2014 Halloween Haunt Awards

Eager to know the best Halloween Haunts in Los Angeles for the year 2014? Read on…if you dare!

It was the best of times. It was the worst of…

No, come to think of it, Halloween 2014 was, at least in terms of quality, the best of times, featuring a surfeit of imaginative and clever haunted houses, scary plays, cemetery tours, art exhibitions, and even concert music. To find a “worst” in all of this we would have to turn to the bitter disappointment over the absence of such long-running attractions as the Old Town Haunt Halloween Attraction (which retired in 2013) and the House of Restless Spirits (which was abruptly terminated less than two weeks before opening this Halloween).

For now, let us keep out eyes on the silver lining rather than the dark cloud – even though the metaphor seems somewhat the reverse of what one would associate with a season that celebrates stormy nights spent in haunted graveyards and old, dark houses. We are here to celebrate the best Halloween attractions in Los Angeles and the surrounding Southland by handing out (figuratively) Hollywood Gothique’s annual Halloween Haunt Awards.

Before starting, let us point out that we have expanded the categories from the 2013 Halloween Haunt Awards, in order to better represent the variety of entertainment on view; however, we have tried to avoid simply creating new categories for the sake of squeezing in as many winners as possible. Also, although we have tried to avoid overlap between categories, there are some events that show up under multiple headings; this has not been done to insure that all our favorites win something, but rather to achievement in different areas.

A note about the rules for qualification: In order to prevent the same attractions from winning in the same category year after year, we are disqualifying previously winners that have remained essentially unchanged. However, these haunts can compete in other categories, and they can re-qualify in their previous categories if their presentations are different enough to warrant consideration based on their new additions, not just their hold-overs.

Lastly, as much as we tried, we could not visit each and every attraction open this October, so several worthy contenders will not be among the candidates here. In particular, Torrance, Orange County, and Riverside were outside our reach this season, so we extend our apologies to The Haunted Shack, Revenge of the Ninja, Sinister Pointe, The Empty Grave, Perdition Home, The Mystic Motel, Field of Screams, and the Crossroads Haunted Village. All of you are on our priority list for next Halloween.

And now, let us proceed…

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BEST HALLOWEEN HOME HAUNT YARD DISPLAY

Hollywood Haunter: A Night in a Haunted House 2014Although more and more home haunts feature some kind of walk-through, the front yard display remains the traditional means of expression for most amateur haunters, and we celebrate their creativity here.

This year’s nominees diverge considerably from Halloween 2013. We skipped several old favorites (such as Haunt with No Name Yet, The House at Haunted Hill, and Forest of Mirrors) that remain essentially unchanged from year to year, and we tried to visit some new (at least to us) yard haunts. We found several worthy of attention.

NOMINEES:

  1. Boney Island: This old favorite in Sherman Oaks is always a delight – a skeleton carnival for the whole family, including magic cauldrons that spew fountains of colored water in time with spooky music. The Spirit Box on the roof and the Anti-Gravity Water on the front porch are always worth seeing, and Halloween 2014 saw several new gags that made a return visit pretty much mandatory.
  2. Firehouse 6: Our happiest surprise of the season was the discovery of this display in Santa Clarita, down the street from Pumkin Jack’s Haunted House.This haunted firehouse is manned by a literal skeleton crew, who seem shocked that their own firehouse is on fire! There are no mechanics, and the only movement was the flickering firelight in the upper windows, but the brick facade was absolutely amazing.
  3. Hollywood Haunter: A Night in a Haunted House: Last year’s winner Hollywood Haunter re-qualifies because they presented a totally new display for Halloween 2014. A Night in a Haunted House featured the dilapidated facade of a decaying home, with moving skeletons peeking from behind curtains, while chairs rocked and trashcan rattled in the front yard, moved by unseen hands. The perfect evocation of Halloween horror – spooky but not too terrifying for trick-or-treaters.
  4. Mourning Rose Manor: Moody and sad, this Simi Valley yard haunt seems to be striking a more serious tone that what we remember from our previous visit a few years ago. The decorated yard has only a few effects (green light glowing in the fog, a skeleton popping from a tombstone), but the mournful voice of the Bride in Black, explaining why she and other souls are trapped for eternity, is memorably evocative.
  5. Via Del Lago Haunt: Another discovery, this home haunt display in the Newbury Park community of Thousand Oaks is much lighter in tone than Mourning Rose Manor. The upscale home has a large front yard with room for a multitude of mannequins and gravestones, augmented by decorations on the house itself (e.g., a screaming face in a second-story window). The effect is mostly humorous, with jokey inscriptions on the headstones, creating a non-threatening tone for costumed treat-seekers.
  6. Western House of Darkness: A modest yard, tucked between two business properties on Western Avenue not far from the Coliseum, this haunt is crowded with monster mannequins, almost literally shoulder to should. They also dangle from signs and lurk suspended over the driveway, as if ready to pounce on unwary trick-or-treaters foolish enough to enter. We can only imagine what this one is like on Halloween Night itself (we visited early), but we hope to find out someday.

Winner:

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BEST PROFESSIONAL HALLOWEEN DISPLAY OR RIDE

Rise of the Jack O'Lanterns 2014: Chinese Zodiac
A display of the Chinese Zodiac at Rise of the Jack O'Lanterns

This category offers a perhaps slightly uncomfortable fit for some disparate attractions. Our rational for combining rides and displays into one category is that many Halloween rides essentially take you past displays, so the distinction between riding the Los Angeles Live Steamers Ghost Train and walking through Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns is relatively minor.

We do not include year-round rides in theme parks with Halloween overlays, unless the rides are substantially re-themed for Halloween; consequently, enjoyable attractions such as The Simpsons Ride and Transformers 3D: The Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood are not included.

And speaking of the L.A Live Steamers Ghost Train, the ride is disqualified, having won in this category in 2013. Nevertheless, there were several highly enjoyable entries among this year’s nominees.

NOMINEES:

  1. Los Angeles Haunted Hayride: Always great, the L.A. Haunted Hayride massively revamped their presentation with a brand new theme (Echoes from the Rift) that featured apocalyptic imagery realized with some incredible monsters and effects, turning the Old Zoo area of Griffith Park into Hell on Earth. The result was the most elaborate and amazing Haunted Hayride ever.
  2. Reign of Terror Cue Line: The Reign of Terror Haunted House in Thousand Oaks is one of the few Halloween attractions of which one can say that waiting in line is half the fun. If you pay for the fast pass ticket, you will skip an impressive display of sets, mannequins, and mechanical effects (a skeleton ratting its cage, a body falling from the gallows). The elaborate scenery does a perfect job setting up viewers for the horrors they will encounter inside the maze.
  3. Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns: A lengthy art installation at the Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge, this display features thousands of intricately carved Jack O’Lanterns: some with traditional faces, some with more unusual designs. The individual works are impressive; their cumulative impact is stunning, with many organized thematically around such concepts as Dia De Los Muertos, horror movies, an alien invasion, and even prehistoric dinosaurs.
  4. Terror Tram: Invaded by the Walking Dead at Halloween Horror Nights: The tram ride at Universal Studios Hollywood is one of the big features of Halloween Horror Nights; though there are few sights on the actual ride (except for video promoting The Walking Dead), the walking portion of the back lot tour features some incredible displays, including the Bates house from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the plane crash site from War of the Worlds.
  5. The Witch’s Keep on the Calico Mine Ride at Knotts Scary Farm: No matter what theme goes into this ride, it remains more or less the same from one Halloween to the next: a trip through the Calico Mines with some spooky decorations added. Yet for some reason, Hollywood Gothique emerged from the caverns this year happier than we had been in many a Halloween. Perhaps it was just good fortune – we were in a half-empty car that allowed a 360-degree view on either side of the track – but we saw more more clearly than ever before. The darkness was just right – enough to be mysterious but allowing the eye to pick out details – and the colored lights created phantasmagorical effects. Spirits floated in the air; shadows danced on the rock walls; and a giant witch hand extended as if to pluck us from the rails. Incredible!

Winner:

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BEST HALLOWEEN HORROR STAGE PRESENTATION OR PLAY

Scary Musical Carrie Jammie and guys
Scary Musical: The Musical

Haunted House and Hayrides are not the only way to experience Halloween horror. Every October, numerous theatres in Los Angeles present horror-themed plays, and the nice thing about them is that they tend to run as long as audiences keep buying tickets, giving haunt-seekers something to do after October 31 has come and gone.

Halloween 2014 saw a plethora of high-quality stage productions, all quite different in tone, style, and content; in fact, Hollywood Gothique probably had as much fun sitting in theatres this season as walking through haunted hallways.

NOMINEES:

  1. H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu at the Lex Theatre: Performer-adapter Frank Blocker turns Lovecraft’s classic story into an acting tour de force, in which a doomed archaeologist passes esoteric knowledge of a cosmic conspiracy to his rapt audience, dooming them as well. As Blocker’s archaeologist relates his story, Blocker takes on the persona of numerous characters, each providing a piece of the puzzle that leads to a climax that is less visceral horror than a wave of existential dread.
  2. Re-Animator: The Musical at the Steve Allen Theatre: Stuart Gordon’s adaptation transposes his 1985 cult film to the stage, but with every plot point, emotional beat, and character nuance underlined with a song. If that sounds absurd, it is. Fortunately, the live musical embraces the absurdity, creating an experience that is at once familiar in form and yet completely different in tone from its source. You will scream – but with laughter.
  3. Scary Musical: The Musical at NoHo Arts Center: You really should add this to your post-Halloween hit list. Its strategy is simple but extremely effective: take the cliches of the musical (“let’s put on a show!”) and ram them headlong into the horror cliches (”everybody dies!”). The result is a wonderful spoof of slasher movies filled with great songs and stunning performances.
  4. Urban Death: Tour of Terror at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre: Weird and disturbing, this half-hour series of theatrical vignettes is not a play in the traditional sense. It’s more like variations on a theme, offering brief glimpses of depraved activity designed to arouse feelings of revulsion, disgust, and horror – played out in a small space, without seating, that forces an almost intimate contact between audience and performers, espeically when the lights go out and whispery voices surround your ears, calling to you by name.
  5. The Zombie Effect at the Acme Theatre: This play’s combination of black humor and spilled guts is riotous entertainment, focusing on a small band of survivors, locked inside a church, who cannot decide whether their mindless attackers are indeed zombies. The staging inside the small venue uses every available inch – the stage, the aisles, the entrance – to create a marvelous sense of immersing the audience into the story’s location – which means you better duck when the guts start to fly.

The Winner:

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BEST VIGNETTE/SHORT PLAY

Vampire Hunter John T. Cogan confronts blood-sucker Angie-Hobin. Photo-by-Daniel-Kitayama.
Vampire Hunter John T. Cogan confronts blood-sucker Angie-Hobin. Photo-by-Daniel-Kitayama.

There are several Halloween events in Los Angeles that offer short plays or other sorts of live dramatic presentations. In addition to the Wicked Lit Halloween Theatre Festival and Drama After Dark, both of which provide anthologies of short dramas, museums stage re-enactments of funerals and seances, and historical societies present living history tours in which the ghosts of the dead relate their stories to the living.

Besides honoring these attractions for their overall merit, we wanted to single out individual short works deserving of attention.

Note: Hollywood Gothique did not attend this year’s Heritage Square Halloween and Mourning Tours or the Ghost Tour at Strathearn Park, both of which would have qualified in this category.

NOMINEES:

  1. Barbara La Mar from the Hollywood Forever Cemetery Walking Tour: For the last segment of the Art Deco Society of Los Angele’s annual tour, Sherri Snyder embodied silent-screen-star Barbara La Marr. La Marr was an actress but also a writer whose stories served as the basis for some early films – a rare achievement for a woman in the silent movie era. Snyder gave a spirited performance as the sassy star, her vivaciousness a marked contrast to the mausoleum surroundings.
  2. The Cask of Amontillado from Drama After Dark at Night of the Living Zoo: Drama After Dark presented eight short plays at this Halloween’s Night of the Living Zoo, but this one stood out for its felicitous combination of Poe’s story, performance, and setting. The children’s zoo cave at the Los Angeles Zoo stood in nicely for the catacombs into which Montressor lures Fortunato, and the performances by A. Jeffrey Shoenberg and Michael Cabler brought Poe’s characters to life with chilling effectiveness.
  3. Dracula’s Guest from Wicked Lit: A vampire story set in a real cemetery – what could be better? Not much, it turns out. This riff on Bram Stoker’s tale (an early chapter from an abandoned draft of Dracula) improved on the source text, creating a theatrical experience that not only suspenseful and scary but also dramatically satisfying.
  4. Fighting Injustice with Tacos from the Long Beach Historical Cemetery Tour: Ramona Linares (Rae Andrade) recalls her success as a mother whose restaurant ran afoul of local businessmen – they didn’t want a Mexican eatery moving into their white business district. Fortunately, Ramona ran a tight ship and served good food, so she passed any obstacle the businessmen put in her way.
  5. The Monk from Wicked Lit: A chilling condensation of Matthew Lewis’s Gothic novel, this adaptation is one of the most viscerally horrifying ever presented by Wicked Lit, filled with enough seduction, sex, and violence to suit an exploitation shocker, but dished out with perfect dramatic effectiveness that builds to a jolting climax.
  6. A Time of Pride Not Pity from the Long Beach Historical Cemetery Tour: Shortly after the start of World War I, Donald Erickson enlisted in the marines and went on to lose his life in a decisive battle. Recounting the events, local Long Beach papers described proclaimed “A Time of Pride Not Pity.” Actor Steven Dean Lauria brought tears to the eyes of audiences in Long Beach’s Sunnyside Cemetery.

The Winner: aaa

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BEST PLAY OR DRAMATIC PRESENTATION IN A NON-THEATRICAL SETTING

Delusion LIes Within vertical artWho says one needs a theatre to stage a play? During the Halloween season, several groups offer dreadful dramas in outre settings: cemeteries, mausoleums, crumbling mansions, and even a zoo. The immersive experience separates these productions from their more conventional brethren; in some cases, the plays come close to being walk-through haunted house events.

For our purposes, if a attraction features characters delivering scripted dialogue to tell a story that is repeated from performance to performance, then it qualifies as a play, regardless of how many haunted house elements are used to sweeten the bloody broth. On the other hand, an event that simply sets up a situation and then lets the cast improvise their interactions with the customers, does not qualify.

Because of the high quality exhibited by all the contestants, the competition in this category is particularly fierce; the distinction between winner and loser will be incremental.

NOMINEES:

  1. Drama After Dark: For Halloween 2014, this acting troupe gave two performances of their “Night of the Macabre with Poe and Gorey”: the first at the Victoria Gardens Cultural Center in Rancho Cucamonga; the second at Night of the Living Zoo in the Los Angeles Zoo. Hollywood Gothique attended the latter event, witnessing three intriguing interpretations of the represented authors: a dramatic reading of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”; a fearfully frightening staging of “The Cask of Amontillado”; and an antic potpourri of limericks by Gorey, enacted with engagingly over-the-top enthusiasm.
  2. Delusion Lies Within: Set inside an old mansion in the West Adams district, this interactive play turns the audience into extras: rabid fans who break into the home of their favorite fantasy author, to solve the mystery of why she never finished her magnum opus. Loaded with illusions, stunts, and special effects, this comes closets of the nominees to crossing into Halloween haunt territory. Nevertheless, the story ties the set-pieces together from beginning to end, creating a unique experience unlike any other Halloween event in Los Angeles.
  3. Long Beach Historical Cemetery Tour: This daylight event has nothing of the macabre about it, but it does use the dramatic device of having actors impersonate the buried dead, telling their life stories and in the process revealing interesting lessons about the history of Long Beach. This Halloween featured nine different grave sites with monologues or dialogues, all skillfully written and superbly performed, including two that were nominated in the Best Short Halloween Play or Vignette category.
  4. The Wicked Lit Halloween Theatre Festival: Wicked Lit keeps getting better and better every year. Always entertaining, thanks in part to its setting in the Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery, the annual Halloween Theatre Festival has sharpened its dramatic skills over the years, crafting some memorable adaptations of classic horror literature, including two nominees for Best Short Halloween Play or Vignette. More importantly, during the past two seasons Wicked Lit has offered interstitial entertainment that ties its trio of terror tales into a unified whole whose cumulative impact exceeds the sum of its p

Winner:

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BEST INTERACTIVE HORROR EXPERIENCE

HHS-ad-2014-cropAs more Halloween attractions add vignettes in which characters and customers interact, the distinction becomes more nebulous between a haunted house event and an interactive experience. To some extent, all Halloween horror shows are interactive: the monster delivers the scare, and the frightened customer reacts by screaming. For the time being, however, we will stipulate that entries in this category should largely consist of action in which the audience actively participates or is asked to take initiative, instead of simply reacting helplessly to the horrors on view.

Please note: Hollywood Gothique should probably abstain in this category, because we missed so many examples of the form: Sinister Pointe; Blackout; Alone; The Purge; and Trapped: and Lock and Key at Knotts Scary Farm. However, we saw a few truly good ones, which we do not want to neglect. We also saw one botched effort, the Exclusive Encounter at the Queen Mary Dark Harbor, which had a few good moments but mostly left us feeling disappointed over a good concept poorly executed.

NOMINEES:

  1. Delusion Lies Within: Writer-director Jon Braver’s horror play, set inside a real house, is a forty-minute dramatic experience that requires the audience to participate at several junctures. Your humble reporter was locked in a room and gassed; later we took the pulse of a dying woman who jumped to life, grabbing our arm. Other “volunteers” were strung up like puppets or subjected to uncomfortable sexual shenanigans. Finally, the revelation to the story’s mystery requires one subject to slide face down through a dark, rocky section of the basement to where…something unpleasant awaits.
  2. Special Ops Infected at Knotts Scary Farm: This is somewhat different from what we usually associate with the tag “interactive”; nevertheless, Special Ops Infected does invite audience participation, giving you a rifle and asking you to blow away the living dead as you clear Camp Snoopy. The length and duration make this a major event, and the number of zombies is overwhelming, creating a nice “Custer’s Last Stand” feeling as recruits try to navigate their way to safety.
  3. The Zombie Killhouse at Haunted Hollywood Sports: The home of the “Original Zombie Killhouse” is probably not too happy to see Knotts Scary Farm jumping on their train, but Haunted Hollywood Sports still has a thing or two they can teach the big boys. Though the number of zombies is noticeably smaller here, the setting is more appropriate, with outdoor sets suggesting an occupied war zone. Also, the cast are really into their roles, enhancing the verisimilitude of the experience with a steady stream of barked orders and deadpan one-liners.

Winner:

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BEST SCARE ZONE

Ghost Fog Alley at Knotts Scary Farm
Ghost Fog Alley at Knotts Scary Farm

Scare zones can make or break a Halloween theme park. Yes, ultimately the mazes must give customers their money’s worth, but the first impression upon entering is what sets the tone for the rest of the evening, which is then reinforced by subsequent encounters while wandering through the park. On a crowded night, with lines lasting hours, eager haunt-goers can fill the time between rides and walk-throughs with excursions into scare zones.

We actually found this year somewhat lacking. We certainly encountered our share of free-roaming ghouls while wandering through this year’s attractions, but few of the theme or settings made an indelible impression.

NOMINEES:

  1. Back Lot at Halloween Horror Nights: When you stop and think about it, once visitors get off the Terror Tram and begin walking, the Back Lot of Universal Studios Hollywood functions as an enormous scare zone, filled with monsters of all shapes and sizes, haunting woodsy areas and a suburban area suffering the devastation of a jetliner crash.
  2. Carnevil at Knotts Scary Farm: At least on media night, the scare zones at Knotts Berry Farm were scarcely populated: the Gypsy Camp seemed virtually dead, and even the old western Ghost Town – a perennial favorite – delivered more atmosphere than actual scares. Ironically, considering our distaste for clowns, Carnevil near the Boardwalk featured the most visible and hardest working scare-actors, who were clearly going the extra mile to inflict terror under less than ideal circumstances. It’s easy to spook someone in shadows and fog, but amid the bright lights and excitement of an amusement park, surrounded by whirling rides and carnival barkers? That takes dedication.
  3. Dark Christmas at Halloween Horror Nights: First off, we think it’s a bit absurd to feature a Christmas theme at a Halloween attraction, but presumably no one would come if Universal Studios Hollywood offered this scare zone in December. Anyway, the twisted take on yuletide imagery was imaginative and different, with some impressive creatures and (as one would expect from a movie studio) wonderful makeup.
  4. Perdition at Haunted Hayride: Though the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride is not really a theme park, it does include a scare zone. Unlike most of its competitors, Perdition has a unique flavor, like a carnival but more Cirque du Soleil than killer klowns. Yes, there are all sorts of deadly, demented things ready to attack once you purchase one purchases a ticket and enters the grounds, but there is a certain graceful artistry apparent that is seldom seen elsewhere. And this year, there were actual ghosts physically floating in the air!
  5. Nightmares at Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest: Ten years ago, Six Flags Magic Mountain’s annual Fright Fest was short on scare zones, so much so that one could wander around almost without realizing that there was a Halloween overlay. What a difference a decade makes. For Halloween 2014, monsters were apparent from the moment one entered. By far our favorite was located halfway up the hill, in a darkened area enclosed by over-hanging trees that created a sense of being cut off from the rest of the park and, indeed, the rest of the world. In this isolated area, illuminated with black light, strange and colorful creatures lurked, some aggressive, some more subtle – engaging visitors in conversations on dreadful subjects, such as dead rats. Despite our hurry to reach Willloughby’s Resurrected and other haunts, we lingered long, and even doubled back later in the evening for another visit down the proverbial rabbit hole.

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BEST OPENING SCENE

Black Magic Gadget Room
Black Magic at Knotts Scary Farm featured an entertaining Skeleton Key Room.

This is a new category, a bit generically named, which attempts to encompass the trend toward ameliorating the conga-line syndrome by beginning a walk-through with a room in which a small group gathers to watch and/or take part in some kind of experience before proceeding with the rest of the haunt. These scenes generally set the tone for the haunt; they often establish the back story, and typically they end with some kind of shock to jolt visitors into a speedy exit.

Sometimes, these rooms require an up-charge: for instance, the Skeleton Key Rooms at Knott’s Scary Farm. On the other hand, several walk-throughs at Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest include similar introductory vignettes at no extra cost.

We suspect that theme parks are adopting these scenes in order to compete with smaller venues and home haunts that provide a more intimate scare experience. In fact, several of this Halloween’s amateur walk-throughs featured these preludes, many of them as effective as their professional imitators.

As Halloween attractions take on more interactive and dramatic elements, we expect we will see more haunts with specific scenes interspersed throughout. For instance, Raymond Hill Mortuary features two or three after the initial entry, and in a sense Delusion Lies Within consists entirely of dramatic scenes. For the time being, we will limit this category to scenes that serve as an opening prelude for the horrors to come. For this reason, the Freak Shows at Queen Mary Dark Harbor are not included: though some of them feature single-scene encounters, they are stand-alone attractions, not the beginning of a longer walk-through.

NOMINEES:

  1. The Black Magic Skeleton Key Room at Knotts Scary Farm: This maze featured an early 20th century theme – an era of seances and magic. Appropriately enough, those who paid the up-charge would begin the maze by pausing in a parlor where a medium summoned the spirit of Harry Houdini – apparently none too happy over having his eternal slumber interrupted. The scene began with some spectral illusions, then shifted to a more physical manifestation, creating some memorable shocks.
  2. The Cabin in Curse of the Devil Swamp: After a brief walk through a gate and around a house, this backyard haunt truly began when we entered a cabin that appeared to be poised on the edge of a swamp. Inside this convincing environment, demonic figures warned us of the terrors lurking in the bog; there was a brief startling effect with a hanging body; and then we learned that the only way to proceed was to crawl through the fireplace. If this scene were not located on private property, one would take it for a professional effort.
  3. The Lobby of the Wilsley Brothers House of Fun at Rotten Apple 907: This room featured decor to establish the funhouse atmosphere, along with a sideshow freak who we simply knew would escape from his cage – and he did! What made this room memorable was the manner in which it sowed the seeds for what followed, the gray-haired impresario warning that the “fun” in “funhouse” meant the inhabitants would be having fun at our expense..
  4. The Register Room at Raymond Hill Mortuary: Oozing an excess of sympathy, a soothing funeral director asked visitors inside, took a moment to refute the scurrilous “rumors” plaguing the mortuary, and beckoned us to sign the register. There were things lurking in shadows or behind curtains during his speech, but the real scare arrived from another direction: the painting above the register abruptly dropped to reveal a grasping hand. We had seen this kind of gag elsewhere, but Raymond Hill Mortuary gets bonus points for having the funeral director lure us into the danger zone while lulling us into a false sense of security.
  5. The Screening Room at Sherwood Studios: The Sherwood Scare home haunt has perfected the art of using its opening room as a sort of prelude to introduce the themes that will recur throughout the rest of the haunt. Here, a screening of an old 16mm film filled in the back story of a child star who went mysteriously missing, her ghost apparently haunting the studios now. But the exposition served to lull visitors into complacency before hitting them with the scare when the missing girl materialized from behind the screen – similar to the effect in the first room at Raymond Hill Mortuary.

Winner:

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BEST GORE EFFECT

Unsuccessful surgery in Reign of Terror
Unsuccessful surgery in Reign of Terror

Although Hollywood Gothique prefers Halloween horrors of the spooky variety, we will admit to a certain bloodlust; after all, when in Transylvania, do as the vampires do. Numerous attractions cater to this sanguinary thirst in an amazing variety of ways: not only haunted houses but also legitimate theatre provide doses that range closer to deluge than droplets, and squeamish visitors are advised to raincoats and umbrellas to protect themselves from October showers.

Generally speaking, this is a wet category. There are many grizzly sights that do not qualify: dried bones, shriveled skin, etc. We are also not interested in mere after-effects, such blood-spattered walls and blood-stained clothing. No, to quality this this category, the special effects need to provide open wounds and/or arterial spray that can be seen and, hopefully, felt.

NOMINEES:

  1. The Half-Eaten Woman in Alien vs. Predator at Halloween Horror Nights: Hollywood Gothique perused at least three versions of the “surgery” scene gag this Halloween: it consists of of an prosthetic body on a slab, gurney, or table, with the head of a live actor (usually female) thrust up through a hole and carefully aligned to give the semblance of life to the carcass, which typically displayed a cavity in its abdomen, from which intestines or other organs could be removed. Alien vs. Predator at Halloween Horror Nights did the most graphically memorable variation on this theme: the body did not merely have a gaping hole; it was half-eaten. (Interestingly enough, the nifty chest-burster scene in the same walk-through was nearly bloodless.)
  2. Dominion of the Damned Skeleton Key Room at Knotts Scary Farm: Before embarking on a tour through a world of vampires, key-holders had a close encounter with Renfield, who kept a trio of heads alive in a greenhouse. A lucky volunteer helped feed the hungry craniums, squeezing drops of blood from a heart into their mouths. This ghastly repast had an unfortunate side effect: an explosive blast of blood-spray that doused visitors (not to mention eyeglasses and camera lenses).
  3. Spewing Intestine in Re-Animator: The Musical: As befitting the stage adaptation of an unrated horror film, this insane musical features a tidal wave of blood and entrails far beyond anything else we encountered this Halloween. Heads were severed and crushed; eyeballs popped from their sockets. Best of all, Herbert West (Graham Skipper) delivers a final farewell in song while being strangled by angry intestines, which he directs toward the audience like a garden hose. Hilarity – and several soggy wardrobes – ensue.
  4. Splatter in The Zombie Effect: Putting down the walking dead is not easy, especially when it’s not clear that they conform to the zombie rules established in Night of the Living Dead (i.e., kill the brain). Consequently, there is much shooting and bludgeoning in this horror-comedy play, and it isn’t pretty – nor is it neat. During most shows, the splash zone is restricted to the front rows, but a special Halloween Night show really turned up the geyser.

Winner:

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BEST MONSTER

2014HHNGreat Halloween haunts require great monsters. There was an incredible variety on view this Halloween – all shapes, sizes, and species. Some were mechanical; others were men in suits. A few were Kong-size in their proportions.

We’re not sure we spot a trend in all this, except a tendency to show off good-looking original work instead of hiding off-the-shelf masks in shadows. Perhaps we are seeing the beginning of a movement toward filtering out generic monsters in favor of unique creatures designed to fit a theme, but it’s too early to say.

In any case, there will always be a place for the shadowy, lesser seen goblins who haunt Halloween attractions, lying in wait to pounce from hidden passages, but in this category we celebrate those Creatures of the Night who relish the spotlight, emerging into full view so that we can admire their incredible awesomeness.

  1. Alien Queen in Aliens vs. Predators at Halloween Horror Nights: The Alien design by the late artist H.R. Giger is one of the iconic images of Hollywood horror; the larger, maternal version from the sequel Aliens is not quite as elegant, but it does have the advantage of colossal size. This beast was realized to perfection near the end of the Aliens vs. Predator walk-through at Halloween Horror Nights – so eye-catching that one almost forgot to be scared.
  2. Bird-People from Los Angeles Haunted Hayride: One of the least auspicious first-glimpses this season turned out to be one of the most amazing sights. As the haunted hayride pulled passenger through a field, they saw bodies suspended on poles high in the night sky – an overly familiar sight, suggesting the victims of Vlad the Impaler. However, these “bodies” turned out not to be corpses; they were strange, winged creatures with humanoid form and bird-like beaks, who sprang to life and flapped their way through the night sky, descending upon the watchers below and then spring back into the heavens, again and again. The absolutely amazing aerial display was unlike anything seen at another other Halloween event in Los Angeles.
  3. Cerberus from Los Angeles Haunted Hayride: A bit less dexterous than the bird-creatures, the three-headed dog from Greek mythology was seen in the woods, apparently guarding the entrance to the underworld. Huge and imposing, Cerberus impressed with his detailed design and also with his great size. Subtle details are sometimes lost in the darkness of the L.A. Haunted Hayride, but there was no losing sight of this behemoth.
  4. Fireplace Phantom in Delusion Lies Within: Early in the interactive play Delusion Lies Within, there is a room hiding an incredible illusion that is completely startling and unexpected. Even more impressive, in retrospect, it is apparent that one should have anticipated the shock, because a clue was given in the form of a painting showing an ill-defined phantasmal figure near the fireplace. When, after several minutes, the figure actually materializes in the flesh, audiences scream with shock, then pause to gaze in wonder at the design which allowed the being to remain hidden in plain sight, like a chameleon. It looks rather like a cloud of dust with lights inside – something that could reside, unnoticed, in a fireplace, until springing to life.
  5. Spindle Monster in Delusion Lies Within: The Fireplace Phantom would seem impossible to top, and yet later audiences encounter something even more incredible. One of the play’s main characters is found trapped in what looks like a cocoon. To save him requires navigating a maze of web, which must not be touched, for fear of awakening some kind of hidden monster. Alas, the task is impossible; inevitably, a strand of web is touched, and the monster emerges – a kind of demented spider-man that literally climbs the walls. The highest praise to be given to this creature is that it is an even bigger nightmare than the Fireplace Phantom; thanks largely to its amazingly agility, it looks like a real threat, not just an impressive stunt.

Winner:

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BEST ADDITION OR IMPROVEMENT TO AN EXISTING ATTRACTION

A cyborg inside the Backwoods Maze
A cyborg inside the Backwoods Maze

This category is for long-standing haunts that might otherwise be overlooked because they remain relatively consistent from year to year, and we do not want to keep renominating them in their respective categories for previously seen elements. So much in the same way that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will give a composer an Oscar for scoring a sequel only on consideration of new music – not for themes reused from the original – we use this category to acknowledge noteworthy additions and improvements to existing favorites.

NOMINEES:

  1. Giant Robots in Backwoods Maze: This back yard walk-through has been gradually evolving from its backwoods theme to something more post-apocalyptic, with the addition over the years of some Mad Max-style imagery, but we could not have blamed visitors for overlooking the change – it is easy to miss details when your screaming and running for your life. However, this year’s over-sized cyborgs were impossible to miss – impressive not only in size but also in detail and design.
  2. Skeletal cat and butterflies at Boney Island: Goofy imagery has always been the hallmark of Boney Island, even as the yard haunt has added more technically impressive effects (the Spirit Box, the Anti-Gravity Water). Some of the best gags are tucked away in quiet corners, providing laughs for those observant enough to notice them. In 2013 there were skeletal hummingbirds flitting in the bushes; this Halloween the birds were joined by skeletal butterflies – and a skeletal cat pawing at them. The technical trickery was modest, but the imagery was priceless.
  3. The Seance from Los Angeles Live Steamers Ghost Train: This Halloween ride provides a twenty-minute tour past an incredible variety of effects and decorations, much of which was the same as in past years. For 2014, there were several additions, the most notable of which was an over-sized version of Madame Leot’as seance from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. While an enormous table spun above disco lights and a thumping music, the original video of Madame Leota was projected above, creating the illusion of a disembodied head reciting the famous incantation (“Send us a message from somewhere beyond!”) The scene was at once an impressive installation, for its sheer size, and a loving tribute to the Disneyland attraction, which is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year.

Winner:

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BEST NON-HAUNT HALLOWEEN EVENT

Night of the Living Zoo Dragon crop
Night of the Living Zoo

At the risk of sounding like a mother scolding her children to eat vegetables because they’re healthful, Hollywood Gothique spent this season harping on the need to sample a wider assortment of October treats. Los Angeles offers an impressively varied menu, including many events that are seasoned with the Halloween spirit, but served without overt frights.

This category celebrates Halloween entres served without overt frights (though one or two may appear as a side dish): concerts, tours, and costumed extravaganzas. Culinary metaphor aside, these are events without a haunted-house-type walk-through; they are single-day events, and they generally involve activities of an entertaining or educational nature. (Thus, Rise of the Jack O’Lanterns, which is a passive display, does not qualify here.)

Unfortunately, Hollywood Gothique missed a few potential entries: the Zombie Crawl in Santa Monica; the Dia De Los Muertos Festival in Hollywood Forever Cemetery; and the Beyond the Grave Tours at the City of Industry’s Homestead Museum. We apologize for the omissions and will make an effort to include these events next year.

NOMINEES:

  1. The Art Deco Society’s Hollywood Forever Cemetery Walking Tour: This daytime tour emphasizes the aesthetics of the Art Deco style, but there is a macabre moment or two when the guides detail the sometimes sordid stories of the cinema celebrities buried within the grounds. There is also a touch of dark romanticism in the mausoleum housing Rudolph Valentino’s remains, where a modern-day “Woman in Black” (a legendary figure said to visit on the anniversary of the actor’s death) appears and relates stories of her idol and his films. Intriguing stuff, if a bit divorced from what we usually consider “Halloween” entertainment.
  2. Eek! at the Greek!: Although an evening of baton waving might seem a rather high-toned way to celebrate Halloween, Eek at the Greek offered fun for young and old, with a Trick or Treat Village and costume contest during daylight hours and macabre music after dark. Under the baton of Arthur B. Rubinstein, the Symphony provided pitch-perfect performances of short orchestral works that filled the night air with phantoms, and actor Bruce Boxleitner gave an impassioned reading of Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart” that reached a crescendo as smashing as any cymbal crash.
  3. Long Beach Historical Society’s Cemetery Tour: The Long Beach Historical Society’s annual event is part historical tour and part live theatre, set in two adjacent cemeteries, Sunnyside and Long Beach Municipal. Guides provide background information while leading visitors to a series of grave, where actors impersonate the dead, relating their life stories. The pieces (some monologues and some dialogues) feature solid writing and moving performances. Set in daylight, the Historical Cemetery Tour is not frightening, but there are a few macabre moments when characters relate the details that led to their final repose. A must for Halloween fans with an interest in history.
  4. Night of the Living Zoo: You like the zoo but shun the daylight hours like a vampire. What to do? It’s Night of the Living Zoo! This one-night-only event offers visitors a chance to stroll through the Los Angeles Zoo after dark, listen to lectures on bats, dance to DJ music, and participate in a costume contest. Not all of the animals are awake, but the creepy night-crawlers are on view: poisonous spiders, scary scorpions, and slithering reptiles. For 2014, the Halloween overlay was somewhat muted (perhaps in deference to the permanent residents), but the boiling witch’s cauldron and the singing statues were augmented by Drama After Dark’s Evening of the Macabre with Poe and Gorey, which provided spirited readings and performances in some inspired locations, elevating an event that had been deficient in ghoulish entertainment during its debut the previous year.

Winner:

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Sherwood Studios ghost girl

BEST AMATEUR HAUNTED HOUSE WALK-THROUGH

Home haunts have undergone a seemingly exponential evolution during the decade that Hollywood Gothique has been tracking them. Once upon a time, decorations and displays rules the night; now, walk-through terror-tours have become increasingly popular, many of them rivaling their professional counterparts – and even exceeding them, at least in one particular area. Unburdened by the theme park’s need to push hundreds of customers through, amateur attractions can afford to send trick-or-treaters through their labyrinths in tiny terrified groups, who can move at their own pace, slowing down to savor the scares or running in fear to escape.

This category celebrates the dedicated work of those who spend months planning and building these haunted house attractions for our benefit. Please note that last year’s winner The Backwoods Maze is out of the running (no two-time winners allowed unless the haunt changes drastically). Also, we did not see The Haunted Shack or Revenge of the Ninja this year, and both Curse of the Devil Swamp and the Haunted House at Punta Del Este were too impacted by rain to qualify.

NOMINEES:

  1. Beware the Dark Realm: In its second year of haunting, this amateur attraction in Santa Clarita benefitted from an impressive castle facade, some professional-looking makeup, and a sustained theme regarding a curse that had corrupted a king and his subjects. Halloween 2013 was Hollywood Gothique’s first trip to Beware the Dark Realm; we were amazed at the overall level of quality on display and immediately added it to our list of must-see home haunts.
  2. Witches of Scabtree Hollow at The Haunt at Helizondo: Recycling its theme from Halloween 2013, the Haunt at Hellizondo offered an impressive Salem-style village in the driveway, a lavishly decorated front yard (including the bodies of witches burned at the stake), and a short interior walk-through with several clever hiding places for its monsters. There were some good jump-scares, but mostly we remember the beauty of the black-lit rooms, with some marvelous pumpkin-headed figures. Eerie and enjoyable.
  3. Pumkin Jack’s Haunted House: Not far from Beware the Dark Realm in Santa Clarita, this home haunt consists of a walk-through with eight rooms of terror, providing a smorgasbord of different frights. The journey, though not very long, is very hectic, with numerous frights to startle your senses and confuse your mind, creating the impression of a much bigger attraction. We had found this labyrinth to be memorably scary during our first visit a couple years ago; it was even more so this Halloween.
  4. Sherwood Studios at Big Worm’s Sherwood Scare: In its third year, Sherwood Scare remained the master of storytelling, cleverly delivering exposition in the early scenes to set up scares that arrived later, thus creating a dramatic sense of anticipation that most home haunts (and many professional ones) lack. The sets provided a remarkable simulacrum of a real movie studio, and the low-key lighting did an excellent job of making the dwellers in darkness look all the more sinister. As in 2013, the haunted ended with an eye-catching image of horror, providing a memorable climax.
  5. Wilsley Brothers House of Fun at Rotten Apple 907: After haunting a manor for two seasons, the fictional Wilsley Brothers returned to Rotten Apple 907 in a new guise, as proprietors of a funhouse; the twist was that the fun was had by the inhabitants at the expense of the visitors. The only thing crazier than the clowns in this walk-through were the sets, with spongy floors and tilted angles that were enough to induce vertigo. There were also some cool effects (done with mirrors) and a bumper-car room. Insanity reigned throughout, in a home haunt as good as many professional efforts.

Winner:

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BEST HAUNTED HOUSE WALK-THROUGH: PROFESSIONAL

Willoughby's Resurrected with Full MoonThe backbone of any Halloween theme park is its walk-through “mazes.” Scare zones, rides, and shows are all part of the package, but nothing can beat a terrifying walk through a dark labyrinth haunted by all manner of eldritch horrors. Of course not all of these labyrinths are located in theme parks; there are other haunts that consist of two or three mazes, and even a few single-maze attractions.

When Hollywood Gothique enters one of these cavernous portals to hell, we seek imaginative settings and enthusiastic ghouls. Atmosphere, theme, and even a back story are important, but mostly we want a high density of scares delivered in a variety of ways, to keep us off our toes. This category celbrates the haunts that have achieved this goal.

Note: The excellent Reign of Terror Haunted House is out of competition because it won last year. Also missing from competition are Sinister Pointe, The Empty Grave, and Chambers of the Mausoleum, since we did not visit any haunts in Orange County of Riverside this Halloween.

NOMINEES:

  1. Factory of Nightmares Haunted House at Fright Fair Scream Park: This extensive labyrinth features numerous environments (asylum, funhouse, bog, etc.) with numerous cleverly concealed jump-scares (hidden panels and so forth), but mostly it is notable for the wild enthusiasm of its cast, who realize that a single scare is not enough. The monsters here are confrontational: they don’t simply jump out and say boo; they block your path, interact with each other and you, and continue to harass you as long as you remain within their field of influence. They’re really the best at what they do, anywhere; they’re only competition comes from more interactive, story-driven attractions, such as Delusion.
  2. From Dusk Till Dawn at Halloween Horror Nights: Universal Studios Hollywood offers the best makeup and special effects of any Halloween attraction in Los Angeles, but their mazes of late have felt a bit like sequels to earlier hits – the same old thing, redone, with a slightly different cast of characters. An exception this year was the From Dusk Till Dawn maze, which felt like an imaginative departure even while fulfilling the now obligatory need for a Latino-themed haunt. Instead of Dia De Los Muertos or Chupacabra, Halloween Horror Nights served up the sexy female vamps from the titular movie and television series, along with a variety of demonic bloodsuckers. The setting was great, and the vampires were packed in tight – one around every corner, always reading to pounce (more than once if necessary).
  3. Raymond Hill Mortuary: This stand-alone haunted house was in its second year this Halloween. Like Factory of Nightmares, Raymond Hill Mortuary was lengthy, with a variety of settings, both inside and outside the Fremont Theatere (in which it was located). More important, there was a good variety of scares: though much of the walk-through consisted of the traditional labyrinthine corridors with monsters lurking around corners, there were several junctures at which visitors had to stop and engage with the characters. Besides the entry room mentioned in a previous category, there was a morgue where the doctor squirted formaldehyde and nurses forced us into storage spaces meant for corpses. Best of all was an encounter with an agitated French Monk, spewing instructions that needed to be followed to prevent evil from awakening. Unfortunately, since he was speaking French, it took us too long to do what was necessary, and so the monster awakened, emerging from an unexpected direction to grab us by the ankles! Very impressive.
  4. Red’s Revenge at Fright Fest: This riff on the “Little Red Riding Hood” benefited from some amazing sets that immersed visitors into its fairy tale world – particularly the opening miniature houses, which made us feel as if we were walking into a storybook. After the introductory room, in which the back story was conveyed via a video, the maze was filled with one thing after another: a walk through the woods, an encounter with a giant spider, numerous escapes from werewolves, and the final sight of the angry Red Riding Hood herself, risen from the grave and out for revenge. An amazing excursion into another world.
  5. Voodoo at Knotts Scary Farm: This Halloween, Knotts Scary Farm transported visitors to a haunted bayou, filled with supernatural horrors. It began with an amusing Skeleton Key Room, which forced victims to climb into an upright coffin, which shook to the tremor of a demonic voice while red light glowed through the lid. Emerging through the other side, we found ourselves walking past huts, cabins, and trees that created the perfect semblance of a genuine swamp. There was also a maze-like element, with visitors at one point choosing which path to take, prompted by a devilish figure (Baron Samedi) and seeing different sights as a result. This maze was definitely worth a second walk-through, so that both paths could be walked. Voodoo was an absolute triumph of atmosphere.
  6. Willoughby’s Resurrected at Fright Fest: Willoughby’s Haunted Mansion was long the highlight of Fright Fest at Six Flags Magic Mountain; more recently it was refurbished into Willoughby’s Resurrected, which retained the haunted house theme but augmented it with some incredible special effects. With its elaborate decor and high walls, Willoughby’s conveyed convincing sense of being in a cavernous mansion, but as big as the place seemed, it was nonetheless too overpopulated to allow for single-occupancy: every room and corridor was haunted by two or three ghosts, who attacked with almost military precision – from the flank, from behind, from wherever you weren’t looking. Big haunted houses often seemed a bit thinly populated, but not this one – the PKE valences went off the scale and buried the needle.

The Winner:

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BEST MULTI-MAZE HALLOWEEN ATTRACTION

Fright Fair Creatures of the Corn winged demonSomewhere between the heavyweight theme parks and the welterweight single-maze attractions lies a nebulous zone that is the Halloween equivalent of boxing’s Super Middleweight division. Here we find multi-maze attractions that offer a full evening’s worth of entertainment, including not only walk-through horrors but also some combination of stage shows, scare zones, rides, games, and possibly even zombie shooting galleries.

During the course of the past ten years, Halloween entertainment seemed to be trending in this direction, no doubt because it offered purveyors an opportunity to make more money. Why charge only $10 for a single walk-through when you can charge $10 each for 3 (with a generous 3-for-$25 discount)? Unfortunately, many of these attractions seemed stretched a bit thin, as if they were offering the same number of scares divided among two, three, or four different mazes; consequently, many of them have faded into oblivion, sometimes after only a season or two: Haunts USA; Paranoia Haunted Attraction; the Thousand Oaks Haunted House; Spooky House; and a trio of attractions that haunted the Pomona Fairgrounds at one time or another: Fearplex,  Scareplex,  Nightmare at Scareview Farms. Even the fondly remembered Seaside Haunt underwent a form of cellular division, splitting into two walk-throughs for its final season; unfortunately, the process was closer to Neiosis than Mitosis, with about half the genetic material appropriated to each haunted house.

However, several of these multi-maze attractions remained in business for Halloween 2014, packing enough monsters and mayhem to keep you screaming all night long. These we celebrate in this category.

Note: Hollywood Gothique did not make it out to Riverside for Crossroads Haunted Village or Field of Screams; we apologize and promise to put them up for consideration next year.

NOMINEES:

  1. Fright Fair Scream Park: This perennial favorite offered three memorable mazes (the Factory of Nightmares Haunted House; the Creatures of the Corn Trail; and Insane Reaction Maze, a literal maze), all of which had been seen before but which continue to impress. For Halloween 2014, the Factory of Nightmares was upgraded with some new decor, and Insane Reaction was augmented with the haunt’s famous gargantuan Tesla Coil (which had been in mothballs more often than not in recent years). As always, FrightFair’s strength was two-fold: first, the cast was uniformly aggressive in their scare tactics; second, the attraction felt like more than the sum of its parts, because the three walk-through attractions were totally different in tone. Unlike the defunct multi-maze attractions mentioned above, FrightFair never left you feeling as if you were seeing the same thing three times over.
  2. Haunted Hollywood Sports: In its third year, this sporting variation on a Halloween theme offered not only walk-through mazes but zombie shooting galleries that allowed visitors to turn the tables on their attackers. As if that were not enough, there was also a variety of entertainment on stage (magicians, music, etc.), and from one weekend to the next, the haunt hosted a variety of special events (such as the Vampire Masquerade). Haunted Hollywood Sports still feels a little like a growing attraction that is finding its way with its mazes and monsters, but the Zombie Killhouses set them apart from the competition, delivering a different sort of thrill.
  3. Los Angeles Haunted Hayride: Named after its star attraction, this multi-maze event also included a scare zone, stage entertainment, the long-running In-Between Dark Maze, and – new for this year – two walk-through entertainments: the Seven Sins Sideshow and House of the Horsemen. In what was a fairly unique approach, there was an attempt to maintain a consistent theme throughout: “Echoes from the Rift” portrayed Hell erupting onto Earth, with myriad devils and demons haunting not only the hayride’s trail through Griffith Park but also the scare zone and the tents housing the Seven Sins and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The L.A. Haunted Haryride presented this hellish extravaganza with all the elaborate production values one could wish, rivaling Universal Studios Hollywood in terms of elaborate makeup and monsters.

Winner:

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BEST HALLOWEEN THEME PARK ATTRACTION

Axe Man vertical crop
The Axe Man at Knott's Scary Farm.

This is the heavyweight category of Halloween events in Los Angeles and the Southland. Running for a month or more, these attractions are set in year-round locations that have the infrastructure in place to handle logistics and publicity for big events; consequently, they attract more customers and (theoretically at least) deliver more scares.

Theme park Halloween attractions may contain anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen walk-throughs, augmented by rides and sideshows, putting them well beyond the scope of the average haunted house event. For this reason, we include the Queen Mary Dark Harbor in this category; even though, strictly speaking, it is not a theme park, it offers as much Halloween entertainment as the competition at Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Six Flags Magic Mountain – but without the roller-coasters.

However, do not expect to see the Queen Mary among this year’s nominees; it’s 2014 Dark Harbor was entertaining, but the new additions did not warrant consideration. Also missing are Disneyland Halloween Time and Castle Dark, which Hollywood Gothique did not attend.

NOMINEES:

  1. Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood: For 2014, Halloween Horror Nights packed the lot at  Universal Studios Hollywood with more mazes than ever before. The makeup crews and special effects teams brought to life such classic characters as Aliens, Predators, The Walking Dead, and An American Werewolf in London. There was a great new maze based on From Dusk Till Dawn; the immortal vampire Count from Transylvania made an appearance in Dracula Untold, and the House of Horrors had its last hurrah, hosting this Halloween’s Face Off maze. As usual, the technical aspects were superlative: if you ever wanted to come face-to-face with H.R. Giger’s Alien or Rick Baker’s werewolf, this was your chance.
  2. The Knotts Berry Farm Halloween Haunt: As usual, Knotts Scary Farm outdid the competition in terms of sheer numerical superiority, offering more mazes than anywhere else in Southern California. There were only three new haunts (Voodoo, The Tooth Fairy, and Special Ops: Infected), but the holdovers were strong, particularly Trick or Treat and Dominion of the Damned. Also, the up-charge Skeleton Key Rooms offered in-your-face scares of a type one does not expect at a crowded theme park, such as the Seance-gone-wrong that kicked off the Black Magic walk-through. And of course, there was also Elvira, the apparently ageless Mistress of the Dark, hosting her stage show, filled with cheap jokes, dancing, and outrageous sideshow entertainment.
  3. Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest: Hollywood Gothique was extremely impressed with this year’s Fright Fest, which erased our past impression was that the annual Halloween event was primarily for fans of roller-coasters who wanted a few haunted houses on the side. This year, Six Flags Magic Mountain offered eight entertaining mazes, including the standouts Willoughby Resurrected and Red’s Revenge, which featured convincing environments, filled with multiple monsters. Also, there was a diligent effort, at least when we attended, to allow only relatively small-to-medium sized groups into the mazes (about a dozen), making it easier for each individual to sample all the scares on view. With this performance, Fright Fest leaves its also-ran status behind, taking its place among the best Halloween theme park attractions in Los Angeles.

Winner: sss

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HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE’S HALLOWEEN LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

Classic movie monsters terrorized tourists on a daily basis in Universals House of Horrors.
Classic movie monsters terrorized tourists on a daily basis in Universal's House of Horrors.

In this category, we celebrate Halloween attractions that have shuffled off their mortal coil and taken up residence in the Graveyard of Lost Halloween Haunts, but which deserve to be recognized for high standards of excellence maintained over the course of many years.

2014 hit Halloween fans particularly hard. Not only did some favorites have their last hurrah; one of the greatest was abruptly cancelled without the benefit of giving a final, farewell performance. In some cases, we live in hope that these haunts may return, after either finding a new location or resolving whatever difficulties led to their demise; in other cases, the disappearance is permanent. Either way, here we acknowledge their long years of service and scares, which lead us to mourn their passing.

NOMINEES:

  1. House of Restless Spirits: As Halloween attractions evolve, trading traditional spirits for psychos and chainsaws, the old-fashioned haunted house increasingly seems a quaint remnant of a bygone age. One of the finest examples of the form was this home haunt display, which featured an incredible array of special effects in and around a private residence in Santa Monica. There were no overt shocks, no live actors, only a succession of spooky illusions (shadows of unseen beings, ghostly footprints, materializing phantasms), the cumulative impact of which was almost as impressive as visiting a real haunted house. After seventeen years, the House of Restless Spirits closed its doors because of concerns over neighbors. Its future is uncertain.
  2. House of Horrors at Universal Studios: Taking over the space formerly known as Van Helsing: Fortress Dracula, this walk-through officially opened in April of 2007, though it had been already been temporarily branded “House of Horrors” in October 2006, when Universal Studios Hollywood launched Halloween Horror Nights. Much of that old Fortress Dracula remained intact, such as Frankenstein’s laboratory, but new rooms were added to create a sort of tour through the history of horror movies, both classic and contemporary. In effect, this was a year-round haunted attraction, which could be enhanced and augmented for Halloween. Besides such perennial icons as Norma Bates, the Mummy, and the Brides of Dracula, over the course of the next eight years, House of Horrors hosted characters from The Strangers, the Chucky franchise, The Wolfman, and SyFy’s Face Off reality series. Benefiting from its permanent location, the House of Horrors offered an incredibly extensive tour through some of the most convincing horror environments imaginable, and it was the only Universal walk-through in which one could reliably expect to find the studio’s classic horror icons (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc) represented. 2014 was its last year; the space will be razed to make room for more shopping options on the Universal Studios tour.
  3. FrightFair ScreamPark: This Halloween haunt, in various permutations, had been scaring Los Angeles Halloween fans for so long (at least eighteen years) that it was almost no longer news. A single-maze attraction for the first half of its life (billed as “four haunts slammed into one”), FrightFair morphed into a multi-maze attraction (including a Halloween Harvest Festival) in the new millennium. Though the expansion was shaky at first (resources seemed spread thin), the haunt eventually regained its former glory, multiplied by three: the Factory of Nightmares Haunted House; the Creatures of the Corn Trail; and the Insane Reaction Maze (a literal maze, by the way). The harvest festival also included a corn maze, rides and games for the kids, a petting zoo, lots of food options, and a great produce store (all your pumkin needs under one roof – well, under the open sky, actually). The funhouse-type settings were never what set FrightFair apart; its strength lay in the aggressive tactics of its cast: always eager to do more than simply glower and yell “Boo!”, the confrontational characters all seemed to have their own personality quirks and routines, interacting with frightened customers long before the “interactive” became a buzz word. The haunt’s signature icon was a gargantuan Tesla coil that sent sparks flying into the night sky like something out of Frankenstein’s laboratory; out of action for several years, it was recently resurrected, making a final appearance in the Insane Reaction maze for 2014. FrightFair ScreamPark is being evicted by its landlord, Pierce College, which wants to re-purpose the property on which the haunt has been located since 2005. With luck, FrightFair may find a new location, but there is no guarantee.
  4. Theatre 68 Haunted House: Long before Jon Braver got into the business of theatrical haunting with Delusion: A Haunted Play, the 68 Cent Crew was offering intimate interactive scares in Hollywood.  Transforming their modest theatre into a haunted house walk-through, the acting troupe went mano-a-mano (figuratively) with its audience, allowing in only one or two visitors at a time, who received the full attention of the madmen and monsters inside. The Theatre 68 Haunted House was not as elaborate as some professional haunts, but the sets and costumes were nice, and the available space was put to good use, offering a handful of startling illusions (e.g., a moving wall to reveal a hidden exit).  Most important was an innovative element that has become almost de rigeur today: triggering the scares to activate when the audience entered a room, so that it always felt as if what was happened was for your “benefit,” so to speak. This creative fright experience offered perhaps the best scream-to-cost ratio in Los Angeles. Theatre 68 went dark in 2013 when the 68 Cent Crew moved to a new venue that could not accommodate their Halloween performance. Though hopes were expressed for a new venue, Halloween 2014 also passed without the Theatre 68 Haunted House, while the 68 Cent Crew focused on staging traditional theatrical entertainment. The haunt is not officially dead, but we fear we may not see its return for the foreseeable future.

Winner: sss

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HONORABLE MENTION

  • Best Professional Special Effect:  Floating Ghost at Haunted Hayride
  • Memorable Masks & Makeup:  Curse of the Devil Swamp and Clown Face at Haunted Hayride
  • Sacrifice from Exclusive Encounters at Queen Mary Dark Harbor: In the highlight of the disappointing Exclusive Encounters experience, the hapless tour is interrupted by a demonic figure who demands that one of the group sacrifice himself before the others may continue. A “volunteer” is selected and blind-folded; an incantation is read; the lights go out – and the volunteer is gone! (With luck, he is rescued later.)

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BEST HALLOWEEN ATTRACTION OF 2014

Should be winners from previous categories:

For example:

  • Knotts
  • Eek! at the Greek!
  • Haunted Hayride
  • Wicked Lit
  • Urban Death: Tour of Terror

Winner:

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CONCLUSION

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