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L.A. Haunted Hayride’s Drive Up is not much of an Experience

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2020 Review: Live Drive Up Experience fails to live up to its own hype.

For Halloween 2020, the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride promised a live “immersive and interactive experience” featuring an “original multimedia story.” Unfortunately, the result is not much of an experience: it has no story; it features little interactivity; it hardly feels immersive, and it is barely live. Yes, there is a stage where a couple dancers appear during the musical numbers, but you can barely see them, and the dozen live monsters patrolling the area are so spaced out that you are unlikely to encounter more than a few of them up close.

In short, you’re not getting much of a Halloween haunt; the L.A. Haunted Hayride Drive Up Experience is more of a glorified outdoor movie screening with a seasonal overlay. It might have been a fun way to enjoy some old grindhouse horror movies, but…you’re not going to get that, either. In fact, you’re not going to get much of anything except disappointment.

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2020 Review: Don’t call it a drive-in even though that’s what it is.

Despite the advertising admonition “don’t call it a drive in,” that’s exactly what the 2020 L.A Haunted Hayride is – and not a very good one. Essentially, after navigating your way past some repurposed sets from last Halloween’s Midnight Falls presentation, you end up at a pop-up theatre, where you watch a half-hour video of a horror host named Monte Revolta singing, cracking jokes, showing a short film, cracking another joke, showing another short film, and singing another song. Midway through, you realize you’ve seen pretty much everything there is to see; the rest will be just more of the same: more bad jokes, more short films you could have watched for free on the Internet, and more waiting to see a different monster attack your car.

There is some initial promise. The drive through Midnight Falls establishes an eager sense of anticipation, enhanced by the surrounding landscape of Bonelli Park, which looks rural and secluded enough to be the setting for a horror movie come to life. The wait for the drive-in show to start is ameliorated by horror movie trivia questions flashing on the screen. The flashing lights and blasting music of the video presentation’s opening number kick the energy immediately into high gear, but after that wild opener the show goes nowhere.

LA Haunted Hayride 2020 01 Midnight Falls review
Entering Midnight Falls

The fact that we’re watching a video destroys any real semblance of a “live” performance. There is no interaction between the pre-recorded host and the audience (even with social distancing, mobile devices should have made some kind of communication possible with a live host). Though monster lumber around, their movements are to no purpose; there’s no narrative, no storytelling, no build toward a climax. What should have been an outdoor update of yesteryear’s Midnight Spook Shows feels more like an old UHF channel TV show, and if you wonder why we’re using such an outdated reference – we will not liken the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride Live Drive Up Experience to a YouTube channel, because we see much better stuff on YouTube every day.

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2020 Review: Not meeting expectations

Part of the problem may be expectations. Like Ghost Ship (the 2011 attraction from Haunted Hayride’s then-producers), this year’s Live Drive Up Experience simply cannot measure up to the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride at its best. The weird artistry – suggesting a Halloween version of Cirque du Soleil – is almost entirely lacking here, replaced by more conventional horror trappings. Frankly, however, even without past Haunted Hayrides acting as a yardstick, this Halloween’s presentation would look small.

For one thing, the arrangement is not conducive to a good viewing experience. The 40-foot screen is not large enough for the venue, especially with cars spaced out to maintain social distancing. Even with VIP parking (closer to the screen), the video fills only a very small part of one’s field of view. With many cars parked far to the side, the viewing angle is awkward, especially for passengers in the back seat, who may find themselves craning their necks out the window to see anything at all. (Though you are not allowed to get out of the car, you are allowed to roll down  windows as long as you wear a mask to avoid spreading Covid-19.)

One other sour note: We were not able to get the sound broadcast through the car stereo system and so had to rely on the event’s speaker system, which was certainly loud enough. Nevertheless, FM sound might have made Monte’s dialogue easier to understand.

LA Haunted Hayride 2020 review
Even the view from VIP parking is not great.

What the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride Live Drive Up Experience desperately needs is a story to break through the fourth wall, jolting viewers into the action. Instead of just introducing films and singing songs, Monte Revolta should have provided some kind of set up – either read a news bulletin about a homicidal maniac escaping from a nearby asylum or relate a legend about an angry supernatural force said to manifest at the drive-in ever since a murder took place there decades ago.

Then at some point during the show, the film breaks, and monsters previously confined to the screen emerge into the drive-in, attacking victims – i.e., actors who have been judiciously planted in cars at regular intervals throughout the lot. At first Revolta tries to pretend it’s part of the show, but as pandemonium threatens to overwhelm everything in its path, the host resorts to a 21st century version of Vincent Price’s cry to audiences watching The Tingler: “Ladies and gentlemen…. Scream! Scream for your lives!” An exorcist or the Ghostbusters arrive to save the day, or maybe just a projectionist figures out how to get the movie running again, which sucks the monsters back onto the movie screen, leaving the host to wrap things up with a paraphrase of Van Helsings’s famous “There are such things” speech from the stage version of Dracula.

Los Angeles Haunted 2020 Review: Conclusion
LA Haunted Hayride Live Drive Up Experience Review
Monte Revolta

Normally, we prefer to review what a show actually is rather than what we think it should be; however, the setup for the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride Live Drive Up Experience delivers so much less than it promised that the only way to convey our disappointment is to describe what could – and should – have been.

Ultimately, this year’s Haunted Hayride (which, to be clear, does not include a hayride) squanders its own potential, providing little more than a drive-in movie with a short running time, which overstays its welcome because what is onscreen is not that interesting and what is offscreen is not a terrifying immersive experience.

Not everything is bad. The atmosphere of the drive-through portion is nice; though the settings are sadly unpopulated by live actors, the effect is a bit like driving through the Haunted Hayride in the comfort of your own car instead of in a tractor trailer. We enjoyed the Monte Revolta’s makeup and demeanor, and the video production values are not bad. Had the ghoulish host been present onstage, working the audience and delivering a truly interactive horror show, the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride Live Drive Up Experience could have come much closer to realizing its potential.  As it now stands , this experience will fulfill only the lowest expectations.

Review: LA Haunted Hayride Live Drive Up Experience

Bottom Line

That’s it?

That’s all?

The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride Live Drive Up Experience squanders its own potential, delivering less than it promises and not enough to justify the admission price. The old vaudeville adage “Always leave them wanting more” meant that audiences should want more because they enjoyed what they saw, not because they were frustrated at having seen too little.

The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride Live Drive Up Experience runs on select nights through November 1. Tickets for a car with two people range from $49.99 to $199.99, with an additional charge for each additional passenger. The address for Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park is 120 E Via Verde Drive, San Dimas, 91773. For more information, visit: LosAngelesHauntedHayride.com.

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.