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2021 Review: L.A. Haunted Hayride returns to Griffith Park

After a disappointing stint last Halloween as a drive-in at Frank G. Bonelli Park, Los Angeles Haunted Hayride is back where it belongs – in Griffith Park, where it offers its signature Halloween world known as Midnight Falls, filled with mazes, entertainment, and of course the Hayride itself.

Is the homecoming all it should be? Read on to find out…if you dare!

L.A. Haunted Hayride 2021 Review: New Location

Although back in Griffith Park, Los Angeles Haunted Hayride has moved to a different area, east of Crystal Springs Drive. Plugging the official address into your GPS brings you to the road leading up the hill to the parking lots near where the Hayride used to be. Now, you have to park, walk back downhill, cross the street, and then walk considerably farther to reach the environs of Midnight Falls. If you are a kind soul, you probably want to drop your party off before parking. Shuttles are available for those unfortunate enough to park in the distant parking lots of the Los Angeles Zoo; also, the haunt encourages using ride-sharing services to save your shoe-leather.

The entrance features the familiar triangular mountain of lighted Jack O’Lanterns bearing the name Los Angeles Haunted Hayride. The sign for Midnight Falls is situated near a small tunnel leading to the mysterious town where every day is Halloween. On the other side of the passage are picket fences and store fronts suggesting a small town setting, where several costumed characters gleefully target their victims, delivering scares or engaging them in demented dialogue.

There is also lots of open space in the new location – too much, unfortunately. From its very first outing, at King Gillette Ranch in 2009, L.A. Haunted Hayride has offered a seasonally themed setting where visitors can linger after finishing the ride. Midnight Falls, a town where every day is Halloween, offers a conceptually intriguing version of this strategy; however, the increased square footage works against its impact. As in years past, a sign points in the direction of the various attractions, but for the first time it seems functional rather than decorative. The attractions are not so spread out that visitors are likely to get lost, but in between them there is not much scenery except for the lovely Midnight Falls General Store (selling actual merchandise) and a spectacular photo op (seen at Awaken the Spirits in August). Consequently, the sense of being inside a ghost town is diminished; it feels more a like a park with a Halloween overlay.

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2021 Review
Monte Revolta performs.

As in years past, there is a stage offering entertainment – in this case, the Mayor of Midnight Falls himself, Monte Revolta, performing cover versions of horror-themed hits (e.g., “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads). Unfortunately, Monte does little to earn his status as a recurring character at L.A. Haunted Hayride. His backup band is pretty decent, but his vocal talents are limited to raspy growling, interspersed with jokes between songs. At least the scare-actors in the audience provide a few laughs with their heckling comments.

L.A. Haunted Hayride 2021 Review: Mazes

For Halloween 2021, Los Angeles Haunted Hayride offers three walk-throughs incorporating interior and exterior elements: Midnight Mortuary, Trick or Treat, and newcomer Dead End Diner.

As its name suggests, Dead End Diner is the kind of place where the menu is most unsavory – except for the werewolves lurking out back. The maze starts strong with the set for the diner and the kitchen, then loses focus when it heads outside, where much of the path consists of chain link fence draped in tarp and bathed in red light (the approach is reminiscent of the exterior portion of the Hayride’s old In Between dark maze).

Leftovers from 2019’s Roadkill Ranch show up as part of Dead End Diner’s exterior.

The simple settings behind Dead End Diner can be justified as representing a shoddy back alley behind the diner, but after awhile, the theme seems almost forgotten, especially when the lengthy pathway leads by an old cabin and a farm house with a miniature corn maze (leftover from 2019’s Roadkill Ranch walk-through). Ironically, these segments are some of the best the walk-through has to offer, though they have little connection to the diner itself. Throughout, the cast of characters is aggressive in delivering scares; they are also less than helpful when suggesting directions to get out of the maze.

Trick or Treat resurrects its well-loved template, providing an exterior path with numerous houses, where ringing doorbells brings more tricks than treats. The sinister occupants may answer the door; they may be lurking outside before you arrive; or they may dart out from unexpected directions. Whatever happens, part of the fun is that you asked for it by ringing the doorbell in the first place! Like Dead End Diner, this walk-through may be a tad longer than necessary – not that it overstays its welcome, just that length doesn’t improve the experience. On a positive note, this year represents a return to form for the attraction, which was watered down in 2019, eliminating most of the interactivity while adding dark maze elements and a birth tunnel that did not fit the theme.

Midnight Mortuary was our favorite this year. Its theme is consistent throughout, and it achieves its goal in a relatively short space, doing everything it needs to do without overextending itself. It starts inside the mortuary, then moves outside into the graveyard, both of which provide old-school Halloween horror. The sets are nice, and there are enough actors to fill the the space with scares from start to finish. Good stuff!

L.A. Haunted Hayride 2021 Review: Hayride

Thanks to the change of location, the Haunted Hayride moves through new terrain this Halloween, offering an assortment of scares that harken back to their debut while also including a few new surprises. The surroundings feel suitably isolated, sustaining the appearance of a haunted forest, and there are some amazing large-scale physical effects, including menacing giants with Jack O’Lantern heads, one of whom pursues the Hayride, its boney arms extending long enough to reach any and all of the cowering passengers.

The most notable aspect of this year’s Hayride is its short length, which is turned into a benefit (unlike in 2019, when the ride simply felt truncated). This year, the numbers of settings and actors seems approximately the same as before but condensed into a shorter route, sustaining suspense without long stretches in between the scares. Among the many scenes, the grizzliest moment involves a sacrifice upon a guillotine, but our favorite involves an overhead structure that provides a blackout experience, filled with screaming banshees glimpsed courtesy of glowing lights embedded in their costumes.

The only thing missing is a memorable climax that will send audiences home thinking, “This is the best Haunted Hayride ever!” Also, a few physical effects were mistimed during our ride, springing their surprises a moment after the Hayride had passed by. Nevertheless, the new route offers a welcome change of pace, which the Hayride uses to good advantage.

L.A. Haunted Hayride 2021 Review: Conclusion

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The irony of the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride’s new location is that it makes Midnight Falls and the various walk through attractions feel spread out while the Haunted Hayride itself is more condensed. The two aspects balance out, and there is certainly a lot of great eye candy (visually arresting sets and special effects) mixed with an enthusiastic cast of characters eager to scare.

On the practical side, the parking difficulties, lack of signage, long lines, and overcrowding that plagued the 2019 Haunted Hayride were little in evidence when we attended; overall, the event ran smoothly. On the artistic side, we continue to miss the surreal Cirque du Soleil vibe that tinged L.A. Haunted Hayride back when it was owned and operated by Ten Thirty One Productions.

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2021 Ratings
  • 100%
    Midnight Mortuary - 100%
  • 90%
    Trick r Treat - 90%
  • 85%
    Haunted Hayride - 85%
  • 75%
    Dead End Diner - 75%
  • 60%
    Midnight Falls - 60%

Bottom Line

After 2020’s enforced switch to a drive-through, the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride’s return to its traditional form is cause for celebration. Although the event’s special brand of magic is spread a little thin in a larger location, they Hayride itself squeezes an impressive number of frights into a shorter road trip, creating a very satisfying scare-to-distance ratio.

Note: We chose not to rate Monte Revolta’s performance because it would have dragged down the Hayride’s average rating, creating a misleading perception of the event’s overall quality.

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride continues in Griffith Park on select nights throughout October. The address is 4730 Crystal Springs Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90027. The new location is more remote than in past years; shuttle service from parking lots is available. Get more info at LosAngelesHauntedHayride.com.

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.