Looking for a great new way to enjoy Halloween in Los Angeles? It's not too late to head over to South Pasadena for the Raymond Hill Mortuary.
The Raymond Hill Mortuary is not exactly new - it is the second year of Halloween haunting from Evil Twins Studios - but the theme is entirely different, and in any case the event is "new" to Hollywood Gothique, which did not trek to South Pasadena for its predecessor, The Theatre of Terror, in 2013. This was a foolish mistake on our part, since Evil Twins Studios proves to be a remarkable and distinctive addition to the the list of fine Halloween haunters in Los Angeles. Though a non-profit fund-raising effort, Raymond Hill Mortuary slithers, crawls, and screams alongside the best professional haunted houses, providing so many imaginative frights that the cost-benefit ratio of the $15-price tag is ridiculously low.
Situated in the Fremont Center Theatre, Raymond Hill Mortuary offers what feels like an incredibly lengthy journey through a series of thoroughly convincing settings, beginning with a funeral parlor before moving behind-the-scenes to a morgue, and eventually outside into a cemetery, then back inside for several more dark corridors. There is enough inside for two or three haunts, and the scares are never spread thin; the cumulative effect is impressive, but each individual scene works on its own.
The impact is maximized by allowing visitors to enter in groups of about half a dozen at well-spaced intervals. This allows the haunt to stage a few specific scenes instead of simply forcing visitors through a labyrinth of corridors from start to finish; welcoming you in the front room, a funeral director asks you to sign the register, with unfortunate results; an open-casket viewing goes horrible wrong; a coroner sprays embalming fluid on you, and then his assistants force you to lie on slabs and then push you into the dark - the only way of exiting the room.*
There are also several hallways with lurking ghouls, so many that you will think the experience is over when you step outside into the back - only to realize that you have entered a haunted graveyard, where the dead most definitely do not rest in peace. The fog-enshrouded cemetery is a trifle hard to navigate, because the ghouls seem to direct you in the wrong direction, blocking your path as you shy away into a dead end, before realizing that you must approach your tormentor if you wish to proceed.
Back inside there are more frights: darkness blinds you to the lurking haunters; hands reach through the walls and grope you (they are not real, though it's hard to tell in the dark); there is even a mild electric shock if you have the misfortune to touch one particular wall. But do not despair, there is an exit to safety...eventually.
Raymond Hill Mortuary features some good makeup, lighting, and effects, but what sets it on par with the best haunted houses is its atmospheric location and its cast of characters, which combine to create a sense that you are indeed walking through a ghoulish mortuary, not a fun house. Many Halloween attractions sacrifice their theme in the quest for variety (clowns on the Queen Mary?), but Raymond Hill Mortuary is all of a piece, maintaining its illusion from beginning to end.
With Old Town Haunt retired and the Pomona Fairgrounds offering no haunt this year, the area east of Eagle Rock suffered from a dearth of Halloween attractions. Fortunately, Raymond Hill Mortuary is filling the void quite nicely.
Note: Lines were long on Halloween Night - 90 minutes or so; show up early, or get a fast pass for an extra $10. The wait outside is assuaged by the presence of a dreary grave digger, who warns incoming guests of the horrors that lie in wait; she seems rather depressed that her warnings go unheeded, as each new group proceeds inside, but she continues to try, like the hopeless Sisyphus.
Raymond Hill will be open on November 1 from 7pm to 11pm. The Fremont Centre Theatre is located at 1000 Fremont Ave, South Pasadena, CA 91030. Tickets are $13 in advance, $15 at the door; proceeds from benefit the South Pasadena Educational Foundation (SPEF). Click here for the Facebook page.