The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride was Hollywood Gothique's favorite debut attraction for Halloween 2009. The original presentation benefited from the isolated location; with its dark rolling hills seemingly miles from civilization, King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas provided the perfect setting for mayhem. News that the Haunted Hayride would be moving closer to L.A. proper for 2010 provoked an ambivalent response: proximity provides convenience, but would it also negate some of the fear engendered by darkness and distance - the atavistic sense of being far from home and beyond help? Fortunately, the answer turns out to be no: Griffith Park's Old Zoo is a perfect location for the Haunted Hayride, which remains one of the premiere Halloween events in Los Angeles.
Though nestled comfortably near freeways and urban dwellings, Griffith Park seems a million miles away from the city, with its dense foliage and extensive unpaved wooded areas. As before, a tractor pulls a trailer full of victims slowly through a wide variety of sinister surroundings - cemetery, cornfield, circust tent, etc - with menacing monsters lurking behind every rock, tree, and gravestone. A whacked-out family of loonies - apparently a hybrid of DELIVERANCE and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE - harass the riders. Someone who looks suspiciously like Jason Voorhees stands atop a hill and hurls a huge petrol barrel toward the trailer. What looks like a towring inanimate scarecrow suddenly lurches to life.
If anything, the ride is even longer than last year: the old scenes from 2009 have been relocated, and the Old Zoo provides a few new settings, making use of abandoned facilities. The new route allows for rearranging props and sets, sometimes to good advantage. For example, the Angel of Death figure is farther away from the path; it no longer towers above as you pass, but you can get a good look at it without craning your neck like a serpent. And it talks!
The most notable virtue of the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride remains the forced pacing and path of the ride, which does not allow you to avoid the monsters or run away from them. The cast take full advantage, relentlessly pursuing the slow-moving trailer and taking the time to devote a moment or two to each individual victim. This is definitely different from a walk-through maze, where as often or not you are likely to miss the scare that is directed toward someone in front of or behind you. Also, the monster makeup seems a bit more elaborate this year - not only greasepaint and masks but also prosthetics.
After you have survived the excursion through the woods, the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride offers a Hay Maze and a carnival with food vendors, rides, and games. Monsters prowl these areas as well, including a remarkable spastic scarecrow on stilts and a tall figure carrying its head in its hands.
Beneath a non-operational Ferris Wheel, there is a small stage area, where magician Andrew Goldenhersh put on a fine Halloween show, including a novel variation on Houdini's old escape-from-straight-jacket routine; emphasizing graceful tai chi movement instead of speed and brute force, Goldenhersh's gimmick is that he performs the stunt with a raw egg in each hand. Does he free himself without cracking the shells? We won't give away the punchline, but it is worth seeing.
Goldenhersh's performance mitigates our chief objection to the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride: the price. With tickets ranging from $25 (hayride and carnival) to $35 (hayride, maze, and carnival) to $50 (VIP), the Hayride is charging in the same range as the major theme park Halloween attractions, like the Queen Mary Dark Harbor, the Knotts Berry Farm Halloween Haunt, and Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. That's a bit steep for just a ride and a maze, but seeing an amazing magic show made us feel we had received our money's worth.
In fact, we were more inclined to hang around for awhile after the frights than we were last weekend at the Queen Mary's Halloween event. Besides the show, a big part of the reason was the presence of a caterer's truck from Cantor's Deli, which provides higher quality cuisine than one expects at an outdoor carnival.
One word of warning, about finding the Haunted Hayride's new location: despite paved roads and parking lots, Griffith Park can seem like a wilderness in the dark of night. Approaching from north side of the park, via Forest Lawn Drive, we had some difficulty, even with our trust GPS guiding the way (it tried to send us up a closed road). There were no signs until we we practically upon the event. An approach from the south side of the hill, via Los Feliz Boulevard, off the 5 Freeway, might have been a bit less adventurous.
In general, the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride seems to have gone the extra mile in 2010, not only settling into a new location but expanding and improving upon what worked before. Nevertheless, we found ourselves not quite as fully thrilled as we had been in 2009. Was something lost in the transition, or is it simply a matter of no longer feeling the shock and surprise of a new discovery? We think probably the latter. If you decided to forgo the drive out to Calabasas in 2009, you definitely want to take advantage of the Haunted Hayride's new, convenient loation.
The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride continues at the Griffith Park Old Zoo on October 14-17, 21-24, 28-31. The address is 4730 Crystal Springs Avenue. For more information, check out our page devoted to the haunt, call (818) 871-9486, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their website: www.losangeleshauntedhayride.com.