With The Legend of Vaughan Hall, House of Spirits has crafted another well-balanced cocktail, mixing spirits ectoplasmic and inebriating in equal measures, the sweet flavors of a lively party balanced by the aromatic bitters of a tragic haunted history. The dedication to a consistent recipe will satisfy connoisseurs of their previous concoctions while new ingredients add complexity to the bouquet and bite to the finish.
This time the setting is a haunted hall in Ireland, where legend has it that centuries ago the lady of the house consorted with the Devil and gave birth to his child. However, there is a mystery at the core of the immersive experience’s story: what is the truth behind the legend? Guests at Vaughan Hall retrieve for clues from strange creatures, seek answers from tormented souls, and watch reenactments of the tragedy, all in hope of uncovering the ugly secret truly responsible for the haunting.
Legend of Vaughan Hall Review: Location
The first noticeable change is that House of Spirits for the first time takes place entirely indoors, set inside an actual event location, Casa Vertigo. Situated in a venerable building in the North University Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, Vertigo offers a sense of elegance and plenty of space for Legend of Vaughan Hall to fill. House of Spirits typically takes place on multiple floors, but this time there are so many rooms on different floors that you might miss one or two if your search for the truth is less than diligent.
The additional space affords opportunities for more confidential, sometimes one-on-one interaction with the characters, who take you upstairs for private conversations and/or magical rituals. You may even be sent to retrieve a feather from a corpse. The ghosts haunting Vaughan Hall are particular about whom they pick, so be careful when answering their questions. Also, if you’re in a group, try to split up for encounters with different characters, so that you can pool any information gleaned from them.
Legend of Vaughan Hall Review: Mazes & Monsters
Like previous versions of House of Spirits, Legend of Vaughan Hall includes a game and a maze, which provide a sinister contrast to the overall party atmosphere. The Creature Challenge is a sort of scavenger hunt to gather objects (including eye!) that can be exchanged for a clue to the secret behind the Legend of of Vaughan Hall. This Halloween’s challenge feels expanded to fill the space at Vertigo: it takes place on two floors and moves through a variety of environments, inhabited by creatures with appropriate appearances: e.g., a being with a mirrored face within a mirrored forest.
Whereas the Creature Challenge is fanciful and even freakishly fun, Fear Dubh maze is more intimidating. Although introduced as a dark maze, visibility is merely limited. It is, however, an actual maze, with false turns leading to dead ends, making it difficult to find a way out. The sets are simple flat walls, but their matters little in the darkness, where your attention is divided between navigating the turns and avoiding from the bizarre monsters lurking around every corner.
These creatures are the real stars of Fear Dubh, as they are in the Creature Challenge. Less human than the characters seen in the cocktail party, they may be shrouded like ghosts or twisted in surreal contortions like a Picasso painting brought to life. It is easy to become enamored of the overall ambiance of House of Spirits while overlooking the amazing creatures and supernatural characters contributing to that ambiance. They are like living artistic creations, fascinating in their own right regardless of the function they serve in the story. Always memorable, they are particularly fascinating this year – beautifully grotesque visual manifestations of the tragedy that fuels the haunting of Vaughan Hall.
Legend of Vaughan Hall Review: The Play’s The Thing
Another innovation this year is an actual stage show, dubbed Theatre du Grand Guignol (after the infamous French theatre noted for its grizzly productions). Previous incarnations of House of Spirits have included dramatic vignettes, but for the first time we have a complete mini-play depicting both the “legend” of Vaughan Hall and the underlying “reality.”
It’s a wild piece of entertainment, at times comical in its absurd depiction of the legend (in which the Lady of Vaughan Hall gives birth almost instantly after an illicit liaison with the Devil, the prop baby popping into the air and then being tossed around like a hot potato). It also hits some solid dramatic notes – quite literally when it turns into a bizarre interpretive dance depicting the violent truth behind the legend.
However, there is something slightly odd about the way the play short-circuits the quest to unearth Vaughan Hall’s buried secret. Solving the mystery within the immersive event’s two-hour time limit adds a sense of urgency that works against the laidback party vibe, which is best enjoyed in a relaxed frame of mind while sipping cocktails, carousing with characters, and watching the live entertainment. So after expending the effort, it is surprising to learn that one can simply sit through a performance of Theatre du Grand Guignol, which spills the beans at regular intervals, revealing the mystery that guests have been working to uncover.
So active participation is not actually required. One way or another, the mystery will be revealed. Even if you don’t see it on stage, casual questioning will extract confessions from several characters. Instead of pursuing the truth, you can pretty much just ask for it to be handed to you.
Legend of Vaughan Hall Review: Conclusion
The Legend of Vaughan Hall is another enjoyable installment of the House of Spirits, filled with amazing costumes, bizarre creatures, creative cocktails, and wonderful interaction with the haunted inhabitants. Unfortunately, the effort to uncover the truth behind the legend in two hours vitiates the relaxed party vibe, especially because the ultimate revelation is less interesting than the legend.
Asking cocktail guests to unravel a mystery is a cool premise, giving visitors a reason to engage Vaughan Hall’s supernatural characters. However, the danger of this approach is that the legend – with its melodramatic, diabolical horror – is perfectly suited to an immersive haunted house experience, while the underlying “truth” is rather prosaic.
The idea that grandiose legends are constructed on a foundation of human foibles is interesting, and a story revealing the truth behind a superstition can be fascinating. Unfortunately, it is an odd fit for House of Spirits, which immerses guests in a haunted cocktail party. Telling the audience to discount the Devil is a hard sell in a setting where that audience is surrounded by damned souls, hostile fairies, and other outlandish supernatural beings from the netherworld of lore and legend. Ultimately, the revelation about the sordid truth behind the legend of Vaughan Hall diminishes the supernatural aura that makes House of Spirits what it is. Next year: stick with the legend.
Our rating of The Legend of Vaughan Hall
1 – Avoid
2 – Not All Bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See
The new location is great. The new cocktails are delicious. The new creatures are fascinating. The new storyline, loosely based on Loftus Hall in Ireland, is perfectly suited to House of Spirits, which ranks in the top tier of our favorite Halloween events in Los Angeles. Legend of Vaughan Hall upholds the high standards of its predecessors, besting most of this year’s other seasonal attractions.
Nevertheless, we are knocking our rating down to 4 instead 5, because we found the “truth” hiding behind the Legend of Vaughan Hall less interesting than the legend itself, and pursuing that truth made it harder for us to relax and simply enjoy the haunted cocktail party. Of course, this is a subjective reaction of someone who cannot resist solving a puzzle; your mileage may vary.
The Legend of Vaughan Hall continues at Casa Vertigo October 27-31. The address is 1828 Oak Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90015. Tickets start at $69. There is convenient, affordable parking in two lots right next to the building. For more information, visit houseofspiritssoiree.com/los-angeles.