2019 Halloween Yard Haunts: The Verdugos

Hollywood Gothique encounters ghosts of the old west at Nightmare in Whiting Woods, plus spooks in Glendale and La Crescenta.

Halloween in the Verdugos doesn't have much of a ring to it. The region - which includes Glendale, Pasadena, and La Crescenta-Montrose - is home to several Halloween events, but it has yet to establish a unique haunt identity in the public consciousness, perhaps because Glendale's proximity to Burbank makes the region seem like part of the more well known San Fernando Valley. In fact, Glendale is largely in the hills east of the valley, and the Verdugos encompasses such neighborhoods and cities as Altadena (where the Wicked Lit Halloween Theatre Festival is staged on the grounds of Mountainview Mausoleum) and La Cañada Flintridge (where Descanso Gardens provides a setting for such colorful pumpkin festivals as Carved and Rise of the Jack O'Lanterns). The region also hosts numerous Halloween home haunts which are every bit as entertaining as, if somewhat less famous than, their San Fernando blood-brothers.

On October 31, 2019, Hollywood Gothique embarked on a Halloween Odyssey to the Verdugos, in order to explore several of these less heralded yard haunts: Nightmare in Whiting Woods, 1400 Halloween Display, Catastrophe Cabin, and others. Though it is too late to visit these haunted houses this year (some were open only on Halloween Night), this information may be a useful reference guide next season.

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Verdugos Halloween Yard Haunts: Glendale
The Nightmare in Whiting Woods (Haunted House Walk-through)
413 Whiting Woods, Glendale, 91028
2019 Schedule: Halloween Night, 6-11pm

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Located in the northern hills of Glendale, near the 210 Freeway, this one-night-only yard haunt has kept a low profile during its nearly two decades of operation (which began under the name Nightmare in Vista Court before moving to its current location). Nightmare in Whiting Woods is not on the annual So Cal Haunts list; there is no Facebook page, and the closest thing to an official website has not been updated since August 2013. Online visibility consists of photos exchanged among cast and crew on social media, plus an occasional YouTube video or crowdfunding campaign.

Regardless of staying out of the limelight, the Nightmare in Whiting Woods is extremely popular. On Halloween Night, the narrow, winding road below the haunt is crammed with cars; parking is at a premium; and throngs of costumed trick-or-treaters ascend a steep, narrow pathway up a hill to the property.

The official start time is 6pm, but this means only that sound effects begin to kick in one by one, like an overture building to a symphony of shudders. It is unlikely you will enter before 7pm; nevertheless, it is a good idea to arrive while daylight remains, in order to secure your place before the line spills from the pathway onto into the street below; otherwise, your wait time could exceed an hour.

Is The Nightmare in Whiting Woods worth the wait? Only if you enjoy a superlative walk-through on par with the best Halloween home haunts in Los Angeles.

Whiting Woods' theme for Halloween 2019 was an old western ghost town. The experience was divided into four sections. First, the wait in line set the mood, taking visitors past a hillside festooned with skeletons, graves, and markers sporting groan-inducing joke names ("Upton Leftus"). Second, the walk-through began on a porch with an ax-wielding woman named Lizzie Borden, leading to the interior of a disreputable establishment, with with ghoulish saloon girls. Third, we emerged into the ghost town itself, where we encountered a variety of creepy characters, including scarecrows and restless corpses. Fourth, we entered an old gold mine, who darkness housed even more hungry ghouls.

Nightmare in Whiting Woods clearly has the square footage to accommodate a substantial haunt, and the different environments were all nicely done. The entire trek lasted about five minutes, but it seemed like more because the haunt contained so much: we expected a brief walk through a haunted saloon; the ghost town and the abandoned mine were unexpected bonus features. There were also some good special effects, including a bar girl turning into a skeleton right before our eyes.

Visitors were allowed to enter in small groups: whether you were front, back, or center, there was a monster available to target you. The scare strategy consisted of having multiple actors, sometimes augmented with mechanical effects, attacking simultaneously from different directions, shattering your comfort zone aggressively and repeatedly. The monsters wore masks or makeup, depending on how visible the lighting conditions made them; some were very impressive, such as the wooden cigar-store Indian that suddenly came to life. Best of all was an enormous skeletal horse, white bones aglow in black light, escaping its coral to trot menacingly in our direction.

Attending Nightmare in Whiting Woods presents difficulty: lines are long, and hours are short. Nevertheless, this is a must-see Halloween event - not quite as elaborate as Rotten Apple 907 or Beware the Dark Realm but easily on par with the other high end yard haunts, such as Murder House Productions.

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Verdugos Halloween Yard Haunts: La Crescenta
Happy Haunts (Haunted Yard Display)
3552 Prospect Avenue, La Crescenta
2019 Schedule: October 5-31, 7-10pm

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Five minutes north of Nightmare in Whiting Woods was this family-friendly Halloween yard display, loaded with tombstons, artificial Jack O'Lanterns, and inflatable figures of Jack Skellington, Frankenstein, and Yoda. The creepiest figure on view was the demented doll-faced character from Trick R Treat, but we're sure Yoda could use the Force to keep him at bay. Meanwhile, smiling ghosts and pumpkins were a welcome invitation to even the most timid trick-or-treaters.

Favorite visual: a skeleton taking a bath with soapy "bubbles" lit from beneath the surface.

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Verdugos Halloween Yard Haunts: Glendale
1400 Halloween Display
1400 Andenes Drive, Glendale
2019 Schedule: October 26-27 & Halloween Night, 7:30-10p

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About ten minutes south of Whiting Woods and just a minute away from Opechee Haunt (more on which below), the 1400 Halloween Display was a joint effort between father and son, both of whom arranged various decorations and effects on the expansive yard of a large corner house in the hills of Glendale. On Halloween Night, the static displays of mannequins, skeletons, and tombstones were enhanced with a few moving figures, including a pressure-activated jumping spider that sprung when we first set foot on the property. Even better was an imposing figure with a glowering Jack O'Lantern for a cranium, which glowed a hot orange color as he spasmodically thrashed about.

There was lots to see here but spread out over the ample acreage, leaving many possible escape routes, so candy-seekers had little reason to be scared, especially since there were no live monsters.

Much smaller in size, though perhaps slightly creepier, was an unnamed yard haunt across the street...

Verdugos Halloween Yard Haunts: Glendale
Pennywise Haunt (Halloween Yard Display)
Andenes Drive, Glendale

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This was a small display, but putting Pennywise on the balcony was a brilliant idea, giving the mechanical figure a platform from which to glower down on approaching candy-grabbers, his raspy voice echoing ominously through the night air. Well done!

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Verdugos Halloween Yard Haunts: Glendale
Opechee Haunt (Haunted Show)
1307 Opechee Way, Glendale
2019 Schedule: October 20, 25-27 & Halloween Night, 7-10pm
spookyscary.wixsite.com/opecheehaunt

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Less than a minute away from the 1400 Halloween Display, the Opechee Haunt was dazzling audiences with its final show before going on indefinite hiatus. The presentation, Jack's Halloween JamBOOree! 2, was not only a sequel to 2017's JamBOOree! but also a continuation of their showcase at Midsummer Scream back in August. Guests in groups of twenty watched a 15 minute pre-show before being escorted to a viewing deck for the main event. Unlike the first JamBOOree! - which was open to viewing from anywhere on the street - this one was more private and intimate. The proprietor wanted to create a theatre-like atmosphere in order to surprise the audience without revealing all the magic, which included a mixed usage of animatronics, lighting, sound effects, and live actors.

The finale provided a bittersweet moment when Jack and Gus, the main Jack O’Lantern characters bid farewell and adieu. For the general audience, it meant merely the end of the story. For those in the haunt community, it means something more permanent.

-Capsule Comment by Warren So

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Verdugos Halloween Yard Haunts: Glendale
Catastrophe Cabin (Walk-through Haunted Yard Display)
1541 Garden Street, Glendale, 91201
2019 Schedule: Halloween Night, sundown-11pm

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Our final stop was considerably father west than the other Verdugos Halloween Yard Haunts - about fifteen minutes on the Glendale and Ventura freeways.

Catastrophe Cabin is a yard haunt that does not feel like a yard - it's too well disguised by its Halloween overlay. On Halloween Night, its display mimicked a walk-through experience. Bathed in eerie red light, the decor and foliage were so thick they created the illusion of entering a little Halloween world as we trekked up the driveway to a tent where we obtained treats and divination cards revealing mystical secrets about our inner nature. A second, equally packed pathway led to the front porch with a spooky photo op for trick-or-treaters courageous enough to brave masked monsters lurking behind densely arranged props and skeletons.

But that's not all Garden Street in Glendale had to offer this October 31st. Next door to the left, we stumbled upon an unexpected bonus haunt...

Verdugos Halloween Yard Haunts: Glendale
Jurassic Island (Dinosaur Sanctuary Yard Display)
Garden Street, Glendale, 91201

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As the name informs you, this yard haunt was home to creatures from the Mesozoic Era, resurrected through genetic engineering. John Williams' memorable theme music from Jurassic Park filled the air as we approached the treat bowl, which was surrounded by various fierce reptiles, both prehistoric and mythical. Since these were mostly in the form of balloons, they were not too intimidating for youngsters, though a couple of detailed rubber heads were considerably more convincing. With no animatronic dinosaurs, Jurassic Island was more a neighborhood trick-or-treat stop than a travel destination, but it was definitely worth a detour on the way to Catastrophe Cabin.

Bonus points for recreating a famous moment in the film by hanging a toy jeep from a tree.

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The Verdugos is also home to Forgotten Hallows in Pasadena and the Garden Path of Doom in Altadena, two yard haunts we did not visit this season.

Photographs by Yuki Tanaka and Warren So.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.