Hollywood Gothique completed the first leg of its annual Halloween Haunt Odyssey last night, visiting the Boney Island yard haunt, The Backwoods Maze, and the Burbank Haunted Adventure. Our first stop (because it conveniently opens at 6pm - an hour before most haunts) was Boney Island in Sherman Oaks, which features a new Enchanted Garden this year. You read our reaction and see a gallery of photographs here.
Next up was the Backwoods Maze yard haunt in Burbank. We will post video in the near future - and we use the word "future" advisedly, because this terrifying walk-through has more or less abandoned its old backwoods cannibal theme in favor of a post-apocalyptic theme, with cyborgs, robots, and high-tech control apparatus. We're not sure exactly what's gone wrong, but the results are bad - with strange mutants running loose everywhere. The haunt's familiar strategy is still very much evidence: a tight, winding maze, with a multitude of twists and turns - seemingly too long to fit into a backyard - but the pathway seems to have been reconfigured, and the new theme changes the feel, creating something that seems almost totally different.
Strictly speaking, Backwoods Maze has been edging in this direction for a couple of years, but this year seems to complete the transformation. We enjoyed the sense of experiencing something different in a familiar setting, though to us the scares seemed slightly muted on opening weekend. We expect the intensity will wrap up as October progresses.
Finally, we drove out to the Haunted Adventure at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank's Stough Canyon Park - which is what we most want to discuss here, because this was the first time Hollywood Gothique has ever experienced this community haunt. Sponsored on by Burbank Parks and Recreation Department, the Haunted Adventure turned out to be one of the most imaginative amateur Halloween attractions in Los Angeles. Upon first approach, the event seemed geared for youngsters, with the park sporting inflatable haunted houses and Halloween variations on the sort of games one sees at a school fair (throwing ping-pong balls into skull-shaped cups, etc). There was even a rendition of the event's annual "Thriller" flash mob, with the costumed kids dancing in sync with to the Michael Jackson song.
However, these activities were distractions for those waiting to go on the actual Haunted Adventure - a fifteen-minute walk through the Starlight Bowl. Limited to those over six years old (children under twelve had to be accompanied by an adult), the Haunted Adventure was treated like a tour, with groups of 15 led by a costumed character guide. There was a walk up the hill to the Bowl, which turned out to be a great location for a haunt - one fully exploited by the all-volunteer cast and crew. The grounds outside the venue were utilized as well as numerous interior rooms. This meant that little actual construction is required - only decoration of existing structures. This gave the Haunted Adventure a more professional feel than other community haunts (set in gymnasiums, for example). There was even a wonderfully evocative bit inside the Bowl, with laser points of light simulating a starry sky exterior.
This year's theme was Forgotten Fairytales, which included not only the usual Grimm suspects but also Alice in Wonderland. The actors tended to wear rubber masks rather than makeup, but combined with good lighting and costumes, the results were quite convincing. The cast members were all wildly enthusiastic and talented, even the younger actors (Alice pulled off a nice English accent - which briefly hid the dementia that exploded a minute later).
With plenty of curtains and corners, there were many places for monsters to hide. In an effective bit of strategy, the characters don't simply scare you and leave; they tag along in the dark, infiltrating the group and waiting for subsequent scare opportunities. Some of the jump-scares were cleverly staged, with a visible piece of action drawing us closer to an unseen hiding spot; just when we though the scene was over - surprise!
Perhaps the Haunted Adventure's greatest achievement is how perfectly calibrated it is for its target audience; rather like Goldilocks, it is not too scary and not too tame, but just right. In some cases, the monsters were clearly visible at a distance, giving the group time to anticipate and (to some extent) avoid them; with victims passing through in groups of fifteen, the monsters could focus on those with higher fear thresholds, while younger victims benefited from safety in numbers. The result was frightening in a fun kind of way - entertaining but not disturbing - though there were a couple of bits that went a bit further: a briefly glimpsed struggle apparently to do with a dead baby; and a strange tableau of a monster caressing a dead victim (actually a mannequin) hanging by its hands from the ceiling.
We would love to recommend these three haunts as one of our Haunted Itineraries; unfortunately, the Haunted Adventure runs only one weekend every Halloween, so you've missed your chance this year.
Too bad. Just remember to mark you calendars for next Halloween.
Notes on the Haunted Adventure:
- Because the Haunted Adventure allows victims through in groups at regular intervals, waiting can be a major consideration. Officially, the haunt runs from 7pm to 9pm, but 9pm turns out to be the cutoff time for ticket sales; the Haunted Adventure continues until everyone gets through. We purchased our tickets shortly after 8pm but we did not get inside until nearly 10pm. Our recommendation: show up at 7pm and buy your tickets immediately. Bring a picnic if you want to eat a real dinner while you wait; otherwise, your food options are limited to snacks (popcorn, etc).
- The Burbankca.gov website lists two different addresses for the Haunted Adventure: one on Lockheed View Drive, one on Walnut Avenue. Apparently, one is the official address for the Starlight Bowl, the other for Stough Canyon Nature Center; neither one was recognized by our GPS device. Just take Walnut Avenue up into the hills and look for the signs; take the turn for the Starlight Bowl, which will take you to a dirt parking lot across from the park where the activities take place.
More in this series:
- Halloween Haunt Odyssey 2015: A Boney, Backwoods, Burbank Haunted Adventure
- Halloween Haunt Odyssey 2015: Spider Lights and more
- Halloween Haunt Odyssey: South Bay 2015
- Halloween Haunt Odyssey: Granada Hills, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley