Here is an atypical Halloween event that debuted this October: Night of the Living Zoo. Not a haunted house, a hayride, a cemetery tour, or a party, Night of the Living Zoo instead offered a night-time Halloween overlay on the Los Angeles Zoo, with decorations, sound effects, roaming ghouls, and spooky entertainment. Unfortunately, Night of the Living Zoo was open only on Friday, October 25; since there was no chance our review could influence readers this year, we prioritized other attractions during the final days of Halloween 2013. Now that the grave dust has settled, we want to take a moment to give this event the notice it deserves.
Unlike the Los Angeles Zoo's annual child-friendly Boo at the Zoo, which has been running for several years, the new event was adult-oriented, offering alcoholic beverages, sinister sideshows, and one or two attractions that might have been too intense for kiddies; though far from intensely horrifying, Night of the Living Zood did offer a few scares, most notably in the "Zombie Cave."
Mostly, however, Night of the Living Zoo offered a free-for-all party atmosphere, with guests allowed to come in costume and dance to DJ music near the Tom Mankiewicz Conservation Carousel or listen to live music at the nearby Campo Gorilla Reserve. Impromptu bars were set up at long tables, and food trucks offered a fairly impressive variety of appetizing choices. A nifty little "plaza" was set up in one area, next to a make-shift cemetery with singing statues vocalizing a tune in praise of the season.
Several several sections of the zoo were roped off, and although there were opportunities to witness feeding time for various species, most of the mammals and birds were asleep (we saw a single elephant and a Koala Bear). Reggie the Alligator (a local celebrity a few years ago) was nowhere to be seen in the alligator pen, but The Lair was open, offering an excellent opportunity to view colorful reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates, including poisonous rattlesnakes, Gila Monsters, and scorpions. The Komodo Dragons were also awake and slithering - almost as impressive, in their own way, as the giant mechanical dragon greeted visitors as they enetered the zoo and the "live velociraptors" that unexpectedly poked their heads out of a crate as visitors walked by.
In keeping with Halloween theme, there was a mini-lecture on bats, dispelling the rumors and myths perpetrated by vampire movies. The speaker was very well informed, but there were not actual bats, and the presentation was low-tech: she held up 4x6 photographs of the animals she was discussing.
Night of the Living Zoo was a little short on seasonal entertainment options. The Sideshow Sirens (seen at the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride in 2012) performed in the Adventure Theatre, eating glass, sleeping on a bed of nails, and escaping from a straightjacket. The DJ offered standard dance music, without a nod to October. The live band we saw featured a singer who needed a lesson in how to stay on key.
The highlight for thrill-seekers was definitely the Zombie Caves, set up in an available structure in the Winnick Family Children's Zoo. The subterranean setting - a mini-labyrinth of rocky corridors enhanced by low-key lighting - lent the perfect atmosphere, while a handful of actors provided the scares missing from the rest of the event. One nice facet is that, though relatively small, the caves had a dead-end or two, making it possible to accidentally corner yourself while trying to escape the zombies. This one was simple but effective; in retrospect we wish we had given it a nomination for Best Haunted House Walk-Through in our 2013 Halloween Haunt Awards.
Night of the Living Zoo was essentially a "night at the zoo" with some seasonal garnishes, but the hybrid was neither bird nor bat: you didn't get the full zoo experience, nor did you get quite enough Halloween entertainment to compensate. Though the event was not intended to provide full-blown Halloween horror, one or two more scares zones like the Zombie Caves would have been nice, along with more seasonal attractions. The "Bat Talk" was interesting but should have been more elaborate, and there are certainly opportunities to extend the concept: there are numerous horror films featuring wild animals; it would be fascinating to see a series of lectures, illustrated by film clips, analyzing the accuracy - or lack thereof - the shark in Jaws, the gorilla in King Kong, the alligator in Alligator, etc.
Also, the layout should be planned with an eye toward convenience. Even with some sections closed, the Los Angeles Zoo covers a large area, requiring some uphill walking, and the one place that invited visitors to sit down and relax (the make-shift cemetery-plaza) was nowhere near the food trucks and not much closer to the bar; consequently, few people took advantage of it.
Whatever its first-year failings, Night of the Living Zoo did offer an interesting change of pace from the usual Halloween Haunts. Hopefully, it will come back next year and build on the foundation laid in 2013.
The Los Angeles Zoo is located at 5333 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90027. Webpage: Click here to see their website (the page for Night of the Living Zoo has been deleted since the event was completed).