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Review: Haunted Soirée distills spirits into a bewitching new brew

The immersive experience formerly known as House of Spirits rebrands itself, but a macabre cocktail party by any name remains as sweet
Nocturne Theatre Glendale
Macabre statues in the lobby of Haunted Soirée’s new home.

It has moved to a new location under a new name, but the spirits remain strong at Haunted Soirée: A Macabre Cocktail Party (formerly known as House of Spirits). Comfortably haunting the Glendale Center Theatre, the immersive event’s signature recipe of creepy cocktails and cabaret-style entertainment mixed sinister spectral encounters and extensive interactivity is now served in a venue with a much smaller footprint. Room remains for all the essential ingredients: multiple bars, macabre magic shows, spooky scavenger hunts, theatrical vignettes, and of course the all-knowing Ouija board. The only thing shorter is the distance between attractions, affording guests an easier opportunity to imbibe the experiences at their own pace. Think of it as a perfect distillation – an uncanny Cognac derived from a spirited wine.

This year’s theme is French by way of New Orleans, loosely based on folktales, historical hauntings, and Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol. Titled Théâtre De Vaurien, it depicts The Nocturne Theatre, which is inhabited by nightmarish phantoms inadvertently summoned when playwright Donatien Neville made the mistake of translating an esoteric text. In keeping with the House of Spirits template, the only story in  Théâtre De Vaurien is backstory. This is not a site-specific walking play; it is a free-roaming immersive experience, and knowing the back story is not even necessary – it becomes explicit only at one specific point. Otherwise, guests explore the venue’s amenities at their leisure, communing with the spectral inhabitants over a quintet of cocktails.

Haunted Soirée’s Théâtre De Vaurien Review: Arrival

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Though far from a dilapidated Victorian manse, Glendale Center Theatre has an old-world charm not unsuited to a New Orleans haunting. The doors open forty-five minutes before your appointed time for a pre-show lounge. Sinister statues and a Haunted Soirée cocktail menu let you know you’re in the right place even before any spirits manifest, and you will spot signs indicating places to visit upstairs for the Creature Challenge and Neville’s Séance. Eventually, a character appears to invite you inside to experience Théâtre De Vaurien.

Note: Drinks in the lounge bar are not included with price of admission. The five cocktails included with your ticket are served at five bars inside.

Haunted Soirée’s Théâtre De Vaurien Review: Main Floor Stage

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Immediately inside is the main room, a sort of large dance floor and stage area, flanked by raised walkways on either side. This provides a central hub for Théâtre De Vaurien, where you can converse characters while enjoying various entertainments, including live music and dance. There is a lounge-y, burlesque feel suitable to the setting, including a nearly naked dancer hiding her charms behind fluttering feather wings.

Eventually, however, the fun turns sour. In a cycle that repeats throughout the two-hour experience, the performers seem seized by some sort of madness leading to murder, as if acting and reenacting some massacre from their mortal lives.

Haunted Soirée’s Théâtre De Vaurien Review: Path of Rejected Dead

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Although not a traditional haunted house attraction, Haunted Soirée includes scare elements, particularly a sinister walkthrough titled Path of Rejected Dead, accessed by a walkway to the left of the main floor. Here you are encouraged to move quickly and quietly through hallways and downstairs, hoping to evade sinister things lurking in darkness. It’s a nice attempt to add genuine horror to this Halloween event, but it pales in comparison to similar events from the past, such as Fear Dubh at Legend of Vaugh Hall and Midnight Man at Volkov Manor. It’s short, and the one creature we glimpsed, though horrific in appearance, was depicted with what looked like a pullover mask.

Haunted Soirée’s Théâtre De Vaurien Review: Creature Challenge

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More successful than Path of Rejected Dead is this year’s Creature Challenge, another variation on the scavenger hunt that has been part of House of Spirits from its debut. In this case, five malefic paintings provide clues to objects that must be found, gathered, and delivered to The Collector in order to complete the challenge and escape. The difficulty level is not insurmountable, but the search puts you in close proximity to five creatures guarding the items, and the time it takes may be more than feels comfortable among such outré company.

Actually, this is more feature than bug, since the Creatures are the stars of the Creature Challenge, and you will marvel as much as shiver at their marvelous forms and features. Rendered in full-body suits and prosthetics, they are like living sculptures – macabre art brought to life.

Haunted Soirée’s Théâtre De Vaurien Review: Magic Show & Neville’s Séance

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Other supernatural delights await upstairs, including a cabaret magic show and a séance. In the first, a performer warms up the audience with a song, then provides musical accompaniment as the magician invites audience members on stage for some tongue-in-cheek card tricks, then proves he has more up his sleeve than laughs by showing off with an impressive display of levitation – a feat that withstands close scrutiny within the confines of the small stage area.

Neville’s Séance is a theatrical vignette of a sort familiar to fans of House of Spirits: it is the haunt’s origin story, depicting the fateful moment when playwright Donatien Neville summons the infernal forces that will go on to haunt the Nocturne Theatre for centuries to come. The effectiveness of the brief scene is enhanced by showcasing it to only a handful of viewers (four) at a time. Also, unlike everything else on view during Théâtre De Vaurien, cameras are not allowed. Curious ghost-hunters must attend and see for themselves if they wish to behold the fiend who answered Neville’s inadvertent summons.

Haunted Soirée’s Théâtre De Vaurien Review: Cocktails & Bars

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Included with admission are five themed cocktails, each served at a different bar on the premises. The first two, serving Le Marais and Kraken Spiced Rum, respectively, are easy to find in the main ballroom area. Others are secreted upstairs or at the end of the long walkway on the right of the ballroom. The latter in particular, serving La Dame Verte, has an intimate atmosphere all its own, isolated from the rest of the theatre. With no performances to distract you, you can rest your beverage on a convenient table, self-illuminated in eerie green, and converse with a gregarious and visibly pregnant ghost.

As we have come to expect, the cocktails provide variety and quality. Each offers a distinctive flavor profile balanced to please diverse palates. Those who prefer strong spirits and those who prefer sweeter flavors will be equally pleased. Hard pressed to pick a favorite, we would choose the Fluer De Lis, which is basically a sweeter version of a martini (gin, dry vermouth, lemon, raspberry aquafaba).

In one bar, the famous oversized Ouija Board (present in all previous iterations of House of Spirits) holds court. Its planchette, moved by an invisible hand, seems even more mischievous than before, providing waggish answers to questions about the forces haunting the Nocturne Theatre. Asked the name of the most powerful spirit on the premises, the planchette spelled out two letters: “ME.”

Haunted Soirée’s Théâtre De Vaurien Review: Conclusion

Haunted Soiree review
Artisanal chocolate treats acquired at the conclusion of the Haunted Soirée

Haunted Soirée’s Théâtre De Vaurien hews close to the template established by House of Spirits. All the virtues are intact but condensed into a smaller space for easier access. Consequently, the macabre cocktail party feels more laid back. For the first time, we felt no concern about the clock ticking down to zero before we could find every bar and experience every attraction; in fact, we were able to see and do everything and then go back for more.

One other difference is that Théâtre De Vaurien seems less story-dependent. Except for Neville’s Séance, little happens to illuminate what is going on inside the Nocturne Theatre. Conversations with the characters (including the Ouija Board) are intriguing, but they do not tie together into a narrative, nor did we really grasp the significance of the main floor massacre.

House of Spirits was never a three-act drama, but there was a sort of mystery story: how did the house become haunted? Finding the answer was not required, but guests were encouraged to ask questions or follow clues leading to the solution. This year there seems to be less of a push in that direction, and many guests may not realize there is a backstory unless they read it on the Haunted Soirée website.

This is not necessarily a complaint. Haunted Soirée offers a “macabre cocktail party,” and there is nothing wrong with simply relaxing into the vibe and enjoying the company of surreal characters with amazing makeup and costume designs brought to life by a talented cast. When it comes to the macabre mystery at the core of this haunting, we feel less inclined to act like a dogged Sherlock Holmes when the game is afoot than like a jovial Nick Charles, who would prefer to avoid sleuthing in order to concentrate on his martini.

Haunted Soirée: Théâtre De Vaurien

Rating Scale

1 – Avoid
2 – Not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See

New name, new location, same high quality – Haunted Soirée is as much fun as House of Spirits ever was, and the Glendale Center Theatre provides an ideal venue. We felt relaxed and able to fully enjoy the event in the allotted two hours. We have only caveats: (1) Path of Rejected Dead is a weak scare show. (2) Conversations with the characters do little to illuminate the story. Otherwise, highly recommended.

Haunted Soirée’s Théâtre De Vaurien continues on weekends and select weekdays from October 6 to 31, with entry times for the two-hour experience at 7pm and 9:30pm on Thursdays, Fridays & Halloween Night; 4pm, 6:45pm & 9:30pm on Saturdays; and 3:15pm, 6pm & 8:45pm on Sundays. Prices start at $64 for Bronze tickets (access to all attractions and shows, plus four cocktails), $69 for Silver tickets (five cocktails), and $84 for Gold tickets (expedited check-in and entry to shows, adult trick or treating with imported French chocolates). Prices are higher at peak hours and on peak nights. Get more information at hauntedsoiree.com/los-angeles.

Haunted Soirée’s Théâtre De Vaurien Review: Photo Gallery


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.