The third installment of our Last-Minute Halloween Recommendations looks at home haunts. Sadly, some of our favorites will not be materializing this year, including The House of Restless Spirits and the Eternal Rest Cemetery. Try to console yourselves with the great ones that remain.
Note: We omitted Forest of Mirrors in Woodland Hills from this list because their website has not been updated for Halloween 2014, and the proprietor has not answered our email inquiries; however, we hear second-hand that the haunt will take place on October 31, as usual.
THE BACKWOODS MAZE
A miracle of geometry, The Backwoods Maze Yard Haunt squeezes more Halloween horror into its backyard labyrinth than most professional haunted houses can manage with more space and bigger budgets. In fact, Backwoods Maze is so densely packed that it borders on sensory overload, with scares coming at you fast and furious.
Though it is sometimes hard to see while screaming with your hands over your eyes, Halloween 2014 offers some striking additions that are impossible to miss, including several Transformer-sized robots and cyborgs in various states of assembly. Additionally, the sinister characters lurking within this futuristic setting are not just irradiated loonies but demented factory workers whose repulsive aspects are exceeded only by their loathsome personalities ("Hey, sweat thing - come over here, baby!").
If you're lucky, you may be attacked by a demented mutant who leaps down from the rafters overhead - a completely unexpected appearance. Unfortunately, Hollywood Gothique expects this character will probably be in hospital with a broken leg on Halloween Night, so don't count on seeing him.
No matter how many times you have trekked through the Backwoods Maze, you will see something new this Halloween. Hollywood Gothique's selected this yard haunt as the Best Amateur Haunted House Walk-Through in 2013; it remains highly recommended.
The Backwoods Maze will be open on Halloween night, 7-10pm. Admission is free.
The address is 1912 North Pepper Street, Burbank, CA 91505. Click here for their Facebook page.
The Boney Island yard haunt is back in all its glory, offering a barrel-full of Halloween fun for the whole family. Thought the essential presentation remains the same as in the previous few years (a skeleton magical show, featuring colorful fountains of water timed to Halloween-themed music), we noted several new gags during a recent visit. The glow-in-the-dark skeletal hummingbirds have been augmented with glowing butterflies; a nearby skeleton cat swats at them playfully. Vines creep up and down the side of the house, and chains rise and fall from the hand of a skeleton dangling in a tree. The Spirit Box on the roof displays some different imagery, and the skeletal musicians on the side of the house are augmented by what looks like an entire band seen silhouetted in the window (a clever projection effect).
There is also a clever photo-op. A backdrop stands on its side, featuring a skeleton magician with hands raised as if in the process of levitating a subject. Stand in front of the backdrop and have your picture taken. Then rotate the photograph 90 degrees so that the skeleton is upright - you will now appear to be floating horizontally, under the magician's spell (assuming your photographer was smart enough to not show your feet touching the ground).
As for the rest, your favorite gags are back, including the talking spiders ("I never knew what happiness was until I got married - now it's too late!") and the incredible anti-gravity water.
If you have never been to Boney Island, you should know that this is a yard haunt - as opposed to a haunted house. There are no actors in costumes and no scares, only mechanized props, skeletons, and special effects depicting humorous antics and silly sight gags. The result is one of the most imaginative home haunts in Los Angeles - a joy for young and old alike.
Boney Island continues on October 30 and 31; hours are 6-9pm on Thursday and 6-10pm on Friday. As always, Boney Island is free.
The address is 4602 Morse Avenue, Sherman Oaks, CA 91432. Click here for their website.
Curse of the Devil Swamp
Hollywood Gothique is going out on the proverbial limb of a decaying tree, extolling the virtues of a home haunt we have never actually visited. Nevertheless, we were impressed by the mini-maze version of Curse of the Devil Swamp that we sampled at this year's ScareLA Halloween convention. It was the best of the mazes we encountered there - equaling and exceeding the professional haunts.
As the name suggests, Curse of the Devil Swamp depicts a scare-filled journey through a haunted swamp. If the full-scale haunt lives up to the condensed version we experienced, this one is worth the trip. We are definitely planning to check it out; you should, too, if you are in the neighborhood.
Curse of the Devil Swamp is open from 7pm to 11pm on Halloween Night. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.
The address is 775 South Fircroft Avenue, Covina, California.Click here for the website.
THE HAUNTED SHACK
The Haunted Shack is an effects-filled, 1500-square-foot maze that takes 6-8 minutes to walk through. The corridors are loaded with ghouls, eager to deliver scares, but what stands out in memory is the unexpected twists, turns, and surprises that lie in the darkness. The theme changes from year-to-year, so you never know quite what to anticipate - except that what's inside will always exceed your expectations, including some clever illusions (such as "Fear of Heights," which used mirrors to create a sense of altitude in 2013 that was truly vertigo-inducing).
Unlike many mazes, which sometimes run out of steam at the end, the Haunted Shack manages to send you off with a good final scare - sometimes delivered by your fellow haunt-seekers. How is this achieved? For Halloween 2013, a monitor on the front lawn showed the visitors wandering through the last room inside the haunt; buttons in front of the monitor allowed those watching the monitor to trigger the effects, startling their victims with flashing sparks.
The Haunted Shack will be open October 31 and November 1, 7-10pm. The haunt is free but donations are accepted for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
The address is 5112 Maricopa Street in Torrance. Website: www.thehauntedshack.com
THE HAUNT WITH NO NAME YET
This atmospheric amateur attraction in Tarzana is one of the best ways for families to enjoy Halloween in Los Angeles. Unnamed (and perhaps unnameable), this quiet but moody yard haunt is notable for its quanity and quality of elaborately carved Jack o'Lanterns, atmospheric decorations, and a handful of marvelous special effects.
There are no actors and no jump-scares. Instead, there is a wonderful Halloween spirit that is not too scary and not too tame but just right.
The Haunt with No Name Yet opened o October 29. It will also manifest on October 30 from 6-10pm; on Halloween night from dusk till 11pm; and on November 1 from 6-11pm.
The address is 19351 Hatteras Street, Tarzana. Click here for the website.
HOLLYWOOD HAUNTER: A NIGHT IN A HAUNTED HOUSE
Like a chameleon, Hollywood Haunter has changed its theme once again, de-materializing 2013's Graverock Gulch in favor of a traditional haunted house for this Halloween. As always, the construction is professional quality; the spooky facade looks like the genuine article. Lighted Jack O'Lanterns dot the porch, and skeletons push curtains open to peer out of windows with rattling shutters. A weather vane spins erratically on the roof. Invisible ghosts manifest outside, rocking an empty chair and rattling a trash bin. A leaves atop a grave roil with the movement of something underneath - attempting to get out, and a victim lies face down, head inside a basement window, legs kicking helplessly.
Note: The neighbors are getting into the act as well. The two adjacent houses are also decorated, and one of them is haunted by a masked figure, who may be a mannequin or a living being - you never know for sure.
Hollywood Haunter is collecting non-perishable food donations for the Burbank Temporary Aid Center. Stop by any time in October to drop of a canned food item or similar.
Hollywood Haunter's A Night in a Haunted House is currently in full swing, from sundown to 7pm nightly. Candy and treats will be available on Halloween Night, starting at 6pm; perhaps an extra spook or two will appear.
The address is 1547 Garden Street in Glendale. The website is here.
THE HOUSE AT HAUNTED HILL
The most elaborate home haunt in Los Angeles returns for another Halloween season this weekend, offering spooky special effects and music, all wrapped up in a sordid story of Hollywood infamy. Though the presentation remains essentially the same, new details and effects are added every year.
The House at Haunted Hill has been one of Hollywood Gothique's favorite amateur attractions since 2006. If you have yet to see it, you owe yourself a visit. Admission is free, but donations are accepted - and worth every penny you can spare!
The House at Haunted Hill will manifest on four nights: October 30, 7-10pm; October 31, 7pm-midnight; November 1, 7pm-midnight; and November 2, 6pm-9pm.
The address is 4400 Saltillo Street Woodland Hills. Click here for the website.
PUMKIN JACK'S HAUNTED HOUSE
The Pumkin King returns to haunt your Halloween nightmares! Situated in a quiet Santa Clarita neighborhood, this free yard haunt features outdoor decorations and an indoor maze. The 600-foot labyrinth includes eight rooms packed with more scares than you would expect in such a short walk-through.
Hollywood Gothique has visited Pumkin Jack's Haunted House only once, but it made a memorable impression. Unfortunately, it's a bit off the beaten path for many Los Angeles haunt-seekers, but that's all part of the fun - finding some noteworthy treat in an out-of-the-way place. Try to set some time aside to check this one out; the haunt has certainly made it easy for you, by staying open till the Sunday after Halloween.
Pumkin Jack's Haunted House will be open for three nights: October 31, no-scare, lights-on version 6-8pm, full frights from 8pm-midnight; November 1: 6pm-midnight – full frights; November 2: 7-10pm – full frights with Lights-Out Flashlight Tours.
The address is 28603 Natalie Lane, Saugus, California 91390. (Note: Hollywood Gothique’s GPS insists that Pumkin Jack's address is located in Santa Clarita, not Saugus.) Click here for the website.
ROTTEN APPLE 907: WILSLEY BROTHERS HOUSE OF FUN
Rotten Apple 907 is back with a brand new theme for Halloween 2014: Wilsley Bros. House of Fun. Apparently, those crazy siblings who were haunting Rotten Apple's Wilsley Manor for the past two years also dabbled in fun houses.
The killer klown karnival theme has been a bit moribund the past few Halloweens, but if anyone can breathe new life into the concept, it's the Rotten Apple crew. Their haunted houses have always had a touch of whimsical humor mixed in with the Halloween horror, so hopefully they are doing something both zany and scary.
Rotten Apple 907 will be open on two days this weekend: Friday, October 31st 7pm-10pm; Saturday, November 1st 7pm-10pm.
The address is 907 N. California Street, Burbank, CA 91505. Click here for the website.
SHERWOOD SCARE PRESENTS SHEREWOOD STUDIOS
When it made its debut in 2012, Sherwood Scare shot to the top of Hollywood Gothique's favorite Halloween Home Haunts in Los Angeles. The ambitious amateur attraction was notable not so much for its sets, costumes, and effects (though they were impressive) as it was for the manner in which those elements were orchestrated to achieve dramatic effect: your walk through the haunt felt like a journey toward an inescapable climax. Though the theme and setting have changed each year since then, Sherwood Scare retains this effective template for Halloween 2014 with its new presentation of "Sherwood Studios" - which takes you on a back stage tour of studio lot, where decades ago a child star mysteriously vanished.
Filled with narrow corridors leading to dressing rooms, editing bays, and a wardrobe department, the labyrinthine path is reminiscent of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining: you never know what might be waiting around the next corner, and the Sherwood Scare crew has perfected the art of building anticipation, creating the sense that you are moving toward an, inevitable confrontation, like Marlow seeking the elusive Kurtz in Heart of Darkness. When you reach your final destination, the experience arrives with a jolt.
Hollywood Gothique admires Sherwood Scare's nuanced approach, especially its deliberate attempt to build suspense with narrative strategies, laying groundwork early on that seeds your psyche with expectations for what will come later. The result is easily worth the $3-donation and an hour-long wait in line.
Sherwood Studios will re-open its doors on October 31 and November 1. Hours are 7pm to midnight on Halloween and 7-11pm on Saturday. Note: Sherwood Scare has been crowded this season, forcing the haunt to cut off the line an hour before closing time to prevent running late.
Sherwood Scare is located 8856 Encino Avenue Northridge, CA 91325. Click here to visit their website
Sherwood Scares charges $3 for admission; all proceeds benefit Big Worm's Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.