On October 31, Hollywood Gothique's Halloween Haunt Odyssey 2009 - our annual tour of amateur yard haunts in and around Los Angeles - ran the gamut from the Forest of Mirrors in Woodland Hills to the Reign of Terror in Thousand Oaks, from the House of Restless Spirits in Santa Monica to the Eternal Rest Cemetery in Venice. There are far too many haunts open only on Halloween night, making it impossible to reach them all; fortunately, some remained opened the night after Halloween, allowing us to offer a two-part epilogue to the main event.
Our November 1 tour included two haunts - one old, one new. The first was Rotten Apple's latest incursion into realms of darkness, Burbank Underground. The second (which will be reviewed separately) was a new attraction in West Hollywood, the Vampyr Inn's Bloody Ball.
Rotten Apple 907 has consistently crafted an entertaining amateur event that exceeds the usual definition of "yard haunt," in that it is much more than a decorated yard. Their annual Halloween presentation always includes a walk-through, decorated with a different theme every year, such as Vampmont Village and Malice in Wonderland. In the past, the effect has often been more whimsical than frightening, a top-tier amateur effort rather than a truly terrifying experience on par with professional haunted houses.
That was then; this is now. Although still an amateur effort (admission is free but donations for a charitable cause are accepted), 2009's Burbank Underground takes a quantum leap to a whole new level. From the moment you glimpse the exterior, you know you are in for something more than the same old trip through the looking glass: instead of a small structure suggesting a cave, you see a recreation of city hall that is a "miniature" only in relative terms, looking at least two storeys high, affixed to a theatre marquee that cleverly lists the titles of Rotten Apple's past haunt themes (Wizard of Odz, etc).
This impression of increased scale holds true upon entering. The old familiar layout (a couple of corridors leading to a wider, open area, followed by a couple more rooms) has been reconfigured, beginning with a clever elevator gag: your guide supposedly presses the wrong button, sending you down into the depths instead of to the top of the tower. After shaking and rattling around, with lights flashing on and off, the door on the opposite wall opens to reveal a monster, who directs you to go back out the door you came in. You exit into what looks like a basement corridor, perfectly creating the illusion that the elevator carriage has taken you down to a lower level.
After that, you wind your way through several corridors and spaces that offer different depictions of what might be sewars or cellars, haunted by mutant monsters that have probelm been exposed to some kind of toxic chemicals. Although the underground theme is sustained almost throughout, you feel as if you are experiencing several different environments, including a locker room with doors that rattle and shake, revealing skeletons inside, and a screening room where the audience consists of zombies.
The entire tour takes about seven minutes; it feels much longer than in previous years, partly because there is a greater variety of sets and partly because there are more scares. Although there is still a touch of humor, the attempt to terrify is much stronger, and it seems as if there are more monsters than before, including some mechanical ones, such as an ugly face that pops up behind a window, and a small, toothy creature seen through bars. (Rotten Apple's earlier haunts were more a matter of decorations and atmosphere, spiced with an occaisonal jump-scare.)
Since first discovering Rotten Apple 907 in 2005, we have always made the effort to check out their annual Halloween presentation, but usually we have been more amused than scared by the monsters lurking within their den of horror. This year, we visited Burbank Underground with no more expectation than to see the latest theme plugged into the same old space - a change of costume, perhaps, plus a few new props swapped in. Instead, we experienced something that felt fresh and revitalized - bigger and better than ever before. We have always enjoyed Rotten Apple's amateur efforts; now, for the first time we feel they have crafted a home haunt that could compete with the professionals. Although we would hate to lose them as an annual neighborhood event, they really would be justified in making the transition to the big time next year.