The first installment of Hollywood Gothique's 2010 Halloween Haunt Odyssey - our annual tour of amateur Halloween attractions in Los Angeles - provided a ghastly ghoulash of gruesome horror in Burbank. Part 2 offers a change of pace, with a trio of atmospheric yard haunts in Woodland Hills and Tarzana. None of these include mazes; all are decorated yards filled with delightfully spooky props and sets that convey an atmosphere of "Halloween horror" without any shocks that might scare off childhood trick-or-treaters.
Our "discovery" this year is Fallen Angel Cemetery at 23830 Berdon Street in Woodland Hills. This one has actually been around for several years, but somehow we never made it out. Essentially this is a decorated lawn; the yard is long and thin, but steep - sort of like stadium seating, so that many skeletons and props can be packed close together without the view being blocked. The tone is classic Halloween – spooky, not gory – with some impressive lighting and sound effects (the lightning flashes are timed with the thunderclaps). There is not much in the way of animation, and there are no monsters to terrify the tykes; overall, this one is fun. In case you want to visit Fallen Angel Cemetery next year, the decorations and lights are up a day or two before Halloween, with candy handed out on the 31st, of course.
Also in Woodland Hills is the House at Haunted Hill, located at 4400 Saltillo Street. This year, the most elaborate of the Los Angeles yard haunts featured the same basic presentation that has been on view since 2007, but a few new, startling effects had been added, including a ghost that flies briefly back and forth over the yard and a ghastly, ghoulish bride who emerged from an upstairs door and gazed down on the audience, light patterns shifting across her body to give the impression of an ectoplasmic rather than a corporeal being, a suggestion enhanced by the vision of her face morphing into a skull. House at Haunted Hill's presentation (including music, narration, and dialogue) is unique; even though it has not changed much over the last few years, it is always worth seeing. If you are marking your calendar for Halloween 2011, this haunt is usually in operation the last few days of October.
Not far from Woodland Hills is Tarzana, home of the Haunt with No Name Yet, which resides north of the Ventura Freeway at 19351 Hatteras Street. Like the House at Haunted Hill, this yard haunt remains fairly consistent from year to year, but it seems to grow a bit more elaborate every Halloween: more props, more pumpkins, etc. As always, Haunt with No Name takes the low-key approach. With its corner house shrouded in darkness by encroaching trees, it has built-in atmosphere to spare, which the decor admirably enhances. It's a little bit like being in a Gothic graveyard, with a stone gate, tombstones, ghostly shapes hanging from trees, and fog- shrouded figures standing amid a myriad of imaginatively carved Jack-O’Lanterns.
The tableau are mostly static, but there are a few mechanical effects: a moving candle hovers above a stone sarcophagus; a lamp floats beneath a tree; a moving ghost is visible within an upright open tomb. The overall impact is sinister but not too scary, except perhaps for the youngest and most impressionable costumed visitors. This yard haunt begins two nights before Halloween with a "preview." If you want the full effect, you really need to go on October 31, when all the Jack O'Lanterns are in place (Jack O'Lanterns have a short shelf live, so the proprietors do not put them out until Halloween night).
Each of these three yard haunts offers its own special spooky delights. What they all have in common is a faithful approach to the spirit of the Halloween season, emphasizing ghosts and graveyards rather than chainsaws and slaughterhouses. A similar approach is visible at some Westside haunts, but those must wait till next time...
The third installment of this year's Halloween Haunt Odyssey will feature CrestaFallen Cemetery in West Los Angeles, the Eternal Rest Cemetery in Venice, and House of Restless Spirits in Santa Monica.