Halloween Review: Paramount After Dark Tour

This night-time version of Paramount's studio tour adds a seasonal overlay of ghostly rumors and grim Hollywood history.

Hollywood is a dream factory, where stars flicker across the silver screen long after their deaths; preserved eternally in a celluloid limbo, they materialize before our eyes like phantoms from the great beyond, their voices echoing from times past, and then they dissipate into darkness once more, until summoned by the next screening. Is it any wonder, then, that Hollywood should be saturated with tales of the supernatural - its sound stages and back lots brimming with spirits of the famous, the not-so-famous, the infamous, and the forgotten? For a glimpse into this haunted history, we recommend Paramount After Dark Tour: Tales from the Other Side, currently running at Paramount Studios in Hollywood.

Star Trek Turbo Lift
Riding the Star Trek turbo lift.

This night-time version of the year-round studio tour covers some of the same territory (sound stages where current television shows are shot; stories about the making of The Godfather); however, there is an emphasis on the mysterious, the weird, and the uncanny. There is nothing overtly scary, but there is the inherent creepiness of walking through a dark and deserted studio at night - not to mention an excursion into the adjacent Hollywood Forever Cemetery (where feral felines lurk just beyond the range of flashlights, their eyes glowing back at you in the darkness).

Though far from sinister, the experience is infused with an atmosphere appropriate to the Halloween season. On view are costumes from Sweeney Todd and The Addams Family; a metallic cyborg skeleton from Terminator: Genysis; a turbo lift from the Star Trek films; a life-sized Bumblbe from Transformers; and a dragon that bears a disturbing resemblance to The Giant Claw).

The tour includes several real-life ghost stories. Stage 19 is said to be haunted by actress Heather O'Rourke (Poltergeist), who filmed Happy Days there. More alleged apparitions, some anonymous, lurk in the rafters of other stages, and there are tales of a spirit seen entering the property through a wall on Van Ness Avenue - supposedly, Rudolph Valentino, who is interred at the cemetery.

There is plenty of Hollywood history, though what's included and excluded is somewhat quirky. Paramount's most famous horror film, Psycho (1960), was filmed on another lot (Universal Studios Hollywood), so it's not really represented here. On the other hand, King Kong (1933) is not a Paramount production, but part of the current Paramount lot once belonged to RKO Pictures, so you will be able to visit Studio 21, where the film was shot, and the Gower Theatre, where it was first screened. There is also an interesting walk through Paramount's New York City back lot, where Cloverfield was filmed, followed by a trip to the basement of Stage 18, which was essential to the filming of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (in order to make the film's recreation of an apartment complex as tall as possible, the stage floor was torn up and the sets were built all the way down to the basement level).

Hollywood Forever Cemetery: Letts Mausoleum
A tomb at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Moving from the studio to the graveyard, the Paramount After Dark Tour features many of the highlights seen in the Art Deco Society's annual Hollywood Forever Cemetery Walking Tour, including the final resting places of Joey Ramone, Maila Nurmi, and Rudolph Valentino. The last of these is inside a mausoleum where the mysterious Woman in Black (or her latest incarnation) periodically appears to leave a rose in tribute to Valentino's enduring romantic appeal. Nurmi is better known as Vampira, the original television horror hostess; her grave is one of the few sights on the tour with an obviously Halloween flavor, thanks to gifts and decorations left by adoring fans.

Also included are sordid stories and rumors from Hollywood's past, including the unfortunate case of actress Virginia Rappe, whose untimely death led to an accusation that she had been raped by silent film comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. (The scandal ruined his career, even though a jury not only acquitted him but also wrote a note of apology: "Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him... there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime.")

Tombstone in the basement of Stage 24
In the basement of Stage 18

The only area decorated for Halloween is the basement of Stage 18, which is decked out with artificial candlelight, gravestones, and bodies from World War Z. Here, tired tourists nearing the end of the tour can score some Halloween candy, bottled water, and flavored movie popcorn (we went with cheddar). It may be churlish to complain about a lack of soft drinks (especially when the tour begins with complimentary champagne), but we really could have used a boost from some caffeinated cola after two hours of trekking through mausoleums, sound stages, back lots, and graveyard plots.

The Paramount After Dark Tour is enhanced with a couple of nice technological innovations. Our guide used a tablet to show images and video clips of actors and movies being discussed. Every guest is given an earpiece, so that the guide's voice is always clear (especially beneficial in the cemetery, where the crowd tends to spread out, possibly even losing sight of the guide in the darkness). More prosaically, flashlights are offered for the darker areas of the tour, including the cemetery, which is not illuminated at night. And there are several places to sit, so you will not be on your feet the entire time.

Paramount's After Dark Tour is perhaps more of a tourist attraction than a Halloween haunt, but it's filled with sights, settings, and stories that should appeal to fans of fantasy film, mystery movies, sci-fi cinema, and Halloween horror. Hard-core cinephiles may be familiar with much of the information, but even we learned a thing or two about the dark history and inner workings of Hollywood. The tour also provides an excellent alternative to other Hollywood Forever Cemetery Tours: besides atmosphere, the night-time trek is free of the September sunlight that can turn a day-time tour into an endurance test ending in heat exhaustion. Instead, we finished the two-and-a-half hour tour with a satisfied feeling of time well spent.

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Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.