This Halloween, Hollywood Gothique eschewed its usual haunts and set off on a voyage of discovery, seeking out new and different amateur efforts. In the process we made several exciting discoveries (if, like Columbus, we can use the word "discoveries" to mean places that are not really new but just new to us).
With Hallowed Haunting Grounds now nothing but a cherished memory, we were no longer obligated to peruse the Studio City area; instead, we set off into the west San Fernando Valley. Our first stop was in Tarzana...
The Haunt with No Name...Yet is located at 19351 Hatteras Street - a quiet, dark residential area, with no sidewalks and lots of trees blocking any street light. In other words, the perfect haunting grounds! The decor consists of a stone gate, tombstones, ghosts floating from trees, fog, and shrouded figures. The tableau are mostly static, but there is a nice moving candle that seems to hover in the air above a stone sarcophagus. Even more impressive is the large upright crypt with a floating spirit inside. Overall, this has an sinister feel, with the layout of the corner house's front yard nicely utilized to create the sense that you are approaching a dark and dreadful place (even though the proprietors turn out to be quite nice).
Next we ventured toward the Pirate Cave in Northridge, but our journey took some unexpected happy twists and turns as we chanced upon other yard haunts. The first of these was at 9040 Zelzah- a corner house on a side-street just off Nordhoff. This vast front yard (another corner house) featured fog and flashing lights that promised a spectacular show. As we approached, we saw that the actual haunt consisted mostly of some store-bought hanging ghosts with skull heads and a few standing mummy figures. At the front of a long line of trick-or-treaters, a woman dressed as a fortune teller handed out candy, while a motionless skull-masked figure watched silently - suddenly moving as the children made their exit. This was easily the most crowded place we visited on Halloween night - a neighborhood haunt that drew enough visitors to clog the streets and necessitate a police car to prevent traffic from turning off Nordhoff into the overcrowded residential area. If the haunt itself turned out to be not quite as spectacular as at promised, the experience was a bit like a concert, where the energetic enthusiasm of the fans makes up for the shortcomings of the band's performance.
Our next happy accident was at 7960 Genesta Avenue, where we discovered another unnamed haunt, this one with a walk through maze. Outside the display was pretty basic: some tombstones and a shrouded figure layered beneath a fine mist. Inside, the maze was fairly extensive for an amateur effort, with several twists and turns, eventually leading inside the house, where some friendly teens offered us candy even though we were obviously too old to be out trick-or-treating. The proprietor is not sure whether this haunt will be open again next year, but we'll try to keep you informed, as it is worth checking out, especially if you're in the area anyway.
After that, we finally found the Pirate Cave a few blocks away at 7919 Lasaine Avenue. As the name implies, this one features a painted flat suggesting a pirate ship, along with dancing fireflies and a murky harbor in the front yard. Next to this, a giant skull with flaming eyes sits atop the entrance to a walk-through maze representing the pirate's cave. Inside, you'll see a floating spirit and a ghoul or two lurking in the shadows, before you reach the "treasure" buried within - a cask of candy, naturally enough. This is a fun little yard haunt, whose pirate theme and home-made props distinguish it from several others we visited that night.
Lastly, we headed to the hills - to the House at Haunted Hill, in fact, which is located at 4400 Saltillo Street, just off Canoga, south of Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills. This was the most spectacular of the yard haunts we visited - clearly a major contender to the throne, now that the Hallowed Haunting Grounds is no more. The two-story house is loaded with black-lit drapes fluttering in the wind, with skeletal figures and floating ghosts peeking out the windows. There is a skeleton on the porch and a phantom bride around the corner toward the back. A tombstone in front of the main entrance slides back and forth as something tries to get out.
But what's really impressive is the use of the yard space, which stretches up the hill to the back of the house. You'll see two childish skeletons on a teeter-totter, singing "Itsy Bitsy Spider." A bust of Beethoven opens and closes its eyes. Another skeleton swings above a whistling well. Another statue head comes to life and speaks an invocation that rouses the spirits. Farther back, you can see a ghost on the hill, accompanied by phantom shadows flitting across the ground. And the silhouette of some figure with an ax chops...chops...chops away at something unseen.
It's a wonderful presentation in a wonderful location, and we regret not having discovered it sooner (it's in its seventh year). We eagerly look forward to a return visit in 2007.