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 use of special effects throughout the haunt is very effective, adding to the practical props and very real scareactors that populate the attraction from start to finish. It’s always very cool when home haunters employ techniques that we see commonly used at theme parks and stand-alone professional haunts; as the tech becomes more readily available and the operators of these home haunts stay on top of the latest tools to tell their stories, attractions such as Spooky Hollows become more sophisticated for trick-or-treaters and fans driving sometimes long distances to check them out.
The story line of Spooky Hollows 2014 was somewhat of a “haunt stew” – featuring a creepy kids’ birthday party; a full-blown swamp, complete with water and bridge; a macabre greenhouse; and a zombie infestation that was part comical, part scary – but all fun.
We’d love to see Spooky Hollows focus more on the swamp aspect of the haunt – there, we could easily accept strange buildings, odd and menacing creatures, or even zombies. The extraneous addition of the birthday party could go away, and it would likely strengthen the theme, in my opinion; make it more cohesive from beginning to end, starting with an over-grown graveyard in the front yard, set on the edge of a misty swamp.
Speaking of graveyard, as guests arrive at Spooky Hollows, that’s exactly what they first see – a creepy cemetery filling the front yard of the home at 16418 Gilmore Street in Van Nuys, California. One of the largest features is a crypt bearing the name “Koritzke”; this is a heart-felt tribute to Los Angeles haunter Bob Koritzke, who suffered a fatal heart attack in the summer of 2009. Bob was the owner of a Valley Halloween icon – Spooky House – as well as other haunted attractions, and loved by all. The folks behind Spooky Hollows were friends and colleagues of his, so their monument to Bob Koritzke shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Spooky Hollows is a free haunt, but we encourage everyone to donate and show them the love as they certainly go out of their way to entertain and delight the community each Halloween season here in Los Angeles. Big props to the entire Spooky Hollows team on a job well done; we can’t wait to see this attraction evolve and grow in the years to come!
– Rick West
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