Friday, November 17, 2017

REVIEW: Escape Room L.A.'s The Pyramid


Photo by Benjamin Jet
It's been my experience that haunt fans usually love escape rooms. Whenever I meet someone new and they learn that I love haunts and Halloween, their next question is usually, "Do you like escape rooms too?" The truth is, I'd never been particularly intrigued by escape rooms. For some reason, I'd always imagined that I would find myself in a boring, sterile room where I would be forced to work out arcane logic puzzles - or, even worse, MATH PROBLEMS - until I either failed to escape or straight up died of boredom. It sounded like a worst case scenario corporate team-building exercise, and why would I put myself through that willingly? Yet when the invitation came to check out The Pyramid, the newest room at Escape Room L.A. downtown, I surprised myself by asking Mr. Spooky if he wanted to check it out with me. Maybe it was the fact that haunt season is officially over and I was hungry for a new immersive experience; maybe it's the fact that 2017 has felt borderline apocalyptic and has led me to take the leap into many new experiences (cutting bangs! my first tattoo! political activism!). In any case, I decided I was up to the challenge of finding the elusive Mask of the Jade Warrior.

Photo by Benjamin Jet
When we arrived, we were organized into a small group of a half-dozen people and ushered into the first room. As soon as we stepped inside, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake - not in accepting this invitation, but in avoiding escape rooms for so long. Spoiler alert: I LOVED IT. The theming, which evokes an ancient Mayan temple hidden deep in the jungle, was impeccable, giving me a chance to indulge all of the Indiana Jones fantasies I didn't even know I had. The puzzles were challenging but not impossible, and certainly not anything that involved sitting down with a piece of paper to work out equations (LOL, what was I thinking?). After we finished the first room, I was shocked - shocked! - and delighted when the wall slid aside, revealing a mysterious passageway. That's when I realized that this wasn't just an escape room, it was actually the first in a series of rooms. We weren't just solving puzzles, we were on an adventure.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Book Review - DRAWN TO THE DARK: EXPLORATIONS IN SCARE TOURISM AROUND THE WORLD by Chris Kullstroem


One of the most effective ways to combat a post-Halloween hangover, I have found, is to have some spooky stuff lined up for at least the first week or two of November. That way you'll ensure an easier transition for yourself from the scariest time of year to the merriest. For my part, I've filled the past week with activities ranging from seeing John Carpenter play live to watching Wicked Lit performed in a cemetery under a full moon to finally finishing the book I've been reading for most of October, Chris Kullstroem's Drawn to the Dark: Explorations in Scare Tourism Around the World. If you need any more evidence that this book is ideal holiday season reading for the creepily-inclined, look no further than the leering Austrian Krampuses on the hell-red cover.

Before I started this book, I expected a somewhat scholarly examination of how various cultures celebrate the macabre in all of its many forms. I thought it would be meticulously researched, painstakingly annotated, and maybe even a little dry, in the way that non-fiction books can sometimes be. Turns out I was all wrong about this book in both tone and content. Instead, Drawn to the Dark reads more like a first-person travelogue, as author Chris Kullstroem sells off her possessions and travels around the world via connections made on the Couchsurfing website, all in the name of seeking what's spooky at home and abroad.

While some of the locations she visits were what I was expecting, such as a jaunt to Mexico for the Day of the Dead or a trip to Transylvania to unravel the myth behind the Dracula legend, many others were totally unexpected, including the Hungarian Busójárás  festival, a mountaintop concert in Germany to honor Walpurgisnacht, and the "Ghostbus Tour" she takes in Ireland. Even the more standard chapters took unexpected turns: Her stay in Oaxaca for Dia de los Muertos ends in a trip to a haunt situated in an old auto junkyard, while the Krampus chapter surprised me simply because I had no idea authentic Austrian Krampus laufs were so brutal (hot tip - if you find yourself in Salzburg during the holiday season, consider investing in shin guards).

Brief descriptions of each event are provided before Kullstroem dives headfirst into celebrating with the locals, but you won't find a definitive history of any particular festival or tradition here. Rather, this book is about one American haunt enthusiast's experience of chasing spookiness all over the globe. Her Couchsurfing hosts, who tend to participate in the haunts, tours, and festivals with her, range from enthusiastic to reluctant, and it's always fun to read their perceptions of their own country's more macabre traditions. For her part, Kullstroem seems to be an incredibly good sport with an unwavering appetite for adventure, and her openness toward new experiences, from performing in haunts to hunting down zombies in a simulated battle to weathering blows from whip-wielding Krampuses, may even inspire you to step out of your own creepy comfort zone.

In her chapter on Transylvania, Kullstroem does a masterful job of balancing the lurid tale of Dracula - and the area's own Drac-centric tourist industry - with the fact that Vlad Tepes, brutal though his methods were, is regarded by many as a folk hero who protected his people from invasion by any means necessary. She visits historical sites and haunts alike, taking them both in stride and enjoying them for what they have to offer, concluding:
There was room for both, I supposed: The reality and the spectacle. One could always lead to appreciating the other - regardless of which we had been originally drawn to.
This lack of distinction between highbrow and lowbrow, between culture and kitsch, is the true crux of the book in my opinion, and what truly sets Drawn to the Dark apart from more academic tomes. Whether you're learning in a museum, paying your respects in a mausoleum, or screaming your head off in a maze, all of these experiences are facets of the same fascination with death, life, and the mysteries of mortality. All have value for those of us who delight in the darkness.

So if you need to recapture that Halloween feeling even as winter is setting in, or you're looking for a great holiday gift for that spooky someone, check out Drawn to the Dark for a unique travel diary that will delight any haunt fan.

Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book for review.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

REVIEW: Knott's Scary Farm 2017


Honestly, I had no intention of writing about Knott's Scary Farm this year. It will forever hold a special place in my heart, as the oldest and best of the southern California theme park haunts, but I also think lots of other websites, blogs, and publications offer much more in-depth coverage than I do. Plus, I thought it was just going to be another standard year at the Haunt, that I wouldn't have much to say beyond a cursory, "That was cool."

Dude. I was wrong. Because Knott's wasn't just cool this year. It was SUPER FUCKING COOL.

I had so much fun that it totally reified my love for Knott's, haunts, and even Halloween itself. If I had to point to just one reason why this happened, I could do it in two words: Dark Ride.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

REVIEW: Creep LA 2017


Our evening begins on a nondescript loading dock outside of a building in a part of downtown Los Angeles that feels miles away from the trendy bars and restaurants that have started to spring up in the area. This section of town is all concrete and asphalt and sickly yellow-green streetlights. We are herded into groups of 8 and given black bandannas to cover our mouths shortly before we enter a sparsely decorated room illuminated only by candlelight, where we wait. And wait.

And then...she enters.

I'm uncomfortable and nervous and titillated and disoriented. This can only be Creep.

Photo by Hatbox Photography

Creep LA - perhaps the most exciting new haunt I experienced during last year's haunt season - has done it again with their new iteration, a partnership with the popular podcast/Amazon Prime series Lore.  In a world full of jump scares and gore, Creep brings the slow-burn, lingering terror. This experience is not about horrific set pieces and chainsaw chase-outs; rather, it's about catching something out of the corner of your eye, connecting with an actor who is inhabiting a character so fully that you're not even sure if they're acting anymore, losing yourself in the story and surrendering completely to the darkness.

Photo by Hatbox Photography

In fact, Creep isn't really a haunt or a maze at all - it's fully immersive, interactive theater, closer in spirit to New York's Sleep No More than it is to Knott's Scary Farm or Halloween Horror Nights. You become part of the action, moving from room to room, meeting new characters, and yes, even being touched by them from time to time. (Rest assured you won't be harmed or antagonized.)

Photo by Hatbox Photography 

The fairy tales, myths and legends of Lore are a natural fit for Creep, which always prioritizes storytelling above cheap scares. While I think it's best to head in knowing as little as possible about what to expect, I'll gladly tantalize you with a few keywords: Forest. Coffin. Asylum. Seance. Lobotomy. Doll. Wolf. (And as with most of life's best experiences, the whole thing wraps up with cocktails.)



Intrigued? Don't sleep, creeps: Creep LA: Lore runs through November 12, and many dates are already sold out. Grab your tickets now before they fade into the fog.


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



Friday, September 29, 2017

REVIEW: The Queen Mary's Dark Harbor 2017


Let's get this out of the way: I was totally taco-blocked at the Queen Mary last night.

After standing in line for the better part of an hour, my haunt companion and I were super stoked for our turn at the taco bar. We were downing cocktails and rubbing elbows with the Captain. Those tacos were ours and we knew it. We were sure of it.

Alas, our taco dreams were dashed when we were unceremoniously denied in no uncertain terms. Why? Who knows! Did we ask? You bet! But no one seemed to have any information on this diabolical taco moratorium - only that it was to be strictly and immediately enforced. All I know for sure is that when we were mere steps away from our treats, we were tricked instead.

Deprived of my promised Mexican feast, I let out an insane roar of pure hanger and flipped the table, sending beans and tortillas sailing over the railing and into the inky black of the harbor below before leading my fellow Halloween bloggers on an anarchic rampage through the RIP Lounge, which we left in smoldering tatters, our final act of revenge.

Just kidding. My friend and I went and paid for food at the Muertos Morsels booth.

Spotted when we first entered the haunt, when we still believed we lived in a just and fair world in which "free tacos" were more than just an empty promise.

The "I Scream" booth. Absolutely adorable, but they were sold out of chocolate soft serve! And it was like 8:30 on opening night!

These swings from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch certainly have stories to tell.

With the great Taco Debacle safely in our rearview, our bellies blessedly full of nachos and quesadillas, we could finally begin our evening in earnest.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Get Your Tickets for Creep LA: Lore NOW


Creep Los Angeles, now in its third year, is still pretty new to the LA haunt scene, but they've certainly carved out a niche with their uniquely cinematic, elegantly terrifying immersive events. Last Halloween, Creep was one of the absolute highlights of my haunt season. I had never experienced anything quite like it. Then, this spring, the creeps of Creep emerged with an interactive theater production called The Willows - another deliciously deranged and haunting entry in their singular body of work. But what would the autumn bring? Surely they were planning a proper October haunt, yes?

Yes, indeed they had something suitably sinister up their creepy sleeves: This year, Creep LA is partnering with the popular podcast-turned-Amazon-show Lore to bring Los Angeles a "fully interactive, multi-sensory, walk-through experience" that draws on the subject matter of the show to take guests on a unique descent into their "darkest nightmares."

Grab your tickets ASAP - Creep has a nasty habit of selling out fast - by visiting their website tomorrow, September 15 at 10 AM PT. Creep LA: Lore will take place in downtown Los Angeles on select dates from October 5 thru November 12, 2017. Tickets start at $65 for a 1-hour walkthrough experience. ADULTS ONLY.

See you creeps there!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Summertime Boos: Midsummer Scream 2017



I've said it before, and I'll say it again: We are absolutely spoiled with the number of Halloween and horror festivals, celebrations and conventions that we have to choose from here in southern California, many of them taking place in the ordinarily dreary off-season. I can easily rattle off half a dozen just off the top of my head: Halloween Club's Spookshow, Monsterpalooza, Scare LA, Son of Monsterpalooza, Abracadaver's Grave Harvest...and, of course, Midsummer Scream, which took place at the Long Beach Convention Center on July 29 and 30.

Not to rub it in or anything, but if you weren't there? You missed out, man.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Shudder Double Feature: WNUF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL and GHOSTWATCH

4th of July weekend was a hot 'n muggy one here in LA, and the heat didn't let up after the sun set - at least, not in our apartment. The only thing I wanted to do was lay on the couch in the dark with the fan pointed directly at me and watch horror movies. Mr. Spooky and I finally signed up for Shudder recently, so we had our work cut out for us in terms of selection. (Look, I know we all miss the horror sections of brick and mortar video stores - their charms were undeniable - but I still can't get over how FUCKING DOPE it is to have the entire horror section in my living room, ready to watch at a moment's notice.)

SIDE NOTE: I assume I'm late to the party, but just in case - you're signed up for Shudder, right? For just $5 a month (less if you pay for the entire year at once) you get access to so many cool horror movies. As far as I'm concerned, it's already paid for itself, because that weekend we discovered two new (old) favorites via what turned out to be an ideal double feature of Halloween-set retro found footage horror: WNUF Halloween Special (2013) and Ghostwatch (1992). 


WNUF Halloween Special has been on my radar for a while, and it was one of the films I was most excited to find on Shudder. The movie is a tape-recorded broadcast of a local TV station's Halloween night programming in 1987, complete with commercials. For fans of '70s, '80s and '90s nostalgia, this is exactly the kind of gem you're always hoping to unearth every time you watch an old VHS tape you found in a thriftstore (or just click on one of Dinosaur Dracula's Retro TV Commercials posts). The period setting feels so true to life and the Halloween atmosphere is so intoxicating that it starts to feel like you're in an honest-to-god timewarp.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Spooky Self-Promotion: Discover What's "Hidden" in HelloHorror


My short story "The Hidden" is featured in the Spring 2017 issue of HelloHorror, which you can read online for free right now! Who needs ice cream during this monstrous heat wave when you can have delicious chills running down your spine instead? (Or check out my piece and the other sinister selections while eating ice cream for maximum summer enjoyment.)

Either way, stay cool, babies! October will be here before you  know it...

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

REVIEW: The Willows (From the minds of Creep Los Angeles)

Photo by Hatbox Photography

The first indication that we were in the right place was the lantern. It flickered softly on the sidewalk, on the opposite side of the street from where we'd parked our car. A man in black stood nearby, his hands clasped behind his back.

“Where did he come from?” I asked Mr. Spooky. Truly, I hadn’t seen him walk up - it was instead as if he had slowly materialized out of thin air, like mist creeping around the headstones in a graveyard. The night was warm but suddenly it felt like fall, like Halloween was just a few days away and not months in the future.

We approached. “Are you here for The Willows?” he asked.

Indeed, we were.

We stood and waited, near the lantern and its mysterious keeper, as others began to arrive in their party clothes, chatting and laughing. Suddenly, an announcement: Our ride would be here soon, to ferry us to the Willows’ family estate. Silence - and blindfolds - were mandatory for the short trip. 

Finally, our chariot: An unmarked van. I pulled the silky panel over my eyes, fastened my seatbelt, and surrendered.

Does all of this sound shady? It’s not. It wasn’t.

Photo by Hatbox Photography

The Willows is not an event that traffics in cheap thrills or jump scares. It’s not a haunted attraction, or dinner theater, or a Sleep No More-style interactive play - not exactly. It’s none of those things, and yet it’s all of them at once.

Am I being too cryptic? As with Creep - the eerie and innovative haunt that shares a creative team with The Willows - the less you know going in, the more you’ll have to discover on your own. And discovery is, after all, the fun of the thing.

Here’s what you can expect: Several hours of intriguing character development and world building from a talented cast who make you feel like you’re actually an honored guest at a bizarre and unsettling dinner party, and not an audience member or (gulp) an improv scene partner. You will be plied with drinks and food and led around a beautiful, enigmatic home full of sadness and secrets. You will be asked to give yourself over to the experience completely - to answer questions that might make you uncomfortable, to read documents you don’t quite understand, to share a dance with someone you might otherwise not have met. You will be puzzled, thrilled, tantalized, amused, and ultimately haunted by all you witness and learn during your evening with the Willows family.

If you're concerned, rest assured that you will not be harmed or humiliated. While this is not an event for a passive audience, it's also not a haunt (and even if it were, the Willows are far too classy for such crass antics!). Don’t be afraid! Observe. Converse. Engage.

Photo by Hatbox Photography
Those of you who feel that ache for October, who are counting down the days until the shadows lengthen and darkness again overtakes the light: Accept this invitation from The Willows. It is more than worth the price of admission.

Perhaps you’ll become part of the family. Perhaps, finally, you’ll come home.

The Willows are waiting to meet you. Don’t disappoint them.

All currently scheduled performances of The Willows are sold out, but more dates will be added soon. Sign up to be notified of future ticket opportunities.

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

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Get Ready for NIGHT OF THE WITCHES


Spring is in full swing, and for the spooky among us, that means that we're HALFWAY TO HALLOWEEN! That's right - this coming Sunday, April 30 is Hexennacht, aka Hex Night, aka Walpurgis Night, when witches roam the earth and the veil is thinned (at least, as thin as it's going to get outside of October). If you're in the Los Angeles area and your coven has the night off, head to the Phantom Carriage Brewery in Carson for Night of the Witches, a celebration featuring food and drink specials, a Q&A with a working mortician, an illustrated talk on the history of the holiday from Sarah Chavez and a screening of Anna Biller's florid feminist fever dream The Love Witch, one of my personal favorite films of 2016. 

For those of you who can't make it out, The Spooky Vegan has compiled an excellent list of 20 Witch Films to Watch on Walpurgisnacht. I was so excited to read this list comprised of some of my favorite movies that I felt compelled to offer up some additional suggestions of my own. Truly, you can never have enough cinematic spellcasters in your life. So from the goofy to the gruesome, here are 20 more titles to add to your witchlist:

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

NOTHING HAPPENS


A parody trailer, lovingly made to pay tribute to my favorite kind of horror movie: Ultra slow burn, leisurely paced and atmospheric. Crossing my fingers that I don’t get cease & desist emails from Eli Roth, Ti West or Fangoria!

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