Many yard haunt are open only on Halloween Night or maybe one or two nights before, but some of the more extravagant ones get a jump on the competition. Earlier this week, we made a trip to the 10th and final year of Boney Island in Sherman Oaks, which began this year's haunt on October 19. Last night, two more amateur efforts unveiled their 2007 presentations - The House at Haunted Hill and Rotten Apple 907's Malice in Wonderland - and we were there.
Boney Island is as much fun as ever, although knowledge of its finality lends a bittersweet aftertaste to the experience. Even if you have seen this one previously, you should make the extra effort to visit one last time. There is at least one new impressive prop: a fifteen-foot tall Ferris Wheel full of skeletons in spider-shaped seats, with a spider dangling from the spokes. (We understand that, come December, this will be converted to a Christmas decoration for use at another location.) Also, the comedic talking spiders (whose voices suggest the climax of the 1958 monster movie THE FLY) have some new jokes (e.g., "Help me - I feel like a yo-yo.") This haunt remains open through Halloween night.
Malice in Wonderland is this year's presentation at what I call the "Haunted Meyer Estate," which changes its name every year depending on the presentation (last year, it was Lair of the Vampire). Unlike most yard haunts, this one features an actual walk-through maze. In previous years, there used to be an elaborate cemetery display out front, with animated tombstones, flashing strobe lights, and sound effects, but that is no longer the case (apparently the result of trying to quiet things down to appease complaining neighbors).
The maze follows the same path from previous years (narrow entrance corridor, wide open main scene filled with props and a couple of scary characters, then back into a claustrophobic corridor) but with entirely new decorations suited to this year's theme, complete with a malicious Alice and a Queen of Hearts (in drag!) screeming "Off with their heads!"
You could walk through in less than five minutes, but the decorations are impressive for a home effort, climaxed by an awesome giant caterpillar that rises up and lurches its head toward you - well beyond anything you would ever expect to see in a yard haunt. As always, donations are accepted for a charity; this year's recipient is the Burbank Arts Foundation.
This haunt is open tonight, Tuesday, and Wednesday (Halloween Night).
The House at Haunted Hill (pictured at top) was our most pleasing discover in 2006, so we knew we had to be back for opening night 2007. Last year, the mechanical movements, music, and lighting effects ran through a cycle, but the timing was not obvious to the viewer, who could stand and watch for several minutes, thinking he had seen it all, until some new sight emerged (e.g., a flash of light on the hillside behind the house, revealing the silhouette of someone being hacked to death). This year, the familiar props and sight gags have been organized into a twenty-minute dramatic presentation that includes some brand-new effects, along with narration, dialogue and an original score.
Whether you think this is an improvement may depend on your taste. As you approach the House, the Haunted Hill seems strangely silent; tombstones and skeletons are on display, but they remain static. You can no longer watch at your leisure, gradually discovering the ghoulish delights one by one. You have to wait for the show to start; then the effects come on in sequence, timed to the story.
The highlight of the new show is the narrator, a talking Jack-O'Lantern, featuring lip-synch achieved through projected animation. In an accent faintly reminiscent of '30s horror star Boris Karloff, the Jack-O'Lantern relates the tale of a Hollywood starlet from an earlier era, who married the wrong man and ended up in the haunted house, where her spirit now remains trapped, decades later.
The first half of the show takes place directly in front of the house. You see glimpses of the action through the front window, courtesy of projected images that suggest phantoms from long ago. The second half takes place to the side of the house, where a cemetery display is filled with talking statues, skeletons on playsets, and a ghost in trapped a tomb.
It's a nifty way to present the familiar sights in a new way. Many Halloween haunts feature a "legend" of some sort (i.e., a back story to explain the haunt), butthose legends usually exists only on the haunt websites; you would never know them from attending the haunt itself. House at Haunted Hill actually uses the back story in its show. To be honest, the story is a slim thread to tie together the spooky sight gags, and the combination of projected clips and mechanical effects never matches the theatrical experience of the Fright Gallery's old live-musical Halloween shows, but you have to give House at Haunted Hill credit for trying something different, instead of resting on their laurels.
House at Haunted Hill presents its shows at twenty-minute intervals, starting at 7:00pm every night, through October 31.