We seriously considered Firehouse 6 in Santa Clarita because it was such a delightful discovery, but ultimately it was too limited to knock out the other nominees. Both Mourning Rose Manor and the Via Del Lago Haunt presented memorable yard displays, but ultimately we had to go with a sentimental old favorite.

The Boney Island Yard Haunt - consistently enjoyable from year to year, is always one of our favorites.  In 2014, the family-friendly attraction featured numerous familiar set pieces (always worth revisiting), along with some clever new touches, particularly the skeletal butterflies swatted by a skeletal cat. As always, a joy to behold!

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BEST PROFESSIONAL HALLOWEEN DISPLAY OR RIDE: Los Angeles Haunted Hayride

Hellish visions from the Haunted Hayride
Hellish visions from Los Angeles Haunted Hayride

The Calico Mine Ride at the Knotts Scary Farm - rebranded as the Witch's Keep this Halloween - impressed us more in 2014 than it had in years. Rise of the Jack O'Lanterns was a new discovery that will be added to our must-see list for next year. Simply standing in line was a delight at the Reign of Terror Haunted House. However, all those worthy nominees must stand aside.

The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride had its best year ever in 2014. Though the path through Griffith Park took us past some familiar locations, the grounds were inhabited by a new army of demonic monstrosities. The makeup and full-body suits were as good as anything at Halloween Horror Nights, and as if the human-sized threats were not enough, there were also kaiju-sized creatures: a dragon, Cerberus, and a giant Jack O'Lantern that descended unexpectedly from overhead rafters. And let's not forget those incredible bird-men.

(Note: This award is specifically for the hayride itself, not the entire attraction, which is also competing in the multi-maze category.)

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BEST HALLOWEEN HORROR STAGE PRESENTATION OR PLAY: Urban Death - Tour of Terror

urban-death-group-scream
Primal scream from Urban Death

This Halloween, Hollywood Gothique enjoyed more horrifying stage plays than ever before. All of them were imaginative in their staging and performed by incredibly talented casts. Scary Musical: The Musical and Re-Animator: The Musical played amusing variations on their horror theme; and The Call of Cthulhu played its horror straight.

Urban Death: Tour of Terror at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre in North Hollywood was the stage experience that left the most deeply felt memories weeks later. Unconventional and bizarre, this free-form collage of morbid vignettes, sandwiched between a short but strange walk-through, is the stuff of nightmares.

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BEST VIGNETTE/SHORT PLAY: The Cask of Amontillado

Drama After Dark's The Cask of Amontillado at the Los Angeles Zoo
Drama After Dark's The Cask of Amontillado.

Several Halloween events offered short dramatic presentations that deserve to be recognized on their own merits, even if they are parts of larger works eligible in other categories. Two episodes of the Long Beach Historical Historical Cemetery tour - A Time of Pride Not Pity and Fighting Injustice...With Tacos - resonated deeply with us, and we loved seeing silent screen actress Barbara La Marr brought to life in the Art Deco Society's Hollywood Forever Cemetery Walking Tour. Wicked Lit was strong overall, but even in that context "Dracula's Guest" and "The Monk" stood out. All were memorable, but the single most blood-chilling short play we saw this season was not among them.

The Cask of Amontillado - Drama After Dark's faithful presentation of Poe's story, staged in the cave of the Los Angeles Zoo during the annual Night of the Living Zoo event - was mined a deep level of horror beyond what even we hoped for. There was not a member of the audience who did not shiver to the core at Fortunato's pitiful scream, "For the love of God, Montressor!"

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John-T-Cogan and Eric-Keitel in Dracula's Guest. Photo-by-Daniel-Kitayama.
Wicked Lit. Photo-by-Daniel-Kitayama.

BEST PLAY OR DRAMATIC PRESENTATION IN A NON-THEATRICAL SETTING: Wicked Lit

There are several dramatic productions during the Halloween season that do not quite qualify as stage plays - because they are not performed on stage. The use of real environments may serve a didactic purpose in a historical tour, or it may transform storytelling into something closer to a haunted house walk-through. Though Drama After Dark, Delusion Lies Within, and the Long Beach Historical Cemetery Tour were all enthralling, this was a relatively easy decision. Why? That is easy enough to answer.

The Wicked Lit Halloween Theatre Festival had its best season ever, featuring a trio of strong short plays welded together with an excellent intermission show. Truly, all the ingredients mixed perfectly in a bloody cocktail of delirious power: strong writing, moving performances, imaginative lighting effects, and of course the expertly utilized buildings and grounds of the Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery.

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BEST INTERACTIVE HORROR EXPERIENCE: Delusion Lies Within

Delusion Lies Within make you a face-to-face participant, up close and personal with the action.

Interactive is starting to become a buzz word indicating physical abuse, but this year's nominees eschewed that approach, offering thrills that were fast-paced and visceral (in Special Ops: Infected at Knotts Scary Farm and in the Zombie Killhouse at Haunted Hollywood Sports) or ethereal and haunting in this case of this year's winner.

Delusion Lies Within is our choice for the Best Interactive Experience this Halloween, making its audience a part of a haunted house story involving a search for a reclusive author. The narrative twists and turns link numerous memorable set pieces requiring audience participation, sometimes of an unsavory sort, and the live special effects are tremendous in their technical expertise but even more so in their dramatic impact. Who needs virtual reality when you have Delusion Lies Within?

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BEST SCARE ZONE: Nightmares

Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest Nightmares Scare Zone

Scare zones are so prolific that they can blend together in memory. The one that stands out for us is this year is Nightmares at Magic Mountain's Fright Fest. It had the benefit of a very felicitous location with overhanging trees which seemed to cut off the rest of the theme park, creating a sense of an isolated imaginary world, illuminated with black lights and inhabited by strangely personable creatures eager to engage visitors in conversations regarding their pet rats. This was good, creepy fun - twisted, but enjoyable.

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BEST OPENING SCENE: Black Magic

The Black Magic maze at Knott's Berry Farm
The Black Magic maze at Knott's Berry Farm.

Getting off on the right foot is important, and several of this Halloween's haunted attractions showed particular skill in this regard. Raymond Hill Mortuary started its customers off with a scream of surprise, and amateur haunts Curse of the Devil Swamp, Rotten Apple 907, and Sherwood Studios all rivaled their professional competition with clever openings that set the stage for what followed.

The Skeleton Key Room for the Black Magic Maze at Knotts Scary Farm was our favorite opener for 2014. A seance for an audience of six, the brief vignette combined a clever concept (calling Houdini back from the dead) with great visual effects leading to a more physical manifestation that sent screaming viewers running from the room (a pretty thought that is: running into a scary maze represented relative safety in this context!)

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BEST GORE EFFECT: Re-Animator - The Musical

Dr. Hill (Jesse Merlin) gives Herbert West a taste of his own medicine.
Jesse Merlin) and Skipper Graham in Re-Animator: The Musical

Hollywood Gothique survived all sorts of splatter this Halloween, ranging from a rain of blood in Dominion of the Damned's Skeleton Key Room at Knotts Scary Farm to explosive headshots in the play The Zombie Effect to the half-eaten but still live victim in the Alien vs. Predator Maze at Halloween Horror Nights.As oozy as all of those were, none could match the red river of outrageous excess of this year's winner.

Re-Animator: The Musical featured red bodily fluid spewing from an intestine that Herbert West aimed at the audience during his climactic, final, show-stopping song. Audience members sitting in the "Splash Zone" (i.e., the first three rows) got quite a souvenir that night - if one thinks of one's own blood-stained clothing as a souvenir.

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BEST MONSTER: Los Angeles Haunted Hayride

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2014 human-bird upside down
Human-bird hybrids at Los Angeles Haunted Hayride

Cerberus at L.A. Haunted Hayride was astounding; the Alien Queen in Aliens vs Predators at Halloween Horror Nights was awesome. Delusion Lies Within had two magnificent monsters: the Fireplace Phantom and the Spindleman. Marvelous monsters all, and yet the creatures that continue to haunt  our minds a month later materialized elsewhere.

The Human-Bird Hybrids at the L.A. Haunted Hayride were awe-inspiring. Beyond their startling and unexpected appearance, poised on poles high in the night sky, these creatures offered a dazzling aerial display, floating down upon us and wafting back into the air with all the grace of magical acrobats - a stunning, breath-taking sight.

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BEST ADDITION OR IMPROVEMENT TO AN EXISTING ATTRACTION: Los Angeles Live Steamers Ghost Train

Los Angeles Live Steamers Ghost Train 2014: Madame Leota horizontal
Madme Leota invokes spirits at the Los Angeles Live Steamers Ghost Train.

We loved the Giant Robot-Cyborgs in the Backwoods Maze. We laughed at the Skeletal Kitty Swatting at Butterflies in Boney Island. But we remain in awe of this year's winner.

Madame Leota's Seance from Los Angeles Live Steamers Ghost Train was a recreation of a scene from Disneyland's Haunted Mansion, in which the disembodied head of a medium recited rhyming couplets to invoke the spirits of the dead. This loving tribute to the Haunted Mansion's forty-fifth anniversary had to be clearly visible from a slowly moving miniature train at considerable distance - and it was, thanks to a floating table the size of a flying saucer, over which hovered the over-sized face of Madame Leota, her voice accompanied by pulsing music and flashing lights, creating a spectacular spooky show.

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BEST NON-HAUNT HALLOWEEN EVENT: Eek! at the Greek!

Arthur B. Rubinstein conducts the Symphony in the Glen at Eek! at the Greek!
Arthur B. Rubinstein conducting the Symphony in the Glen at Eek! at the Greek!

This category was a relatively easy choice. The Hollywood Forever Cemetery Walking Tour and the Long Beach Historical Cemetery Tour were educational and entertaining. Night of the Living Zoo was fun, but one nominee had them all beat.

Eek at the Greek - a one-night event at the Greek Theatre - offered entertainment for the whole family, including a costume contest on stage and Arthur B. Rubinstein conducting selections of creepy classical music that enchanted young and old alike. Stand-out moments included a live rendition of the score for the classic Disney animated short, Skeleton Dance, and actor Bruce Boxleitner's impassioned reading of Poe's "The Tell Tale Heart," backed by Rubinstein's rhythmic underscoring. Far from the aloof and high-toned image we have of classical music, Eek at the Greek aimed to entertain, its music evoking the spirit of Halloween as well as any haunted house event.

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BEST AMATEUR HAUNTED HOUSE WALK-THROUGH: Beware The Dark Realm

A werewolf lurks behind the door of the Dark Realm.
A werewolf lurks behind the door of the Dark Realm.

This Halloween, Hollywood Gothique screamed almost as much within the labyrinths of neighborhood homes as we did in the mazes at theme parks. Pumkin Jack's Haunted House; Sherwood Studios at Big Worm's Sherwood Scare; The Haunt at Hellizondo's Witches of Scabtree Hollow; and the Wilsley Brothers House of Fun at Rotten Apple 907 - all were so good that choosing among them is almost impossible. Sherwood Studios seems to be the favorite according to conventional wisdom, but we thought their presentation was slightly off this year - still great, but not quite up to their 2013 haunt, Camp Sherwood. Instead, we opted to give the nod to a relative newcomer.

Beware the Dark Realm was in its second season of home haunting in Santa Clarita. The theme - a haunted medieval castle - was different from anything else we saw this year; the outer facade was beyond what one expects in a yard haunt; professional makeup and clever sets elevated this above most of the competition; and it just seemed to work from beginning to end, without resorting to any of the usual cliches (clowns, chainsaws, etc).

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BEST PROFESSIONAL HAUNTED HOUSE WALK-THROUGH: Raymond Hill Mortuary

Raymond Hill Mortuary 2014
The entrance to Raymond Hill Mortuary

This is another extremely tough call, involving multiple nominees that deserve to win. An old favorite, the Factory of Nightmares at FrightFair was refurbished and improved for this Halloween. From Dusk Till Dawn at Halloween Horror Nights brought the lurid thrills and seductive vampires of the movie and television series to life. We were amazed at the way Knotts Scary Farm's Voodoo transported us into a haunted Louissiana bayou. Magic Mountain had two worthy candidates: Red's Revenge took us into a Grimm fairy tale world for adults, and Willoughby's Resurrected offered the year's most convincing traditional haunted house. As great as all of these spine-chilling labyrinths were, there was another that squeezed a few more thrills out of its walk-through.

Raymond Hill Mortuary offered a satisfying synthesis of traditional maze, interactive scenes, interiors and exteriors - in short a little bit of everything, all of it adding up to something great. Perhaps because it was a stand-alone attraction, and had to leave visitors fully satisfied rather than looking forward to the next maze, the Raymond Hill Mortuary delivered more than one would expect: just when we thought it was over, there would be yet another passageway teaming with terrors.

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A winged demon guards the entrance of Creatures of the Corn at Fright Fair.
A winged demon at Fright Fair.

BEST MULTI-MAZE HALLOWEEN ATTRACTION: Fright Fair Scream Park

We loved shooting zombies at Haunted Hollywood Sports, and we thrilled to the sights of Hell on Earth at the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, but ultimately we remember their star attractions more than the overall experience. (The Haunted Hayride itself was fantastic, but the haunt's other attractions were not on the same level.)

FrightFair ScreamPark at Pierce College in Northridge was the multi-maze event that offered the most satisfying variety. The Factory of Nightmares haunted house; the Creatures of the Corn haunted trail; the Insane Reaction maze - all of them were great, but more important, each was distinct from the other; one could go through all three without ever seeing the same kind of scare. These three scary walk-throughs were situated within a larger Halloween Harvest Festival that provided plenty of entertainment for the whole family (a corn maze, rides, etc), making this a great all-night event.

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BEST HALLOWEEN THEME PARK ATTRACTION: Knotts Scary Farm

Knotts Scary Black Magic Wart Head
One of the many malevolent monster at Knotts Scary Farm.

To begin with, it is easy enough to whittle this heavyweight category down to two out of three nominees. Although Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood continued to impress with its technical expertise, creating live attractions of some of our favorite movie monsters (Aliens, Predators, An American Werewolf in London), the theme park's scare strategies were limited to a few identifiable tricks, and it was possible to walk through their mazes feeling relatively unperturbed while simply marveling at how cool everything looked.

The second two nominees, however, present a dilemma. We enjoyed all the mazes and many of the scare zones at the Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest, but we still felt that the Knotts Berry Farm Halloween Haunt was superior. The difficulty of the decision lies in the fact that Knotts Scary Farm won the title in this category for Halloween 2013, and by our rules, it can win again only on the basis of new additions, not returning attractions. For 2014, Knotts added Voodoo, The Tooth Fairy, and Special Ops: Infected; also, Trapped: Lock and Key was revamped, and the Elvira stage show was totally different. Were these changes enough to earn a second victory as the Best Halloween Theme Park Attraction in Los Angeles and the surrounding Southland? We think so.

Knotts Scary Farm, therefore. takes the crown two years running. Voodoo was amazing. Special Ops: Infected was thrilling. Elvira's Big Top was a fun-filled freakshow. We were not as overwhelmed by the Tooth Fairy as some other haunt-seekers, but it was better than several of the Fright Fest walk-throughs. Halloween doesn't get much better than this.

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HALLOWEEN LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: House of Horrors

Classic movie monsters terrorized tourists on a daily basis in Universals House of Horrors.
Classic characters outside Universal's House of Horrors.

In 2014, we lost several Halloween haunts that had given us a lifetime's worth of fright. For the first time in a decade, Halloween passed without any kind of horror production in Los Angeles from the 68 Cent Crew, the team behind The Theatre 68 Haunted House, which once elicited so many screams in Hollywood. FrightFair ScreamPark had its last year on the campus of Pierce College. The House of Restless Spirits abruptly cancelled two weeks before Halloween.  The House of Horrors hosted Face Off at Halloween Horror Nights, then shuttered its castle doors for good.

All of these are worthy nominees; all of them deserve the award. However, we reserve the Lifetime Achievement Award for defunct attractions. Though the future is uncertain for FrightFair, House of Restless Spirits, and Theatre 68's Haunted House, it is at least possible that they may return sometime in the near future. The House of Horrors, however, is slated to be demolished to make way for more shopping options on the tour at Universal Studios Hollywood. With its passing a certainty, we bestow this year's Halloween Lifetime Achievement Award on the theme park's memorable walk-through.

The House of Horrors - a year-round attraction at Universal Studios - functioned as a sort of Horror Movies Greatest Hits, taking you scene by scene from silent movies, to early sound efforts, to more contemporary horror - passing everything from Nosferatu to Chucky on the way. For Halloween Horror Nights, the number of monsters haunting the House of Horrors would multiply, creating a more intense experience, augmented with thunderous music and disorienting lighting effects.

In terms of size and scope, House of Horrors was the most impressive haunted house labyrinth ever seen in Los Angeles, featuring a lengthy trek through massive sets of incredible variety and detail. Though the layout would remain unchanged from year to year, House of Horrors would be re-themed every Halloween, emphasizing a different franchise character, such as The Strangers (after the film became a hit) and The Wolfman (after Universal Studios released their remake of the classic horror character). Its final season, hosting characters from SyFy's Face Off reality series, was not the send-off one would have preferred. But the many happy times we spent wandering through its castle walls will remain in our memories for decades to come. If ever a Halloween haunt deserved to be accorded historical status to prevent its destruction, this was it.

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Actor-producer-digital-imaging-technician Willis Chung, menaced by ghost
Actor and digital-imaging-technician Willis Chung, menaced by ghost

HONORABLE MENTION: Flying Ghosts at Los Angeles Haunted Hayride

Hollywood Gothique just wants to say that, of all the spirits, phantoms, ghouls, werewolves, and vampires we encountered this Halloween, most remarkable and innovative were the free-floating ghosts haunting the Purgatory scare zone at the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride. It did not take too long to spot how the effect was achieved; nevertheless, the image of a legless head-and-torso flying through the night air left an indelible impression; even after one saw through the gag, it remained amusing, as the phantoms would lurk overhead, unnoticed by many, occasionally descending to dive-bomb newcomers unaware of the flying menace.

We hope this effect will return next year, perhaps augmented with some sort of lighting effect (a pale blue glow or bright red eyes) and even a voice.

(In case you are wondering: the "ghosts" were prop heads levitated by means of miniature, remote-controlled helicopters. The heads dangled by invisible wires ten feet or so below the vehicles, which were inconspicuous enough to go unnoticed until one started looking for them.)

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BEST HALLOWEEN ATTRACTION OF 2014

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Now that winners have been selected in individual categories, it is time to identify the mega-winner: the best overall Halloween Attraction of 2014. Criteria is simple: a haunt must have won in a previous category, but that win must not be for a small piece of a larger event (i.e., Best Scare Zone, Best Gore Effect, Best Monster, Best Improvement, Best Opening Scene, Best Vignette). Likewise, the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride does not qualify, because its win for Best Halloween Display or Ride was only for the hayride itself, not for the overall multi-maze event. And of course, the Lifetime Achievement Award is given for a haunt's entire career, not for a single year; hence, the winner does not qualify for 2014. That leaves the winners from these categories:

  • Boney Island Yard Haunt - Best Home Haunt Yard Display
  • Urban Death: Tour of Terror - Best Stage Presentation or Play
  • Wicked Lit - Best Play in a Non-Theatrical Setting
  • Delusion Lies Within - Best Interactive Horror Experience
  • Eek! at the Greek! - Best Non-Haunt Halloween Event
  • Beware the Dark Realm - Best Amateur Haunted House Walk-Through
  • Raymond Hill Mortuary - Best Professional Haunted House Walk-Through
  • FrightFair Scream Park - Best Multi-Maze Attraction
  • Knotts Scary Farm - Best Theme Park Attraction

And the winner is: The Wicked Lit Halloween Theatre Festival

Wicked Lit has done a wonderful job of topping itself for the past two years, winning in this category first in 2013 and now in 2014. Whereas once upon a time the festival's appeal lay largely in its novelty (horror plays staged in a real cemetery), Wicked Lit has evolved into a mesmerizing, immersive experience that - while lacking jump-scares - provides as many chills as any other kind of Halloween attraction. The combination of drama, setting, lighting, and sound yielded something so satisfying on every level that we have neither doubts nor qualms about awarding it our highest honor two years running.

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CONCLUSION

Happy-HalloweenWell, that is the end of announcements regarding this year's Halloween Haunt Awards. We may consolidate the series of articles (introduction, nominations, winners) into a single mega-article for reader convenience, and we will definitely return from time to time to post tributes to the nominees and winners; after all, we have a ton of video that needs to be edited and posted - which will hopefully showcase our reasons for the selections we made.

Till then, Hollywood Gothique would like to extend its heartfelt thanks to haunters everywhere: winners, nominees, those we visited and those we missed. Your efforts, professional and amateur, turn October into the most amazing season of the year, one filled with more imagination and talent that seems possible. You are an inspiration to all of us. Long may your cemetery gates be open, and long may your restless spirits roam.