Haunted Hollywood Sports Rises From the Grave

In 2012, Haunted Hollywood Sports had a less than spectacular debut, with problems ranging from power and talent shortage, to simply biting off more than they could chew for a first year event. Mazes were far too large and empty, waits for the signature Killhouse attractions were ridiculously long, and in the end, Theme Park Adventure sadly said we’d never return, fairly certain that we wouldn’t even have that choice after such a disastrous first season for the new SoCal haunt in Bellflower. What a difference a year has made…

Absolute transparency time: When we first learned that Haunted Hollywood Sports was definitely returning for a second season this year, I was shocked. I thought for sure it was a one-year attempt and that the company would stick to what it knows – paintball and Airsoft sports. And as the weeks went by, there was quite honestly, serious discussion here of whether or not we wanted to even give this haunt a second chance. In the end, we decided to attend Haunted Hollywood Sports’ media preview night, agreeing that if we were as disappointed this time around, TPA would level a review that would blast them without mercy for squandering away a full year with no changes or improvements.

IMG_2451A great media welcome event and party was put together by Hollywood Sports and Paxton Design Studios. A lot of really influential websites and outlets were in attendance, including our friends from The Season Pass Podcast, Behind The Thrills, Sinful Celluloid, Dread Central, and ScareLA, to name just a few. Really nice food and totally ridiculous (as in YES, PLEASE) adult beverages were served by scantily-clad bartenders in the facility’s Club Crimson – a truly unique and unexpected venue at the park that is adorned with props from the 1999 film The Haunting. Hollywood Sports owner Giovanni D’Egidio is an avid horror fan/collector, so when he had the opportunity to acquire the enormous, elaborate set pieces, he jumped at it. The result is a really neat space that makes for a great party venue year-round, not just during the Halloween season!

As the event got underway, the audience was greeted by Jerry Paxton, and then addressed by Giovanni, along with Co-Producer/Director of Haunted Hollywood Sports, Candice Catron. Giovanni expressed his sincere gratitude to Jerry and Denice Paxton for assisting with the event, and then proceeded to give everyone a background of the business and what their plans are for the haunt in coming years. Here’s a very key point – Giovanni, Candice and the rest of the HHS team know how rough their first year was; he even quipped that knowing what he does now about putting on a haunt, he’s surprised they even opened last year!

IMG_2456On a more serious note, the management of Haunted Hollywood Sports knows the stigma of last year’s event and the amount of damage control they have to do to get the trust of Halloween and haunted attraction fans back. It’s going to be an uphill battle, for sure. However, the fact that they hit the issue head-on and don’t shy away from it or pretend everything was fine in 2012 shows that their hearts and minds are in the right place; that is something that impressed us immediately, because the entertainment industry as a whole is rampant with individuals and companies that believe they can do no wrong and that anything they do is awesome. Haunted Hollywood Sports gets it – and they understand the issues facing them from last year’s run. For that alone, they have Theme Park Adventure’s respect, admiration and support.

“I’ve poured my heart and soul into this event and team for 14 hours a day over the past several months,” says Candice. “We learned a lot from last year, and have learned from our mistakes. I’m sure you’re going to be really surprised and impressed by what we’ve done here.”

Pretty confident words. I took them all with a hopeful grain of salt, knowing that soon enough, we’d be previewing one maze and one Killhouse; while a fraction of Haunted Hollywood Sports’ total scope, we felt that would at least be enough to gauge if there’s been any improvement in production from last year. The proof would be in what we actually saw, regardless of the good intentions and heart-felt speeches at the media party.

We were rounded up and sent into the darkness of Hollywood Sports to experience a new maze for this year – Venom – and one of the Killhouse attractions, where guests gear up with semi-automatic guns and have at zombies.

IMG_2443Along the way, we encountered a handful of Haunted Hollywood Sports’ monsters that roam the scare zones. There were only a few out for the media event, but for the most part, they are really good; entertaining, aesthetically nicely done, and their scare tactics are polished. In fact, the scare zone roaming monsters were the strongest asset to Haunted Hollywood Sports last year during its inaugural run; we anticipate them to be even better this season.

Venom is the one maze that Theme Park Adventure got to experience. It’s new to the HHS lineup this season, and is sponsored by Venom Energy, bearing the product’s name and logo. However, commercial tie-in aside (and that isn’t a bad thing – practically all of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood is a commercial tie-in) HHS made it work, creating an ancient temple experience, filled with monsters and deadly traps ready to take out any would-be raider or explorer. And you know what? It was good. Venom is a solid maze, and the talent that we encountered really were into it, screaming, interacting with guests, and not shying away from the light of our cameras – something that is always a challenge at any haunted attraction we shoot. The rooms and layout of Venom are solid, and the props and effects are exactly what they should be for this production. We thought the maze length was perfect, and everyone that went through appeared to have a genuinely great time; many fellow media folks were saying how impressed they were throughout the evening.

Of course, we cannot vouch for the other mazes this year at Haunted Hollywood Sports until we experience them for ourselves. However, if Venom is this solid, there is absolutely no reason to believe the other mazes this season won’t also be held to this new standard of production, and so we are very optimistic, and will be returning to shoot them this season to share with our TPAers everywhere as part of our 2013 Halloween coverage.

IMG_2400The Killhouse attractions at Haunted Hollywood Sports are the anchor features of this particular haunt, due to their uniqueness in the Southern California market. Guests suit up with protective gear and arm themselves with semi-automatic Airsoft BB assault weapons and are led through a fast-paced course while fleeing from and picking off zombies that come at the group from all sides! Last year, one of the huge problems was the incredibly long wait time for this experience; however, we’ve been assured that management has addressed that issue, and that the wait times will be much more manageable this season. This is a fun, frantic romp that definitely needs to be experienced by haunt fans of all ages – it’s not too often that you actually get to shoot zombies! The Killhouse experience may not vary hugely from house to house – this year, HHS has three Killhouse attractions – Zombie Killhouse, Voodoo Killhouse, and Deadman’s Trail Killhouse. Having three of these specialized attractions should also greatly disperse the crowds, making for shorter wait times park-wide.

Theme Park Adventure really was impressed by what we experienced during the HHS media preview event. Obviously, the true test comes on October 4th, when the gates swing open and the first paying guests of 2013 enter the park. However, we weren’t only satisfied with what we saw and experienced, we honestly believe this team is on the right track now, and even those who had a less than good time last year should come out and give this event another chance; we did, and we are thrilled by what we’ve seen so far.

In last year’s TPA review of HHS, I wrote: Their intentions are good, their concepts strong and their passion sincere. Once they get some traction and are off and running, it wouldn’t surprise us at all if Haunted Hollywood Sports rallies and becomes one of the premiere Halloween attractions in SoCal!

So far as we can tell, they’re well on their way!

– Rick West

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