You've heard me say it before: there are too many yard haunts to get to all of them in a single Halloween night. That's why we snuck out early for Part 1 of our 2007 Halloween Haunt Odyssey, in which we visited Boney Island, Malice in Wonderland, and House at Haunted Hill. Then on October 30 we headed over to Santa Monica for our first ever encounter with the House of Restless Spirits, which turned out to be one of the highlights of the season. Now we're back with a final wrap-up of this year's amateur haunts.
PRE-HALLOWEEN: HAUNT WITH NO NAME
Before boldly going forth on All Hallow's Eve, we had made a pre-emptive visit to one other favorite, The Haunt With No Name Yet. We found it to be as atmospheric and eerie as last year, when we first discovered it. The familiar props and gags were back: the somber statues, the floating candle, the spirit floating in the tomb.
There were also some new sights, including grave with a cracked stone lid that emited glowing light at intervals as a hooded monk (a statue) summoned the spirit within. A projection provided the manifestation of the ghost rising from its tomb, but the technical bugs had not quite been worked out on preview night when we dropped by. Unfortunately, time prevent a return visit to see the gag perfected.
HALLOWEEN BEGINS: WE'RE OFF TO SEE THE WICKED WITCH
When dusk finally fell on Halloween Night, we began our journey with a visit to the nearby Witch's Castle in Studio City. This is a very nice haunt for children, with tombstones and effects that are spooky but not too scary. The front yard presents a decorated cemetery, with lights that ebb and flow, plus sound effects and a few mechancial gags, like a chattering skull.
Walking down the driveway takes you past a warlock toward the front door. No candy there, just a talking skeleton chattering away. Behind him resides a fire-breathing dragon that waves its head back and forth as smoke billows around him. Moving right along the front of the house takes you to the Witch's lair, a sort of book set up toward the side of the house, complete with cauldron and other ghoulish delights. Although a trifle intimidating, the Witch is happy to hand out candy to young trick-or-treaters brave enough to approach her.
The Witch's Castle is not as elaborate as Boney Island, but it has a slightly similar feel - only in the sense that it is fairly kid-friendly. Its appealing presentation has inspired the neighbors to follow suit. Within a radius of one or two blocks you will see at least half a dozen homes with decorative lights, inflatable pumpkins, spiderwebs, mummies, and projections screens showing A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and THE CORPSE BRIDE.
The density of happy haunts makes this a wonderful neighborhood for trick-or-treaters and their parents, although we were surprised by the sight of adults in costume wandering down the sidewalk with wine goblets clasped firmly in hand. Had they filled up before going out, or was this the over-21 version of a candy bag - being refilled at every house they visited?
Next, we left the San Fernando Valley (home of so many yard haunts) behind and headed east toward Pasadena. On the busy boulevard of Orange Grove, just west of Allen Street, we found Mary and Marc Doten's haunted house: an expansive yard loaded with tombstones and decorative lights. A few sound effects enhance the cemetery feel, but the tone is mostly jokey (with gravestone markers for Bush and Michael Bolton). Passing through an arch, you take the long walk toward the house, accompanied by a silent figure in a gas mask. The front of the house is even more elaborately decorated with bones, an angle skeleton, and wafts of fog. The costumed proprietors guard the door, scaring those who look strong enough to take it but receiving the children amiably enough. Before you take your candy and leave, don't forget to glance through the front door: the inside of the house is just as haunted as the outside, including some lovely miniature pieces above the fireplace mantle. (Note: Don't bother looking for this one in 2008; it operates only on odd-numbered years).
A PAIR OF POMONA HAUNTS: PRO VERSUS PUNK
Finally, we headed out to the Pomona area (near the fairgrounds) for a pair of yard haunts. Both were amatuer efforts, performed for love of the season, but they were as different as night and day: one with the polished air of a professional production; the other laced with the adrenalin-fueld verve of a punk garage band whose wild enthusiasm eclipses the lack of technical finesse.
FULL DISCLOSER: The punk garage haunt (on Sundance Drive in Phillips Ranch) was put on by my nephews Tyler and Nicholas, so I am not the most objective critic. But I do think it fair to say that they made good use of the available space, creating a nifty little maze with just some tarp and strobe lights. Aided with masks and a chainsaw, they and their friends put on an all-stops-out performance that had the neighborhood kids running and screaming. But don't just take my word for it: a couple of "scouts" from the rival haunt around the block came through and gave a big thumbs up.
This "rival" haunt is Ghosts of Halloween, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last night and its fifth in its current location at 2 Stagecoach Drive in Phillips Ranch. The proprietor had some experience working at the Knott's Scary Farm Halloween haunt, and it shows: this yard haunt features not only a yard decorated as a cemetery but also a walk-through maze.
The maze includes several nicely done rooms. There is a room full of hanging spirits (pictured above); some are props and some are people, but it is hard to tell which is which. There is a child's bedroom with an occupant who walked with the staccato movements of an animated doll. After a few more twists and turns (each with a ghoul hiding around the corner), there is the traditional "polka dot room" (a black room painted with colored dots, occupied by a ghoul wearing a matching costume that camoflages his presence until he pounces on you) and a giant figure who leans menacingly down toward you.
It only takes a few minutes to navigate the entire maze, but it was definitely worth the drive out to Pomona. We hope the Ghosts of Halloween continue haunting for another ten years.