After a disappointing 2022 season, the hallowed Halloween attraction recaptures a little of the old magic
Los Angeles Haunted Hayride used to rank among the very best Los Angeles Halloween Events, but the quality has been quietly slipping since the attraction was purchased by 13th Floor Entertainment Group a few years ago. The 2019 presentation, introducing Midnight Falls (a mysterious town where every day is Halloween), was solid, but after a disappointing drive-through experience in 2020, the event moved from its longtime location in the Griffith Park Old Zoo to a different section of park in 2021, where some of the charm was lost. Last year in particular was disappointing, with a short hayride that offered little to please devoted fans looking for something new.
After all that, it is pleasing to report that the L.A. Haunted Hayride feels rejuvenated this year. The Hayride itself, though still short, has been switched up so that it is not a mere replay. The three mazes feature two returning favorites and a newcomer so good that it justifies the price of admission. On top of that, there is a new zombie shooting gallery offering a little extra mayhem. Individually, the changes are not huge, but they somehow add up to an energetic experience that should restore the faith of disaffected fans.
Haunted Hayride 2023 Review: New Hellbilly Halloween Maze
Hellbilly Halloween pulls of a very effective riff on the rural cannibal theme. The sets immerse you in the grim setting, and the gruesome imagery is enhanced with an unnerving soundtrack of ambient tones, squealing, and cackling voices.
The walkthrough begins in a ramshackle old house that looks ready to topple down on your head. Inside the dimly lit interior, half-seen occupants threaten to have you for dinner, and half-eaten bodies dangle from the ceiling. There is an outdoor section through a path of hay bails where creepy mechanical scarecrows jolt to spasmodic life. Next is a distillery bathed in eerie blue light, which makes it easier to see – not that you would want to behold the twisted faces lurking inside. After another brief trek outside, featuring a chainsaw encounter, the final section is a walk through a red-tinted barn which has been decorated by characters who obviously take Halloween too seriously.
The strategy here is to put elaborate mechanical figures and mannequins outdoors, where the lighting can show them off, and keep the live cast with their pullover masks lurking in the interior shadows, where they can deliver jump-scares. It’s a simple approach that works very well, thanks to solid production values and a cast large and enthusiastic enough to fill the space with scares. The five-six minute journey is much more shorter than its overlong predecessor, Dead End Diner, but it has much more happening – making it a huge improvement.
Haunted Hayride 2023 Review: New Zombie Splat Gelly Ball
The Zombie Splat Gelly Ball Experience is an entertaining variation on paintball shooting galleries, featuring smaller, less painful balls. The rapid-fire handgun includes a limited amount of ammo, which is easy to expend before the event’s three-minute time limit is up, so zombie hunters are advised to use it judiciously.
The set resembles a secret lab overrun by its own experiments, with static targets you can blast after the timer starts. More fun are the moving targets: a glowing mechanical skeleton pops up at various times, and two “live” zombies shuffle in and out of view, mostly dodging fire until the end when they move in your direction as you fire your last rounds in a desperate effort to fend them off.
It’s goofy but oddly exciting experience, enhanced by the fact that the rapid-fire stream of gelly balls glows bright green under the set’s blue lighting, making it easy to direct your fire at your intended target. The balls are small and (relatively) harmless, but they do have impact – we were able to knock one static target loose from its moorings. Definitely worth a try.
Haunted Hayride 2023 Review: Returning Mazes
Returning this year are two of our favorite mazes, Midnight Mortuary and Trick or Treat. The decor of Midnight Mortuary is little changed from last year except for the inclusion of some gargoyle-like vampires dangling upside down (which also show up in Trick or Treat). Nevertheless, there was much demented fun to had inside, where the front desk receptionist enthusiastically offered a two-for-one deal on coffins if we were willing to occupy them immediately. The theme and look of this maze, with its mortuary interiors and cemetery exteriors, is so appealing that we are happy to revisit it every year with or without any upgrades.
Trick or Treat once again offers a walkthrough a neighborhood that is not only decorated for Halloween but also haunted by creepy residents. The interactive element is missing this year (you no longer invite trouble by ringing doorbells and yelling “trick or treat”), but we are willing to forgive that because a couple of enormous mechanical monsters have been added, a roaring wolf-like beast and a raging dragon that is truly awesome.
Haunted Hayride 2023 Review: Main Attraction
There have been improvements to the Haunted Hayride’s signature attraction. First, there is a hay bale you can use as a step to climb aboard the trailer; even better, there are hay bales on the trailer to use as seats, so that you can enjoy the ride in relative comfort instead of groveling on the floor. We approve!
The ride itself remains too short, and its current location, though suitably rural, lacks the variety of terrain that made its previous route in the Griffith Park Old Zoo feel like a journey though a haunted world of wonders. Fortunately, enough has been changed to make the trip interesting. Some familiar sights are still there (inflatable tentacles, giant spider fangs, Jack O’ Lantern stilt-walkers), but some clever touches have been added, such as the sight of Midnight Falls Theatre screening the creepy classic Night of the Living Dead.
Ghouls lurk in the dark between the more clearly lit set pieces (e.g., passing through the ribcage of some dead sea creature). A demented cheerleader fires blasts of steam from some sci-fi weapon while an alien pokes at your with a crackling electric prod, and there is a nice stunt with a character jumping off a ledge and, suspended in a harness, circling above the trailer.
Though lacking the distinct themes that used to distinguish the Hayride from one year to the next, the result feels different enough from last year to re-spark our waning enthusiasm. All the ride really needs to push it over the edge is a more exciting climax before the end of the trail.
Haunted Hayride 2023 Review: Conclusion
Overall, this is a good year for the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride. Though it lacks the demented Cirque du Soleil vibe of its early years, it delivers plenty of tricks and treats, including familiar favorites and a few surprises. The highlight is Hellbilly Halloween maze, and Zombie Splat adds some helpful variety. The returning mazes and the Hayride itself are worth revisiting thanks to a few cool additions. On the downside, resident stage act Monte Revolta still cannot sing. Nevertheless, the cumulative effect of the various little improvements yields a notable upgrade over last year.
Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2023
1 – Avoid
2 – Not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See
Though not a complete return to its glory days, this year’s Haunted Hayride is an improvement upon last year’s dull retread of overly familiar elements. Newcomers and fans who have skipped the past year or two will no doubt enjoy it; even those disappointed by the 2022 presentation may be pleasantly surprised.
Los Angeles Haunted Hayride continues at Griffith Park on select nights through October 31. The address is 4730 Crystal Springs Drive in Los Angeles. Tickets start at $29.99. Get more information at LosAngelesHauntedHayride.com.
Haunted Hayride 2023 Review: Photo Gallery