The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride - always big, always spectacular. The template remains more or less the same, but Ten Thirty One Productions always infuses the mold with enough wicked imagination to extract an original Halloween treat every October, thanks to a theme that morphs from one year to the next. For Halloween 2017, the L.A. Haunted Hayride offers Clown - perfectly suited to the carnival atmosphere of the haunt's central hub, the Purgatory scare zone, where demented entertainers wander through fog, laughing like maniacs and swallowing razor blades to amuse visitors. But are clowns enough to make the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2017 the best one yet? Read on to find out - if you dare!
Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2017 Review: The Hayride
The novelty of the Haunted Hayride should have worn off, but the strategy still works: the tractor intractably draws visitors into ambush areas, where monsters swarm from behind the dark rocks, crevices, and trees of the the old Griffith Park Zoo - or emerge like acrobats from sets built for the occasion. The snail-like pace of the wagon insures that each and every clown or creature will have more than enough time to torment victims at their leisure. No matter how much you want to run away, you can't.
Well, that's not quite true anymore. Since 2016, there is a midway point where passengers disembark and follow a path through something like a corn maze. Whether everyone makes it back to the wagon is an open question; our head count suggests the answer is no. We appreciated the unexpected change of pace - it's not just the same old ride through Griffith Park - but the maze itself was less intense than the Creatures of the Corn Trail at the late, lamented Fright Fair Screampark. The most terrifying aspect was the treacherous terrain, which claimed almost as many victims as the monsters.
We were definitely glad to resume the Hayride and even more glad to see a new variation on an old theme: the denouement in which the characters drape a large sheet over the entire wagon, briefly sending everyone into darkness. We have seen this trick several times, and it always impresses us more as a performance piece than a scare tactic: the fear of being briefly enveloped is not to be overlooked, but it takes second place to the staging of the action, which creates a sense of organized chaos building to the climax.
However, our favorite set piece was a punkish musical show, whose performers leaped off the stage to attack the wagon. This is not the first time the Hayride has featured musicians who go rogue, but it may be our favorite - high-octane horror that breaks the proscenium arch, destroying the invisible wall of safety that usually divides artist and audience.
Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2017 Review: Trick or Treat
Much as we enjoy the Hayride, Trick or Treat is this year's highlight. This outdoor walk-through, simulating door-to-door trick-or-treating, has been improved since its Halloween 2015 debut. Originally, progress was timed to a doorbell sound effect telling visitors when to move to the next house; now, trick-or-treaters saunter at their own pace, knocking on each new door and waiting for...something...to emerge. This allows for greater interaction with the characters, who take full advantage, taunting and teasing - offering candy and then snatching it away, egging visitors on to the next stop or coaxing some to remain behind while the group moves on...
Remarkably for such a repetitive scenario (knock, wait, repeat), Trick or Treat never feels like deja vu; each stop is different, with its own flavor of Halloween treat. The houses are haunted by a remarkable variety of supernatural beings, featuring distinct appearances realized with amazing makeup and/or costumes. Even better, they have different personalities - some playful, some wicked, some aggressive, and some outright disgusting.
Trick or Treat is a great concept, expertly executed. We would happily revisit this one every Halloween.
Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2017 Review: House of Shadows
We never expect much from the House of Shadows, but it pleasantly surprises us every Halloween. Formerly known as "In Between," this is a dark maze, presumably designed to provide scares without the expense of building elaborate sets. But it really is a maze - and a difficult one. The pathways may not be labyrinthine as those that thwarted the Minotaur, but deceptive signage complicates matters, and the House of Shadows' devious denizens are rather good at coaxing you into taking the wrong turn at almost every opportunity. (Midway through, we got separated from our party, managed to find the exit with much effort, and then had to wait ten minutes for our friends to catch up.)
The House of Shadows is enhanced with strobe lights, offering tantalizing glimpses of the maze's interior. However, the continual flashing guarantees that your eyes never adjust to the darkness, and what you do see is more disorienting than helpful, with corridors often blocked by the maze's inhabitants.
Our favorite aspect this year was the inclusion of barely visible phantoms (actors in faintly glowing masks), who floated through the shadows, tantalizing us with the promise of escape, only to lead us astray. It might not have been so bad if those accursed tomb-legions had not been so silent.
Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2017 Review: Conclusion
One aspect that always sets the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride apart from other Halloween attractions is Artistry. With its agile performers, the Hayride and its other attraction suggest a demented Cirque du Soleil - as colorful and flamboyant as it is horrifying.
Unfortunately, the Clown theme does not serve the haunt well. Yes, clowns can be fun (we laughed watching them sneak up and blast unsuspecting victims with a horn), but they don't add much to the Hayride to make it better than previous years. The problem is that, with its carnival atmosphere, the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride already feels like a circus, so clowns are more of the same instead of something new.
The haunt has done better when it took a completely different theme and filtered it through a circus sensibility. Our favorite was 2014's "Echoes from the Rift," which unleashed Hell on Earth but still featured some brightly colored performers who would have been at home under the Big Top. Compared to that, Clown seems relatively small-scale, without the distinguishing features to make it as memorable. It is perhaps no coincidence that our favorite attraction at this year's Haunted Hayride, Trick or Treat, eschews clowns in favor of ghoulish undertakers, glowing skeletons, and skinless monstrosities - and not a circus tent in sight.
Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2017 Review: Rating Explanation
Finally, an explanation about our uncharacteristically harsh 3.5 rating:
On the night we attended, the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride suffered from organizational problems, for which we are knocking off half a point. First and foremost, we suspect that fast-pass tickets had been oversold. Except for the Hayride itself, the VIP lines were as long as or longer than the General Admission lines, and the people monitoring the lines were not always working to resolve the problem (we waited longer to see House of Shadows than General Admission ticket holders).
Additionally, the small food shack was inadequate to serve the number of customers; the wait was too long for us. (If we hadn't snatched those Sweet Tarts in the Trick or Treat maze, we might have starved!) At least two signs told us that, if we were merely thirsty, we could purchase a drink elsewhere, but the coffin offering "blood cold" beverages was as empty as a vampire's grave at night. Hungry and thirsty, after visiting all the attractions, we were debating whether to return to the Purgatory zone for some more fun (maybe a backward merry-go-round ride or a palm reading); however, little seating is available, except for a few bails of hay. When we did find a resting place by some stairs near the parking lot, a surly "security" guard ordered - rather than politely asked - us to leave. We eventually settled at some picnic tables a distance from the Hayride and, after a breather, decided to go elsewhere for dinner. Too bad - if they had made it a little easier on us, we would have stayed longer.
The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride continues on October 12-15, 19-22, 25-29, 31 in the Griffith Park Old Zoo at 4730 Crystal Springs Avenue, Los Angeles. Call (818) 871-9486 for more information, or visit LosAngelesHauntedHayride.com.
More in this series:
- Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2017 Photos
- Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2017 Review