The Haunted Hayride is back for Halloween 2013. Is it bigger and better than ever? Read on to find out...if you dare!
We made it out to the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride for their press event last night, and once again found the trek of terror through Griffith Park's Old Zoo to be up to our expectations. If that sounds like faint praise, well - it's the Haunted Hayride's fault for being so damned good that we have come to expect nothing less from them every year. If they want us to sound surprised, then they need to be less consistently great. Otherwise, our blase attitude is inevitable. In fact, it's quite a tribute to the Hayride that it's possible, even in jest, to speak of being blase about their impressive quality.
The In-Between Maze
Actually, there is one area of pleasant surprise, of new virtues worth extolling: The Haunted Hayrides's other attraction, The In-Between Maze, has finally gone from being a mere "B-Side" to a hit single in its own right. The strategy remains basically the same as in Halloween 2012: you stumble through a series of dark corridors, trying to find your way out. This is a real maze, with false turns and dead ends; it probably wouldn't be too hard to navigate if you could see, but overhead strobe lights keep your eyes from adjusting to the darkness.
What's new for Halloween 2013 is that there is more to the In-Between Maze than the black void. It's still clear that the truly lavish production value (sets, costumes, makeup, effects) goes into the Hayride, leaving just a few odds and ends to decorate the bare painted flats that make up the walk-through attraction. Fortunately, there are multiple monsters lurking in the darkness: some mechanical, some live actors. How many is hard to say, but the sense of a threat is more pervasive than before, and if nothing else it's quite a hoot to feel something touching your leg and realize you have just been "bitten" by a giant stuffed spider that shot out of its hiding place on a pneumatic arm.
As before there is an outdoor area with more lighting, the pathway defined by fences with white bloody sheets, behind which shadows lurk. Then it's once more into the breach as you return to darkness, seeking a path back to where you started. There are two of those inflatable "birth canals" that require you to squeeze your way through, and this Halloween both of them seemed to be deliberately imbalanced, with one side less inflated, so that the other side was exerting more pressure, pushing you off your center of gravity.
In the past, we regarded the In-Between Maze as a little something extra, maybe worth checking out if you still felt the need for something more after sitting through the hayride. This is the first year when we truly recommend you spend the extra money to go inside. There are chicken exist if being lost in the dark overwhelms you, and we heard one or two screaming visitors proclaim that the experience was even scarier than the Hayride itself!
The Haunted Hayride
For Halloween 2013, the Haunted Hayride offers some slight variations in the route taken by the tractors through the Old Zoo, a few additions, a few subtractions, and a few familiar scenes. There are no ponchos this year; dousing in fake blood is no longer part of the entertainment. The titanic demon and his minions with the red glowing eyes are back and scary as ever. There is another mock-Christmas scene, though radically revamped from 2012.
We sensed a few longer gaps between major set pieces this year - empty stretches with nothing happening, while the tractor slowly pulled us toward the next horror zone. The ride gets off to a slow start, first passing some TV screens relaying "news" about the Jonestown Massacre, then past a stretch of walls with severed hands extending out toward the tractor.
Fortunately, when the monsters finally show up, they are worth the wait. Often their appearances have been augmented by small lights, affixed to their heads or sometimes inserted into their mouths. The effect, in the darkness of the night, of seeing a blue glow emanate as their jaws open to scream - well, it's quite startling.
As always, the 360-degree experience is unlike any other Halloween haunt in Los Angeles. With monsters all around the trailer, you cannot keep track, and while watching some other poor soul bedeviled by some red-eyed maniac, you will inevitably not see the one sneaking up over your shoulder.
We're also impressed with the obvious talent on display. Sometimes the Hayride almost feels like a demented Cirque du Soleil, with dancers and mimes suggesting a psychotic version of a ballet.
New scenes included a Wicker Man type sacrifice scene, with cultists throwing themselves into what looks like a glowing red pit. Some body bags come unexpectedly to life. There are walking trees. The inevitable clown scene near the end begins with a new idea: a revival tent, where the members unexpected draw a large silken sheet over the entire trailer, covering the riders in darkness so that they cannot tell what is assaulting them from the other side.
Best of all, there's a wonderful scene inside a burning building, apparently a Catholic school, where the nun outside orders you to keep your eyes front - which is rather hard to do while attempting to take in the myriad sights and sounds around you. Inside, the building seems on fire. As one of the demented denizens flies overhead, victims writhe and moan, their skin glowing red like burning embers - a brilliant effect that we have never seen before, and one that just about repays you for the price of admission all on its own.
As for the claim on the Haunted Hayride's website that this year's haunt is based on true events, that's a bit of a stretch. Beside the Jonestown television broadcasts, the Christmas scene name-checks several real-life serial killers, and that's about it. In the "Purgatory" entertainment area, some real-life ghost hunters regale you with tales of allegedly true demonic hauntings and try to suggest that the spooks may follow you home, but that engendered few if any nightmares in us.
One word of advice: We went through the Hayride twice - first sitting in front of the trailer, then in back. By far, the second experience was the better. In front, you tend to pass the scares before they activate, and although the actors try to attack everyone equally, inevitably those in the back get just a little bit more. Sitting in back, we saw everything that we had seen the first time - and more, often more clearly and directly. Truly, no place is safe on the Hayride, but leave the front for souls more timid than you, who do not seek to sup fully from the cup of dreadful terrors being offered on this ghostly trail into dark woods where no sane person would go.
So, is the Hayride worth a return trip? There's not that much new, but the improved In-Between Maze is more than enough to push the answer to a definite yes. As for first timers, this is a no-brainer: Get yourself out to Griffith Park now.
The L.A.Haunted Hayride is located in the Griffith Park Old Zoo, 4730 Crystal Springs Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027. Remaining dates are October 11-13, 17-20, 24-27, and 30-31. Hours are 7:00pm to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, 7:00pm to 10:00pm on weekdays. Call (818) 871-9486 for more information, or check out there website.