This October looks to be a busier one than usual for me, since I'm getting married in Vegas on October 20th (!), so I'm not sure how many haunts I'm going to make it out to this year, but I will try my damnedest to see as many as possible. Here's an exhaustive look at the most promising newcomers, as well as what our perennial southern California favorites have in store for 2012, arranged by opening date:
OPENED SEPTEMBER 14:
Disneyland's Halloween Time was the first out of the gate this year, opening on Friday, September 14th. You can read my 2009 review of the park's Halloween festivities here. It looks like the attractions are pretty much the same this year as in year's past: The Haunted Mansion will be transformed into Haunted Mansion Holiday with a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay, Space Mountain becomes Ghost Galaxy, and there will be a Dia de los Muertos celebration in Frontierland. Additionally, you can view the Art of Frankenweenie exhibit over at California Adventure for a look at props and puppets used in the making of the upcoming Tim Burton movie. Halloween Time at Disneyland will probably never make you scream in terror, but it will definitely make you feel like a kid again, in the best possible way.
Tickets to Disneyland are $87 to visit one park for those 10 & up, and $125 for a one-day park hopper ticket to visit both Disneyland and California Adventure. Halloween Time runs through October 31.
OPENS SEPTEMBER 21:
Knott's Scary Farm looks to be pulling out all the stops this year in honor of the 40th anniversary of their legendary Halloween Haunt. While the Haunt will always be a favorite, in recent years I've noted that some of the mazes were becoming a little stale. But even if you're an annual visitor, Knott's seems to have a lot of surprises up their collective spooky sleeve for 2012 - starting with their mascot, the Green Witch. YAY WITCHES. There are 13 mazes and themed rides - still more than any other local haunt - including holdovers like the excellent zombie maze Virus Z, the darkly romantic Terror of London and the vibrant Dia de los Muertos maze. There's also a return to form with the gothy vampire maze Dominion of the Dead, an Evil Dead-themed Log Ride and exciting new offerings like homicidal puppet maze Pinocchio Unstrung and the Halloween-themed Trick or Treat. For an additional $60 (for a group of up to 6 guests) you can also experience Trapped, a reservation-only interactive maze that you go through sans crowds for a more intimate (albeit somewhat costly) haunt experience. Unless you're flush with cash, better bring a few friends along for that one so you can split the fee.
Tickets to Knott's Scary Farm start at $36. The Halloween Haunt runs through October 31.
Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights is the other Big Haunt in the LA area, and while it can't match Knott's in terms of seniority or volume of mazes, it has frequently surpassed it in quality of makeup, maze design and fx, and it has the arguable advantage of basing its mazes on actual movies and popular horror franchises, from A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th to Halloween and Scream. (Read my previous HHN coverage here.) I mean Jesus, they even have the Psycho house sitting there on the back lot! This year the Terror Tram (which is, in my opinion, the best part of HHN) is based on AMC's The Walking Dead, as is one of the mazes, along with Texas Chainsaw, Silent Hill, La Llorona and a new Alice Cooper maze. There is also a witch-themed scare zone, to which I again say, YAY WITCHES.
Tickets to Universal's Halloween Horror Nights start at $41. HHN runs through October 31.
OPENS SEPTEMBER 27:
One of the most intriguing new haunts (well...it's sort of a haunt, sort of a play) last year was the interactive theater experience Haunted Play presents Delusion. Guests enter a real crumbling old mansion and find themselves immersed in a terrifying plot as they dart from room to room, occasionally performing tasks or trying to escape the clutches of monsters and madmen. This year's attraction, called Haunted Play presents Delusion: The Blood Rite, has an entirely new backstory and promises to be even scarier than last year's. If you're interested in something a little different from the standard maze trudge or you'd like to see unbelievable stunts unfold right before your eyes, I highly recommend this event.
Tickets for Haunted Play presents Delusion: The Blood Rite start at $45, and the play runs through November 10.
OPENS SEPTEMBER 28:
Santa Monica's Paranoia Haunted Attraction, new for 2012, is - as far as I know - the first large-scale professional haunt to take place on the Westside. While it's exciting to think about not having to drive out to the Valley or down to Orange County for a little Halloween action, the 3 mazes at Paranoia don't sound terribly innovative in terms of content: There's a clown maze, an asylum/hospital maze and something called "Granny's Manor of Mayhem" which might be evil hillbillies (Pig's Kitchen?) but then again might be Washington Irving-inspired (Headless Horseman?). I am in no way writing off this attraction, mind you - in fact, I'm excited to find out how they fare in their first year. Definitely one to watch.
Tickets to Paranoia start at $24, and the attraction runs through October 31.
Anaheim's The Empty Grave is one of those haunts that I've always heard about, but I've never made it out to visit. Perhaps this year we can remedy that. The back story seems to center on some sort of haunted cemetery where the vengeful spirits of the dead have possessed the graveyard's groundskeeper. I kind of love the fact that there is no demented circus angle, no killer clowns with chainsaws, no slaughterhouse-dwelling inbred freaks...none of the standard haunt mainstays, just a simple cemetery overrun by the evil, evil dead.
Tickets to the Empty Grave are $13 (or two for $20), and the haunt runs through October 31.
OPENS OCTOBER 4:
Here it is, ghouls: My most anticipated haunt for Halloween 2012, the Blumhouse of Horrors. This is another brand new one. Why am I looking forward to it so much? Three reasons: First, because it takes place in the old Variety Arts Theatre in downtown LA. I love old theatres! They always have such a spooky melancholy about them. Second, because the back story centers around a "twisted dark art magician." I love magic and magicians! The darker the better! And third, because this haunt is brought to you by the producers of the films Insidious, the upcoming Sinister and the Paranormal Activity franchise. I unabashedly love found-footage horror movies, and the movies that finally dethroned Saw at the box office will always have a special place in my heart. I'll take ghost stories over torture porn any day. Bring on the Blumhouse!
Tickets for the Blumhouse of Horrors start at $29, and the haunt runs through November 3.
OPENS OCTOBER 5:
Ah, the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride. Still the only attraction of its kind in LA. I love the Hayride and its haunted carnival vibe. (Read my coverage of LAHHs past here.) This year's theme is "The Congregation," and it looks to be a prequel of sorts to past Hayrides, with a special focus on cults. Ooh, creepy cults! Love it. They also promise a longer ride than in years past, and offer guests a brand new "You will get wet!" caveat. Color me intrigued. The In-Between dark maze (much improved last year) will also be returning. If you're looking for an attraction that evokes something a little more rustic than most LA haunts, I recommend the Hayride.
Tickets for the LA Haunted Hayride start at $29 for the Hayride only, and $37 for the Hayride and the In-Between maze. The LAHH runs through October 31.
Queen Mary's Dark Harbor was a fun surprise when I visited it for the first time back in 2010, and this year will see the addition of a brand new maze, called Deadrise, as well as several new monster mascots based on the ship's ghostly lore and naval history.
Tickets for the Queen Mary's Dark Harbor start at $20 (for early entrance between 7 and 8pm, price not valid after 8pm), and the event runs through October 31.
The Reign of Terror Haunted House in Thousand Oaks is, oddly enough, one I've never experienced with the lights out and monsters roaming the corridors, although what I did see when I took a behind-the-scenes tour back in 2010 was enough to make a hugely favorable impression on me. ROT is an independently owned and operated haunt with a lot of heart and impeccable attention to gory detail. If you're in the area, you're morally obligated to attend, and if you're a little far from Thousand Oaks, believe me when I say it's worth the drive. This year's haunt features four different mazes, from the OG Victorian-style haunted house that started it all to the brand new Miner's Revenge - well worth the almost absurdly low price of admission.
Tickets to Reign of Terror are $15, and the haunted house runs through October 31.
Pasadena's Old Town Haunt is another independent maze that offers a nice alternative to the steep prices and long lines of an amusement park haunt. Taking place in an old bank vault in Old Town Pasadena, this haunt - like the Queen Mary and the Blumhouse of Horrors - boasts a location that is potentially haunted year-round, adding an extra element of creepiness to the proceedings. I've only been once, but the Old Town Haunt was one of my favorites when I went a couple of years ago, and a definite must-do if you've never been. Note: Prepare to get on your hands and knees and conquer that claustrophobia!
Tickets for the Old Town Haunt start at $15, and the event runs through October 31.
OPENS OCTOBER 12:
The Backwoods Maze in Burbank is one of the best yard haunts I've ever been to, and it's open for business again this year. It's amazing what they can do with such a small space. The maze is free, but donations are accepted, so bring a few bucks to pitch in toward their operating costs.
The Backwoods Maze is open on select nights through October 31.
OPENS OCTOBER 20:
Another amateur Halloween spectacle that truly must be seen and experienced to be believed, Boney Island was a holiday stalwart in its Sherman Oaks neighborhood for many years before it was closed down due to the complaints of a crotchety neighbor. (Boo!) Luckily, said neighbor moved and last year Boney Island was back in business! The theme of this interactive family-friendly Halloween display (it's not exactly a haunt, since it's not scary in the least) used to be a carnival populated by skeletons, but since its resurrection it's taken on a whimsical skeleton magician theme. If you're feeling at all "grinchy" about Halloween this year, a quick jaunt to Boney Island to see the skeletons in action - and the delighted reactions of spectators both young and old - will put you in the spirit immediately.
Boney Island is free, and will be open on select nights between October 20 and October 31.
OPENS OCTOBER 27:
Again, not a haunt, but an area tradition nonetheless: The annual Dia de los Muertos celebration at the always delightful Hollywood Forever Cemetery. There may not be Halloween screams, but there will be plenty of opportunity to take joy in the macabre at this always-packed event. If you're planning to go, get there early. And I mean EARLY, because parking will be impossible and the line will be insurmountable if you wait until night falls to get there. Good luck!
Hollywood Forever's Dia de los Muertos celebration will be held this year on October 27, and general admission tickets are $10 (bring exact change).
The Haunted Diary Presents: Haunted Hollow is another brand new haunt this year - at least to me, although it looks as though this isn't their first year in operation. According to the write-up on Hollywood Gothique,
The Haunted Diary promises a “classic, vintage Halloween feel” that will recreate a 1970s small town. Trick-or-Treaters will first pass through cornfields and a swamp on the outskirts. Next, they will enter the village of Paxton and encounter the victims, before proceeding inside the Dent residence and the Paxton School house."Classic, vintage Halloween feel," you say? "1970s small town," you say? I'M THERE. This Hollywood yard haunt sounds totally unique and right up my alley.
The Haunted Diary Presents: Haunted Hollow is free, but donations are accepted, and it will operate on the nights of October 27 and October 31.