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Compared to the other large-scale haunted attraction events in Southern California, Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor is the new kid on the block. While there have been haunts hosted at the Queen Mary for quite some time, Dark Harbor and its very specific theme and character roster has only been there for 6 seasons. Aging like a fine wine, I’d have to say that 2015 was my favorite so far for Dark Harbor; it is maturing and coming into its own so nicely, that many fans are declaring it to be their favorite “theme park haunt” for numerous reasons.
The Queen Mary is, as I have said in the past, arguably the most unique setting for a large-scale haunt event anywhere in the world. With an established history of paranormal activity and ghoulish happenings, having some of Dark Harbor take place on the actual ship itself is worth the price of admission right off the bat. The more recent “dark carnival” element that has been added to the surrounding area – has been embraced and lauded by fans from far and near for the most part. The combination of haunted passenger ship and twisted carnival is so strange that it works – it works beautifully together, and is pulled off by an unparalleled cast of original characters; home-grown intellectual properties (IP) that have amassed huge popularity in just a few years; more so than any other haunt we’re familiar with here in Southern California.
Fans of Theme Park Adventure no doubt have noticed that we’ve wholeheartedly embraced the new technology of broadcasting via Periscope. We’ve used it to cover media events, take viewers around the world on virtual strolls around theme parks, have late-night nerdy conversation, and more recently, visited Halloween events and chatted in real-time with designers and haunters all over Southern California.
In the event you aren’t yet aware of what Periscope is, it’s an app for both Android and iPhone that allows people to broadcast – and watch live broadcasts – anywhere in the world, as well as interact with the host via on-screen messages and “hearts” – by tapping on the screen during any stream (live or replay), folks watching can express their approval or enjoyment, unleashing a torrent of colorful hearts that correspond with the background color each viewer is assigned when they “join” the broadcast. It can be viewed on computer screens, but for now, that’s only for viewing – all interactive elements are stripped; it’s best to use your phone for the full Periscope experience.
Each Halloween season, Boot Hill rises from the grave and brings Old West terror and mayhem to the otherwise-friendly streets of Woodbridge in Irvine, California. One of the most elaborate home haunts in the Southland, Boot Hill is a visually stunning mixture of high-tech spookery and good old-fashioned jump scares that is family-friendly and can be toned up or down on the fly, depending on the age of visitors.
I have a hand in the legacy of Boot Hill; I co-created it with Shea Foley more than 15 years ago, writing its back story and developing the look and directing the custom soundtrack that was done for us by my long-time pal, the insanely talented Andy Garfield. Back then, it was pretty much unheard of for home haunts to have custom scores written – however, it was something we all just wanted to do; it felt like the right thing to do, to support the story. In a lot of ways, I think Boot Hill was ahead of the home haunt curve, taking its cue from the legendary Hallowed Haunting Grounds that existed once upon a time in Studio City, California.
There are a very small handful of home haunts in Southern California that take on the daunting task of re-inventing themselves each Halloween season. Perdition Home in Yorba Linda is one of those – and we absolutely love this team of haunters.
By definition, “perdition” is a state of eternal damnation – punishment after death for sinners and evildoers. In the terms of this home haunt, that perdition takes on the form of a maze – nightmarish in content, with violent, really unsettling scenes that reveal themselves to guests traversing each twisted hall and corridor.
The New Orleans-based House of Shock Haunted House and Halloween Festival is back for its 23rd installment, presenting The Resurrection. Originally set to close the doors after the 2014 season, The House of Shock has been given new life thanks to a spirited response from the local community. The House of Shock is open through Halloween night.
For 2015, The House of Shock presents The Resurrection brings two new terror-inducing events to New Orleans. The Bordello of Freaks is an all new attraction in the style of old carny freak exhibitions with a House of Shock twist. Laff in the Dark is an all-out 3D clown assault: a nod to old school fun houses, specifically the Pontchartrain Beach Fun House of the same name. Clown-a-phobics beware, as Laff in the Dark has more scares per square foot than any other event of its kind. Additionally, The House of Shock’s main attraction has been carefully renovated to create a whole new experience that still holds true to the classics that made it unique. This may be best represented by the immense, brand new entrance constructed to pay homage to the infamous LeBeau Mansion – the Arabi plantation home that burnt down in 2013.
Rattling chains, haunting music and fearsome predators return for the annual Haunted Reef at Shark Reef Aquarium inside Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino with decorations, pumpkins, costumes and trick-or-treating.
Community Day is Friday, Oct. 30, when children 12 and under who visit the aquarium in their Halloween costumes will receive complimentary admission and sweet treats.
United Blood Services will be on site during Community Day for visitors interested in donating blood. Guests 17 and older who give blood will receive complimentary admission. To make an appointment contact United Blood Services at702-638-7400 or visit unitedbloodservices.org and enter sponsor code: SharkReef.
For the past couple of years now, one of the most edgy, shocking haunted attractions in Southern California has been Zombie Joe’s Urban Death: Tour of Terror, in North Hollywood. A cross between a maze and theatrical production, Tour of Terror is unabashedly twisted adult in nature, and is at times too much for some folks to wrap their heads around.
Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group is a really fun, low-fi production company that puts on multiple shows year-round here in Los Angeles that are all fairly adult in nature. The troupe at Zombie Joe’s consists of men and women of all ages – each of them obviously loving what they do as they constantly push the envelope with avant-garde performances in the small North Hollywood space not far from Hollywood, Burbank and the surrounding communities. Despite their small, bare-bones space and productions, every night is a who’s who when it comes to fans of Zombie Joe’s. Drawing from the entertainment industry, it’s not uncommon to see players in the film and television business, as well as themed entertainment groups in the audience, or socializing on the sidewalk along Lankershim Boulevard at midnight.
One of the coolest home haunts we visited in 2014 was Spooky Hollows, which is located in the San Fernando neighborhood of Van Nuys. This elaborate set-up is headed up by John and Tracy Cassella, along with fellow haunter Christopher Els and a dedicated team of Halloween aficionados that have chosen a quiet, unremarkable street to unleash their special brand of holiday horror on once a year.
More than a standard front yard display, Spooky Hollows takes guests on a terror trip around the property, along the sides of the house and through the backyard, which has been transformed into a swamp – as well as gnarly greenhouse and ultimately, a hot zombie-filled mess that leaves guests running for their lives!
The terror of Halloween Horror Nights seeps into November for the first time ever as Universal Studios Hollywood extends its popular event with the addition of Friday, November 6 and Saturday, November 7, inviting guests to brave Southern California’s most extreme horror event one last time. The cutting-edge Halloween event marks new nights with all-new content, including performances by the versatile dance group, Academy of Villains, and the talented DJ Ricky Rocks.
Hailed as the scariest, most gruesome annual Halloween theme park experience in Southern California, Halloween Horror Nights brings together the sickest minds in horror to immerse guests in a living, breathing, three-dimensional world of terror inspired by TV and film’s most compelling horror properties.
Energetic hip-hop dance performances by the Jabbawockeez headlining this year’s new show have proven so popular that Universal Studios Hollywood has added a special meet and greet opportunity for fans as part of its Halloween Horror Nights experience. These additional nights also provide guests with a last chance to see the award-winning dance crew before they depart Los Angeles for sold-out performances at the MGM Grand Las Vegas.
One of our favorite home haunts to visit each year is Rotten Apple 907 in Burbank, California. This popular attraction isn’t your average yard display with skeletons and strobe lights (not that there’s anything wrong with those – we love all of that); you see, the folks that live at 907 North California Street go all-out and create a stunning walk-through maze in the driveway of their property. What’s more impressive than that, is the fact that each year, the haunt is completely different; a new theme, new props, new layout, new facade – the whole shebang! It’s a massive undertaking that is certainly appreciated by locals and Halloween fans from afar, who travel from Orange County and the Inland Empire to see what Diane and Preston Meyer have dreamed up each season.
In 2014, the theme for Rotten Apple 907 was the Wilsley Bros. House of Fun; a sinister fun house filled with strange and bizarre sights and many lurking horrors! Something that is rarely seen at the home haunt level, the House of Fun featured a spinning vortex tunnel, which is always a great gag; it wasn’t terribly long (remember – this all fits in their driveway), but it was definitely effective! If that wasn’t enough, the haunt also featured a clown driving a bumper car in one of the scenes guests had to make their way through in the darkness! Are you kidding me? Such great gags executed very nicely!