2014 was a great year for our friends at The Empty Grave, one of Orange County’s longest-running haunted attractions. For the past couple of years, The Empty Grave was located at the Anaheim GardenWalk, just across the street from the Disneyland Resort. One might think that such close proximity to hundreds of hotel rooms and an endless supply of tourists would make for an incredible source of business for a haunt at Halloween. Unfortunately, the GardenWalk just isn’t that great of a magnet – rarely does it attract locals, and when the Disney parks are open late – guests are in them, not wandering around a half-dead shopping mall.
Mike Talarico, who owns The Empty Grave, gave it one hell of a shot – and while there were decent crowds during the seasonal run, they just weren’t steady. Quite honestly, we felt that if Mike and his team stayed there at the GardenWalk, that The Empty Grave might just end up dying on the vine. We certainly didn’t want that to happen, because this is a great group of haunters.
Opportunity knocked, and Mike answered; the haunt was offered a much better location in an abandoned automotive shop in the Laguna Hills Mall, just off the 5 Freeway in South Orange County. One of the key advantages of the move (there were several factors that made this a no-brainer) is that there are relatively few haunts in South Orange County, and no major stand-alone ones. This allowed Mike to draw from neighboring communities, which are bursting with families and young adults looking for things to do at Halloween.
Another great situation for The Empty Grave is that the new location is literally feet away from a huge pumpkin patch/festival event in the mall’s parking lot, which has high visibility from the freeway, no doubt attracting locals as well as passersby to the location; a total win-win for the two attractions.
Mike and his crew immediately went about creating new scenes and laying out the footprint/pathway in the new location. Once the dust settled, the haunt was propped-out and readied for the season.
We paid The Empty Grave a visit, and really like the new digs. There is a ton of potential there, and so our fingers are crossed that Mike gets to stay there for years to come. It’s always risky being in a location that could potentially be leased out to a new business; the Laguna Hills Mall would jump on that immediately, for sure. However, until that happens, The Empty Grave seems secure in its new spot, and that’s good news for everyone – fans and crew members.
The strongest asset this haunt has, is its crew. For years, we have been impressed over and over again by their talent, enthusiasm and deeply-rooted dedication to keeping The Empty Grave going. It’s been our pleasure to see some top-notch talent come from this attraction over the years, too; some of the gang has stayed with Mike, others have moved on to other attractions and positions within the industry. I’ve long said The Empty Grave is an amazing “haunter incubator”, with a hell of a team and a wonderful ownership.
Another strong point of the haunt is its creepy factor; the maze’s winding halls and usually-dim interior make for a very spooky experience. The fact that The Empty Grave sends very small groups through at a time makes all the difference in the world – we’ve had many TPAers say they were terrified as they walked through the haunt because they were all alone; that’s a good thing – no conga lines here!
What we’d love to see in the coming years, is for this haunt to return to its roots and really get into interactive storytelling – something that totally impressed us years ago when we first visited. Many of the rooms were pulsed show beats, with unexpected and very creative scares. I’m not saying the scares aren’t good now – it was just a very different style back then that set The Empty Grave apart from other haunted houses. With so many haunted attractions to choose from in Southern California, it’s important to keep fresh, with an edge. Mike and this crew were one of the first haunts TPA visited that approached the art of terror from a story-driven point of view; it’d be awesome for them to get back to their roots now that they’ve found a solid, successful location.
Theme Park Adventure loves The Empty Grave and is stoked that they’ve moved from Anaheim GardenWalk! They’ve got a new lease on life, literally! And now we want to see them make the best of it! Kudos to the team for a job well done in 2014! We can’t wait to see what comes next!
– Rick West