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Halloween 2021 Review: Haunt O’ Ween

Last year’s delightful drive-through returns, and it’s even better on foot

In 2020, Haunt O’ Ween proved that a drive-through Halloween event could delight trick-or-treaters of all ages, providing a satisfying alternative to traditional haunts at a time when health and safety restrictions were necessary to protect guests from the Covid-19 pandemic. Now that those restrictions are largely lifted, we wondered how the event would fare with visitors flat-footing their way through its seasonal wonderland; after all, standards and expectations would be different, with no allowances made along the lines of “Well…they did the best they could under the circumstances.” Sure, it was fun to drive past the myriad settings – it was rather like riding the late, lamented Los Angeles Live Steamers Ghost Train – but would the colorful scenery withstand the leisurely scrutiny of pedestrians?

Ironically, the “pedestrian” version of Haunt O’ Ween is far from pedestrian. What’s on view this year is bigger and better, with more detail, decorations, and fun than before. Augmented by activities and rides, this new and improved version of Haunt O’ Ween provides an evening’s worth of entertainment, holding its audience bedazzled far longer than the half-hour drive-time from last year.

Haunt O’ Ween 2021 Review: Leaving Reality Behind

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Again situated in the parking lot of the Westfield Mall on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Haunt O’ Ween has created another Halloween world that immerses visitors in a magical landscape that feels completely secluded from the quotidian reality of nearby businesses and automobile traffic. Flashing lights, visible from outside the walls, intrigue your eyes even before you enter. The arch above the entrance, guarded by a giant skeleton and bearing the words “Welcome to Haunt ‘O Ween,” sets the tone and expectations for all that follows; the expectations will be met and exceeded.

The arch is above a gateway leading to the Funny Bones Graveyard, where lighted tombstones portray amusingly creepy scenes, including a skeletal wedding cake with a rotating couple on top; carriages and statuary lend an old-fashioned aura. This is the first of several mini-worlds within Haunt O’ Ween, each with its own appeal. Tunnels – some adorned with flickering “oil” lamps, some embedded with plastic, glowing pumpkin – separate the sections, providing a pleasing sense of discovering something new around every turn: a carnival, a corn maze, a trick-or-treat village, and more.

Along the way, bales of hay lend a harvest festival feel; the mood is spooky but definitely kid-safe – decorations evoke a Halloween atmosphere but never induce shudders. A corn maze presents little difficulty, even for children, and the costumed actors wandering the grounds have little interest in terrifying the toddlers.

Some pieces of set pieces are merely facades, presented mostly for looks, such as the magnificently imposing Addams Family mansion, which houses only a picture of the animated characters, whose new film is now available in theatres and on demand. (This is one of several sponsors represented in fairly unobtrusive fashion; the one exception is a photo op for hard cider, where no hard cider is available, forcing you to search elsewhere for the product.)

The Town of Hauntoween

Other settings are a bit more substantial, such as the Circus “tent” housing a hall of mirrors, which leads to the Forgotten Carnival, where¬† guests may play games like ring toss, ride a merry-go-round and a kid-friendly mini-coaster (the Go Gator), while ghoulish but funny and friendly stilt walkers and jugglers offer amusements. The marvelous Town of Hauntoween is populated by costumed residents¬† eager to hand out candy (really good candy) to guests wandering door to door. Finally, a pumpkin patch provides a place to relax after fully exploring the preceding highlights.

Haunt O’ Ween 2021 Review: Other Treats

Haunt O’ Ween offers a handful of options for food and beverages. One of the first stopping places is a saloon-like building branded as the Malibu Wines Beer Garden, which offers, not surprisingly, wine and beer. The servings are small but the quality is high.

There are one or two other places selling canned and bottled beverages along the circuitous route leading through the attraction. However, the only food available was in the pumpkin patch, which includes concrete tables where guests can rest and eat before exiting back to the mundane world.

Hungry customers waiting for their food

The food is good, but…at least on media preview night, the wait-times were horrendous: first to place an order and then to receive the order. There was a single booth with two registers, and and after ordering, guests were instructed to stand and wait near a gate where the food was estimated to arrive within thirty-five minutes – an estimate that turned out to be optimistic at best.

Hopefully, this problem has been fixed for the benefit of the ticket-buying public, because the layout of the event tends to funnel the crowd into the pumpkin patch, creating a location filled tired, hungry people eager to eat and frustrated by the delay.

It’s one black mark on an otherwise wonderful event.

Haunt O’ Ween 2021 Review: Conclusion

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In spite of the unfortunate culinary glitch, the Halloween 2021 version of Haunt O’ Ween is marvelous. We have already compared last year’s version to the Live Steamer’s Ghost Train, but a better comparison for Haunt O’ Ween 2021 would be to call it a grander, more elaborate version of Boney Island when it went professional in 2018.

Both events immerse guests in a Halloween fantasy land appropriate for all ages, emphasizing elaborate decor rather than scares. Boney Island benefitted from the delightfully personal touch of an independent haunt, but Haunt O’ Ween feels like something with more substantial financial resources; in a way, it feels as if Boney Island could almost be a section within Haunt O’ Ween.

Ultimately, last year’s Haunt O’ Ween earned praise for doing the best it could under difficult circumstances. This year, praise need not be limited by such qualifiers. If you dream of living in Halloween Town, Haunt O’ Ween 2021 is your place to escape reality.

Haunt O' Ween 2021 Rating

Bottom Line

This year’s walk-through version of Haunt O’ Ween is absolutely marvelous. The only reason it does not get the full five-star rating is the unfortunately long delay serving food.

Haunt O’ Ween continues at Westfield Promenade Wednesdays through Sundays in October, plus October 25-26. Tickets start at $35 for general admission, with discounts for groups of eight people. The address is 6100 Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Woodland Hills. Parking is relatively easy in the spacious lot. There will be some waiting as guests are checked in and searched before entering. Pandemic precautions are in places; mask wearing is recommended. Get more information at hauntoweenla.com.

Haunt O’ Ween 2021 Review: Additional Photos

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.