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.
The 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.