Haunted Hollywood Sports Media Preview 2014

Haunted Hollywood SportsAt the beginning of the Halloween season here in Southern California, the folks at Haunted Hollywood Sports were kind enough to invite Theme Park Adventure to their special media preview night, which consisted of a party, live entertainment, and a preview of one of their mazes, as well as one of the park’s signature Killhouses. It should be noted that this isn’t a “review” in the same style as other haunts that we visit and shoot during Halloween, as none of the event’s other attractions were open, so we only have images and video from what was made available to us for the event.

Haunted Hollywood Sports is located in Bellflower, California, and is the annual haunt overlay that the company gives to its sprawling 23-acre Hollywood Sports Paintball & Airsoft complex. Hollywood Sports is a major player in the paintball and airsoft industry – with battlefields full of props from major motion pictures, using the latest cutting-edge technology in competition combat sports. There are other amenities on the property as well, and Hollywood Sports hosts many events, from corporate team-building outings to private parties and youth group activities. By day, this mega-complex offers rock climbing walls, volleyball courts, BMX racing, indoor soccer and more. By night during October, the fog settles in over the property, transforming it into Haunted Hollywood Sports, the company’s sinister alter ego, with mazes, scare zones and killhouses galore.

Haunted Hollywood SportsNow in its third season, Haunted Hollywood Sports has grown by leaps and bounds since its 2012 debut. Admittedly, HHS had a very rocky beginning back when it all began. The company’s owner and front man, Giovanni D’Egidio, is a long-time Halloween fan and wanted to get into the Southern California haunt community in a big way. So, in 2012, Haunted Hollywood Sports debuted – and was way too big for a first year event, which gave the company major growing pains along the way. In all honesty, as I stated in our 2013 look at the event, I was shocked that HHS even returned after its really rough start the year before. Yet, they did, and they vastly improved their operation. In the meantime, Gio and his team also became more involved in the community, and this past summer, Haunted Hollywood Sports was one of ScareLA’s most popular mini haunt attractions featured on our show floor. The tides have definitely started turning for this team and their event.

Handling this year’s media preview event once again were Jerry and Denice Paxton of Paxton Design Studios. And once again, they knocked it out of the park for a lot of guests and members of the media. Big props to them for a kick-off event done right.

One of the coolest moments of the evening is something that we’d love to see incorporated into the normal operation of HHS: groups of guests were taken maybe 10-15 at a time via large military transport vehicles to the zombie-filled party zone where the night’s party was held. Along the way, our truck was attacked by the walking dead, and it was a really fun, totally unique touch. Capacity issues would dictate a small convoy of these transports be used, but damn – it would make for a fantastic introduction to the haunt’s killhouse zone in years to come!

So let’s talk killhouses for a moment. Haunted Hollywood Sports is the birthplace of the Halloween event zombie killhouse; at least here in Southern California it is. I had never heard of such a thing before HHS debuted the concept in 2012. And it’s a good one: guests Haunted Hollywood Sportssuit up with protective goggles and are issued their own airsoft assault weaponry and are led through a haunted house-like attraction very quickly as monsters close in on every side. Guests fire away at the zombies, knocking them down like a ghoulish shooting arcade, as they fight to survive. It seems like a really solid experience, and people really do like this type of attraction, as it’s the most popular feature at Haunted Hollywood Sports. Perhaps too popular. By nature, the killhouse template is nowhere near the capacity of a regular haunt maze. The challenge with this type of attraction is that it’s slow operationally, and it takes a lot of people to run it correctly, from “military staff” to zombies and monsters. Then there’s the team that cleans the gear between groups, disinfecting goggles and guns. Running a killhouse is no small task. All the while, people wait in long queues to experience this for themselves. It’s a blessing and a curse that Haunted Hollywood Sports and its owners continue to struggle with; everyone wants to experience a killhouse attraction, yet they are logistically challenging to operate, especially on busy nights.

The elephant in the room is the fact that Knott’s Scary Farm debuted a very similar attraction this season called Special Ops: Infected. While the two attractions feature zombies that guests shoot at as they move through a themed space, there are differences between the two such as theming and weapon hardware. They’re both different enough that they can co-exist successfully in the Southern California market. The flip side is, they are also very similar in that they are extremely low-capacity attractions. This affects Knott’s much more adversely than Haunted Hollywood Sports, in that the Scary Farm can see over 30,000 guests in one night, with only a fraction of them being able to experience Infected. Inherently, the killhouse zombie shoot-em-up experience is a big expense and a Haunted Hollywood Sportsbig challenge. Of the two entities, I’d say that Haunted Hollywood Sports is better suited to this experience and will ultimately continue refining and carrying this type of attraction long after Knott’s has moved on to something else.

My personal dislike of the zombie shooter experience (regardless of where it is) is that with a group of people shooting at the same cluster of zombies that are rushing you, there’s no big pay-off; no gunshot wound, no blood splatter, no way of knowing if you killed the monster or the six other people with you aiming at the same target. It’s definitely a rush to be in a “living video game” such as this – but in the end, I am always left wanting. That said, many people we hear from and talk to love these experiences and line up each night to take on wandering hordes of undead at these events, so HHS is definitely on to something and is continuing to move in the right direction.

The maze that was open to us during the Haunted Hollywood Sports media preview was Venom. Venom is a direct tie-in to a HHS sponsor, Venom Energy, which is offers a variety of energy drinks. In the case of Venom, it’s a great match; the maze itself is a dark temple-like experience featuring ancient people and giant creatures, as well as subterranean traps and forgotten chambers. The talent on hand was strong; engaging and definitely sure of their characters, they really did a great job of bringing Venom to life. The length of Venom is really decent, and it has one of the largest “birth canal” features we’ve ever experienced at any haunted attraction. There are some issues with Venom that I would like to see improved on, should the maze return in 2015, such as a brand new soundscape that really plays off of the theme and creates an unsettling experience from beginning to end; parts of Venom were really quiet, which is one of my big haunt design no-nos. In the case of Venom, the soundtrack should be tribal, drum-driven, and perhaps feature chanting; audio storytelling that screams “temple filled with bad things!”

Haunted Hollywood SportsHaunted Hollywood Sports features quite a few roaming monsters as well throughout its property; many of them were out in force for the media preview, chasing and scaring guests, menacing them as they waited in line for Venom, or simply walking with them, making them feel uncomfortable every step of the way. HHS really does have some great talent, and they were working it for everyone. Huge props to all of the HHS monsters, whether roaming, in mazes or taking the hits in a killhouse or shooting range!

What does the future hold for Haunted Hollywood Sports? I think that each season, Gio and his team absolutely make big strides in improving the product and haunt experience that they offer. Is HHS perfect? No large-scale haunt such as this ever is; not one. I think there are more mazes in the future for this particular event and more streamlined methods of getting guests through the killhouse experiences faster, increasing capacity and reducing guest wait times. Throughout this month, experiences as relayed by guests range from poor to excellent, simply proving that it’s just like all of the other big haunts out there – a mixed bag of offerings that are for some, not great. For others, HHS hits the target squarely between the eyes!

There is live entertainment offered at Haunted Hollywood Sports, but it varies from night to night – except for some great sliders that are more than happy to perform stunts and show off their techniques for enthusiastic crowds each evening. Everyone loves sliders, and HHS definitely has them.

Obviously, experiencing Haunted Hollywood Sports by way of media party is much, much different than covering it as a whole, like with do with most other haunts. Our schedule is simply so packed this season that a return visit to shoot and review the event in its entirety just isn’t in the cards. We plan on making that happen however, in 2015. Until then, enjoy the images and video from our night with the HHS crew. A special thanks to Gio, Dennis, Bear, Mario, and the rest of the team for having us out to play this season; we appreciate it and look forward to many more experiences to come at Haunted Hollywood Sports!

– Rick West


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