Can BITE LA put the pedal to the metal and breakout from this Halloween's pack of drive-through haunts? Hollywood Gothique waves the checkered flag and gives the results.
Halloween drive-throughs, drive-ups, and drive-ins are all the rage in this Covid Age, but their track record has been variable to say the least. Fortunately, The Bite LA offers something that, at least on paper, sounds a little different: a haunted "food crawl" around the perimeter of Legg Lake in South El Monte, followed by campfire ghost stories. So what is Bite LA: a scary haunted adventure or a fun night of sampling seasonal fare? The answer turns out to be: a little of both - and more!
This should not be surprising. The event's producers, Meyer 2 Meyer Entertainment, specialize in mix-and-match entertainment, such as last Halloween's House of Spirits. Like that excellent attraction, Bite LA can roughly be divided into three sections: a Creature Safari through darkened territory where you are menaced by monsters, a trick-or-treat section where obliging nocturnal beings bestow candy upon you, and the campfire, where you can enjoy an eight-course meal - assuming your stomach can handle both the food and the grizzly entertainment.
This combination yields a complex experience with much to recommend it, though it is marred by the pacing problems inherent in managing a fleet of cars traversing darkened roads with (per the haunt's instructions) their headlights off.
Bite LA Review: Arrival & Check
Legg Lake is a small, artificial body of water in a fenced-in recreation area. The area is not well lit, and at night it is easy to pass by without noticing its presence. Setting your GPS to the address listed on Bite LA's tickets will get you to the correct side of the park, but our GPS took us well past the actual entrance, and Meyer 2 Meyer Entertainment has not invested much in signage: there is a small placard with the event's name above an arrow, but it is not illuminated unless one counts scattered light from the distant street lights and the even more distant moon. Definitely allow a few extra minutes to find your way into the event by your check-in time.
Once inside, your ticket will be scanned, and you will be given a menu with four different options, each containing eight "bites." There is some overlap; the differences consist of eliminating certain items for the benefit of customers who choose the Vegetarian, Vegan, or Gluten Free options.
After that, you will line up and embark upon your journey, after receiving instructions from a security guard: turn off your headlights (if possible), stay under 3mph, keep your face masks on if your car windows are down.
This was our first bottleneck of the evening. Our check-in was scheduled for 9:15pm; though we arrived on time, it was nearly 10pm before we got the greenlight to start our tour through the wilderness around Legg Lake.
Bite LA Review: Creature Safari
After receiving the go-ahead, you embark upon the Creature Safari, which is genuinely hair-raising thanks to the alarming difficulty of navigating the unpaved road in the dark with no headlights. In fact, the road is marked by torches; as long as you drive mid-distance between the rows on left and right, you will be safe, but seeing all that darkness through the windshield is unsettling, especially with the event's eerie ambient music flowing through your car's FM stereo.
Guests are instructed to bring flashlights for this section (some are for sale on sight in case you forget). Presumably you could use these lights to illuminate the road, but their real purpose is to search for monsters lurking along the way. There are scattered decorations and eerie lights shimmering off trees; these enchanting sights are to some extent distractions, allowing creatures to sneak up to your vehicle. (We received one true jump-scare through the open driver's side window while we were admiring something on the passenger's side.)
The monster costumes are quite elaborate, and the actors inside work their opportunities for all their worth. If you're moving, they'll make a quick run or jump in your direction for a simple scare, but if traffic slows you down, they will linger by your window, gesturing and taunting silently (these are inarticulate beasts, apparently).
Unfortunately, the end of the Creature Safari led us to another bottleneck, which lasted so long that boredom set in. We're talking about the sort of serious dissatisfaction that has one questioning the decision to purchase tickets. The creatures did their best to keep us entertained, but as cars piled up behind us, they had to shift their attention to those drivers and passengers, and we were left just...waiting.
Bite LA Review: Trick-or-Treat
The next section of Bite LA is a drive-through version of the Trick-or-Treat walk-through at Los Angeles Haunted Hayride (Meyer 2 Meyer used to run the Hayride before selling it last year to 13th Floor Entertainment). You drive past a series of facades, each housing a different monster handing out candy in a basket on the end of a long poll.
The variety of settings and characters is quite nice. Most of the strange beings are non-verbal, relying on gestures, grunts, moans, and screams to communicate, but one or two engage in conversation. (One mocked us for our "nice costumes" - we were in everyday attire - and suggested we were dressed as pretentious hipsters, which in a way is true.)
After selecting some candy, a sarcastic doll man mocks our "costumes."
One odd aspect of this section is that guests are required to place their menus in the baskets extended by the characters, who consult them before selecting which candy to serve. There are some candies that contain animal products, so there is a rational for knowing who has chosen the Vegetarian or Vegan option, but really this is a vestige of Bite LA's opening weekend, when these stops were the food crawl's stations, where monsters handed out "Terrormisu" and "Brimstone Dip" instead of Snicker's bars. Apparently, this slowed the logjam down even more and left passengers juggling 16, 24, or 32 separate food containers, depending on how many occupants were in the car.
Bite LA Review: Campfire Ghost Stories
Speaking of logjams, our final one took place in between Trick or Treat and Campfire stories. At this point, cars line up before some small tents, where attendants (masked for safety, not for scares) now hand out the eight "bites" in a convenient (and, by necessity, large) paper grocery bag. Aware of the delay, the attendants do their best, bringing hot apple cider or hot chocolate to waiting cars. The reason for the delay is not clear, since the only driving from this point on is pulling into a parking space around the "campfire." On busy nights, there might be a shortage of available spaces, but there was plenty of room on our night, which made the delay puzzling.
The campfire is actually a customized movie screen, with shimmering lights emulating flames. Pre-recorded video displays a twenty-minute loop consisting of a ghoulish host telling horror stories, interspersed with a couple of music videos.
The stories will be familiar to those who attended House of Spirits last year: the tales were presented there as part of the creepy puppet theatre (with ghastly sound effects). Here, they have been filmed with live actors, but most of the plot is still conveyed via narration. The music videos consist of hard rock songs matched with montages from haunt- or Halloween-themed cartoons: Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" with footage from Scooby Doo, Where Are You and Smashing Pumpkins' "The World is a Vampire" with the Peanuts Halloween Special, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
We're still not convinced the pre-recorded video is the way to go for this kind of event (except from a budgetary standpoint), but Bite LA's presentation works because it's relatively short and because it serves as background ambiance while you enjoy your meal - a bit like having the TV on while eating dinner.
And the dinner is fabulous. Though the description (eight "bites) sounds like a bunch of snacks, those portions add up to something quite substantial, with a pleasing variety of fine flavors. We remain skeptical regarding the wisdom of putting cranberry sauce on the ThanksKilling Veg Balls, but the vegan meat substitute itself had excellent texture and flavor. Even more impressive was the veggie sausage, which in the dark had us wondering whether we had been given the real thing by mistake. Manipulating the many Styrofoam containers while sitting behind a car dashboard was awkward but worth the effort, and the meal was so good that it assuaged any lingering ill will we felt over the slow pace of the food crawl.
Bite LA Review: Campfire Ghost Stories
As the checkered flag falls on our qualifying run around Legg Lake, does Bite LA take pole position? Let's consult the judges...
Though settings and decor were limited, the Creature Safari was creepy, largely due to its strategy of asking drives to turn off their headlamps. The monsters lurking in the shadows did their best to deliver thrills; the relative scarcity helped build anticipation between appearances when the car was moving, but during logjams a few more actors would have helped the time pass.
The Trick or Treat section was delightfully amusing - it's more sinister than a similar section in the Haunt 'O' Ween drive through. With more elaborate makeup, these characters look like real-life monsters while the actors beneath the latex still convey a sense of personality: friendly, menacing, eccentric, shy. In the end, we still slightly prefer Haunt 'O'Ween's version, because there was more extensive character interaction (and lots more candy).
The Campfire Ghost Stories might not have been enough to stand on their own, but they provided perfect accompaniment for a perfect meal. Like a strong climax to a slow movie, this conclusion erased our misgivings about the long delays and sent us home glad - not mad - that we had attended.
Regarding the delays, the bottlenecks occur at predictable junctures, where cars need to be spaced out before proceeding. Since this is the case, it would make sense to have something happening in these areas, even if it's just a trio of Jack O'Lanterns lip-synching to "The Monster Mash." Fill these areas with more monsters or digital projections. Better yet, since the extended downtime provides an opportunity, stage some kind of dramatic vignette that cycles over and over while drivers wait.
If you enjoyed our Bite LA Review, check out more reviews of Halloween drive-throughs here.
Bite LA Ratings
Bite LA’s haunted food crawl offers excellent fare that will satisfy your appetite for both nourishment and Halloween shivers. The only problem is the pacing, which is reflected in our ratings (the more impacted each section was by delays, the lower it ranked); otherwise, Bite LA could have been a five-star event.
The Bite LA continues at Legg Lake Tuesday through Sunday until November 1. The address is 750 Santa Anita Avenue, South El Monte, CA 91733. For more information, visit: thebitela.com.
Note: It perhaps goes without saying this season, but Bite LA has been designed to be Covid-safe (though of course ticket buyers must still accept responsibility for risk of infection). Remain in your vehicle at all times. Keep windows rolled up, or keep masks on if the windows are rolled down. Monsters will approach cars but not lean in open windows. Candy is delivered from a distance. The only close contact occurs when accepting meals.