Hollywood Gothique
LA Attractions Gothique

Review: House Of Spirits – unique gallery of horrors

NoteThis is a review of the 2019 debut of House of Spirits. Click here for our interview with the creators of House of Spirits 2022: “The Legend of Vaughan Hall,” which is reviewed here.

A unique & astounding Halloween experience that satisfies on every level

House Of Spirits: A Haunted Cocktail Soirée is a true original, unlike anything else we have experienced in Halloween 2019. Though the name would suggest a themed popup bar, House of Spirits is quite a bit more than that. It incorporates eclectic elements: performance, immersive experience, interactive costume party, and even haunted house walk-through. However, in the end, House of Spirits is none of those things but rather its own unique combination.

The premise is that you are attending a party in a house cursed by the macabre art of a grieving painter, created in the final desperate days of his life, which opened a portal not to his lost love but to dark realms whose denizens now haunt the premises, blighting all who live there. How closely you encounter these beings depends on which activities you choose to participate in, the sheer variety of which is guaranteed to satisfy the cravings of even the most omnivorous Halloween enthusiasts.

House Of Spirits Halloween Review: Ghost Ship on Land?
House Of Spirits: A Haunted Cocktail Soirée Halloween Review
House of Spirits is set in the Beckett Mansion, which used to house Delusion Interactive Theatre.

House Of Spirits: A Haunted Cocktail Soirée is the creation of Meyer 2 Meyer Entertainment, whose personnel formerly worked on the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride and currently produce Rated R: A Horror Speakeasy. House of Spirits might sound like juiced-up version of the latter, rebranded and moved to a new location for Halloween, but it actually has more in common with a nearly forgotten one-shot that the Haunted Hayride creators produced in 2011: Ghost Ship.

Ghost Ship was not a hit with the public; it was a great idea that failed to live up to its potential, offering a three-level experience – one for each deck aboard harbor cruise yacht, with ghostly hosts and entertainers on the main deck, a show on the upper deck, and a scary maze on the lower deck. The problem was twofold: the yacht did not provide a sufficiently spooky setting, and it was impossible to fit enough entertainment into its hull to fill the ninety-minute cruise.

House of Spirits takes this clever template and ingeniously applies it to the ominous Beckett Mansion* in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles, bringing to fruition everything that Ghost Ship sought to achieve. With the atmosphere and square footage Ghost Ship lacked, this magnificent venue houses an amazing three-level event in and around the building. On the ground floor, guests can mingle with their ghoulish host and hostess, listen to music, watch a puppet show, and imbibe a half-dozen cocktails (included with the price of admission). Upstairs, there is a strange sort of scavenger hunt of a most morbid nature. And in the basement are not one but two scare experiences. Additionally, there are gathering places outdoors, along with a strange little hovel where you will learn the secret responsible for the curse upon the haunted house.

Add it all up, and House of Spirits provides multifarious forms of malevolent entertainment in every nook and cranny of its haunted house – more than enough to justify the recommended two-hour stay.

*This is the same location used by Delusion Interactive Theatre on several occasions.

House Of Spirits Halloween Review: Arrival
House Of Spirits: A Haunted Cocktail Soirée Halloween Review
An outdoor lounge where guests relax before their appointed entrance time.

House Of Spirits offers two arrival times on weeknights and three on weekends: 6:30pm, 9pm, and 11:30pm. It is not necessary to arrive precisely on time, but it’s a good idea if you want to see everything. The event can be crowded, with a line on the sidewalk to get through the security search and another line in the front yard to validate tickets.

House of Spirits haunted houseIf you happen to get in before your appointed time, you can wait in an outdoor “lounge” (a small mobile bar beneath an awning, with some limited seating). This is one of two cash bars on the outside grounds, where you can pay for drinks above and beyond the half-dozen that come included with admission.

Eventually, you ghoulish host, Raul, shows up and fills you in on whatever details you need to know about the “party” he is throwing inside the house, whetting your anticipation with a promise of drunken revelry on the main floor and terrifying demonic encounters in the basement.

Perhaps most important, you receive a punch card for the six bars inside the house, where you will spend most of the ensuing two hours. Though it is easy to overlook in the excitement of the night’s debauchery, this card includes suggestions and questions that will assist your exploration of the mysteries haunting the House of Spirits.

House Of Spirits Halloween Review: Haunting Revels

House of Spirits Review Halloween

On the ground floor, spirits both ectoplasmic and alcoholic flow freely, creating a gay and magnificent revel, with the help of six bars offering free drinks. Both Raul’s wife and his mistress float about, engaging their party guests in conversation and dropping suggestions about what parts of the house they may wish to explore. There is no preferred order to the evening’s diversions and delights, but there are lines to get both upstairs and downstairs, so it’s a good idea to divide your time wisely.

Pastimes on the ground floor include a giant ouija board, with a planchette moved by an invisible hand spelling out answers in responses to spoken questions. Make sure to ask for the spirit’s name – the answer is tragic. There is an out-of-tune piano, but we wouldn’t recommend playing it, since there is entertaining live music in the next room from a variety of performers, on electric guitar or accordion.

Best of all is the macabre puppet show, in a small room just off the main entrance. While a ghoul-faced narrator recites grim and grisly ghost stories, two sinister puppeteers – their dark, skull-like visages almost invisible against the black backdrop behind them – enact the action, the movement of the puppets enhanced with novel sound effects: liquid poured from a cocktail shaker to simulate vomit, a plastic bottle crushed to simulate broken bones. Don’t miss your chance to enjoy at least one of these short performances.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

House Of Spirits Halloween Review: Goya’s Gallery
House of Spirits Saturn Devours His Son
Goya’s Saturn Devours His Son

There is one more important element of the ground floor presentation. In the gruesome Goya Gallery, art lovers may peruse a handful of disturbing canvases, such as Saturn Devouring His Son, one of fourteen “Black Paintings” created by Francisco Goya (1746-1828) during the final years of his life – a series which also included “Witches’ Sabbath.”

Though not on display here, one of Goya’s most famous works is The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (1799), which depicts a sleeping artist tormented tormented by nightmarish visions of bats and owls, as if these apparitions will soon enter our world via the medium of the artist – a theme evoked in the back story of House of Spirits, which seems loosely inspired by Goya’s “Black Paintings.”

However, when you leave the ground floor to explore upstairs, you will learn that the artist whose work doomed the House of Spirits is not Goya but Francisco Vega –  a fictional character whose work was even more demented than that of Goya.*

*This is not the Spanish painter Francisco Preciado de la Vega (1713-1789), who was not noted for macabre art.

House Of Spirits Halloween Review: Spirit Paintings & Scavenger Hunt

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On the second floor, a servant will inform you of the final, fateful days of Francisco Vega, who crafted six ghastly canvases shortly before his death. These “Spirit Paintings,” on display, contain clues to Six Keys, which may unlock the mystery of the House of Spirits.

After perusing the small gallery of horrors, you explore six rooms, each inhabited by someone or something depicted by the artist. These spectral phantoms (including a ghastly pregnant woman hoovering over crib containing a tiny skeleton) may aid your in your search, but they will demand that you perform unpleasant actions to retrieve the keyes (reaching into bathwater for a rib bone is the least of it).

Some keys may not be easy to find, but if you persist in your quest, you will succeed, whereupon you deliver them to a strange character who marks you with a cryptic insignia on your hand or forehead, initiating you into the elite of the households inhabitants. Exactly what “benefits” accrue from this are unclear, but you may be sure they are of a nefarious nature.

House Of Spirits Halloween Review: Things in the Basement

After the upstairs scavenger hunt, there is nowhere to go but down – into the basement – where the true terrors lurk.

There are two attractions on the lower level, each with its own entrance. One is a brief and eerie pantomime performance depicting  Vega – deranged and eventually nude – creating his final work, a life-sized painting that opens a portal enabling a visitor from the other side to enter the earthly plane. Is this being angel or demon or neither? The answer to that question can be found elsewhere.

The second descent into darkness is the closest House of Spirits comes to offering a haunted house walk-through. Groups of half-a-dozen or so party guests are given mirrors and instructions to stand in pools of dim light, chanting “Molly Magpie, Molly Magpie, how did you die?”

This ritual extinguishes the light, allowing some denizen of darkness to manifest; then another pool of light appears, farther along, drawing your group deeper into the basement, where the ritual is repeated, again and again, each time with nightmarish results. There terrors invoked are all the more disturbing because they have materialized at your bidding, and the demons are not necessarily happy to answer your call.

Both experiences are delicious creepy, evincing the sort of demented artistry one used to see at the L.A. Haunted Hayride – less crude shock than carefully choreographed grotesquerie.

House Of Spirits Halloween Review: Garden of Anguish & A Mystery Solved

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Exiting either basement attraction leads outside, where you will find a second cash bar, a food vendor, and the Garden of Anguish, where you can relax among strange flora before reentering the House of Spirits.

Most important is a small hovel, easy to overlook in the darkness. An attendant should be outside to explain why you should explore its interior.

The entrance leads down to a confined space where you will see the pages of Francisco Vega’s diary projected on the wall, detailing the anguish that drove him to create his final sextet of uncanny masterworks and revealing the true nature of the being he inadvertently unleashed upon our world, dooming all future inhabitants of the House of Spirits.

House Of Spirits Halloween Review: Cocktails

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Six Spirit Paintings, Six Keys, Six Cocktails.

A key ingredient to the success of House of Spirits is the half-dozen miniature drinks included with admission. Guests receive one free drink at each bar inside the house, a bartender punching your card at each stop.

Offerings range from Goya’s Ghost (ginger, black currant, fire bitters, orange bitters) to Magpie (passion fruit puree, lime, agave, grapefruit, bitters). Each drink features a product by Don Julio, with guests choosing one of two options, such as tequila or vodka.

Though individually small, the creepy cocktails are collectively intoxicating, altering human consciousness to a level where it is more open to the communion with the spirit realm. By the end of the evening, socializing with ghosts will seem quite normal.

House Of Spirits Halloween Review: conclusion

In case you have yet to unravel the mystery at the heart of this review, we had a supernaturally grand experience at House Of Spirits. The $65 price tag may seem steep, but it is actually a bargain in terms of cost-benefit ratio. The myriad ingredients excel on their own terms, combining to form a uniquely delectable Halloween cocktail.

House Of Spirits: Casa Vega Rating

Bottom Line

An astounding, one-of-a-kind Halloween experience – a gallery of horrors that satisfies on every level.

Update: The House of Spirits Haunted Cocktail Soirée has extended its schedule with new dates added from November 29 through December 15 2019. Start times Thursday through Saturday are at 6:30pm & 9:30pm; Sunday start times are 5pm & 8pm. Admission includes a flight of 6 miniature cocktails, with cocktails, beer, wine, and food items available for purchase. For ages 21+. The address is 2218 S. Harvard Boulevard, Los Angeles 90016. There is convenient parking (for $3) on the same block as the mansion, but the lot closes at 1:45am, shortly after House of Spirits closes on Fridays and Saturdays, so be careful. The website is: houseofspiritsla.com.

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.