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The Empty Grave 2009 Debut – Review

From the demented mind that brought you the Haunted Cellar comes this new Halloween attraction, one of the largest single-maze haunts anywhere, offering “over 50,000 square of terror.” Having never visited the old Haunted Cellar, we cannot vouch for whether The Empty Grave Halloween attraction is truly “all new” or merely rebranded and expanded, but it does offer an entertaining, fright-filled journey through haunted shadows and fog that is unlike almost anything you would experience at any other Halloween event.

Located in the upscale Anaheim Garden Walk shopping center (a bit similar to the Century City shopping center), The Empty Grave may seem a bit out of place, but the contrast with its surroundings provides some interesting scare dividends. On weekend evenings, the Garden Walk is filled with well-dressed people heading toward a snazzy dance club a few storefronts down, and Halloween is the last thing on their minds – making them the perfect unsuspecting victims for a pair of ghouls lurking outside.

The exterior of The Empty Grave is not particularly auspicious, suggesting a tiki lounge rather than a Halloween haunt, but once you enter you are in for an immediate thrill: the “Incinerator,” a variation on the motion-simulation elevator used in other haunts (like the Factory of Nightmares at the Halloween Harvest Festival). Instead of simulating a free-fall, the room seems to be built on springs that wobble as you stumble around, and the metal flooring emits defeaning clangs with each footfall. As you look for an exit, the lights go out and you are surprised to find that you are not alone – something else lurks in the darkness. The pitch-black surroundings and the loud noise combine for an intensely claustrophobic experience.

This claustrophobia turns out to be a complete contrast with the rest of the haunt: the Empty Grave’s strength turns out to be its novel use of space. When an exit door finally opens, you are surprised to find yourself not walking into the traditional narrow corridors that comprise most Halloween mazes; in fact, it is not quite right to call The Empty Grave a maze. It consists mostly of  a large retail space decorated with tombstones and other props, dimly lit and veiled with mist. The effect is a little bit like being lost in limbo: there are no walls around you, so you are vulnerable from all directions at once, and visibility is so poor that you have no idea where the attack may originate.

A few ropes define that walkway that takes you past several settings. The most memorable area slices the sea of fog with laser beams, creating the impression that you are wading waist-deep in the mist, with the bright green light blotting out anything that may be crouching beneath the surface. As you come to the edge of the laser’s reach, there is a momentary whirl of vertigo; it almost feels as if you are stepping off into the void.

Throughout your course you are pursued by various monsters. Without clearly defined areas, they feel free to follow you almost all the way through, disappearing and reappearing at unexpected moments. The haunt allows people through in small groups, so the monsters, though relatively few in number, can concentrate all their attention on you. Eventually, you do come to a more traditional section, with walls and sets suggesting a walk through rooms haunted by ghosts unseen in the earlier section. Although less unusual, this area does provide some variety comapred to the rest of the haunt.

There is a weakness to The Empty Grave, but it’s a matter of raising the bar too high. Once you see the potential of what can be accomplished by opening a haunt up instead of shoe-horning it into a series of small corridors, the possibilities seems so magnificent that it is hard to live up to them, and you end up wanting more than the attraction can deliver. The use of empty space is effective, but it would be nice if there were several more monsters and a few more settings, maybe even a projector to throw shadows or images on the walls to suggest weird landscapes. At times we felt a little bit as if we had wandered into the “Sea of Eternal Darkness” from the end of Lucio Fulci’s THE BEYOND; we really wish The Empty Grave would take that idea and run with it as it grows, hopefully even bigger and better, in subsequent years.

So, how does The Empty Grave rate in its current form? It is definitely an unexpected and effective horror show for those who happen to be in the Garden Walk anyway, and local residents would be well advised to sample its scares. But what about Los Angeles fright fans: is The Empty Grave worth the long drive out to Anaheim? Perhaps not on its own, but it is located on the same street as the Terry Haunt, which is only a dozen or so blocks to the east, making it easy to kill two bats with one bloody stake. Also, the Magic Kingdom is practically around the corner, so after a day of family-fun at Disneyland Halloween Time, you can get some genuine scares at night.

The Empty Grave’s remaining performance dates are October 25, 28-31, and November 1. Hours are 6:30pm to 10:00pm on weekdays; 6:30pm to Midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

General Admission is $13 for one ticket, $20 for 2 tickets. A Quick Pass to the front of the line is  $20 for one, $30 for 2.

(formerly The Haunted Cellar)
Anaheim Garden Walk
321 W. Katella Avenue
Anaheim, CA 92802
Phone: (714) 496-0744
E-Mail: mike@thehauntedcellar.com
Website: www.themtgrave.com