Haunted House Odyssey 2005

In last year’s Haunted House Odyssey, we described our tradition of spending October 31 seeking out amateur yard haunts — those houses that, free of charge, entertain their neighbors with elaborately decorated yards, full of tombstones, fog, skeletons, and other spooky denizens of the night.

This year, we made a point to stop by some old favorites like Nightmare Junction and Grimmstone Cemetery, and of course we could not pass up the final manifestation of the beloved Hallowed Haunting Grounds. However, we made an extra effort to seek out some old haunts that we had neglected last year and some unfamiliar ones that had eluded us in the past. The result added an extra special chill to our rambling roadtrip around Los Angeles.

First, we head toward Burbank. Not far from the Fright Gallery, we encountered the haunted Myers Estate at 907 N. California Street. Calling itself Graveyard 907, this one has been around for fifteen years; although a freebie for the neighborhood kids, this year it was collecting donations for Habitat for Humanity, to help provide assistance for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Located on a residential street, this one had a very nice front yard full of store-bought tombstones and strobe lights; more than that, it offered a walk-through maze. The line was long, but we decided to wait, and we were glad we did. Of course, the maze is a temporary structure made mostly of filmsy walls, black trashbags, and hanging sheets, but there were also some good props and a couple of more elaborate scenes: an outdoor cemetery, a bloody bathroom, a zombie on a treadmill, and some monster in a den. We gladly gave a donation on our way out, and we’ll put this on our list of haunts to re-visit next year.

Next, we headed farther north in Burbank, toward Jackson Manor at 2506 N. Myers. This one is hard to find, because the streets zig-zag at weird angles as you approach Glen Oaks Boulevard, but it’s worth taking the time to look up on Map Quest or, failing that, the Thomas Brothers Guide.

We had visited this one a few years ago, when it was basically a decorated driveway, suggesting an alien autopsy, with alien cadavers on dissecting tables and flashing electric lights sparking like some kind of mad scientist’s lab. This year, the decor was much more appropriate for Halloween: a yardful of horror in the form of a full-sized wolfman, the traditional tombstones, and a magnificent crypt whose doors swung open at regular intervals, revealing a dazzling light from within.

On top of that, there was a good walk-through maze. This was more claustrophic than the one at Graveyard 907 — a twisting corridor made of black plywood — but it managed to squeeze in a few nice props and settings, including a decayed body popping out of a cannister (a reference to RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD?). It also seemed to be very densely populated for such a short walk, with several monster eagerly pursuing us.

Our third discovery of the evening was Boney Island, a sort of demented almost Tim Burton-esque carnival of skeletons drinking, dancing, riding a merry-go-round, and telling fortunes. The tableau included a human cannonball act, a shooting gallery, and a batting cage (with the sekeltons swinging their clubs at the flying mammal, not at a baseball).

With its colorful air and festive music, this one is not the least bit frightening, but it is an eyeful of wonderful eye candy — decidedly low-tech in its approach (the skeletons are all plastic props dangling on wires) but in no way the worse for it. If you’re looking for fun rather than frights on Halloween, this is the place to bring your kids next year.

We ended the evening by taking a last walk through the Hallowed Haunting Grounds in Studio City. We had stopped by on their “preview night” last Thursday, when not all the effects were up and running, but we wanted to go back and see it in full operation. The line was almost to the end of the block, and it was past midnight before we were actually walking up the driveway toward the house, but it was worth the wait to bid farewell to this greatest of all yard haunts. Halloween in Hollywood just won’t be the same next year without it.