REVIEW: The Empty Grave 2013

One of the local Southern California haunted attractions that Theme Park Adventure has kept tabs on for the last few years is The Empty Grave, located at the Anaheim GardenWalk in Orange County, just minutes away from the Disneyland Resort. This particular haunt has grown (and had some growing pains) over the years, and as the season began in 2013, early word was that this is Empty Grave’s finest yet, which pleased us and made us really curious to check it out for ourselves!

IMG_2545Located just blocks away from Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, The Empty Grave has spooked up the otherwise-sleepy GardenWalk outdoor shopping mall for years now, enjoying success and great challenges along the way. In fact, the haunt’s owner, Mike Talarico, participated in one of ScareLA’s pro panels this summer, discussing the challenges of operating an attraction in a mall that is severely challenged with foot traffic issues itself. Mike is a great guy and puts his heart and soul into the haunt – which is really evident by the incredible loyalty that his volunteer team displays without hesitation each and every year, many of them returning time and again to help out in any way possible – including scaring the daylights out of guests when the lights go out and the fog machines come on!

For 2013, The Empty Grave actually had to be exhumed from its past location and re-located in a new spot, just across the way. A short distance, but a huge undertaking (and yes – they moved the headstones and the bodies), just as with any move. Working on a haunted attraction and prepping it for each new season is daunting enough, let alone having to fully move and change everything to fit in a new location/footprint. Yet, Mike and his team did – and the result is pretty great!

IMG_2479The Empty Grave is a mostly dimly-lit experience, combining tight twists and turns with nicely detailed sets and environments. This year, the attraction’s story is focused on an old family mortuary – with many of the scenes created to work with that theme. There are of course, general sections of the haunt carried over (literally) from years past – however, the whole thing is a good, long, spooky experience that is really going over well with brave guests this Halloween!

Great layout and billowing fog aside, the “secret ingredient” each and every year for The Empty Grave has been its crew of monsters – energetic, engaging, and absolutely over-the-top. Even during seasons that the maze has been aesthetically and content-challenged, the men and women that become the attraction’s ghoulish inhabitants have always been at the top of their game. Some have left Mike’s haunt to move on to other events, and many of them have stayed, returning each season to further hone their techniques and skills, which by the way, are just as good as any pro haunt of any scale in the world. They slide, they stalk, they creep and they climb – the monsters of Empty Grave are the true stars of this particular show, make no mistake about that.

IMG_2525To further augment The Empty Grave’s strengths this season, the attraction teamed up with our good friend and industry composer Jon Autopsy, who created three brand-new tracks for the haunted attraction! We absolutely love seeing haunts of all sizes going for custom tracks, as the soundscape lends such an incredibly important depth to the story and experience. When a haunt takes on its own score, it really does go to the next level of professionalism and creative grandeur. We’re stoked that Empty Grave and Jon came together to deliver some really great material for guests to enjoy.

Parking is not free at GardenWalk in Anaheim, which is definitely a pain when visiting Empty Grave. Since the haunt is not a year-round tenant, they cannot and do not offer validation. If you are able to get your ticket validated elsewhere within the mall, be aware that it is ONLY for one hour. After 60 free minutes, you end up paying anyway. The parking cost is a huge issue with Orange County residents, who choose to shop elsewhere and not be charged to park – definitely one of the mall’s many problems that cause it to be a virtual ghost town most of the time and always in financial straits (Disney should just buy the damned property and get on with it, already). One Yelp reviewer did recently say that she gets her tickets validated at the movie theater there at the mall, and that their validation is 4 hours. Take that for what it’s worth and good luck. If you visit Empty Grave and don’t drag your feet, you can get in and out within an hour or maybe just a bit over, so get an ice cream or something, validate your ticket and enjoy the haunt. Even if you end up having to pay a few bucks for parking, this should not sway you from visiting.

IMG_2496Huge props to The Empty Grave this year for a job really well done! While the maze is intense, it’s not necessarily family un-friendly; there is not a lot of gore, nor is there any sexual content; if you have kids that want to check out a good, solid haunted house this season, we’d absolutely recommend The Empty Grave! Go, show them the love and tell them you’re a TPAer!

If you’ve been to The Empty Grave this season, share your thoughts below! If you have any questions or general comments, jump in to the conversation!

– Rick West

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