It was a dark and stormy night on October 31, but Hollywood Gothique braved the downpour to investigate paranormal activity in three home haunts that had never before registered on our pke meters. There is no geographical grouping to this trilogy of terror; many were the miles of rain-slicked roadway traversed to find outlying haunts worthy of our attention - and yours. Read on for the details - if you dare!
NIGHTMARE ON AMBROSE in Los Feliz
First, we headed to a relatively close location: Nightmare on Ambrose, whose theme for this Halloween was "Nightmare at the Circus." The ominous clouds hanging low in the heavens threatened rain, but so far there was only a cold drizzle. Approaching on foot, we saw no line outside the haunt, but then realized that the homeowner had opened his garage so that the crowd of trick-or-treaters could stay dry while waiting.
Located on a short, dead-end street near Griffith Park, this haunt features a walk through through a back yard labyrinth haunted by numerous ghouls. The fun begins outside with a giant, inflatable Halloween snow globe and a ticket booth inhabited by what looks like a mannequin, until you get too close, and the figure springs to life - an actor in costume.
Nightmare on Ambrose benefits from being situated on the grounds of a hillside home that (at least in the dark) seems dense with foliage: entering a side gate, you walk up steps and make a circuit of the haunted area before descending back down; at one point the path is so overgrown that you need runway lights to find your way.
Though the construction is simple (black tarp walls), the strategy is effective: the twists and turns of the tight pathway leave you uncertain about what may be waiting for you around each corner. When you do emerge into an open space, there is something in front of you (a prop, a mannequin, etc) to distract your attention while an actor delivers a jump-scare from an unexpected direction.
This is the third year for Nightmare on Ambrose, which has developed a local following, which keeps it busy on Saturdays in October. On Halloween Night, the walk-through seemed slightly understaffed. An amateur effort by a local teenager, the haunt relies on the volunteer efforts of its creator's friends, who may be enjoying other Halloween activities on October 31; we understand that the haunt was much scarier on the preceding weekend or two, when it was fully staffed - a point worth remembering, if you plan to attend next year: go the Saturday before Halloween.
Nightmare on Ambrose is free, but donations are accepted. Its creator plans to return next Halloween, probably with the same schedule (every Saturday in October). The address is 4302 Ambrose Avenue, Los Angeles (Los Feliz Area), CA 90027.
HAUNTED HOUSE ON PUNTA DEL ESTE STREET in Hacienda Heights
Next it was time for a long drive east to Hacienda Heights. Along the way, the portents of rain finally came true, dousing the freeway. We accelerated, hoping to outrace the storm...to no avail.
By the time we reached the Haunted House on Punta Del Este Street, the surroundings were damp on the verge of becoming drenched, but the haunters were bravely soldering on, accommodating the guests waiting eagerly in line. We were literally the last to go inside before the deluge broke, flooding the haunt.
Haunting since 2002, the Punta Del Este haunt offers a long walk-through that begins with a wooden corridor in the driveway, which leads around the house, through the garage, into the backyard, and then into an additional maze on the end. As we entered, we heard muffled whispers about the rain and clattering footsteps in the dark - which sounded to our ears like frightened trick-or-treaters.
The first corridor is an interesting variation on a dark maze: there is not enough light to see anything clearly, but a clown was ahead of us, mocking our blindness and occasionally flashing a light in our eyes, all while outpacing our stumbling steps, staying just out of reach.
After that we moved into some other areas, including a decorated back yard, then back into a second maze with green glowing light blazing into our eyes through a layer of fog. The dearth of haunters started to down on us, and we realized that scampering footsteps we had heard at the beginning were not those of guests but of the actors.
As we emerged, haunters apologized profusely for not only abandoning their posts but also shutting off the electronics (a wet light bulb had just exploded), but honestly, the insanity of the experience was its own reward. Storms and rain are among the oldest cliches of haunted house stories, and the weather added its own dimension this Halloween. Though we cannot assess what the Haunted House on Punta Del Este would be like during dry weather, this October 31 offered an experience we will never forget.
The Haunted House on Punta Del Este Street is open on every October on Halloween Night only, from 6pm until 10pm. Admission is free. The address is 2125 Punta Del Este St. in Hacienda Heights, CA.
CURSE OF THE DEVIL SWAMP in Covina
As we left Hacienda Heights behind, the rain subsided; nevertheless, we wondered whether our next destination would de-materialize in the rain before we could reach it. We proceeded, hoping that a haunted bog would be somewhat immune to the hardships of rainfall.
And we were right. Working on the theory that the show must go on, Curse of the Devil Swamp remained open until its posted time of 11pm, even through the rain had dispersed most of the little ghosts and goblins like exorcised ectoplasm.
This was the best mini-maze we sampled at this year's ScareLA Halloween convention, so our expectations were high. Unfortunately, the haunt had not fully weathered the storm: some electronics, we were told, had been turned off. Additionally, the facade seen at ScareLA had been misplaced, leaving the entrance looking rather inauspicious - simply a side gate leading to the back yard.
Even so, Curse of the Devil Swamp put on a good show. As the name suggests, Curse of the Devil Swamp depicted a journey through a demon-infested quagmire. A scarecrow in amazing mask and costume lurked in the front yard, beneath the dripping trees, leading us to our doom. At first the path through the Devil Swamp betrayed its back yard setting, but then we entered a wonderfully convincing set representing a rundown cabin on the edge of the quagmire. Here we encountered a demonic entity who set the scene for what would follow; there was a nice effects gag with a hanging body; and the only way out was through the chimney (thankfully, we only had to duck down, not crawl on hands and knees).
This lead to a twisted labyrinth of netting that effectively suggests a swampy setting, where several slimy creatures of various sorts were lying in wait. Though not all the electronic effects were on cue, the dampness of the evening enhanced the haunt's marshy atmosphere, and we ended up taking a second stroll through the morass, savoring the muck and mire one more time (and also witnessing an effect that had not triggered the first time through).
We have to give the cast and crew credit for persevering under circumstances that were far from ideal, making our rain-swept visit to the Devil Swamp well worth the journey.
Curse of the Devil Swamp is a Halloween-Night-only, with hours from 7pm to 11pm every October 31. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. The address is 775 South Fircroft Avenue, Covina, California. Click here for their website.
Unfortunately, all of these yard home haunts are closed for the season (the latter two are open only on Halloween Night). You must wait until next year to see them. Mark you calendars now!