It's time for another Hayride into Hell. Can one of the best Halloween events in Los Angeles keep its promise to create its "most intense horror experience yet"?
You all know the drill - right, kiddies? We're talking about the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride: we all know it's gonna be great, so just buy your tickets and go. The only question is whether it will be different for Halloween 2012, or will you simply be experiencing the same scares all over again?
For months, Ten Thirty One Productions has teased us with press releases promising that the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2012: The Congregation would feature an extended trail and a brand new 360-degree experience, guaranteed to get you wet; also, the In-Between Dark Maze would be bigger and scarier. The word "new," however, can have a very broad definition, often synonymous with hype (e.g., check out the way that Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood recycles old props and effects inside "all new" mazes). Well, we're here to tell you that, if anything, the hype undersells this Halloween's L.A. Haunted Hayride. Although there are a few familiar set pieces, the adjustments and additions have created an attraction that feels radically revamped - almost like new - bigger and even better than before.
THE IN-BETWEEN DARK MAZE
In Halloweens past, the In-Between Dark Maze has been somewhat of a B-side to the Haunted Hayride's hit single. To some extent that remains true, but at least this year the record is worth flipping over. The strategy here is that the maze is dark - really dark - so that you can barely see where you are going. Entrants are given a lantern, if they choose, but it's a double-edged sword, metaphorically speaking: it can light the way, but it also attracts the monsters hidden in the darkness.
The In-Between Dark Maze truly is a maze, in the sense that you have to find your way out while navigating through corridors with multiple pathways, many of which lead to nowhere. Our purely subjective impression is that there were more monsters lurking in the shadows this Halloween: the dead-ends were there not just to frustrate you as you realized you had gone the wrong way; these claustrophobic cul-de-sacs also provided hiding places for hidden dangers.
The In-Between Dark Maze has been extended for Halloween 2012: there is now an outdoor section, where you can actually see where you are going. Unfortunately, there is little to see; this section consists mostly of chain-link fence covered in white tarp. There are a minimum of monsters and only a few decorations beyond the occasional blood spatter. At least there is one nice scene featuring a bison-sized mechanical wolf chewing on a victim - and blocking your way so that you don't know whether to squeeze around or turn back.
The last third of the maze returns to darkness, including one of those tight corridors with the inflated air bags. Some members of our party were so intimidated they peeled off and turned back while we braved onward, emerging again, finally, into the light. We never saw the others again: we suggested to the staff that they send in a search party; for all we know, they are still there.
The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride strives to be a Halloween event with more to offer than a ride. As you enter there is a scare zone with stilt-walkers and other menacing characters (one with candy apples shoved into his eyes); further along is the Purgatory area, with a hall of mirrors and a backwards carousel (with skeleton horses, of course).
There is also a stage area, where we saw some geek-show entertainment, performed by some beautiful Sirens - who, instead of sweetly singing, walked on broken glass and extricated themselves from straight-jackets. The show was entertaining, though no match for magician Andrew Goldenhersh, whom we saw there back in 2010. Also, the male proprietor of this goth-laden harem bungled his history badly when describing the straight-jacket escape, claiming that Harry Houdini (who originated the gag) had turned to magic later in his career to earn the kind of respectability that does not come from doing geek show stunts. In fact, Houdini was a magician all his career but apparently not good enough to stand out among other magicians, until he made his name as an escape artist. (The dead give-away here is that "Houdini" [real name Eric Weiss] took his stage name from the magician Robert Houdin, suggesting that he always considered himself a magician first.)
Unfortunately, the available food is hardly enough to tempt you to hang out and make a meal of it, unless popcorn and soda fulfill your dietary needs; at least the "cold-blooded sodas" are reasonably priced. We miss the mobile food truck from Jerry's Deli a couple years back; then it was really possible to make a a full evening of your trip to the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, enjoying a decent dinner after the ride, while watching the entertainment on stage.
THE HAUNTED HAYRIDE
What infernal machinations have been wrought upon the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride itself? The tractor drivers seem more "in character" this year, eyeing you with fiendish glee as you climb aboard the trailer, then chortling malevolently as they tow you through your tour of terror. The 360-degree scare experience - always a strong point - seems even more perfect; misdirection pulls your attention ahead or to one side, allowing creature to creep upon you from unexpected directions. And this year, the death comes not only from ahead, behind, and around - but also from above!
The first new gag appears almost immediately: a body hanging by the neck from a tree twitches spastically; as you drive beneath, the dying victim apparently loses control of her bladder, dousing everyone on board! Fortunately, ponchos are provided when you purchase your ticket; put yours on before boarding, and keep the hood up! This will not be the last time that you are drenched in bodily fluids.
This year's route has been altered; the tractor veers off in a new direction soon after the hanging victim, taking you past tableau of actors and/or mannequins. Their poses are ghastly, but they do little or nothing - an apparent disappointment. However, as you move on, looking ahead for new frights, the characters come alive and pursue your trailer, catching you by surprise - an effective scare strategy that helps to keep you guessing about where the next attack will come from.
Soon your find yourself entering an outdoor structure - parallel walls with a series of arches. The familiar figure of the Grim Reaper makes a return appearance, this time suspended above the entrance, speaking words of doom as you approach. Women are chained outside, struggling to escape. Within, there are gyrating dancers in skin tight outfits, along with other victims. Expect to be sprayed once again with bodily fluid, this time presumably the blood of the executed, but more startling, watch out for the ghouls swinging and flying overhead.
The desecrated church is back, but last year's gag (a demon dragging a sacrificial victim to hell, her chained arms ripped off and remaining in their shackles) has been replaced by something even more spectacular - almost literally incredible. This Halloween, a robed demon rises from the floor, growing to Kong-size height through the roof until he stands tall enough to gaze down upon the mere mortals (i.e., you) watching helplessly from below. The assembled congregation, which up to this point appears to be stationary mannequins, suddenly comes to life, attacking the trailer, their shrouded faces and glowing eyes a truly unnerving sight, enhanced by their rhythmic chanting.
There is another overhead horror gag, followed by a Christmas scene, which has been completely re-imagined since last Halloween: a rather Hell-acious Kris Kringle douses you with "snow" (actually suds). The strobe-light circus tent also returns, but better than before; in fact, the Haunted Hayride is the only Halloween event in Los Angeles that does clowns right - although the characters here are less clownish in appearance carnival-esque.
The slightly anti-climactic effect from last Halloween has been eliminated by adding an extra scene: upon escaping the circus tent, you move into a new area, where translucent walls display the silhouettes of moving figures hidden behind, who emerge to menace you while the carnival characters from the previous setting renew their attack. By the time the tractor pulls away and heads toward safety, you and your compatriots will find yourself breathing a satisfied sigh of relief.
The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride: The Congregation feels new and refreshed for Halloween 2012. Our only complaint (and this is a common failing among haunted attractions) is the "Congregation" theme is not truly evident in person. Yes, there is a shrouded congregation in the desecrated church, but that's about it. The circus tent and the Christmas scene do little if anything to advance the story, which is supposedly a prequel to events depicted during previous Halloween seasons.
We used to complain that, despite its quality, the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride was somewhat overpriced; however, looking at how much tickets have skyrocketed at other Halloween events, the Hayride is starting to look like a bargain. We're still a little dubious about charging extra for the In-Between Dark Maze, which is clearly a value-added type attraction, but the extra $9 is not exorbitant.
So, is the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride worth a return trip this Halloween? The new stunts are jaw-dropping; the various dousing gags are effectively disgusting; and the titanic demon is worth the price of admission all on its own - you will not see anything like this at any other Halloween attraction in Los Angeles. No matter how many previous tours you have taken on the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, you need to go back for Halloween 2012.
One Final Note: Although the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride offers ample free parking, finding it is not so easy. The official address is a mystery to some GPS systems; the roads through Griffith Park sometimes seem to lead nowhere; and the signage is seriously deficient if you are arriving from the north. Just ignore the new L.A. Zoo, and keep going even if you're afraid you've overshot your destination. Eventually, there will be a sign or two, if you keep your eyes open.
The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride continues at the Griffith Park Old Zoo on October 11-14, 18-21, 24-28. Hours are 7pm to 10:30pm o weeknights and Sundays; till midnight on Fridays & Saturdays. Tickets are $28 for General Admission (Hayride only); $37 for Double Attraction Pass (Hayride and the “In Between Maze”); $52 for VIP Admission (a double attraction pass with front-of-the-line privileges). There are additional options for group rates and for a private wagon. The address is 31 4730 Crystal Springs Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90027. Check out their website by clicking here.
Get more information about the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, including photos and videos, by visiting our page dedicated to the haunt. If you are looking for more ways to enjoy Halloween in Los Angeles, try visiting our pages for Halloween Theme Park Attractions and for Halloween Haunted Houses and Hayrides.