Hollywood Gothique
LA Attractions Gothique

Review & Video: House of Spirits – Volkov Manor

Can House of Spirits, reawakening in revised form after a year off due to the 2020 pandemic, match the P.K.E readings of its original manifestation? How much more ectoplasm can Meyer2Meyer Entertainment wring out of the open-world concept of a spectral cocktail soiree where guests mingle with ghosts, seek clues, complete quests, and descend into darkness to face terrifying things in the basement?

Let’s face it: the debut of House of Spirits is a tough act to follow; probably the best overall Halloween event of 2019, it raised expectations that are almost impossible to meet, making any assessment of the new version a very tough call indeed. So if the following review sounds ambivalent, equivocal, and even evasive, it’s because we are struggling to fairly consider an event that, however worthwhile, must inevitably seem dwarfed by its predecessor, like a pleasing but modest dwelling eclipsed in the shadow  a monumental “Mount Everest of Haunted Houses.”

Oh, come on! Who the fuck are we kidding? House of Spirits 2021 is absolutely spectacular! Did you ever have any doubt? Seriously – go see it! Buy tickets now, if any are left. Otherwise, consider your credentials as a card-carrying Halloween fan in serious danger of being revoked.

After you have secured admission, come back and read the rest of this review for the details explaining our supernaturally zealous admiration for this unique Halloween experience.

House of Spirits 2021 Review: Main Floor

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Now set inside Highland Park’s York Manor, House of Spirits 2021 has a new cast of characters, loosely inspired by the historical figure of Rasputin, a monk with a reputation of mesmeric powers who somehow managed to gain influence over Russia’s royal family. You don’t need to know the full history, but it may add layer of verisimilitude to the proceedings, as you wander the house’s main floor, interacting with characters whose presence seems suspended in limbo: are they ghosts of the dead, or have you stepped into their past? Either way, they are as real as life, telling your their strange stories.

Your host, Volkov, apparently had strange theories about miraculous cures for mental illness, which may have been responsible for the demise of the Vasiliev family. His former patients relate ambiguous tales of their treatment, which seemed to work initially before inflicting strange side effects, opening the doors of perceptions to strange, eternal tides that altered their minds in ways that were hardly therapeutic.

There is also entertainment: a barely clad dancer behind a diaphanous curtain sways to music from a stage where among the musicians stands an imposing bear-like figure, who may be significant in some way that will not be immediately clear.

In short, though the details are changed, the House of Spirits format remains intact, providing an open world where you can pursue your own course, engaging with the characters as you like or moving on to other areas as the mood moves you. Ultimately, you control your own experience, making of it what you wish. But choose wisely, for there is much to do and little time.

House of Spirits 2021 Review: Upstairs

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After mingling with your host and imbibing enough spirits to raise your courage, it is time to explore the mystery of the mansion by leaving the main floor and heading either up or down. We recommend going upstairs first; your experience there may steel you for the more disturbing horrors in the basement.

The second floor presents a sort of quest in two parts, which must be taken in order. You are given a token, which is offered to the inhabitant of the first room in order to gain entry. After completing each task, you will be given a new object granting entrance to the next room; the process repeats until you have completed the two upstairs sections, finding information leading to a clue that may solve the house’s mystery.

The beings encountered along the way (the doctor’s patients, perhaps?) are ghastly in visage, but they can be appeased by your offerings, and they will communicate, through word or gesture, offering personal interaction that alternates between pleading, mocking and demanding. It’s like a series of close encounters with lost souls who have been to the other side and back, now trapped in a limbo world and seeking your assistance.

House of Spirits 2021 Review: Basement

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Delving deeper into the darkness leads to the basement. Here, the beings are less favorably inclined to welcome visitors. There are two pathways: Veles Blue and Midnight Man. In the first, a somewhat jovial ghoul cracks a joke or two before before providing instruction to make an offering to the demon in the next room. This skull-faced demon (named after a Slavic god of darkness) is not most notable for the blue tint from which he takes his name; rather, his most distinctive physical characteristic is a ridiculously long phallus dangling between his legs. If you can ignore that and make the appropriate offering, you will survive.

Even more nerve wracking is the Midnight Man Maze, a trek through a pitch-black pathway haunted by the mysterious character, whose name you will hear mentioned more than once during the night’s proceedings. Your only defense against him is a dim candle or two, which you must surrender unto him when he materializes from the darkness. Whisper “Take my light, not my life” if you ever hope to see the sunshine again.

House of Spirits 2021 Review: Bars

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After surviving these terrors, it is best to take advantage of several bars located inside the mansion and in the back yard (the latter includes a special lounge area with access restricted to VIP ticket-holders). General admission tickets entitle guests to four free drinks; VIP tickets are worth five. Unlike the 2019 House of Spirits, guests receive chits instead of a punch card; in practical terms this means the chits can be used as wanted from a preferred bar or bars, instead of getting a card punched for one drink from each bar.

Each bar serves a different drink customized for the evening, with names such as the Romanov, the Anastasia, and Embers of Autumn. Even though their size is relative small, their cumulative effect is more than enough to steady your nerves, no matter how badly shaken you were by Veles Blue’s appendage. For those still thirsty, additional drinks can be purchased at all bars, and there is a cash bar in the front yard.

On the night we attended, rumor had it that the outdoor bars were serving stiffer drinks, but we cannot confirm this report. However, the drinks served outdoors did seem to have a bigger kick; even though we are not big tequila fans, the Embers of Autumn went down quite nicely. Probably out favorite concoction of the evening was the Romanov, served indoors.

House of Spirits 2021 Review: Conclusion

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

How to sum up the supernal experience that is House of Spirits 2021? A couple years ago, we suggested that interactive, immersive productions were filling a space left vacant by the disappearance of popup haunts from the Los Angeles landscape. With its variety of entertainment, House of Spirits 2021 remains at the apex of this form of entertainment. The main floor and the back yard often an open world in which music, dancers, and acrobats form a backdrop to interaction with the featured characters haunting the premises. Upstairs offers a quest with elements of an escape room, requiring the solution of a puzzle or the completion of a task before moving on. Downstairs includes two scare experiences, including a blackout maze intended to inflict maximum terror.

Throughout all of this, House of Spirits 2021 evinces the surreal artistic stylings we have come to expect from Myer2Myer Entertainment since their days overseeing the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride. There is a sort of Cirque de Soleil flare to their productions: the costumes and makeup at House of Spirits (including full body prosthetic suits) are not just conventionally horrific; there is a bizarre, fascinating aspect to them that entices the eye to look closer instead of glance away. The actors inhabiting these characters are well-versed at engaging with the audience; they can be frightening or funny – sometimes both simultaneously.

Add this all up, and House of Spirits 2021 is an almost ideal Halloween experience – a haunted house that lets you explore the house at your leisure instead of being pushed through by a conga-line of screaming guests avoiding monsters in a conventional walk-through. You decide where to go and how to spend your time, customizing the experience to suit your own desires. It is possible to simply sit and imbibe the spirits and atmosphere, falling under a spell as if truly commingling with visitors from beyond.

The only L.A. Halloween event that comes even close to House of Spirits 2021 is Delusion, which has added an open-world element this year, offering guests an opportunity to enjoy creepy cocktails in a spirit-haunted realm (there is even a walk-through element on the second floor). However, each event offers a different emphasis: in Delusion: Reaper’s Remorse, the open world is a bonus feature in addition to the interactive theatrical production; in House of Spirits 2021, the open world is the central event around which the other elements coalesce like ectoplasm forming a tangible apparition.

House of Spirits 2021 does fall short of Delusion‘s open world in two areas: space and time. Though York Manor is large enough to accommodate a well-attended supernatural soiree, it’s front yard is a tight fit. The line to check in rubs shoulders with the line for the bar; combined, the two groups are packed as tight as bones stacked in an ossuary. Simply taking advantage of the photo op out front becomes a challenge, requiring a few excuse-me‘s and a subtle elbow or two in order to get a decent camera angle. Also, with a crowd that large, you might have to give up hope of ordering a drink before it’s time to enter the building.

This brings us to the second element: time. Two hours is barely enough to experience everything House of Spirits 2021 has to offer. Wait-time at the bars and mazes is not exorbitant, but they add up. If you’re in a mood to linger with your host on the main floor, you may find yourself unable to complete the quest upstairs or to explore the terrors in the basement. These experiences provide clues which lead to a conclusion revealing the origin of the mysterious Midnight Man, giving a sense of closure to the evening’s revelry. With a little help from other guests or talkative characters, you can still reach this conclusion even after skipping some of the experiences, but the truncated journey will diminish your sense of having followed the trail successfully on your own.

The old vaudeville adage informs us that an entertainment should always leave its audience wanting more. House of Spirits 2021 certainly achieves that, by creating an occult realm we were in no hurry to leave. If only there were a few more ephemeral moments to drift dreamily among the phantoms, this would be absolutely perfect.

House of Spirits 2021 Rating

Rating Scale

1 – Avoid
2 – Not All Bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See

Our only complaint is that House of Restless Spirits 2021 is so good it left us wanting more; we are knocking one percentage point off our rating for that. Otherwise, this is a must-see event ranking among the best available this Halloween season.

House of Spirits continues on select nights in October at the The York Manor in Highland Park. The address is 4908 York Boulevard. Get more information at houseofspiritssoiree.com/los-angeles.

House of Spirits 2021 Review: Photo Gallery

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.