Very few haunted attractions transcend the threshold of interactivity, going beyond standard jump scares - and even beyond a script - to have characters truly interact with audience members. Delusion: A Haunted Play and the Wicked Lit Halloween Theatre Festival’s framing pieces are great examples of achieving this interactivity, and I was surprised to discover one such haunt at the edge of Los Angeles county. For two nights, Cedar Performing Arts put on the Hollywood Horror: Haunted Manor Tour, which engaged the audience in improvisational ways that made each show unique. Produced on a shoestring, the Hollywood Horror: Haunted Manor Tour was only about ten minutes long, but the $5 show had more heart than dozens of much more expensive haunts - because of that interactivity. Writer-director Troy Hencely did a superb job of casting to the strengths of his actors, and the result was truly unforgettable. The story was a series of thirteen vignettes based on well known horror films, several of which combined multiple cinematic homages. The show was definitely Halloween themed, but firmly in the genre of comedy, with a few jump scares and creepy moments peppered in.
Hollywood Horror Haunted Manor Tour 2018 Review: Take the Hellevator
We were greeted in the foyer by three guides, host Troy Hencely, a long-deceased maid played by Meghan Anderson, and Azerena Yusef as a demon who has long been suffering the puns of Troy’s tour. They had a good script when we were silent, but our experience was even better when we engaged them verbally. At multiple points during the tour I interjected questions or comments, and I have no doubt many in this cast could have held an in-character conversation for hours if given the chance.
Among their comedic banter, they promised to take us on a tour of the bowels of Hell, and led us inside the “Hellevator.” The first thing we saw when the elevator doors opened was the twins from The Shining, played by actual twins Savannah and McKenna Smith, who chilled me to the bone when they spoke every line in unison. Ella Clark played Annabelle, a young girl with a doll collection, which she attempted to expand by poisoning us. After a brief meeting with Rosemary and her baby, we attended a short seance that succeeded in summoning a dead spirit, which wanted to inhabit the body of one of our party. Making a quick escape through the art room, we got to see Bloody Mary in a mirror - a treat reserved for those brave enough to peer inside and say her name three times.
The entire time we were inside, there was a piano score that fit each scene perfectly, and only when we got to this point did we realize it was the Phantom of the Opera (pianist Mike Leon in the guise of Lon Chaney) performing live the entire time, keeping a continuously changing score going in the background to enhance the experience no matter how long we lingered to interact in any scene.
It wasn’t until after the scenes for Scream, The Ring, and Psycho that we noticed the child characters had been sneaking up the whole time, keeping to the shadows as they stalked us. To see children - who are usually hyperactive, distracted, or laughing in the real world - silently stalking me with deathly calm on their faces sent shivers up my spine - a sense of dread that no jump scare could ever deliver.
Next, in the Dr. Jekyll scene, we met the doctor herself, played by Kate Caro, and her patient, the youngest actor I’ve ever personally scene in a haunt - four year old Alexander Caro as her Frankensteinesque monster. Looking soaked from rain and time in the sewer, Georgie Denbrough (Madison Dill) emerged from the shadows to offer a balloon. You won’t be surprised that they float down there, but you may be shocked to know that a child standing right in front of us under a green spotlight made us jump with a vocal transition from creepy whisper to ear-piercing scream: “You’ll float too!”
Escaping the sewer, we were stopped by Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers (Zack Pursley and local wrestler Sinister, respectively). The two fight in an example of well choreographed of impressive stunt-work, culminating in a body-slam onto the floor before the fight is broken up by Brookelyne Bennington as Carrie, still bloody from prom as she uses her telekinesis to separate the two squabbling boys.
Hollywood Horror Haunted Manor Tour 2018 Review: Exit to Hell
Finally, attempting to exit Hell, we were stopped by Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, played by Nadia Dupree, who would not let our group reach the exit, because Troy had been breaking the rules by bringing tour groups through Hell for money; unless we all wanted to become residents of Hell, someone had to pay the toll - one human heart. She assured us that no one needs a heart in Hell, but of course without one you’re dead and cannot leave. Yusef’s malicious demon was no help; her demeanor changed from eye-rolling foil to cackling villain as she saw her chance to ally with Elphaba and end the torment of Troy’s puns once and for all. Realizing their chance, the creepy children of Hell descended screaming upon us as Troy sacrificed himself to enable our escape. As I said this was interactive; the ending could actually change based on what people in each group did. On my second trip, someone offered to stay in Hell and had a prop heart ripped from their chest as the screaming children descended upon us.
Hollywood Horror Haunted Manor Tour 2018 Review: Conclusion
Hollywood Horror: Haunt Manor Tour set itself apart before we were even inside. In the foyer, a parent and child exited the haunt. The door staff quickly sent word inside that the child was nearly in tears from fright, and swiftly a large group of costumed actors near the child’s own age came out to give assurances that they were all just kids, not real monsters, and share a big hug with the formerly frightened child. It was adorable.
One of Cedar Performing Arts’ obstacles is also one of its strengths. It’s not a big-budget professional production company but rather a theatre school. Consequently, half the cast were teachers, and half were students. Children can be notoriously hard to work with, especially when they need to follow a script, and even more so when they need to improvise on top of that. When I arrived, these young actors were over two hours into the show and still handling each performance as professionally as any adult: they hit their marks; they knew their cues; and most impressively, many of them were downright creepy.
Bottom line: What Cedar Performing Arts lacks in (relatively) high budget sets and large performance spaces like Delusion and Wicked Lit they more than make up for with talented performances, great writing, and quick-thinking improvisation. I definitely hope they return and you get to experience it in 2019. Five stars.
Their Halloween show is over for the year, but they have a Murder Mystery Dinner coming up December 8th. For details and tickets call the box office at (661) 917-9135.
Hollywood Horror Haunted Manor Tour 2018 Review: Photo Gallery