What were the best Halloween attractions in Los Angeles 2015? Find out below...
Editor's Note: As noted here, while prepping this year's edition of Hollywood Gothique's annual Halloween Haunt Awards, we were reminded that the word "annual" is a bit of a misnomer, since we skipped the awards last year. In order to correct this oversight, we are posting them now. Because these events are over a year old in memory, this list will necessarily be an abridged version, with minimal detail. On the other hand, the winners are truly memorable - ones we deeply regret overlooking in 2015.
Best Non-Haunt Event
Halloween in Los Angeles is certainly filled with haunted houses and other horrifying entertainment, but October is also a time for non-scary events with seasonal tie-ins, such as haunted history tours focusing on Halloween customs of the past or concerts of spooky music (such as Eek! at the Greek!, which won this category in 2014).
Beyond the Grave Tours. This historical tour at the Workman-Temple Museum in the City of Industry offers a look at how the customs surrounding death, dying, and funerals changed between the 1800s and the 1900s by guiding visitors through two houses built in the different eras. There is a slide show, examples of funeral literature, historical Halloween decorations, and a self-guided tour of a cemetery on the property. Best of all, there's an amusing demonstration of a séance - with the lights on, to reveal the trickery.
Haunted Hollywood Scavenger Hunt. This two-and-a-half hour Halloween-themed scavenger hunt, set in Hollywood, focuses on allegedly haunted locations around Hollywood Boulevard. It’s not a particularly spooky event; the haunted element arises mostly from the back story of the locations, such as the Roosevelt Hotel and Hollywood High School, where long-dead Hollywood stars supposedly still seen. It is, however, quite an entertaining challenge that gives you an excuse to wander Hollywood during the Halloween season.
Knotts Spooky Farm. This daytime event - essentially an expanded version of Camp Spooky - made its debut in 2015. It offers family-friendly fun in the form of a stage show starring the Peanuts characters, a kid-safe Halloween maze, and other activities. Most of the Knotts Scary Farm decorations are visible, though even younger children should not find them too intimidating by daylight.
West Hollywood Haunted Pub Crawl. This Halloween version of a pub crawl took guests on a guided tour of numerous famous locations along Sunset Boulevard, including the Trocadero, Chateau Marmont, and the Comedy Club, among others. It was filled with drink specials and loaded with tales of gangsters and ghosts. There was even a jump-scare moment or two while investigating a location alleged to be a hot spot for spirit photography.
THE WINNER: West Hollywood Haunted Pub Crawl
Beyond the Graves Tour was educational. Haunted Hollywood Scavenger Hunt was entertaining. Knotts Spooky Farm was fun. But the West Hollywood Haunted Pub Crawl did more to raise our spirits than the other three combined.
Best Addition to Existing Haunt
No nominations in this category - there is only one clear winner. The Sherman Oaks home haunt had taken our award for Best Yard Display in 2014; they returned in 2015 with a newly added section, an enchanted garden filled with single plants and other amazing flora and fauna. Boney Island is a must-see attraction every year; it's nice they manage to add something new every Halloween.
Best Professional Display or Ride
THE WINNER: The Wild Wheelchair Ride at Evil Twin Studios' Ward 13
There was not much competition in this category. Previous winners the Los Angeles Live Steamers Ghost Train (2013) and the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride (2014) were disqualified from repeat victories. Nevertheless, The Wild Wheelchair Ride at Evil Twin Studios' Ward 13 truly was good enough to defeat any challengers. Midway through this 15-minute walk-through extravaganza, the inmates running the asylum strapped visitors into a wheelchair and took them careening through the grounds of Ward 13. It was an exhilarating experience we will never forget.
Best Short Play
Paul Millet’s adaptation of Poe's story was brought to vivid life under Jeff G. Rack's imaginative staging, which made the best use ever of Wicked Lit's signature location, the Mountain View Mausoleum, which was perfectly cast as "House of Usher." Not only was the moody story perfectly sustained and carefully orchestrated to a climax, a handful of physical effects and some digital mapping managed to create a convincing illusion of the titular "Fall." Seriously - we very nearly panicked and trampled everyone in our way, trying to escape before the room fell on our heads.
Best Stage Presentation/Play
The Wicked Lit Halloween Theatre Festival and Urban Death: Tour of Terror were out of the running, having won in 2013 and 2014, respectively, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Theatre 68's Dracula won simply by process of elimination. The play offered a fresh, feminist take on Stoker's tale, enlivened with some great performance, horrifying action, and clever effects (the Count literally floats off the ground at one point).
The production also deserves recognition in another category...
Best Gore Effect
THE WINNER: The Staking of Lucy in Theatre 68's Dracula
When Arthur Holmwood pins his fiance Lucy Westenra to a wall with a wooden stake, the resulting geyser of blood left the actor playing Holmwood literally drenched in blood. We're talking Ash in the EVIL DEAD films face-painting. He couldn't have been more red if Chris Hargensen had dumped a bucket of pig's blood on him at a prom. A memorably stunning moment.
Best Scare Zone
THE WINNER: Dark Christmas at Halloween Horror Nights stood out for us. We're not particularly partial to infecting the yuletide season with horror imagery, but this one was colorful and eye-catching enough to overcome our prejudice. Some nice snowy imagery and some great monsters. What more could we want?
Best Home Haunt Walk-Through
The Haunted Shack. This excellent Torrance haunt took home the Halloween Haunt Award in this category in 2010, but it was so radically revised for 2015 that it warranted another nomination. Among the innovations were new sets and effects, along with a puzzle-escape room at the beginning, which guests had to solve before moving on to the rest of the haunted house.
The Haunting of Corona. This impressively extensive walk-through, set mostly in the back yard of a Riverside home, includes several separately themed sections with a variety of monsters: witches, werewolves, clowns, and even characters from the Purge, each in its own appropriate environment.
Perdition Home. The self-proclaimed “Goriest Home Haunt in Orange County” had much more to offer than entrails and viscera; it also offered an imaginative theme inside some amazing sets, rivaling the quality of professional haunts. "Necro Space" took us on a trip inside a crashed spaceship, filled with evil aliens around every corner.
Rotten Apple 907. The perennial must-see home haunt offered a western theme for 2015, Rotten Apple Hollow. Incredible sets took visitors on a tour through caverns leading to an old ghost town, including a saloon. You just don't expect to see this level of craftsmanship in an amateur haunt; it's like a dream come true.
THE WINNER: Perdition Home
If we had to put our bony finger on just what set Perdition Home haunt above the competition in 2015, we would have to say it was the surprises, which always exceeded expectations. We were amazed enough to see a mock-up of a crashed rocket ship, but we expected only to walk by, and a nearby cabin facade fooled us into thinking that the rest of the maze would be in a more traditional haunt setting. Instead, the path circumvented the cabin and lead us inside the rocket ship! In a way, this was even better than the Aliens Vs Predator maze at Halloween Horror Nights that year, which used a crashed ship as an excuse to put the titular monsters in a terrestrial setting, instead of blasting us off into space.
Best Community Haunt
This category comes and goes, depending on whether we have seen enough contenders to justify its existence. Though they may have more resources than typical Home Haunts, Community Haunts are still amateur affairs - non-profit ventures put on for fun, usually at a community center or public park.
Burbank Haunted Adventure. Put on by the City of Burbank, this attraction combined fun, food, games, and a "Thriller" flash mob in the Stough Canyon Recreation Center with a haunted walk in around the Starlight Bowl. It's an annual attraction for people living in the area, with lots of kid-safe activities, but the star of the show is the tour of terror. The cast and crew do a great job with masks, makeup, costumes and props, creating a new theme every year; for 2015, it was "Forgotten Fairy Tales." Though the set construction was relatively simply (tarp and PVC pipe), the Starlight Bowl provided all the production value necessary, lending a professional feel to the event.
Ghost Walk Riverside. Like Burbank Haunted Adventure, this event is geared for locals, but outsiders can have fun with it, too. Set in a pedestrian mall in downtown Riverside, the Ghost Walk features food and live entertainment, along with another "Thriller" flash mob, all in a party-like atmosphere. Instead of a haunted maze, the Ghost Walk itself consists of several series of short plays, performed around high-profile buildings in the area (e.g., City Hall). The scary tales range from PG to PG-13. We found the 2015 incarnation more fun than terrifying, though the monsters are persistent, pursuing guests after the performances are over.
Revenge of the Ninja. The Way of the Shadow Martial Arts Academy offers a ninja-themed maze for a few days at the end of every October, and on Halloween Night, there is a costume block party for the whole neighborhood. The party is fun, and outsiders are welcome, but the real treat here is the maze, which is a pretty incredible achievement, mixing some J-horror motifs with undead ninja assassins who literally walk through walls (the walls are paper-thin, but in the darkness you will barely notice, if at all). The stealth skills of the cast add a special level of anxiety to this maze, and there are a few great effects, too, such as the living torso impaled on bamboo pole.
THE WINNER: Revenge of the Ninja
We had seen Revenge of the Ninja a couple of times before Halloween 2015, but for some reason the scares seemed bigger and better than ever before. It had always been enjoyable in the past, but that year the cast seemed to be in the zone - leaping, appearing, and disappearing in a way that felt like a continuous all-out assault, with only the occasional pause for a Sadako-like wraith to change the pace with a subtle shiver.
Best Professional Haunted House Walk-Through
Lots of strong competition in this category, even with Reign of Terror Haunted House out of the running after winning in 2013.
Crimson Peak. Featuring the best sets of any Halloween maze that season, this attraction at Halloween Horror Nights was a beautiful embodiment of old-school Gothic horror, taking us inside the world of Guillermo Del Toro's film in such a hypnotizing way that the film itself (burdened by its creaky plot) felt like an anticlimax.
The Huntington Haunt Experience. Making its debut in 2015, this Halloween attraction used an actual historical location in much the same way as the Fright Nights used the Winchester Mystery House in 2001 and 2012.
Paranormal Inc. Making its debut at Knotts Scary Farm, this walk through depicted a botched paranormal investigation, with terrifying results. It began with a spectacular opening scene, full of characters, dialogue and special effects building to the moment when all hell breaks loose and the audience must run for their lives - into the rest of the maze. It features some amazing effects, including rampaging ghost flying through the air at the beginning and a giant, demonic monstrosity near the end.
The Walking Dead: Wolves Not Far. We had been feeling a little jaded about seeing The Walking Dead at Halloween Horror Nights, butWolves Not Far snapped us out of our apathy. Based on the Terminus episodes from Season 5 of the AMC show, this was totally different from previous Walking Dead mazes. The grim and grizzly tone was quite effective, and we loved the graphic imagery, including a very dramatic “mass attack” combining live actors and moving mannequins around a helpless a human victim.
This Halloween attraction simply had it all. It began with a spooky, subtle scene set inside the historical Newland House, then moved outside onto the grounds for an almost exhaustively extensive tour that included character interaction, escape room elements, and traditional jump-scares. Though not a fully developed play, there was an over-arching narrative about the lingering fallout from a contentious wedding, which left angry spirits still haunting the premises. All of these elements combined to create a fully satisfying experience, making it a tremendous disappointment when the haunt declined to return for Halloween 2016.
Best Halloween Theme Park
The selection process here was limited by the fact that, although Queen Mary Dark Harbor, the Six Flags magic Mountain Fright Fest, and the Knotts Berry Farm Halloween Haunt, all put on entertaining shows, none of them had enough new attractions to warrant a win in this category (especially, Knotts Scary Farm, which had won previously in 2013 and 2014, and therefore could compete only on the basis of new attractions). This left only one of the Los Angeles area Halloween Theme Parks worthy of consideration; fortunately, it deserved the nomination and the win.
THE WINNER: Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywod
The quality of the production values at Halloween Horror Nights was as high as ever, but we expect that - maybe even take it too much for granted, sometimes. What opened our jaded eyes this year was that Universal Studios Hollywood seemed to be working overtime to deliver more scares per square foot. We noticed this in almost every maze, with multiple monster attacks occurring at shorter intervals; we never felt disappointed by a scare that failed to materialize or that we missed because it came too soon.
We have sometimes criticized Halloween Horror Nighs for presenting "all new" mazes that recycled effects and set pieces from previous years, but we saw little if any of this in 2015. Even mazes that revisited familiar franchises (such as The Walking Dead: Wolves Not Far) were mostly new, not disguised remakes. Additionally, mazes based on new titles (Crimson Peak, This Is The End) combined with more familiar fare (Aliens vs Predator, Insidious: Return to the Further, and Halloween: Michael Myers Came Home) to offer a wide range of styles and approaches; the variety was enhanced by several distinctive scare zones (Dark Christmas, Corpz, Exterminatorz) and by theming the back lot terror tram after The Purge.
In short, to use a cliché, there was something for everyone, and Universal Studios Hollywood stitched together the different elements into a wonderfully horrifying Frankenstein’s Monster the scared the jaded critical sensibility right out of our brain, leaving us as giddy as a first-time fright fan.
Best Halloween Attraction of 2015
Wicked Lit had triumphed in this category two years running (2013, 2014), but no winning streak can last forever. Perhaps strangely, picking the winner was relatively easy even though Halloween 2015 was one of the most enjoyable ever with a multitude of great attractions that stood out in memory, thanks to distinctive themes and styles. You may not agree with our choice, but for us, it's the only one we can make.
The WINNER: The West Hollywood Haunted Pub Crawl
What can we say? We know this is an eccentric pick for the top honor. Maybe it was the booze. Maybe it was the glitz of Sunset Boulevard. Whatever the combination of elements, we had more fun at this Halloween event than at any other in 2015. We loved the locations. We loved the ghostly legends related by the tour's "Gore Guide." And we loved the smooth operation, which insured that our group had its own private spaces at various stops, so we could comfortably sit, drink, and converse among ourselves, discussing the tour and the tales we were hearing
Unfortunately, the West Hollywood Haunted Pub Crawl did not return for 2016.
More in this series:
- It's time for Halloween Haunt Awards 2016 (and past time for 2015)
- HHA 2016: Best Non-Haunt Halloween Event in Los Angeles
- HHA 2016: Best Halloween Stage Presentation/Play in Los Angeles
- HHA 2016: Best Halloween Play in Non-Theatrical Setting
- HHA 2016: Best Short Halloween Play/Performance
- HHA 2016: Best Scare Zone
- HHA 2016: Best Monster
- HHA 2016: Best Addition to an Existing Halloween Haunt
- HHA 2016: Best Professional Halloween Display, Ride, or Simulation
- HHA 2016: Best Halloween Home Haunt Yard Display
- HHA 2016: Best Amateur Halloween Haunted House Walk-Through
- HHA 2016: Best Professional Halloween Haunted House Walk-Through
- HHA 2016: Best Introductory Scene in a Halloween Haunt
- HHA 2016: Honorable Mention - Skeleton Key Rooms
- HHA 2016: Best Halloween Theme Park
- HHA 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award: The Hallowed Haunting Grounds
- Farewell to the Hallowed Haunting Grounds: Gary Corb Interview
- Halloween Haunt Awards: Best Halloween Attraction of 2016
- Halloween Haunt Awards 2016: The Winners