The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride is back with a brand-new theme for Halloween 2015: The Boogeyman. In various guises, the phantasmal figure haunts the grounds of the Griffith Park Old Zoo - on the Hayride itself and in the mazes and scare zones. Your chances of escaping his grasp are slim to none, so before rashly trekking into his territory, prepare yourself by reading on...if you dare!
The L.A. Haunted Hayride remains one of the best Halloween events in Los Angeles; fortunately, it seems wary of resting on its laurels, of offering the same familiar experience from year to year. Just as Halloween 2014's "Echoes From the Rift" offered a radical revamp, this year's theme, "The Boogeyman," sees the Hayride making major changes - not only to the attraction's signature ride but also to its subsidiary attractions, which are not merely re-branded but notably improved, creating an almost all-new horror experience.
As in 2014, the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride offers a maze and two other walk-through attractions. All three reuse their familiar templates, but the actual content has been changed or augmented. To use a hackneyed cliche that is, in this case, completely accurate, they are "new and improved."
In Between: A Dark Maze
This attraction has always been almost absurdly effective, considering its simplicity. Unlike most Halloween "mazes," In Between truly is a maze, with multiple pathways and dead ends, which you must navigate to find a way out. And as the name implies, it is "A Dark Maze," forcing you to find your way by touch and sound - not an easy task when your ears are assaulted by chattering bats and your personal space is violated by insane clowns.
This year's innovation is supplying each entrant with a clown mask, which serves two purposes: it further restricts your limited vision; and it turns everyone into a potential scare-actor. Each turn may bring you face-to-face with a masked maniac, but half the time those "maniacs" will turn out to be other haunt-goers who are back-tracking after losing their way. This simple strategy transforms In Between from a dark maze with occasional live frights into a fuller haunt experience: there is a potential scare around every corner, and the real monsters take full advantage of the camouflage provided by the masked customers, infiltrating your group to deliver unexpected scares.
Not-So Helpful Hint: The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride generally eschews masks in favor of makeup. We thought we could distinguish the "real" clowns from our fellow travelers by looking for faces in makeup, and we were right - once. After that, the crazed circus folk wore masks them helped them blend in with their innocent victims.
Trick or Treat
This walk-through replaces the Seven Deadly Sins Sideshow from Halloween 2014. The basic approach is the same: a small group steps through a series of scenes at regularly timed intervals (prompted in this case by the ringing of a doorbell); fortunately, the format works much better this year, because the scenes are confrontational vignettes instead of static tableau (last year, it often felt as if you were simply standing around long enough to figure out which of the Seven Deadly Sins you were looking at).
As you might guess from the name, "Trick or Treat" has you move from "house to house" (actually from one front door to another), trying to get candy from whoever resides within. The homeowners come in all shapes and sizes, from the monstrous to the beautiful: some are immediately threatening; others offer enticing treats before springing their scary tricks.
The effect is more macabre than terrifying, with a touch of twisted humor. Tellingly, after the various monsters and witches, the most memorable homeowner - or at least, funniest - was a grouchy guy, angry at being disturbed and yelling at us to get off his doorstep.
House of Shadows
This terror tour replaces the House of the Horsemen. Like its predecessor, it offers interactive elements, sending you through a series of rooms with locked doors or hidden exits, which you must find or open, usually by completing some task. Explorers may have to recite some repetitive incantation or find a button to push - though the results may not always be quite what was expected. Our favorite bit involved a room with a television set and a remote control, the latter of which was supposed to open a door but instead unleashed a spectral assailant (think of the conclusion of Ring).
House of Shadows works better than House of the Horseman, but there are still problems with pacing. No matter how quickly a group completes its task, it cannot advance until the preceding group in the next room has completed its task. On the night we attended, we occasionally found ourselves waiting around, with nothing more to do; the monsters tried their best to fill the longueurs, but since most of them were mute, there was little for them to do but skulk around a while longer. At least the crazy guy with his dead wife stuck in the oven could rave on about recipes and "rump roasts."
The Purgatory Haunted Village - the scare zone that begins just after the main entrance - is once again filled with bizarre creatures. As always, there is a carnivalesque feel - a bit like a demented Cirque du Soleil. We were disappointed that we did not see any disembodied heads floating through the night air - a 2014 innovation that made a memorable impression. (They were actually suspended from remote-controlled drones.)
The Scary-Go-Round is back in business, and the stage offers entertainment while you pause to devour vegan snacks (despite gruesome names like "saw-sages," all of the food is plant-based). We watched a few rounds of Theatre Macabre - which invites members of the audience to enact scenes from classic horror movies being projected behind them, but this year's selection of film clips were not conducive to the sort of goofball behavior that makes this gag work. There's only so much a guy with a fin on his back can do to simulate the shark in Jaws II pursuing a water-skier; it would have been wiser to showcase action that humans can replicate on a small stage.
THE HAUNTED HAYRIDE
"The Boogeyman" sees the Haunted Hayride taking a new path through the woods around the Griffith Park. The scenes along the road seem packed closer together, with shorter stretches between the encounters. Though a few fixtures of the Old Zoo remain, the sets and props are new; if anything has been recycled, it is seen at such a distance, or has been so reconfigured, that it is unrecognizable. This is emphatically not last year's Hayride with just a new thematic overlay.
The most obvious innovation is a curtain suspended by wires on the tractors taking visitors through the park. In past incarnations of the Hayride, there was often a section near the end, where the characters would draw a silk sheet over the passengers; attaching the curtain to the tractor itself allows the device to be used more often, building suspense as unseen assailants lurk outside, waiting for their chance to pounce.
Unfortunately, the curtain is a bit overused for our taste (at one point, it is supposed to hide some horrifying action, but when we see the result, it is not stunning or blatant enough to justify the wait). Also, the curtain creates a slight problem for those sitting near the front of the trailer: even when retracted, the curtain blocks the few of those sitting next to it, limiting one's exposure to the eerie sights and sounds. Sitting at the back of the trailer is highly recommended - unless you're so frightened that you don't want to see what's haunting you.
But that would be a crime against Halloween. The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride's stock in trade is using the tractor to pull its passengers through a series of surreal scenes that are at least as amazing as they are frightening. There are surprise scares aplenty, but more than that, there are strange beings, rendered in convincing costumes, masks, and makeup - and performed with acrobatic grace - who push the Hayride closer to an artistic experience that a simple shock-and-awe horror show.
If I were to pick out a perfect synecdoche - part that could stand in for the whole - it would be the ballroom-style dance performed under the stars, all graceful moves and elegance, until a demonic figure emerges on the other side of the road, exhorting the dancers to abandon their gentle festivities because dinner time has arrived - whereupon they descend upon the tractor like ravenous zombies. The shift from propriety to savagery is perfectly executed, the shock of the mob attack enhanced by the contrast with the artful choreography that preceded.
Ultimately, we were not as overwhelmed by the "Boogeyman" as we were by "Echoes From the Rift" (our personal favorite). It features fewer astounding "I can't believe I saw that" moments, and there are problems with lighting and/or staging the action to direct audience attention the right way. (For example, there's a Viking ship menaced by a sea monster, but it's easy to miss in the dark - unlike the gigantic, three-headed Cerberus guarding the gates of Hell last year).
Also, this year's theme is less cohesive than "Echoes From the Rift," which created a park-wide sense of Hell unleashed on Earth. The new concept suggests that the Boogeyman manifests in different forms; though the Boogeyman myth is vague enough to support this interpretation, the practical consequence is that almost any malevolent personage can be an incarnation of the figure, so they Hayride can introduce any characters it wants (including robed swordsmen and real-life serial killers), regardless of whether they embody the spectral quality one associates with an unseen figure who can "get you" at will.
The twenty-minute trip through the woods of Griffith Park has always been the star of the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, but this Halloween the other attractions seem less like supporting players than co-stars - easily worth the upgrade from a Hayride-only ticket to an All-Attractions pass.
The old saying warns us that "The Boogeyman will get you if you don't watch out." In the case of the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, it's more like, "The Boogeyman will get you if the dozens of other monsters and ghouls in the Dark Maze, Trick or Treat, and House of Shadows don't get you first." Basically, if you're easily frightened or given to fainting spells, you're pretty much bound for oblivion, Boogeyman or no.
The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride is located in the Old Zoo at Griffith Park, 4730 Crystal Springs Drive. Los Angeles, 90027. Tickets start at $30. Remaining dates are October 16-18, 23-25, 30 & 31. Get more information at the haunt’s official website.
Interested in more Halloween Mazes and Rides? Check out our Halloween Haunts page!
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L.A. Haunted Hayride Ratings
In a rare occurrence, the subsidiary attractions at this year’s Haunted Hayride seem much improved, but the Hayride itself cannot quite match the extraordinary impact of its previous year. Nevertheless, the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride remains a highlight of the Halloween season – “disappointing” only in comparison to its own previous incarnations.