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Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2018 Review

Can a tenth anniversary celebration of the past offer more than a nostalgic trip down memory lane? Read our Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2018 Review to find out!

The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride celebrates its tenth Halloween by resurrecting many of its most memorable moments. The result could have been like watching a musical act tour in support of a greatest hits compilation: recycling familiar songs could have yielded a hodgepodge that never coalesced into a unified whole, and the L.A. Haunted Hayride has been at its best when producing concept albums linking individual tracks together with an overarching theme. Fortunately, the Hayride avoids this potential pitfall: instead of simply replaying their greatest hits, they have re-arranged the familiar tunes into a clever medley that makes the old material sound new again.

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2018 Review: Purgatory
Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2018 Review Photograph copyright 2018 by Warren So
Giants in Purgatory

Little love have we lavished on Purgatory over the years. Our proclivity for prioritizing mazes and rides has usually precluded lingering in this area, which serves as a central hub for the entire event. This Halloween, however, instead of simply passing through on the way to the Haunted Hayride or Trick or Treat, we were forced to stop and gape in wide-eyed wonder at the giant Jack O’Lantern scarecrow figure looming among the treetops and roaring like an enraged monster from hell. It was one of those rare moments when realizing, “We just got our money’s worth – and we’ve barely arrived!”

Purgatory is essentially a scare zone, though rather different that most. Its unpaved terrain is not conducive to sliders, so sudden jump-scares are at a minimum. Instead, the Purgatory experience feels like a series of encounters with the demented denizens of an insane carnival. Pause long enough – sit down for a snack and beverage – and you will be repeatedly accosted by these bizarre characters. A few (a man with a hook on his hand) are overtly threatening; some are darkly comical; all of them, in ways subtle and strange, like to engage your attention for as long as possible.

In our case, we had the pleasure (?) of interacting with a clown who insisted that we twist his hand, flattened on a concrete table, as far around in a circle as possible: 90 degrees….180….270… (“Um, should I stop now?” “No, keep going!”) …300…330…360… (WTF???). Apparently, it didn’t hurt, and he made quite a show of setting his hand back in place. Was it real? We don’t know for sure, but his hand felt real to us.

There has been a noticeable move during the past decade to transform Halloween events into destination spots, where customers remain after experiencing the haunted attractions. There are some good shows and bars at places like Queen Mary Dark Harbor, but Purgatory provided the most fun we’ve had simply hanging out anywhere this Halloween season.

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2018 Review: The Hayride
Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2018 Review Photograph copyright 2018 by Warren So
Shadows loom on the path of the Haunted Hayride

The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride can only be compared to itself: Does it live up to last year? Does it fall short of its own high standards? Is it the best ever?

For us, the yardstick is 2014’s Echoes from the Rift, which will probably always be our favorite. Fortunately, Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2018 resurrects the hellish landscape that formed the climax four years ago, so we’re happy. Also back is the Congregation, with its Devilish leader towering high above shrouded acolytes who attack the hayride’s trailer.

These two elements are ported over mostly intact, but other bits and pieces have been cleverly amalgamated to create something simultaneously familiar and new. For example, the very first year of the Haunted Hayride featured a masked madman (Jason?) standing on a hilltop and hurling a trash barrel down at helpless hay-riders below; since then, there have been one or two sacrificial cult scenes. This year, we see a cult emerge from a stone temple, dancing wildly in the night and distracting us – if only momentarily – from their apparent leader or god up the hill, who hurls a boulder in our direction. It’s the same basic gag, but executed very differently. Likewise, the mannequins who sang “We’re gonna make you barbecue” are back, but they only get through a verse before we move on to other mannequins singing other songs – creating the literal medley that inspired the analogy we used at the start of this review.

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2018 is not quite perfect – the trailer was packed so tightly that it was difficult to turn around to view action on both sides, and on the night we attended the demon from the Congregation seemed stuck at mid-level instead of elevating to enormous height as he had in the past. Other than that, this is our favorite Haunted Hayride since Echoes from the Rift.

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2018 Review: Trick or Treat
Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2018 Review Photograph copyright 2018 by Warren So
Trick or Treat

Trick or Treat is a good example of a simple but clever concept that never grows old; the template remains the same from one Halloween to the next, but within that template there is room for endless variations. The walk-through attraction is different from most Halloween haunts: it’s not a maze with monsters lurking around corners; it’s a path past a series of “houses,” where you stop to beg for treats but end up mostly getting tricked.

What’s interesting here is the active participation of the victims (that is, us), who are literally asking for trouble every time they knock on a door or ring a bell, summoning the singular residents within. This year’s cast includes several humanoid monstrosities (such as a luminescent skeletal creature that looked similar to something from last year) and Lizzy Borden with her infamous axe – whose abrupt appearance provided one of the few jump-scares. Otherwise, like Purgatory, Trick or Treat offers a series of strange encounters with creatures who want to share a moment with you, even if that moment makes you uncomfortable.

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2018 Review: House of Shadows

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2018 Review Photograph copyright 2018 by Warren SoHouse of Shadows continues to evolve. Once a dark maze, it’s now bathed in flickering strobe lights that make it easy to see your way – but not to find your way. This is a literal maze, with forking paths and dead ends, and you may despair of ever getting out – especially when you backtrack and run into equally lost victims wandering hopelessly.

In the past, this was the “economy” maze that saved money by hiding everything in blackness, negating the need for much in the way of decor, costuming, or makeup. The structure is still mostly black plywood corridors, but the inhabitants, now more clearly visible, are remarkably visualized, some wearing what looks like glowing orbs, and the passageways sometimes widen out into small rooms with settings, where these “guides” eagerly offer help that is far from helpful – don’t be surprised if they send you down a few wrong turns.

Our enjoyment of House of Shadows and its predecessors (it was previously known as the “In Between Dark Maze”) has always been a bit begrudging, but year by year the maze wears down our resistance, which may someday become futile.

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2018 Review: Theatre Macabre

This attraction seems to be perennially popular, but it does nothing for us. It’s a  show in which audience members are invited on stage to “act out” scenes from famous horror movies. It almost works when the scene is something that can be physically recreated with limited resources (e.g., crawling through a fake TV set as in RING), but trying to recreate a skier pursued by a shark from Jaws 2 strikes us as lame rather than funny.

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2018 Review: Conclusion

We had our doubts about the decision to resurrect the past, but Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2018 assuages those fears completely. A patchwork creation it may be, but it’s stitched together with the skill of Dr. Frankenstein creating a new monster to scare his most adoring fans.

Photographs copyright 2018 by Warren So.

L..A Haunted Hayride 2018 Ratings
  • 95%
    Haunted Hayride - 95%
  • 100%
    Purgatory - 100%
  • 90%
    House of Shadows - 90%
  • 100%
    Trick or Treat - 100%

Bottom Line

The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2018 may be a patchwork of past elements, but the result is stitched together with the skill of Dr. Frankenstein creating a monster guaranteed to scare Halloween horror fans.

Note: We are not rating Theatre Macabre, because it would drag the average score down in a way that does not represent our reaction to the overall event.

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride continues at Griffith Park Old Zoo on October 19-21, 24-28, 31. The address 4730 Crystal Springs Avenue, Los Angeles, 90027. Call (818) 871-9486 for more information, or 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.