Heritage Haunt 2010: Review

Heritage Haunt ghoulWhen Hollywood Gothique first encountered the Heritage Haunt, back in 2008, we were overjoyed at the prospect of a Halloween event in Los Angeles that presented an effectively convincing haunted house - not another asylum or chainsaw slaughterhouse, but a spooky walk-through perfectly suited to the October season. 2009 saw Heritage Haunt expanding to include more attractions - a trend that continues in 2010. As sometimes happens, the increased activities leads to a dilution of the original appeal - in this case, the severe truncation of the event's signature haunted house. Fortunately, there are compensations, most notably in the form of a lengthy Hayride of Nightmares. Although Heritage Haunt is not quite the same as it was in years past, it is still well worth a visit.

LOCATION

Heritage Haunt remains at Heritage Junction in Hart Park, which is perfectly suited to Halloween. Essentially a historical landmark, the park features several preserved buildings from early in the previous century, lending an authentic mood to the Halloween fun. Although Heritage Junction is right off the main road, and offers convenient paved parking, the location itself is a large unpaved area, surrounded by woods, with little light to chase away the shadows - and what may be lurking therein. The rural feel is perfect for a haunted hayride, and the various structures - school house, train station, etc - provide good opportunities for scares zones. Heritage Haunt takes advantage of this:the moment you walk through the entrance, you feel you have stepped into an old western ghost town, with monsters and mayhem lying in wait for you.

THEME & ATMOSPHERE

Heritage Haunt offers no overriding theme for 2010. (2008 was "Curse of the Ghoul Mine;" 2009 was "Nightmares in Newhall.) The authentic old western atmosphere is somewhat preserved (the site was once the location of a mining community and later served as the backdrop for silent Western movies), but the additional attractions do not necessarily blend in - e.g., Chewy's Pirate Cove is a surreal sight with its grounded pirate ship, but exactly what is it doing in this setting? The new Indian Trail Massacre, on the other hand, is perfectly suited to Heritage Junction.

SETS

Chewy's Pirate Ship at Heritage HauntAs mentioned, Heritage Haunt benefits from the existence of authentic structures that can be retroffited for Halloween. Unfortunately, for 2010, the Newhall Ranch House has not been augmented with additional corridors added to serve as a walk-through maze. The cul-de-sac with the old school house has been decorated to turn it into Chewy's Pirate Cove, a sort of walk-through scare zone; the pirate ship itself is the most spectacular and colorful structure set up specifically for Halloween. The Indian Trail Massacre offers a small village of teepees. The haunted hayride relies mostly on the woods, but a few simple structures dot the trail, providing hiding places for the horde of marauding monsters that lurk there.

CAST

The actors are enthusiastic in their efforts to scare, but the characters seem to have been put to generic use: the monsters you meet as you enter and pass the first few tombstones are likely to show up on the Indian Massacre Trail and in Chewy's Pirate Cove. During our ramble through the environs of Heritage Haunt, we encountered one enterprising undertaker - of the undead variety - on several occasions - and he even ended up acting as tour guide on our haunted hayride.

ATTRACTIONS

Now reduced to a simple seance, the Newhall Ranch House is still worth visiting. This is an allegedly authentic haunted house; after you walk up the steps to the porch, a guide explains the haunted history and invites you to look through the front window, where you see a ghost rise from a chair and walk through a wall. Inside, a mechanical skeleton contacts the house's restless spirits (in a ceremony that is thankfully shorter than the one seen in 2009). This simple scene benefits from an excellent special effect: as the invisible spirits knock, the floor shakes beneath your feet with a powerful vibration that literally rattles your teeth - a wonderful evocation of unseen supernatural powers.

The Indian Trail Massacre is presented as a discrete attraction (i.e., you have your ticket punched before you enter), but it is less a walk-through maze than an outdoor scare zone. Creepy sounds emanate from the shadows -  possibly, the voices of angry spirits of a massacred tribe - but few ghosts actually emerge. On Saturday night, when we attended, the Indian Trail was haunted by only two or three denizens of the dark, one of whom was a monster who followed us in through the entrance. This one needs more actors - specifically cast for it - in order to register as something more than another bit of spooky western ambiance.

Chewy's Pirate Cove offers a magnificent pirate ship, with sails and flags flying high. The other pirate-themed decor - including skeleton pirates decked out along a circular path through a small cul-de-sac of buildings - is good Halloween fun, but this particular area was better utilized in 2009 as a "Haunted Village." There's nothing wrong with the pirates; it's simply that the existing school house and surrounding structures were a better fit for being turned into a ghostly graveyard.

The Hayride of Nightmares is now the de facto highlight of Heritage Haunt. This extensive drive through darkened woods takes you past what appear to be countless hordes of monstrous lumbering creatures. There is some down time as your trailer moves from one group of ghouls to another, but this is ably filled in by a guide riding in the bed of the truck pulling the trailer. The settings are few and far between - this hayride is all about the woods, not about creating specific scenes of graveyards, cornfields, etc.

A ghoul on the path of the Hayride of Nightmares
A ghoul on the path of the Hayride of Nightmares

The cast of the Hayride of Nightmares has not quite perfected the strategy of the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride actors (who take better advantage of the opportunities afforded by a slow-moving trailer, which provides enough time to show a little personality). What the Hayride of Nightmares monsters have perfected is the art of surprise, using not only trees as hiding places but also specially built small structures. One enterprising demon even managed to emerge from the ground itself, as if erupting from a grave covered in leaves.

On the night we attended, the Hayride of Nightmares was marred by some driving problems (with all those twists and turns in the unpaved road, there seemed to be constant danger of sheering a tree). This distraction was more than eclipsed by one of the woodland inhabitants, a clown named Skippy, who hitched a ride aboard our trailer for the duration of its journey through the haunted wood, screaming in fear at the approach of every new monster. Sadly, Skippy eventually fell victim to the zombie hordes - dragged off the back of the trailer and apparently devoured. This was a wonderful dramatic moment - simultaneously creepy and funny - that too few Halloween attractions achieve.

OTHER

A musical ballet - "Alice in Scaryland" - is performed several times nightly inside the Saugus Train Station. There is an outdoor haunt photo gallery, where you can have your picture taken with your favorite monster. Lyons Club provides a barbecue for the hungry, and those seeking a drink can step inside the old saloon.

SUMMARY

Heritage Haunt cemetery outside Newhall Ranch HouseWe sorely miss the Newhall Ranch Haunted House, because there are so few convincing Halloween haunted houses in Los Angeles. (With this one inactive, and with Turbidite Manor gone to Nashville, we can only thank the Halloween gods that the Reign of Terror has found a permanent location at Janss Marketplace in Thousand Oaks.) The Hayride of Nightmares is no match for the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, but it still offers more than enough Halloween horror to satisfy thrill-seeking trick-or-treaters. With a very reasonable $15 admission price, Heritage Haunt may be a better bargain for your money - which all goes to a good cause, since this is a non-profit event that benefits the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.

Heritage Haunt is located at Hart Park – Heritage Junction, 24101 San Fernando Road, Newhall, CA 91322. Remaining dates are October 22-23, 29-30. There is a special "Night in Heritage Junction" event, hosted by the American Paranormal Research Association, October 22-23. Visit www.scvhaunt.com for more info.