This year, we avoided our mistake of 2006 and 2007 (waiting until the last minute) and instead made it a point to enter the dark realm of Spooky House as early in the season as possible. We would have made the sojourn to the eldritch land of Chatsworth last weekend, on opening night, but we were warned that additional arcane thrills would be summoned forth for the second week of the annual manifestation of supernatural horrors and occult phenomena.
This uncanny new experience takes the form of the "Hell-evator," which takes you on a spine-jolting, stomach-shaking, leg-wobbling decent to the nethermost regions of eternal fire and damnation. Or to put it more simply, it's a great motion-simulation ride that creates the illusion of a free-fall in the elevator.
This may not sound completely new. Spooky House did something similar back in their old location on Topanga Canyon Boulevard (discussed in this review of the 2004 incarnation), but the current version is a monster-sized leap into new realms of terror - or at least nerve rattling disorientation. The old elevator shook your feet a bit, and it was mostly good for a laugh - a fun gag to start the tour; the new motion-simulator offers a far bigger effect. The small room really moves beneath your feet, lifting and dropping you almost like a boat cutting through choppy seas. Enhanced by a complete black-out, so that you have only your sense of motion to gauge what's happening, the experience is impressively visceral. On the night we braved the dangers of the haunt, the "ride" last much longer than expected, so you really had time to "feel" that you were dropping down into Hell.
After that outlandish opening gambit, it is almost a disappointment when the door opens and you are not in the Infernal Regions but merely within the confines of an old haunted mansion. Maybe at least a glimpse of the Devil is in order, or some kind of setting to suggest a realm not merely haunted but damned.
For the rest, Spooky House 2008 is more or less the same as in 2007, which we reviewed here. Many of the scenes are familiar, and that is not a bad thing: the big advantage of Spooky House has long been that it sets up in a permanent facility, which allows the creation of more convincing and elaborate sets (rather than the painted flats of traditional seasonal attractions).
Fortunately, this haunted habitat is inhabited by a multitude of tortured souls, many of them newly risen from the grave (at least we didn't recognize them from last year). Don't worry: your favorite ghouls and witches have not been permanently exorcised; Spooky House is simply rotating in some fresh blood to help revitalize the old ghosts and spirits. The terrain may be familiar, but do not expect to know where each and every familiar phantom will be lurking around a corner.
As for complaints, we think it is unfortunate that faithful fans who attended opening night did not have the opportunity to experience the Hell-evator. Opening night jitters are nothing new for October attractions, but at least the big ones (Knott's Scary Farm, Queen Mary Shipwreck, Universal's Halloween Horror Nights) offer big discounts for the first weekend. (When you've paid only have price, it's hard to complain that everything's not completely perfect.)
One other point: We have heard the occasional complaint that Spooky House has gone downhill the last few years. It is certainly true that the 2005-2006 stint in an abandoned movie theatre was disappoiting, because it lacked the elaborate settings that defined Spooky House back when they occupied a large chunk of a mall parking lot (with enough room for three lengthy and very different mazes).
Fortunately, 2006 brought a move to an improved location at 21512 Nordhoff Street in Chatsworth. Although it is not as impressive in terms of scale as the Topanga Boulevard location, the current haunt is much more densely populated by monsters and maniacs than the old one ever was. You no longer have the feeling - that used to occur occasionally - of taking a spooky stroll through an elaborate funhouse, walking for long distances among impressive locations (both indoors and outdoors) and wondering when something frightening would happen. Where it stands now, Spooky House may be scaled down in terms of length, but there are at least as many scares as there ever were.