HHA 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award: The Hallowed Haunting Grounds

In this category, The Halloween Haunt Awards pay homage to well-loved attractions that have taken up residence in the Graveyard of Lost Halloween Haunts, never to be seen again on this earthly plane. Think of the award as an induction into The Halloween Haunts Hall of Fame. Many are the haunts that we will never see again, but they endure in memory, like eternal spirits.

2016 Lifetime Achievement Award: The Hallowed Haunting Grounds

the-wandering-spirit-at-hallowed-haunting-groundsFor over 30 years, from 1973 through 2005, this magnificent yard display haunted its Studio City neighborhood on Babcock Avenue, becoming not only a local tradition but also the undisputed king of Los Angeles Halloween home haunts.

The Hallowed Haunting Grounds took trick-or-treaters on an ethereal journey into a moody miasma of tombs, spirits, gravestones, and ghosts. More spooky than scary, this haunt eschewed visceral horror in favor of old-fashioned eerie atmosphere appropriate to All Hallow's Eve.

There were no actors performing jump scares, only a front yard filled with moving gravestones, mechanical figures, and ectoplasmic emanations, enhanced by ominous music. The path took visitors on a circuit of the yard (where transparent ghost rose from beneath the ground), through arches in the driveway (where red-eye bats blinked), toward front windows of the house (where ghostly musicians appeared and disappeared at their instruments), past the backyard (a fog shrouded cemetery), and finally out a walkway (past a monk delivering in invocation over a well emitting uncanny light).

hhg-hooded-figureThe tone was reminiscent of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion, but the Haunting Grounds was no copycat. Its incredibly elaborate displays were home-made originals. The expertly detailed decorations, sophisticated sound design, and carefully timed mechanical effects were of professional quality, setting a standard that other home haunts began to emulate over the years, abandoning store-bought cobwebs in favor of do-it-yourself craftsmanship.

Over the decades, crowds grew bigger, as did the haunt itself, adding ever more amazing illusions until its “Final Manifestation" in 2005. Lines typically stretched around the block, and it could take twenty minutes to circumnavigate the relatively small yard. Strangely, this was a benefit. The Hallowed Haunting Grounds was paced to the rhythms of the dead, not the living. Spectres would gradually reveal themselves to mortal senses.  Eager eyes, adjusting to darkness, would observe previously invisible details.  Hidden sights would be unexpectedly illuminated; apparently static props would eventually move.

hhg-talking-statueThe Hallowed Haunting Grounds was the brain-child (one almost might say the life's work) of Gary Corb, who collaborated with a team that included Mark Phillips, Greg MacLaurin, Steve Mann, Tim Doggett, Scott Webster, Alex Rannie, and Nathan Hamilton (who went on to create the Turbidite Manor Halloween attraction). Corb's dedication to his art is perhaps best exemplified by the modifications he made to his front yard to accommodate the hundreds of people who visited Haunting Grounds every year. Up until the 1980s, visitors walked up the driveway toward the front door, then turned back to exit via the same route. After crowds became so thick that they were creating a bottleneck, Cor laid in a new walkway and put in a separate exit on the side of the yard opposite the driveway, so that trick-or-treaters could make a circuit, instead of retracing their steps. That’s dedication to the Halloween spirit: anyone can decorate for the season, but how many people are willing re-landscape their front yard?*

Tribute to the Haunting Grounds at Van Oaks Ceemtery (photo by Warren So)
Tribute to the Haunting Grounds at Van Oaks Cemetery (photo by Warren So)

The Hallowed Haunting Grounds was perfect place to go on Halloween Night, offering an entrancing low-key alternative to chainsaw and shrieks. It was truly sad when the Haunting Grounds shuttered its crypt forever after Halloween Night 2005. But its spirit lives on, inspiring others to this day - an influence acknowledged in home haunts as diverse as the House at Haunted Hill and the Van Oaks Cemetery, both of which display gravestones inscribed with the Hallowed Haunting Grounds' name.

The Hallowed Haunting Grounds. They raised the bar. They set the standard. They showed us how wonderful a home haunt could be. More than a mere fun Halloween show, the Haunting Grounds was the first Los Angeles home haunt that deserved to be regarded as a work of art.

Click here to read our 2005 interview with Gary Corb. You can learn more about the Hallowed Haunting Grounds at their official website: www.hauntinggrounds.org.

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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.

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