Rise of the Jack O'Lanterns 2015: Santa Anita Park review

Hollywood Gothique just got back from the Rise of the Jack O'Lanterns in Santa Anita Park, which opened on Friday. This is the second installation of the popular display in the Los Angeles area this Halloween; the other began last weekend in Descanso Gardens (where the event took place for Halloween 2014). The colorful displays of carved pumpkins (some real, some foam rubber) are every bit as beautiful as those we saw in Descanso Gardens back in Halloween 2014: there are amazing renderings of undersea creatures, African animals, iconic film characters, life-sized dinosaurs, and even a dragon. Numerous celebrities are represented; most touching were the obituarial tributes to Wes Craven, B.B. King, Christopher Lee, and Leonard Nimoy.

Rise of the Jack O'Lanterns 2015 title pumpkin

The artistry of the individual Jack O'Lanterns is impressive, with intricate details on the "star" pumpkins and an amazing variety of expressions on the "supporting cast" of more traditional-looking Jack O'Lanterns. Less effective is the attempt to create themed areas with myriad pumpkins combining to form a larger work, one that overwhelms with a cumulative effect beyond the individual elements. Blame the location.

Santa Anita Park is much less suited to the event than Descanso Gardens. Rise of the Jack O'Lanters is set up not on the famous grassy Santa Anita racetrack - or in any kind of park-like setting - but on a chunk of asphalt parking lot, hemmed in by fences. There is one oval pathway, with displays on both sides, which can be circumvented in less than an hour. The flat terrain is monotonous; without the trees and foliage of Descanso, one never gets the sense of having entered a magical Halloween world that can be explored at leisure, and without branching pathways leading to discrete areas, it is impossible to clearly separate the themed displays.

Exacerbating the situation are the parking lot lights; their glare prevents one's vision from adjusting to the darkness; trying to navigate through the crowd becomes a challenge when the people look like black silhouettes highlighted by glare. Ironically, almost literally around the block from Santa Anita Park is the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden - which would have provided a far more ideal setting for the imaginative tableau.

If you live near Santa Anita Park, by all means, take advantage of geographical proximity. But if you want to enjoy Rise of the Jack O'Lanternts to its fullest, Descanso Gardens is the preferred option.

Click any photo below to open a gallery with full-size images.

Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns continues Santa Anita Park on through November 1 on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays; address 285 W Huntington Drive in Arcadia. The Descanso Gardens installation is located at 1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge; it operates Thursday through Friday until November 1. Get more information at www.therise.org.

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.