The Theatre 68 Haunted House is back in business, doing what it does so well: scaring hapless victims foolhardy enough to wander into the seemingly innocuous Hollywood venue. The 2010 version of the annual Halloween event retains the general approach and some specific vignettes from 2009, but scenes and settings have been rearranged, so that even if you remember what to expect, you will not know quite when to expect it. Now that we are in the waning days of October, when the major Halloween attractions have been operating for weeks, and their actors are perhaps losing some of spontaneity and enthusiasm, it is an enormous pleasure to encounter a professional haunt operating at full intensity for the last ten days of the month. If you feel your nerves have been deadened by all the frights you have endured thus far, Theatre 68's Haunted House will jolt them back to life.
Theatre 68 is located on the north side of Sunset Boulevard, between Western and Serrano. It is an inconspicuous building - easy to miss unless your GPS is guiding you, so keep an eye out as you drive east from the Hollywood Freeway. On the right side of the building is a small driveway leading to a ramp that ascends to the rooftop parking at such a steep incline that you may experience your first fright before you enter the theatre itself.
After taking the rickety stairs - another portent of doom - back down to street level, you enter the building via a long, black dimly lit corridor that certainly sets the mood. Additional ominous portents take the form of written warnings on the lobby wall, emphasizing that unruly customers will be asked to leave, and if they refuse, the police will be called. Is this reality or part of the show? It is hard to tell; in Hollywood, anything is possible, but it is hard to imagine who would want to start trouble with this particular crew of actors.
THEME AND ATMOSPHERE
The lobby is adorned with photographs and biographical details of infamous serial killers and mass murderers (Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacey, etc). As if this were not enough to put you on edge, there is a written account of a disaster that befell Theatre 68 decades ago, when a crazed actor turned homicidal during a Halloween show, killing the rest of the cast and then the unwary customers who wandered in seeking a little safe but scary entertainment. The concept is that the ghosts of those murdered souls have returned, haunting the scene of the crime. As you wait your turn to enter the main theatre, ominous music and moans and screams escape from inside, punctuated by the sharp ringing of a telephone...
Beginning with a screening of the cursed video from THE RING (hence the phone ring heard in the lobby), the Haunted House consists of approximately a five-minute walk through the theatre and several rooms behind the scenes. That may sound short, but Theatre 68 packs more thrills into that space than most Halloween attractions ration out over lengthier areas.
The key element is that you are not witness generic haunting activity that goes on regardless of your presence. A maximum of four people are allowed through at a time, and the ghosts and ghouls target these small groups very specifically, each vignette timed to their entrance. The staging of mini-scenes is not truly unique (you sometimes see something similar at Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood), but at Theatre 68 there is an intimacy to the approach that you see nowhere else. These scares truly are for you and you alone.
SETS & PROPS
There are several clever and convincing sets - perhaps no surprise, considering that this is a theatre after all. However, their use is often surprising. Rooms appear to be dead ends until a wall moves, revealing an exit. Inconspicuous holes in the walls turn out to be crawlspaces through which malevolent clowns emerge. Paths you expect to take turn out to be blocked, forcing your down other routes. All of this combines to create a subjective sense of seeing and experiencing much more than could possibly fit into the time you spend in haunted territory.
This is the Theatre 68 Haunted House's true strength. These are actors giving performances, not just Halloween fans getting paid to have fun by yelling, "Boo!" as you walk by. Although there are several set routines, the performances vary immensely depending on the audience, with the actors adjusting their intensity and timing depending on how freaked out the viewers are - or how reluctant they are to move on to the next scene, creating a bigger dramatic pause that needs to be filled.
MASKS & MAKEUP
Many of the monsters wear effective theatrical makeup - again, no surprise, considering the venue. Some pullover masks are on display, but glimpsed in darkness or darting from behind clothes packed in a closet, they are more than convincing enough.
MUSIC & SOUND
Music and Sound make their greatest impression as you wait in the lobby. Inside the theatre, there are some subtle audio cues, but what registers most strongly are the actor's voices, whether delivering dialogue or laughing maniacally or screaming frantic warnings.
Theatre 68's 2010 Haunted House is not tremendously different from last Halloween's presentation, but there is more than enough variation to make a return visit worthwhile. Beyond the new bits that have been added (or perhaps resurrected from previous years), the experience is different each time. Bring along a friend who has never seen the haunt, or try to go in with a couple of likely screamers, and the walk through the den of horrors will come alive in a whole new way. If you are looking for something different during these final days of October, you must check out Theatre 68.
Theatre 68's 5th Annual Haunted House runs through October 31 from 8:00pm to midnight. The address is 5419 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Check their website for details.
More in this series:
- Theatre 68 Haunted House returns for Halloween 2010
- Theatre 68 Haunted House 2010: Review