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Review: Nights of the Jack 2020

Covid-19 takes a bite out of the pumpkins this Halloween, but the annual Jack O’Lantern Experience still delivers amazing sights and sounds.

Now in its third season, Nights of the Jack: A Halloween Jack O’Lantern Experience has been doing an excellent job filling the void left since Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns retreated to New York. Like its predecessor, Nights of the Jack is essentially an outdoor art exhibition, featuring hundreds of intricately designed Jack O’Lanterns (some real pumpkins, others foam rubber). Many are traditional carved faces, but these serve mostly as a sort of “frame” for life-sized scarecrows, cemetery scenes, dinosaurs, and dragons, artfully arranged in themed tableau and enhanced with music.

This Halloween, Nights of the Jack has understandably switched to a drive-through in order to protect customers from Covid-19 infection. The results are enjoyable but not quite up to the high standards they have set the past two year.

One advantage of Nights of the Jack is its location: King Gillette in Calabasas provides woodsy open space far removed from distracting sights and sounds of city lights and traffic. Walking along the unpaved path, it was easy to feel immersed in the various installations; it was like taking a leisurely stroll past a series of magical wonderlands: Halloween, Christmas, Under the Sea, even SpongeBob SquarePants. That sense of immersion is diminished by the drive-through experience; being trapped inside a car (even with the windows down) creates a psychological distance between the viewer and the displays.

Some of the larger installations (e.g., dinosaurs) retain their impact, but pumpkins carved into celebrity likenesses now have names beside them to help short-sighted viewers recognize the resemblance. At least the fog-bound cemetery was close enough to the road to create the impression of driving through an environment instead of viewing it from a distance.

Also missing are the elements that made Nights of the Jack an evening’s destination instead of a quick visit. Gone is the Spookeasy, where adults could sit down and enjoy a drink after walking the trail. Also missing are the photo ops where kids could put their faces through holds in painted flats in order to appear as if (for example) swimming in a witch’s boiling cauldron. Obviously, these elements are out of the question during a pandemic; we should be relieved rather than disappointed that they are not included this year.

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In the end, Nights of the Jack does the best it can under difficult circumstances, and we’re glad it’s open at all. The familiar sights are not quite as spectacular when viewed through an automobile windshield, but they are still worth seeing. Halloween fans, trick-or-treaters of all ages, and especially families with children will certainly find it a rewarding experience.

Nights of the Jack 2020 Rating

Bottom Line

The drive-through version of Nights of the Jack is (through no fault of their own) not up to the attraction’s own high standards, but the spectacular displays of carved pumpkins are still worth seeing.

Nights of the Jack: A Halloween Jack O’Lantern Experience continues on October15-18, 22-31; November 1. Admission is scheduled in half-hour blocks, starting at 6:30pm, with the last at 10pm. Tickets are $69 per car. King Gillette Ranch is located at 26800 Mulholland Highway, Calabasas, 91302. Get more information at: nightsofthejack.com.

Photography by Warren So.

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.