Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

Last Minute GIVEAWAY: Win Tickets to Queen Mary's Dark Harbor for 10/17!

Time for a last-minute giveaway from the generous ghouls over at the Queen Mary's Dark Harbor: You can win tickets to the Dark Harbor for THIS SUNDAY, October 17th! All you have to do is come up with a scary story (in 140 characters or less) that relates to the above photo and post it here. Oh, and don't forget to mention that SPOOKY LITTLE GIRL sent ya.

Winners will be chosen by the end of the day today and tickets will be good for this Sunday's event. Good luck!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

GUEST REVIEW: Zombie Love: The Musical

I'm proud to present my very first Spooky Little Guest Post! This review of Zombie Love, the latest October offering from a theater group known locally for its annual live staging of Night of the Living Dead (read my review of last year's production here), comes courtesy of Madame Magnet, the mastermind behind Magnets de los Muertos Halloween magnetic poetry. Enjoy!
Zombie Love: The Musical

The Maverick Theater in Fullerton is always doing fun, strange, and entertaining new things. They’ve had a successful five-year run of Night of the Living Dead (my favorite show at the Maverick), and they aren’t afraid of bold moves like their recent adaptation of the Hobbit to a small stage.

This year they premiered a new musical, Zombie Love, adapted from a short student film of the same name. When I text messaged my friend to see if she wanted to go to a zombie musical, she responded Zombie musical? Like ‘Brains. Brains! Braaaiiiiiiiins!’? I’ll admit that I didn’t know what to expect from a musical zombie romance play, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The story focuses on Claudia (the girl who is in distress) and Dante (the boy who is a zombie) and their perilous journey toward love. The story invokes a little Cyrano de Bergerac since Dante pretends to be a human as he woos Claudia. Dante’s friends get in the way, and they mock him when they find out that not only does he feel bad about eating humans, he was, in his human life, a vegetarian.

The story is pretty straightforward, but the charm of Zombie Love is in the tongue-in-cheek humor, references to other musicals, and pop culture. It is funny and sweet, and the songs are good enough that I heard my musical-disliking date laughing at them. The idea of parodying a love story with zombies and then adding music is enough to win some points from me, so I was pleased that the execution exceeded my expectations. Don’t read this if you don’t like spoilers: some of the funnier gags were when they lampoon the Lion King’s Circle of Life, invoke a little West Side Story, and perform a bit of the Thriller dance.

The cast and show were both funny despite a few crackling sound problems. One character in particular, a blind, transsexual prostitute, helps Dante change his image. He was a particular stand out with his performance and appearance; he definitely stole the show.

If you like musicals, zombies, and taking a risk on a local performance of a movie you’ve never heard of, I think you’ll enjoy the hour-long show. Tickets are $10; the bar has beer, wine, soft drinks and candy for dirt-cheap prices. The staff is really accommodating, and the shows are always a bit twisted or strange.

Now that I’ve seen the stage adaptation, I want to see the movie. The DVD is also available at the Maverick if you’re curious like me. Zombie Love: The Musical runs Fridays and Saturdays at 9:30PM until October 30th; Tickets are $10.00/$5.00 with a Student ID.

-Madame Magnet

Madame Magnet writes over at blog.magnetsdelosmuertos.com, loves legitimate theater like Planet of the Apes: The Musical, and sells zombie poetry magnets.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride 2010

In 2009, my absolute favorite Halloween event was the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, then in its inaugural year. I had only seen haunted hayrides on TV, and the experience completely lived up to my expectations. (You can read my detailed review for CreepyLA if you're curious about what you missed out on last October.) I adored both the Hayride itself, which served up unexpected scares in a unique setting, as well as the whimsical feel of the Haunted Carnival, resplendent in orange and black in the rustic setting of the King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas. While I loved the old setting, I was excited to hear that the Hayride had moved to the old zoo at Griffith Park - a space that, according to L.A. legend, is genuinely haunted. Not only would the drive be more manageable, but the locale seemed ripe for Halloween mayhem. So how did the LAHH fare in its 2010 incarnation?

The first thing I noticed while driving to the new location, which is near the old merry-go-round, is how much it feels like you're in the middle of nowhere when you're really just a stone's throw from downtown. The faux traffic signs along the way, warning motorists of "OPEN GRAVES" and "PARANORMAL ACTIVITY," helped set the mood before we even got out of the car. It's nice to have the Hayride in a more accessible location without sacrificing any of the secluded atmosphere that helps define its spookiness.

The Carnival of Souls, as it's now called, has expanded since 2009, incorporating more full-size carnival rides and a greater array of refreshments, as well as a rickety-looking Ferris wheel in front of which a "Traveling Wonder Show" promised to occur at regular intervals. The freakshow murals helped set a demented, creepy mood.

I did find myself a little less enchanted with the carnival portion of the event than I was last year, simply because it seemed less uniform in its execution. Not all of the tents were orange and black, and not all of the games were specifically Halloween-themed. Still, I like the fact that the Carnival of Souls really feels like some sort of ramshackle affair that rolls into town unbidden from origins unknown - a Twilight Zone episode come to life. (Oh, and the Hoffy hot dogs are delicious.)

Apart from the carnival and the hayride itself, there is only one other attraction to speak of: A Haunted Haymaze (or "Hey! Maze," as it so cleverly calls itself). I had high hopes for this hay maze, as the one complaint I had about the LAHH last year was that the price tag was a bit steep for a mere 15-20 minute hayride. The website describes this maze as a "towering house...of lurking mayhem," and all I can say about that is, umm...not quite. Compared to last year's hay maze, which was a very small affair, I appreciate their efforts to make the walls taller and the maze itself more disorienting, but there was only one scare, and no additional attempts (lighting, fog, etc.) to set a mood. Was the Haymaze a fun little diversion on an autumn night? Yes. Was it worth the $10 (!) it costs to enter? Unfortunately not.

Finally, it was time for the Hayride itself. I'm not sure whether we just got lucky last year, but I remember our tractor driver being part of the show - riling up the crowd, cracking jokes and generally adding to the party atmosphere. This year, we received a brief intro before departing, but our driver stayed silent. As we passed through the gates, the first "scare" we encountered was a staff member who appeared to be attempting to fix a fog machine - not quite the terror I was expecting. But a few minutes later, the ride began in earnest.

You'll see almost all of your favorites from last year (although the headless motorcycle rider is, sadly, missing), along with a few impressive new additions. My favorite was the massive Angel of Death set piece, and the way the old zoo's empty cages have been incorporated into the asylum scenes. The deserted playground/creepy children scene was another winner; I especially appreciate how the ghouls at the Hayride are allowed to move at their own pace rather than aggressively charging at you again and again. Note to haunt organizers everywhere: A little boy with a burlap sack on his head trudging slowly down the road towards you can be just as terrifying as a psycho charging with a chainsaw! Yet just as the Hayride seemed to be truly hitting its stride, it was all over - and rather suddenly at that. There was no big finish or definitive ending to the scares; they just sort of...tapered off.

I'm still a huge fan of the L.A. Haunted Hayride, and I think Los Angeles is lucky to finally have its own take on such an iconic October event. But I also think that this year's Hayride felt somewhat incomplete - like perhaps the organizers learned that they would be able to host the event at the Griffith Park location without much advance notice and had to scramble to make everything work in an unfamiliar setting. I also maintain that the LAHH should either lower ticket prices or (preferably) add a little something to enhance the value of the event for guests. A more involved walk-through maze (included in the ticket price) or just another 15 minutes or so added to the Hayride would work wonders. The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride has a great deal of promise, and I hope it will be back again - and better than ever - in October 2011.

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride (running now through October 31st) takes place at Griffith Park's Old Zoo, 4730 Crystal Springs Ave., Los Angeles. Tickets are $25-30 general admission (hayride/carnival only), $35-40 for an all attractions pass (hayride/haymaze/carnival) and $50-60 for VIP admission (all attractions + front of the line). Group discounts are available and coupons can be found at Gelson's Supermarket and Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt. See the website for detailed information regarding specific dates and times.

Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary passes to review this event.

Haunt Preview: Reign of Terror (RoT) in Thousand Oaks

It seems like every Halloween season there is one haunt that really surprises me with its utter awesomeness. A few years ago, it was Halloween Horror Nights at Universal. I hadn't been since I was a kid and I wasn't expecting the pure, unadulterated terror - of course, I now know that HHN is the gold standard when it comes to L.A. area haunted attractions. Last year, it was the L.A. Haunted Hayride. And this year, the honor goes to the Reign of Terror Haunted House in Thousand Oaks.

I've heard amazing things about this haunt, and was particularly intrigued by the fact that the RoT actually started out as an amateur yard haunt at owner Bruce Stanton's house. A couple of years ago, Bruce partnered with the city, and the RoT Haunted House is now presented in conjunction with the city of Thousand Oaks. The haunt runs on volunteer labor and, after costs have been covered, the proceeds from ticket sales go to local community groups.

This year, the Reign of Terror will take place in the Janss Marketplace, a rather nondescript suburban strip mall. As I parked, I wondered if this haunt was all that it was cracked up to be - but the moment we set foot inside, I was blown away.

The decor and attention to detail at the Reign of Terror are absolutely amazing - second to none, and I'm including Universal in this equation. Bruce and his team of volunteers have crammed every inch of the 6,000-square-foot maze with vintage furniture and old medical equipment, lovingly constructed set pieces and animatronic creatures, lighting and sound effects and more. Keep in mind that the RoT was still under construction when I visited, and that it was the middle of the day and there were no monsters in the maze - just a few workers eating their lunch and discussing plans - and yet it was still terrifying! I'm not kidding when I say that, on our little self-guided, lights-on tour, there were a few rooms that I actually hesitated to enter.

This year, the RoT actually features two mazes: The haunted house, and a subsequent visit to an insane asylum. Both feel exceptionally long and claustrophobic - qualities that any haunted house aficionado will tell you are essential when it comes to setting the mood for terror. But, as I said, the real beauty of this attraction lies in the impeccable detail work. You can tell that the team behind the Reign of Terror are committed to giving guests the best - i.e., scariest - experience possible, and that they will stop at nothing to make sure every last gruesome element is in its place.

Despite the fact that I haven't yet experienced the maze with all of its lighting, sound effects and actors in place, I'm still giving the Reign of Terror my highest recommendation. It's worth the drive to Thousand Oaks from L.A. proper - you will not be disappointed.

The RoT Haunted House is located at 197 N. Moorpark Rd. in Thousand Oaks, on the second floor of the Janss Marketplace (above Gold's Gym). It will be open for 9 nights in October: 15-16, 22-24 and 28-31. General admission is $13, and front of the line passes are $20. For $3 off the price of admission for everyone in your group, become a fan of the Reign of Terror on Facebook and print out this coupon.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fright Fair ScreamPark at the Halloween Harvest Festival

Photo by Yvonne K. Kleiman

It's not something that I have an opportunity to talk about a lot here on Spooky Little Girl, as most of my reviews center specifically on horror movies and haunted attractions, but I really, really love me a good pumpkin patch. Not only are pumpkins themselves the most perfect fruit (vegetable?) imaginable - delicious, nutritious and absolutely adorable to boot! - but visiting a pumpkin patch is an activity so quintessentially autumnal that it simply can't happen at any other time of the year. As much as I love pumpkin patches, they're a little hard to come by in L.A., and when you do find them they tend to be rather small, understated affairs - which is part of why I was so thrilled to check out this particular event.

The Fright Fair ScreamPark that takes place as part of Pierce College's annual Halloween Harvest Festival out in Woodland Hills has the small town ambience of a classic pumpkin patch/harvest fest/Halloween carnival, and if you're looking to get away from the urban vibe of L.A. proper for a few hours, it's the perfect destination. There are rides, games, carnival foods, kids' crafts, farm-grown produce and lots and lots of pumpkins - not to mention 3 different mazes, each with its own distinct theme and feel. Here are my thoughts on each one:
  • The Factory of Nightmares: This somewhat rickety haunted house is what you wish the spook house at the county fair could be. You can tell it was put together by hand, but that doesn't diminish the feeling of terror when you first step inside the darkened antechamber to listen to the Haunted Mansion-esque introduction that welcomes you to the Factory. You are then escorted by your eager host into an elevator that will plunge you into the depths of your worst nightmares. The fx makeup and caliber of acting by the performers that populate the Factory - most of whom looked to be still in high school - are far better than what you might expect from the Fright Fair's rather modest exterior. (In fact, in all 3 mazes, I felt that the acting surpassed what you'll find at the larger commercial haunts.) Watch out for crazed lunatics, killer clowns and demonic cheerleaders as you wind your way through this very long - and at times genuinely disorienting, thanks to darkness, fog and strobe effects - maze.
  • Creatures of the Corn: If there's one thing that's even more difficult to come by than a great pumpkin patch in L.A., it's an actual corn maze. I'd never been in one before, so I was excited to take the plunge. A huge animatronic gargoyle guards over the entrance, but a living scarecrow (with a rather "corny" sense of humor) will guide you in safely. Once you're in, you're on your own. The stalks of corn reaching toward the sky on either side of you make it impossible to tell where you are - or how much further you have to go in the maze. Scarecrows, demented hillbillies and other creatures pop out at you periodically, taking advantage of the natural camouflage offered by the cornstalks. And, yes, there are chainsaw scares in this maze - in fact, when you first pull up to the Fair, the sounds of chainsaws revving and people screaming may be the first thing you hear. Like the Factory before it, this maze also felt quite long, and it offered a different experience than any of the mazes offered by the major haunts I've visited. Essentially, it's like the Cornstalkers maze at Knott's writ large.
  • Insane Reaction: I believe this maze is a new addition to the Fright Fair, and compared to the other two, it seems somewhat slight. However, Insane Reaction boasts one advantage over its fancier brethren: It's an actual maze, in the sense that you actually have to find your own way through. Basically just a labyrinth of metal bars arranged in a serpentine pattern, matters are further confused by periodic blasts of thick fog and some blood-spattered fellow wanderers - mental patients and murderous doctors alike - who will taunt and tease you as you try to find your way out. My time in Insane Reaction did teach me one rather valuable lesson: Turns out I'm terrible at finding my way out of mazes!
Of the three, I think Creatures of the Corn was my favorite, simply because it was a corn maze. If you've been in corn mazes before and the novelty has worn off, the Factory of Nightmares is probably your best bet. The Fright Fair offers variable pricing, which is great if you don't want to walk through all of the mazes: It's $12 for one maze, 2 for $20 or all 3 for $25 (plus an extra $10 if you want to cut to the front of the line).

While the Fright Fair ScreamPark doesn't offer the most over-the-top, high-octane gross-out scares, it is a great family-friendly option, and one that is unique to Los Angeles. Where else can you take the kids to pick out a pumpkin, munch on some kettle corn, purchase homemade jams...and end the night being chased by a maniac with a chainsaw?

The Fright Fair ScreamPark at the Pierce College Halloween Harvest Festival takes place now through October 31; see the official website for details on dates, times and pricing. The Festival is located at 20800 Victory Blvd., Woodland Hills, CA. Parking is free.

Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary passes to review this event.

Friday, October 8, 2010

THIS WEEKEND: See "The Haunted Castle" at a Haunted Castle

Ghost Hunters of Urban Los Angeles and the EPFC Filmmobile are presenting a special FREE screening of F.W. Murnau's The Haunted Castle on Sunday, October 10th at 7:30 PM at a secret location to be disclosed tomorrow. (Hint: It will be at an actual haunted castle!)

They've already shown Haunted Honeymoon underneath the Hollywood sign, and every Sunday in October, GHOULA and EPFC will be screening a different haunting film in a different haunted location in Los Angeles. Visit the blog for more information on this and other upcoming screenings, or RSVP to the Facebook invite - and don't forget to check back within 24 hours of the screening to find out where you're going on Sunday!

UPDATE: The secret location for Sunday's screening has been announced! The Haunted Castle will be shown at Castle Park Mini-Golf in Sherman Oaks.

Update: Pumpkin Pie Pop Tarts

Just wanted to let you know that, yes, Pumpkin Pie Pop Tarts exist - this is real life! You can find them in the Halloween section at Target, right by the pumpkin patch sprinkles and Halloween Funfetti cake mixes. Skip the Choc-o-Lantern ones (cute, but nothing to write home about in the taste department) and fill your arms with these instead. They are, unsurprisingly, delicious. Hope they become an annual autumn fixture! Are you listening, Kellogg's?

So have you tried any other limited edition Halloween and/or pumpkin goodies yet this year? Do share!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Knott's Scary Farm 2010

If you grew up in southern California (or you've lived here for any length of time), you're familiar with the venerable Halloween institution that is Knott's Scary Farm; it's a legend in the annals of of L.A. area haunted attractions. Every haunt tries to carve out its own niche, and there are two main factors that sets Knott's apart from the rest: It's the oldest. And the biggest.

In fact, this is the Haunt's 38th (!) year, and it boasts 13 different mazes, in addition to 3 scare zones and 7 shows. Compare that to the 5 mazes each at Universal and the Queen Mary and you're beginning to understand just how much Knott's overwhelms the competition in terms of quantity. But how do the mazes fare when it comes to creepy content? Here is my breakdown of each maze, ranked from best to worst:
  1. Virus Z: There were only 3 new mazes this year, but 2 of them are at the very top of my list, with this awesome zombie maze claiming the top spot. The plot is simple: A mysterious virus has ravaged the '50s-era town of Pleasanton, and the infected have laid waste to everything in their path, from the diner to the tattoo parlor to the school playground. This was basically a zombie movie come to life, and everyone in our group agreed that this was one of the best of the night - and, in my opinion, the best take on the zombie theme that Knott's has ever done. Bravo!
  2. Sleepy Hollow Mountain: Another brand new maze for 2010, this one isn't a walkthrough - it's the new Log Ride overlay, replacing the (very tired) Pyromaniax. I don't think I've seen such a masterful use of the Log Ride since Red Moon Massacre - and truthfully, I like this even better. The theming and decor are both fantastic. I loved the dozens of glowing jack o'lanterns suspended from the ceiling just before you make your ascent up the final hill before the watery plunge.
  3. Labyrinth: A maze that seeks to enthrall and enchant rather than startle or disgust. Visitors find themselves in "the dark catacombs that lie beneath a ruined castle," where they'll encounter otherworldly creatures and demented aristocrats dressed like they're attending a masquerade gone horribly awry. Again, not the scariest maze, but very beautiful and different.
  4. Cornstalkers: I've gathered that some Haunt visitors find this maze a little boring, but I personally love it. Nothing says "fall" quite like a corn maze complete with demonic scarecrows. This year, Cornstalkers ends in a barn that boasts a uniquely intimidating inhabitant. Nice touch!
  5. Dia de los Muertos: Another favorite of mine, simply because the Mexican "Day of the Dead" isn't the most common theme for a maze, yet it totally works. I loved walking through the day-glo cemetery with its altars and offerings, and the 3D effects give it a surreal, dreamlike quality.
  6. Terror of London: The Jack the Ripper maze! The fog machines are out in full effect here, and the costumes and settings are fantastic. From the streets of London and the gaudy bedrooms of a bordello to Highgate Cemetery and a mad doctor's laboratory, this really is a little piece of England right in the middle of Buena Park. A must-see for fans of classic monster movies.
  7. The Doll Factory: I used to love this maze because it was such a cool original theme: The Marionette Murderer turns his victims into dolls. Unfortunately, after several years, that theme is beginning to feel a bit tired. If you've never seen it before, it's still awesome - but adding a few twists next year for Haunt regulars would be much appreciated.
  8. Club Blood: I still prefer my vampire mazes to skew gothic, so it's time for my annual cry of, "Bring back Lore of the Vampyre!" But I have to admit that I had fun at Club Blood this year. It still boasts the single best gross-out sight gag in the park (vampire baby birth scene, anyone?) and there was a special thrill lurking in the shadows in the very last room that actually elicited a shriek from me and one of my friends.
  9. Lockdown - The Asylum: Not to sound like one of those people who always complains about how the old mazes were better, but...the old Asylum maze was better. Remember when the Asylum had that room full of empty, blood-spattered hospital beds? Now THAT was chilling. Imagine Shutter Island, but with more gore. Lockdown leaves those subtle yet disturbing scares behind for a more aggressive, prison-break vibe that is less to my liking. I still enjoy this maze, but I prefer it in its former incarnation.
  10. Fallout Shelter: This is the third new maze for 2010, and the least exciting of the three. It's kind of like Virus Z, but with zombies instead of mutants. Lots of vats oozing radioactive green goo. Sorta/kinda 3D, but not really. I don't have any specific complaints about this maze - it just wasn't the most memorable.
  11. The Slaughterhouse: Perhaps we just happened to hit the Slaughterhouse at an off-point during the night (it was the last maze we visited before leaving the park), but it seemed severely underpopulated by monsters to me. And where was the chainsaw?! I always expect a chainsaw scare in the hillbilly/backwoods maze, and the Slaughterhouse didn't deliver this year! It still nails the dirty, unpleasant Texas Chain Saw Massacre meets Motel Hell vibe though.
  12. Uncle Bobo's Big Top of the Bizarre: The final 3D maze. What can I say? I'm just not that big on scary clowns. For those who are (or who have never been to the Haunt), I'm sure this maze offers some perverse, demented thrills, but as for me, I keep wishing they would revamp the clowns - or do away with them entirely. I stand by the suggestion I made last year: Turn Uncle Bobo's Big Top into a scary carnival with freaks and sideshow performers in addition to murderous clowns, and it could be one of the best in the park! On the bright side, there was far less toilet humor than in years past, for which I am grateful.
  13. Black Widow's Cavern: The Mine Ride overlay. This isn't at the bottom of the list for any specific shortcoming; I just feel like it squanders both the spider theme (remember the Kingdom of the Spiders walkthrough maze?) and the Mine Ride's scary potential (remember when the central room in the mine used to house a massive fire-breathing dragon instead of a big spider who just sits there listlessly?).
As for the scare zones, my favorite was Necropolis, which plays on steampunk/vampire imagery - in fact, I even preferred it to my usual favorite, the classic Ghost Town. I mean, there was a stilt walker! How can you beat that? And, unfortunately, I still feel like Carnevil isn't living up to its potential - just a few scattered clowns here and there and minimal additional reinforcement of the theme. I can't speak to the quality of the shows, because I haven't watched one - with the exception of the Hanging, which I tend to catch glimpses of while waiting in line - since the Haunt's Elvira days. (For the uninitiated, the Mistress of the Dark used to host a fabulously campy stage show at the Charles M. Schulz Theatre in the park.)

I'll conclude this review much the same way I concluded my assessment of the 2009 Haunt: If you've never been to the Haunt at Knott's - or you haven't gone in several years and you're totally unfamiliar with the mazes that comprise the first half of the above list - it's time to buy your ticket and hit the Scary Farm. As for the rest of us regulars, a visit to the Knott's Berry Farm Halloween Haunt is still a great time...but a bit more fresh blood would be fantastic for 2011.

Knott's Berry Farm's Halloween Haunt takes place now through the end of October; see the official website for details, including specific dates and times. Tickets are $33-56, and parking is $15-20.

Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary passes to review this event.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Old Town Haunt (Pasadena) 2010

What if I told you that one of the very best haunts in southern California was in the bottom of a rather unassuming building in Old Town Pasadena - and that admission will cost you less than 20 bucks? It may sound implausible, but it's true: Forget theme parks and multi-maze affairs - Pasadena's Old Town Haunt has the most heart...and what a blackened, shriveled, evil heart it is!

I've been to quite a few haunted attractions in my day, from the venerable, time-tested Halloween institutions to the rickety yet spirited yard haunts, and - I'm not going to lie - I've loved them all to varying degrees. But I don't think I've ever been in a haunted house that took quite as many risks as the Old Town Haunt.

Fun as they may be, there is one major shortcoming when it comes to mainstream, amusement park-set haunts: They are entirely too safe. You never get truly lost in the mazes. You never think the monsters are actually going to hurt you. The darkness may be intimidating, but it's never absolute. Not so with the Old Town Haunt! This is, hands down, one of the best mazes I've ever experienced. In fact, it actually gave me nightmares. Yes, friends, it's true...I may be a Spooky Little Girl, but I'm also a giant weenie when it comes to mazes, and this one literally haunted my dreams.

From the outside, it's not much to look at - just a table and a couple of folding chairs where you'll buy your tickets, and a line in which you're forced to listen to the Haunt's few house rules (to wit: Don't punch the monsters in the face, and no chicken refunds). Housed in the bottom of the old bank building at the corner of Raymond and Colorado, the first thing you'll do after you walk inside is go downstairs. And it's dark down there. And you won't be alone.

But, fortunately, you'll be close to alone. If you've ever hated the pushy-pushy-shovey-shovey of going through a crowded maze with a bunch of annoying strangers, you'll love the fact that the Old Town Haunt staggers visitors, which makes the maze a much more intimate - and frightening - experience. The setting is incredible - the walls are made of stone, not painted plywood, you're underground, and it has the feel of an actual haunted building. In fact, the (presumably embellished?) backstory of the old bank building provides the groundwork for the Haunt's somewhat loose theme.

Yet this maze isn't about theme or even setting - it's about the close, personal attention you'll get from the monsters. You'll be taunted, tricked, misled and mocked. In the darkness, you'll hear them whispering and screaming. They'll force you onto your hands and knees into a pitch-black tunnel (note: an alternative route will be provided if you're unable to crawl), and just when you think you're almost done, you'll realize that you've been wandering in circles for the past five minutes. How can other haunts hope to compete with that level of commitment?

My boyfriend, who accompanies me to all of these events, is ready to declare this humble little maze the best he's ever experienced, hands down. I'm still holding out to see what the rest of October will bring, but one thing is certain: If you have the opportunity to visit the Old Town Haunt, do. You'll definitely get your money's worth...unless you're never heard from again.

The Old Town Haunt runs now through the end of October. Admission is $14 ($19 Fast Pass) or $16 ($21 Fast Pass) on Halloween weekend. Visit the official website for more information, including specific dates and times.

Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary passes to review this event.

Queen Mary's Dark Harbor - TICKET GIVEAWAY!

If my review of the Queen Mary's Dark Harbor Halloween event has properly whetted your appetite for screams by the sea, then good - I've done my job! But don't worry, I won't leave you high and dry...you can enter to win FREE TICKETS to the Dark Harbor, and all you have to do is bust out your best Dorothy Parker and come up with a witty caption to the above photo. Tweet your funniest one-liners to @TheQueenMary on Twitter - and don't forget to include a link to this blog post so they know where you're coming from! (Hint: Use bit.ly to shorten URLs.)

Here's a step by step of how to enter to win your FREE tickets to the Queen Mary's Dark Harbor:
  1. Come up with a funny caption for the above photo.
  2. Post it on your Twitter account. The beginning of your Tweet should say @TheQueenMary.
  3. Include a link to this blog post. (Use bit.ly so the URL doesn't take up too much space.)
EXAMPLE: "@TheQueenMary This cruise wasn't as relaxing as we thought it would be! http://bit.ly/bbrntV" (Okay, okay, not terribly witty...but you get the idea. And make sure your URL points to this specific post!)

Got it? Go! Your submissions must be sent in by 5 PM on Thursday, October 7th. Good luck!

The Queen Mary's Dark Harbor 2010

The ship looms above you, silhouetted ominously against the autumn sky. A hellish maze of cargo containers topped with a tower that periodically spews flames into the air confuses and disorients you. You flee to the safety of the village, only to be cornered time and again by demons hungry for your flesh. Your only possible refuge is the ship - the Grey Ghost - and, once on board, you realize that there is no salvation to be had; there is only fire, water, disease and death. Welcome to the Queen Mary's Dark Harbor.

Your potential enjoyment of Long Beach's newest haunted attraction hinges on the following: Does the above description sound like an utter nightmare or a fun Friday night? If your answer is the latter, then you're bound to have a spooky good time at the Dark Harbor. Let me begin by saying that if you've never visited the Queen Mary, that's reason enough to buy your tickets now. The ship, with its Art Deco interiors and numerous ghost stories, is beautiful and eerie, and you'll have ample chance to explore once you're finished with the Halloween-specific mazes and attractions.

As mentioned, 2010 marks the very first incarnation of the Dark Harbor. There have been previous haunts on and around the Queen Mary (most recently known as the "Shipwreck" for Halloween), but this is their first attempt to create a completely immersive experience that incorporates everything this unique setting has to offer - not just the ship itself, but the harbor, village and even the massive dome that once housed the Spruce Goose. The Dark Harbor also seeks to set itself apart from other area haunts by creating an overarching storyline that links all of the mazes together, rather than simply throwing together a bunch of disparate Halloween tropes and calling it a night.

While I greatly admire this sentiment, it has to be said that some aspects of the Dark Harbor succeed better than others when it comes to sticking to themes. For instance, the three mazes onboard the ship address specific fears that many people have when it comes to sea travel, such as disease outbreaks, drowning and fire. Yet the whole "three she-demons" idea - while cool in theory - was a little hard to follow. (Basically, there is one demon who lords over the ship, one who commands the village and one who controls the ruined seaport as a whole.) How do these demons tie into the mazes themselves? I'm not entirely sure...but I have to say that momentary confusion did little to dim my enjoyment of the event as a whole. Here are my thoughts on each of the five individual mazes:

  1. Village of the Damned: I absolutely adored the setting for this maze, which takes place in the little Tudor village near the ship. It had a very Old World feel, which reminded me of the classic Universal monster movies, and many twists and turns to keep you on your toes. There was a good combination of monsters jumping out at you and tortured souls telling you frantically to "turn back now!" Perhaps not the strongest thematically, but in terms of ambiance, a definite winner.
  2. The Cage: This is the maze that takes place in the Spruce Goose dome, which truly must be seen to be believed in terms of size. (At several points during the maze, I thought to myself, "How are we not outside?!") The objective with the Cage was to scrap any attempts at theme and instead give visitors a more tactile and purely disorienting experience - think mirrors, optical illusions, colored lights and chain-link fences. Unfortunately, this was my least favorite maze of the night. However, I do think that this maze could be improved as the event continues to grow and the kinks are ironed out in the years to come. At this point, though, it simply left me wanting more - and eager to check out the next themed maze.
  3. Containment: One of the three onboard mazes, Containment is populated by the diseased, the demented and the undead. As you snake your way through the ship, you'll encounter madness, mutilation and mayhem as people reach out to you from hospital beds and chase you in their wheelchairs. I enjoyed this maze, but of the three on the ship, I found it to be the least frightening.
  4. Hellfire: Ah, now we're talking! When we attended on Friday, this maze - which imagines the deadly consequences of a fire on board the ship - was apparently a little too on point. While we were waiting in line, the fire alarms began to sound. At first we assumed it was all part of the show, but then we were evacuated from the area! I'm not sure whether there are supposed to be massive pyrotechnic effects in this maze - I got the impression that perhaps that was the case - but in any event, there weren't many flames by the time we went through. (I'm sure the special effects are back on track by now; after all, we went on opening night, so a few hiccups are to be expected.) Still, Hellfire was one of my favorites. If you have a fear of heights, as I do, there is a special thrill waiting for you near the end of the maze. Mwahaha.
  5. Submerged: My favorite! I loved this maze. It was the last one we went through, and in my opinion, the best of the night. What could be scarier than a sinking ship? I loved the dank feel of walking through the bowels of the ship as animatronics and water effects simulated various scenes of aquatic torment. Submerged also holds a special place in my heart because it takes you through the first class swimming pool, an area which is rumored to be one of the most haunted parts of the ship. I've been to the Queen Mary several times, but never managed to get myself into the pool area until now, and the creepy payoff was well worth it. The ghostly projections on the bottom of the empty pool are a nice touch.
In addition to the mazes, there is a "scare zone" of sorts known as the Barricades, which is composed of the aforementioned cargo containers, stacked four stories high and topped with the Hell's Bells Tower that shoots flames 20 feet into the air. The Barricades compose an open maze of sorts, thick with fog and rife with monsters. Along the perimeter you'll find food and drinks, as well as the ghoulishly themed Night Mariner's Bar - watch for the unfortunate swimmer who attempted to cut his way out of the giant shark that consumed him - and a stage that presents nightly entertainment from local bands. The Dark Harbor even offers its own Halloween cocktail, a tasty red rum-based beverage called a Bloody Shipwreck.

The Queen Mary's Dark Harbor may not be the most sophisticated haunt in southern California just yet, but it's an excellent alternative for haunt enthusiasts who may be looking for a change from their standard Knott's/Universal October jaunt - and it's a deliciously spooky introduction to the ship itself. I predict that the Queen Mary will be providing serious competition for the Halloween big boys in no time.

The Dark Harbor takes place on weekends now through the end of October, from 7 PM to 12 midnight. Tickets are just $25 with a valid student ID, and during their "Sea Evil Savings Weekends" (Oct. 8-10 and 15-17) general admission will be lowered to $29. Parking is $10. For more information, visit the official website.

Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary passes to review this event.


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