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Halloween Odyssey 2021: San Fernando Valley Yard Haunts

We have written often about the many yard displays in Burbank and the surrounding San Fernando Valley. Especially last year when the Covid-19 pandemic closed most seasonal attractions except for Halloween home haunts, we tried to be as exhaustive as possible in our coverage so that haunt-seekers would have a useful guide to what was available in their neighborhoods.

In order to avoid repeating ourselves too much, this year we will be more narrow in scope, focusing on haunts that are either new to us or substantially different from before. Also, since this is posting after Halloween night, we will throw in a few efforts that are open the first week of November. Enjoy!

2021 San Fernando Valley Yard Haunts: Burbank

Holiday Fantasies Come to Life 
1505 N. Valley Street
Open through November 5, 6-10pm

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We’re featuring Holiday Fantasies Come to Life at the top of this post because it always wows us with its incredibly elaborate display. In past versions, its signature fairytale castle served as a backdrop for a yard full of iconic Disney characters such as Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean and Cruella DeVille from 101 Dalmatians. This Halloween, they have jumped ship, emphasizing characters from Disney’s animation rival, DreamWorks – specifically, Shrek. The subtle irony is that Shrek spoofed many of the fairy tales that served as source material for Disney’s animated classics, so some of the characters seen this year (e.g., Pinocchio) have appeared in Disney films.

Another difference is that things seem much livelier than before. There are more animatronic figures dancing and lip-synching to recorded music than we have seen previously, making the display feel even more like a theme park attraction tucked in a yard.

As usual, calling Holiday Fantasies Come to Life a “haunt” is a little misleading, since it feels more fanciful than haunted. However, the Headless Horseman – played by a live actor – does make a spectacular appearance. We don’t think children will be traumatized by him, but he is a little intimidating – not to mention, totally awesome!

Circus of Nightmares: Stolen Dreams
113 S Brighton Street, Burbank

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Hollywood Gothique visited Circus of Nightmares last year, but we made a return trip because it is a spectacular presentation spread out over three yards and, although it’s not a maze, it’s not just a display either. There are live actors lurking among the mannequins, engaged in all kinds of crazy clown activity. As brightly colored and energetic as the haunt is, this year’s theme is rather sinister: “Stolen Dreams” features lots of posters for missing children, implying that the circus has rolled into town so that the clowns can indulge in a flurry of kidnapping.

The settings, costumes, and props are all pro-quality, with lots of moving mechanical figures – which, if you’re not paying attention, can make it easy to lose track of which clowns are live. There is also a jokey photo op, where you sit in a make-shift electrical chair while a creepy animatronic clown tries to apply the electrodes to the metallic colander that serves as a headpiece. This should definitely be on everyone’s must-see list for next year.

Clark Street Halloween Music House
3600 W. Clark Avenue, Burbank

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Officially called “Clark Does Halloween Too!” (a name of which we are not particularly fond), this long-running Halloween music house remains much the same from year to year, consisting of lighted decorations pulsing to the rhythms of seasonal songs beamed to your car’s FM stereo. We include it hear because we saw a few inflatable figures that were not visible during our previous visits.

Grimwood Hollow
618 N Sparks Street

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Due to lingering concerts about Covid-19 infection, Grimwood Hollow altered its presentation for Halloween 2021. Visitors were required to register in advance to visit during one-hour time-slots, and the display was moved from the front yard to the back, where it was divided into two sections, creating a miniature outdoor walk-through.

To the right, the first section presented a spooky cemetery, where visitors could stand outside the gate and view tombstones bearing names such as Nathan Grantham and Arthur Grimsdyke (clever little Easter Eggs that horror films fans should easily crack). To the left, the path led through foliage and fences into a more secluded section that felt like the lair of sinister supernatural beings. Along the way, a few mechanical creatures provided atmosphere and a jump-scare or two, including a malevolent Jack(O’Lantern)-in-the-box.

For such a small footprint, this version of Grimwood Hollow was brimming with seasonal spirit. The impressively detailed props and creatures created a nice sense of being immersed in a small Halloween world.

Haunted Valley Cemetery
644 N Florence Street, Burbank 91505

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Haunted Valley Cemetery offered a static display of tombstones haunted by shrouded skeletons, a demon baby, a mummy, a skeletal ghost, and a giant inflatable black cat on the roof. Judging from the table in the open garage, this is where candy was handed out on Halloween Night. The display was not the most elaborate, but the lighting bathed it in genuinely creepy atmosphere.

Almost across the street is 717 N. Florence Street, where Fun on Florence Street was displayed a handful of modest decorations enticing trick-or-treaters to seek candy on Halloween Night.

Runaway Bride
2207 W Clark Avenue, Burbank

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The Runaway Bride offered a nice little yard display fashioned from store-brought decorations (plastic skull-faces peering out of black shrouds), but we’re not quite sure what these decorations had to do with the theme. There was a miniature, manacled figure in a white shroud that could be taken for a tattered wedding dress; was this the Runaway Bride, shackled so that she could not escape, even in death? Whatever it was meant to be, it was more finely detailed than the other decoration in the yard. Also impressive was the bat-winged character hanging just below the home’s peaked roof.

The shadow from a tree bathed everything with an appropriate layer of gloom, which contrasted nicely with the brightly lit yard display next door. 2211 W. Clark Avenue was decorated with a few clowns, clearly intended to be more amusing than frightening.

Spooky Pumpkin Patch
2038 N Buena Vista Street, Burbank
Open through November 5

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Haunting since 2008, Spooky Pumpkin Patch grabs the eye with a giant skeleton looming over a domain of glowing Jack O’ Lanterns and gravestones. This intimidating landscape lies within a fence covered with webs, skulls, and black cats; the entry arch features jagged, metallic edges and dangling chains, suggesting some kind of post-apocalyptic descent into barbarism. With its wooden planks, the low-roofed house suggests a sinister cabin in the woods, an effect enhanced by the hay scattered around the yard.

Two ghoulish brides lurking near the door – one holding her head in her hand, the other wrapped in bandages like the newly created Bride of Frankenstein. A row of Jack O’ Lantern scarecrows keeps silent watch. A ghastly human skeleton with a glowing ribcage seems to be a burn victim reduced nearly to ash; a similarly afflicted dog lurks among the graves.

A few sound-activated sound effects add a little life to the scenery, but what’s most notable about Spooky Pumpkin Patch is how photogenic it is – it’s a bagful of Halloween eye candy.

Note: The SoCal Haunts list indicates that Spooky Pumpkin Patch closed on November 1, but during our visit, the owner informed us he was keeping the lights on the rest of the week.


2021 San Fernando Valley Yard Haunts: Toluca Lake

La Creepy Casa
10109 Toluca Lake Avenue
Open Through November 5, 5-10pm

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When first we encountered this display, during last year’s Toluca Lake Halloween Haunt Odyssey, it was identified only by its address in the results for the neighborhood’s annual House Decorating Contest (it won for Spookiest/Scariest). We decided to dub it “Arachnophobia” in honor of the giant spiders clinging to its walls, but this year it has its own name: La Creepy Casa. The spiders are back, along with the gravestones decorating the yard, but skeletons seems more prominently featured than before – there’s a big one in the middle that attracts attention to the others either lurking in the shrubbery or dangling from overhead.

Like most Toluca Lake yard haunts, this one features decorations and posed figures, not mechanics. However, a digital projection of skulls floating across the garage door adds a touch of macabre life. This one is quite an eyeful from a distance, and rewards viewers who step up for a closer look at the small details.

Rock-n-Roll Will Never Die
4428 Mariota Avenue

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This is another winner from last year’s Toluca Lake Halloween House Decorating Contest (for Most Creative). Back then, it was known as “Highway to Hell”; this year it was billed as Rock-n-Roll Will Never Die (both phrases were visible on signs within the haunt). We’re mentioning it here because its hard-rockin’ band of skeletons has added a new front man – a long-haired singer wearing sunglasses after dark. Hopefully the trio can fill out their lineup with a drummer and a bassist next year, then record an album.

Whatever its name, this yard display has an electric energy thanks to the snazzy lighting, the rockin’ music, a skeletal motorcycle rider who pops a wheelie with a roar of his engine.

Rotting Hill Cemetery
4848 Sancola Avenue
Open Through November 6
6-10pm weekdays, 11pm weekends

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Rotting Hill Cemetery resurrects its ghostly comedy show for Halloween 2021 – a brief conversation between several ghosts (including Marie Antoinette), who crack deliberately bad jokes. It’s the same routine we heard last year, but we’re mentioning it again because it continues through Saturday (it was originally scheduled until Sunday but cancelled the last date). It’s worth checking out, especially if you’re suffering from Halloween withdrawal. The yard display is small, but the lighting and decorations are lovely. The show depicts the lively spirits with with a nice combination of physical and lighting effects timed to pre-recorded audio.

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The Haunted Pond
4812 Sancola Avenue

A few houses from Rotting Hill Cemetery, there is an unnamed display at 4812 Sancola Avenue, which we have designated The Haunted Pond, because its most distinctive feature is a small pool of water, fed by a miniature waterfall, where a pair of skeletons lounge with their pet skeletal dragon. The handful of decorations are store-bought tombstones, but there is something giddy and amusing about this trio of skeletons apparently enjoying a quiet autumn evening around the pond. Even the dragon seems to be smiling in the rippling green light bubbling up from beneath the water’s surface. Definitely worth walking down the block from Rotting Hill Cemetery (assuming it’s still open).

Note: The addresses for Rotting Hill Cemetery and The Haunted Pond are “officially” in North Hollywood, but their proximity to Toluca Lake convinces us they should be included here.


2021 San Fernando Valley Yard Haunts: Sherman Oaks

Valley Vista Holiday House
14611 Valley Vista Blvd, Sherman Oaks

Lights on Through November 3, sundown-midnight
Decorations come down Saturday

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Valley Vista Holiday House changes theme from season to season: last year it was Beetlejuice for Halloween and A Nightmare Before Christmas in December; this year, we get Tales From the Crypt for Halloween (and who knows what for Christmas).

As before, the little strip of grass next to the curb is decorated with gravestones, skulls, and lights, but the real show is above and beyond the wall surrounding the house. Phantoms float in the air; skeletal faces peer down from above; a spectral face shimmers on a wall above a row of Jack O’ Lanterns lined up on the roof; and the credits from the HBO television display through a window while Danny Elfman’s theme music wafts through the air. Above it all, the familiar figure of The Crypt Keeper holds court, sitting behind his desk decorated in skulls

Lacking mechanical effects, the displays at Valley Vista Holiday House depend on scale for their effectiveness. The fact that much of the decor is above eye level, in upper floor windows or on the roof, adds a touch of grandeur – it looks big. In this regard, the Crypt Keeper is perhaps not the best character: sitting with his head poised over an ancient tome, he doesn’t dominate the setting the way Beeltejuice or Jack Skellington did in the past. Still, it’s a pretty good presentation.


2021 San Fernando Valley Yard Haunts: Van Nuys

Spooky Hollows: Ghostbusters Tribute
16418 Gilmore Street

Van Nuys, CA 91406

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Having switched formats last year to tell the back story of Spooky Hollows‘ resident monster, Mr. Sticky, the haunt retained the elements of an audio-visual presentation this Halloween, creating an homage to the original Ghostbusters (1984). The front yard display was filled with visual references to the film and its sequel: lovely digital projections showed a library with books moved by unseen hands, and there was a tunnel glowing with ectoplasmic energy. The two films’ villains were represented: next to a portrait of Vigo, a miniature of the Stay Puft marshmallow man was under attack by tiny positronic “beams” emanating from the roof of a miniature building. Of course there was slime – and even a toaster from the second film.

Accompanying the visuals was a collage of music, sound effects, and excerpts from the movie soundtracks, with an occasional clip projected on a screen. The audio livened up the presentation, but the occasionally startling sound effects raised expectations that were not always met. While perusing some aspect of the display, we would hear an audio cue erupt into the night, prompting us to look for the source. Not that we were expecting a full-sized Mr. Stay Puft, but it would have been nice to see something relevant. Unfortunately, sometimes the sounds were just…sounds.

Overall, the presentation was more like a piece of installation art than a show: the audio-visual elements were not synchronized to tell a story; they just gave an overall impression. Nevertheless, the affection for Ghostbusters came through loud and clear, so much so that we were inspired to re-watch the film when we got home. Clearly, Spooky Hollows was doing something right.

2021 San Fernando Valley Yard Haunts: Complete Photo Gallery

Halloween Odyssey 2021

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.