The Spooky House Halloween Haunt has become such an established tradition around Halloween time that reviewing it on an annual basis is almost redundant. There is a continuity of talent from year to year,and a consistency of quality, so that, if you have enjoyed it in the past, you pretty much know that you will enjoy it in the future.
Because of this, we neglected to review the 2006 installment of Spooky House until October 31, while we spent the early weeks of the season tracking down other haunts. In 2007, we once again find ourselves catching up with Spooky House late in the season and wishing we had gone earlier.
During the previous two years (read a 2005 review here), Spooky House was ensconced in an abandoned movie theatre that did not live up to its previous location, which consisted of three separate, permanent structures in a mall parking lot. 2007 finds Spooky House in yet another location, this one featuring a return to some of the glories of the past.
The Chatsworth location features an impressive facade (built over a warehouse structure) that resembles the old Spooky House we used to know and love. This revives one of the distinctive features of Spooky House: it's a Halloween haunt that actually looks like a haunted house from the outside.
Within this structure lie two mazes that run continuously (you only have to wait in line out front once). The first is the Spooky House 18 "Haunted Mansion (subtitled "Franklin's Revenge"); the second is the Darkwater Asylum." As in the old days, you get the feeling of moving through a variety of environments. The very first room - tall and wide, suggesting an ancient mansion - immediately sets the eerie tone, creating the illusion that you are indeed in a haunted house, not just inside a cardboard labyrinth.
There are some slim corridors that feel similar to what you would experience at your average haunt, but these passageways connect a series of larger rooms that are very nicely decorated. Of course the sets are not as detailed as what you see at Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights, but there are some nice touches, such as the waterfall with a monster that lunges out from behind the water (leaving you to wonder how many times a night he can do that without ruining his makeup).
Placing the two mazes back-to-back, without interruption, creates a lengthy scare-fest that makes you feel you got your money's worth; you're not in and out in five minutes, wondering why you waited in line for half an hour.
What is really impressive for a maze of this length is how densely populated it is. There's a ghouls around every corner and a scare in every room - sometimes more than one. There are a few nice mechanical effects - a body that looks like an inert prop - until it lunges upward suddenly - but most of the scares rely on good, old-fashioned acting.
There are some new touches to go along with the new location. Most notably, the familiar mad scientist character is gone, replaced by a mad magician (played by the same actor) who runs through a handful of tricks laced with suggestive jokes before allowing your to begin your trek through the rest of the house.
Some of your old favorites are back again, including the Wicked Witch of the West, who blocks your path while she threatens you with her malevolence. As with the magician at the beginning, this is a nice way of forcing the audience to stop and savor the haunt, instead of simply rushing from room to room while dodging monsters.
Of course, the big question is: Can a stand-alone haunt deliver the goods for Halloween fans already sated on the scares available at Universal, Knott's Scary Farm, and the Queen Mary Shipwreck? Our answer is an enthusiastic yes, based not only on our own personal opinion but also on that of our fellow haunt-goer who opined that - even after visiting multiple mazes at that major theme parks this year - Spooky House still ranks as the best and the scariest.
Spooky House is open Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (Halloween), plus Friday and Saturday, November 2 and 3.