Hollywood Gothique ventures into the offices of Ten Thirty One Productions, to ask Melissa Carbone what horrors await unwary riders aboard this year's Haunted Hayride. Come along with us for a trip to the infernal regions - if you dare!
The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride has a problem, but it’s a rather enviable one: Having maintained astronomically high quality for five years, the annual Halloween event has reached the point where superlatives of praise are almost de rigueur, their impact softened by repeated use. Of course, the Haunted Hayride will be great this year – past experience has taught us to expect nothing less – so the only question that remains is: How can one of the best Halloween attractions in Los Angeles top itself?
For Halloween 2014, the answer is a combination of revamping and expanding. As usual, the L.A. Haunted Hayride will have a new theme; less usual is the dropping of some long-running scenes and the addition of two new attractions. The theme is the apocalyptic “Echoes from the Rift,” whose premise is that the Gates of Hell have opened, disgorging demons upon the Earth. Tying in with this, the new attractions are Biblical in nature: House of the Horsemen and Seven Sins Sideshow.
To explore the damnable difficulties of annually improving on greatness, Hollywood Gothique recently sat down with the Haunted Hayride’s creator, Melissa Carbone. Ms. Carbone worked at Clear Channel Entertainment before leaving to form her own company, Ten Thirty One Productions, which operates the Haunted Hayride. A long-time fan of Halloween, she brings an amateur’s love of the season to her work, along with the professional skills necessary to create a hugely successful attraction. But can she make it even bigger and better for 2014?
“Well, it’s Echoes from the Rift, so everything is apocalyptic, hellish – giant, massive proportions,” she explains. “This is our year of the Leviathan. We have a forty-foot-long Hydra that we’re making and a Cerberus that is giant. So the scope, the scale, of the creatures and the monsters on the trail this year is massive. It will be jaw-dropping and dizzying for people.”
With more than enough demons to haunt the Hayride, Carbone’s Ten Thirty One Productions is expanding the event with two new abodes for the remaining monsters: House of the Horseman features the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; Seven Sins Sideshow houses the Seven Deadly Sins.
Although designated as “scare zones,” House of the Horseman and Seven Deadly Sins are walk-through attractions that require a ticket for admission (which is included on the All Access pass and the VIP pass). Carbone avoids the term “maze” when describing these two haunts, to distinguish them from the Hayride’s In-Between Dark Maze – which literally is a maze.
“They’re rooms, and they’re very thematic,” Carbone explains of the new additions. “House of the Horseman is [themed] to Pestilence, Famine, Warfare, and Death. We’ve staged them as these Kings of their sections of this house. There are rooms prior to encountering each of the Horsemen – you have to get through their minions. The way we’re describing it is everybody will break a seal, and it will reveal one of the Horseman, who will stand in judgment, which will be pretty awesome. We’re creating these larger than life Horsemen. We’ve brought on Rashad Santiago, the Face-Off Season Six winner, to create them. He’s an incredible creature designer.”
More demonic denizens will reside in the Seven Sins Sideshow.
"This is also not a maze," Carbone points out. "This is an engaging sideshow where the action is actually activated by the audience, so nothing starts until the audience activates it. There are things you’ll have to learn – phrases you’ll have to learn before you enter, because the group you’re in will have to use these phrases in synchronized ways. You’ll have to turn on lights and pull levers. It’s creepy because all of these characters have been intricately designed to fit the Seven Deadly Scenes. Like Gluttony – you can imagine what that would look like.”
To accommodate the changes to this year’s Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, some favorite bits had to be jettisoned. For example, Wicked Wonderland, which depicted demented variations on Christmas for the past three years, was scrapped for thematic reasons: “It doesn’t fit Hell!” Carbone laughs.
Also gone this year are the Congregation (featuring a 25-foot tall devil), which was on view for two years, and the Circus, which climaxed the Haunted Hayride since its debut in Halloween 2009. Carbone is relative sanguine about the former, but she is concerned that fans will miss the Circus.
“I’m nervous as hell about it – I don’t want to piss people off,” Carbone admits, noting that the shelf life for most scenes on the Hayride is one year. “But if we have something people love, we’ll bring it back – which is why the clown scene has been back all five years. We’d revise it from year to year, but it’s still the clown scene, with the same type of effect. That is just one of those scenes that everybody blogs about every year; everyone posts about it; everybody tries to get video footage and nobody can because of the strobe lights. So that shelf life was long.”
Along with 2014’s innovations, familiar elements of the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride will return, such as the Purgatory sideshow area, featuring live entertainment on stage, not to mention the In-Between Dark Maze. The latter has always been a bit of a B-side to the Haunted Hayride’s hit single, but it does have fans of its own.
The In-Between Maze started as a hay maze for children during the Haunted Hayride’s first year in Calabasas, before the event moved to Griffith Park in 2010. The simple sideshow attraction turned out to be a novelty for fans of Halloween in Los Angeles, where corn mazes and hay mazes are rare.
“It was created as a very ancillary throw-in, and it was short,” Carbone recalls. “It was my attempt to bring that New England Fall festive feel to the hayride. People spent a lot of time in it, and it was just this tiny maze. The second year we made it a bigger hay maze and built it up. People were flipping out – it was the only hay maze around [Los Angeles].”
The reaction prompted Carbone to expand the maze even further, dropping the hay and turning out the lights to create a completely dark environment.
“That defeats the whole purpose of the Fall Festival feel, so we just made it pitch-black,” says Carbone. “It’s really the only maze around where it literally is black and you need to use your hands in front of you and you can get lost in there. When we realized people really like this idea of getting lost – hitting dead ends and having to figure it out - we decided to add more of that; we made it bigger. It was so dark the monsters weren’t even going to see the people, so we gave everybody a Bait Light. [Customers] think it’s for [their benefit], but it's so the monsters can see them.”
The results have been pleasing to Carbone and her team.
“There is a big group of people out there who like the Dark Maze more than the Hayride; it’s scarier,” says Carbone. “People freak out in that maze. One woman we saw walk in with two of her girlfriends. She walked in, closing her eyes. Her friends said, ‘You don’t have to close your eyes: it’s pitch black – you’re not going to see anything.’ I see her and her group walk in. Probably 60 seconds later, I see her on her own screaming – blood-curdling screams – running for her life, not looking left or right, out the door, down the street, to the parking lot, got in her car, and left!”
Sounds like a job well done. Carbone, however, sets her ambitions higher.
“We want the super-easy fundamental scare that make people scream, and that’s all they do,” she says. “But we also love – and this is what we love the most –trying to invent something completely new that has never been done before in the space. That’s a big focus.
“The other big focus is touching the patrons,” Carbone continues. “Not literally touching them but making them part of the experience: a demon Santa Claus annihilating people with a foam cannon…and sound touches like the drummers that come out and smack the drum. Last year, in the orphanage and the burnt church, [characters] would walk up to you and hand you drawings; somebody on the wagon would get a creepy crayon drawing. Creating these moments – these really special moments – really submerging people in the experience – we love as well. That’s our biggest challenge - the thing we are trying to top, which is a lot of pressure.
“And to make it beautiful,” Carbone concludes. "The In-Between maze is dark and gritty, but to me the Hayride is like art.”
(Part Two of this interview will explore some of the history and background of the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride.)
The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride will be open from October 3 through Halloween Night. The haunt is located at Griffith Park Old Zoo, 4730 Crystal Springs Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027. Get more info at their website.
Looking for more Halloween events in Los Angeles? Check out our pages for Halloween Haunts and Halloween Haunts: Mazes and Rides.