Wicked Lit’s 2014 Halloween show which takes place at the Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery in Altadena, California, is just about as creative and unusual as any Halloween event or attraction we’ve ever visited. By no means a “traditional” Halloween show, Wicked Lit offers a highly-immersive theatrical experience that is both beautiful and haunting.
Formed in 2009 as an off-shoot of Unbound Productions, Wicked Lit is a theatrical group that adapts classic horror literature into dynamic, highly-engaging productions. Usually, these performances are held in and around cemeteries. In 2013, Wicked Lit appeared at ScareLA, where they performed their version of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic, The Tell-Tale Heart, which was a major hit with our convention guests. After seeing the group at ScareLA, we knew that sooner than later, we’d be seeing one of their full-length productions. That moment came this Halloween season, and wow – what an amazing experience we had!
So, let’s just address the elephant in the room, shall we? I imagine the notion of a spooky theatrical production taking place in a cemetery and mausoleum really creeps some folks out; probably even offends some that see it as some sort of sacrilegious act on hallowed grounds. I get that, and I totally respect that. However, from my point of view, Wicked Lit is the most excitement and entertainment those passed souls have likely had in a long time; I actually found it very comforting and beautiful to be spending the evening among the crypts and tombs of folks no longer with us, celebrating the spirit of Halloween in such an immersive, artistic way. Cemeteries aren’t scary or creepy; they’re peaceful, somewhat sad places to me – so if a company such as Wicked Lit can come in and shed light into the darkness and dance with the specter of death in a fun, positive, community-building manner, I say more power to them!
The entire experience takes approximately three hours or so; it’s definitely an entire evening’s outing, so plan accordingly and bundle up if it’s chilly – most of the production takes place outside.
Wicked Lit 2014 is a three-story production, with the core of the experience (kind of a “home base” where each production begins and ends) based on The Spirits of Walpurgisnacht, an ancient European holiday that is celebrated in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. It’s even observed here in the United States, since we’re such a cultural melting pot. Depending on where you live, Walpurgis Night takes on different traditions and meaning, from the changing of seasons to gatherings of witches. For Wicked Lit, the basis of the festival is a time when the living communicate with the dead. Using a brilliant mix of humor, magic, and interactive improvisation, the men and women welcoming us all to Walpurgisnacht are highly entertaining. The core or “frame” story follows the fate of adventurer Franz Mesmer as he attempts to chat up the dead, as well as his clairvoyant wife, Gerlinde and their roaming gypsy companions Marko and Tsura. The group is tight and absolutely flawless in interaction and flow of the production’s activities and “intermissions”.
It’s during the initial welcome moment that guests are told how the night’s proceedings will take place, as visitors are divided into three smaller groups to experience three different shows running simultaneously in different parts of the cemetery. After each performance, the groups return to home base, and after a short break (there are beverages and snacks available for purchase, as well as decent mobile restrooms), all of the groups head into the darkness again to experience the next production. This happens until everyone has seen all three performances, and it all takes place like clockwork, with the home base “intermissions” continuing The Spirits of Walpurgisnacht.
The Monk – The first production that we experienced was The Monk, which was inspired by the novel by Matthew Gregory Lewis. This classic tale of good versus evil takes us on a journey to Italy, where a young woman named Matilda seeks the help of a well-known clergyman to secure her financial well-being and future. Along the way, we meet some fantastic characters and a wildly adult tale unwraps itself before our eyes!
There are some very strong sexual moments in this particular performance; anyone thinking of bringing their children to Wicked Lit need to re-think their plans. Even though the company’s website says 13+, I would strongly caution parents to exercise extreme caution – or at least be prepared to have several minutes of really awkward explaining to do on the ride home with inquisitive pre-teens! Hint: There’s something you don’t see in a cemetery very often!
In all, The Monk is a great performance. Not necessarily “spooky” in the Halloween sense of things as are the other two parts of the show. However, the acting is superb and the character twists are unexpected – a very cool treat, indeed!
Las Lloronas – This was our favorite performance of the evening, hands-down. Las Lloronas is based on the popular Mexican folklore of La Llorona, The Weeping Woman. We’ve seen this story appear in several large-scale haunts recently, from Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights, to Fright Fest at Six Flags Magic Mountain. In years past, La Llorona also was featured at Knott’s Scary Farm in its Dia de los Muertos maze.
The tale of La Llorona is that of a woman who drowns her babies in a river for varying reasons, depending on the version of the story that is told. In the end, the woman is left as a shattered soul, a spirit dressed in white that wanders the countryside near rivers wailing in the night for her lost children; a chilling tale, indeed.
What Wicked Lit has done, is take the legend and examine it, presenting it in a wide variety of ways over and over again, beginning with the story’s 16th century Mexican roots, to a modern take on the legend from a woman here in Los Angeles. One of the iterations of the tale even unfolds as interpretive song and dance within the enormous mausoleum.
Groups are led by two robed monks (they are awesome, by the way) through the labyrinthine corridors of the cemetery’s mausoleum. Eerie lighting accents each corridor and show space. The “master” of ceremonies is a figure that can only be an embodiment of Lucifer himself, dressed in a slick white suit with bright red handkerchief and socks, using a walking cane. He is played ridiculously well by Joe Camaren, who rattles off the dialogue for each version of La Llorona’s tale effortlessly.
There are special effects moments throughout this performance that are jarring and really well-done (again, not something you see every day in a cemetery). However, the heart and soul of Las Lloronas are its actors – all of them are amazing, and all of them shine. We found ourselves riveted by each version of the story, and didn’t want it to end! Though it may sound redundant to tell the same basic story over and over several times – it’s not; the way this particular show plays out is breathtaking and completely refreshing.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s Guest – The most Halloween/horror-centric of the three Wicked Lit productions, Dracula’s Guest takes us on a journey through the mountains of Transylvania with pain-in-the-ass Jonathan Harker as he travels to meet Count Dracula concerning a land deal in London. The performance takes guests on a brisk trek through the mausoleum and then across the street to a dark graveyard filled with lurking dangers and horrors!
This is a classic vampire story and could fall right out of any old Hammer movie. Of interesting note, Dracula’s Guest was written by Stoker to be the first chapter of Dracula, but never made the cut. It was published by Stoker’s widow in 1914, after the author had passed away.
Vampires, far-away locations loaded with colorful characters and yes – giant silver crosses – make Dracula’s Guest a perfect addition to this year’s trio of terror tales at Wicked Lit. We saw this particular show last, and it was the perfect ending to our overall experience. We sat grinning in the moon-lit cemetery as female vampires hissed and screamed all around us; oh, what the neighbors must think!
We recognized several of the actors in Dracula’s Guest from the performance of The Tell-Tale Heart at ScareLA 2013; it’s great to know that this group of actors sticks together and continues to thrill audiences with their abundance of talent. They’re comfortable with one another, and that absolutely makes a different in the depth of each performance and character interaction.
In the end, Wicked Lit stands out as one of our favorite Halloween events of 2014. What some may perceive as unorthodox for a cemetery, we found exciting, refreshing, unique, and alive. It helps that the Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery are privately owned by a family that has worked for several years now closely with the Wicked Lit team; I don’t know that larger companies such as Forest Lawn would necessarily be into hosting such a production – but you never know. And it doesn’t matter for now. This is a perfect location, close to most parts of the Greater Los Angeles area, and definitely within driving distance of fans in Orange County as well as the Inland Empire.
Wicked Lit isn’t a cheap evening out; tickets can cost upward of $100 each, depending on date and type. This modifies the crowds to an interesting mix of theater-going folks and perhaps older Halloween/haunt fans. There are very few young people attending this event, and you’ll be hard-pressed to compare this attraction’s crowd to the large theme park events’ visitors. As stated, this makes a wonderful date night for adults, and it’s a highly-popular attraction; tickets are selling out quickly. If you are on the fence, we say do it and do it ASAP; click here for Wicked Lit ticketing information.
There’s aren’t too many cons when it comes to Wicked Lit 2014. The only issue that took us out of the experience was some noise bleed from the three productions running simultaneously. When we were in the graveyard portion of Dracula’s Guest, there was a fight outside someone’s house in the parallel neighborhood – terribly loud, and terribly distracting; I am sure the actors were well aware of the situation, too. The unfortunate reality is, when you’re in the middle of a city doing an outside production, you’re going to get sound bleed, be it intoxicated jerks fighting nearby, or slow-moving police helicopters overhead; it is what it is. Fortunately, the entire Wicked Lit experience is so polished and so damned good, that the occasional disturbance from the real world is rapidly forgotten.
Huge kudos to the entire team at Wicked Lit. Everything from the writing and directing to the actors and technical aspects of the show is brilliant. If you’re in to live theater and want something unique and fun to enjoy for a night out, this is definitely the Halloween (and early November) event for you! We highly recommend it, and are already looking forward to returning for more in 2015!
– Rick West