Spooky venues:  L.A. Haunted Hayride, SoCal’s #1 Halloween attraction

Chilly greetings, spookyfriends!  It’s mid-April, and except for a mild Passover/Easter weekend, you couldn’t tell it was spring in some places for much of the month.  The northern U.S. experienced more of the Polar Vortex early this year as Mother Nature dumped a bunch of snow on the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic over the last 3-1/2 months.  Depending where you live, you may have missed all that; but for some of us, the cold hasn’t really gone away yet – the weather just keeps toying with us, warming up, then chilling down.  In the Northeast, too much snow and cold occurred early this year.  Makes you expect a Yeti around the corner at any moment.

We know:  you’re really pining for those spooky, rainy, eerie nights of early October, when the Dead Season was just beginning.  Alas, we can’t bring back autumn, but we can warm you up a bit by reminding you of our mutually favorite holiday and some spooktacular attractions you may have missed.  One in particular, in fact.

Griffith Park map

As Spooky Things Online and our readership have grown, so have our contacts.  Last Halloween we were pleased to have received our first press pass – which happened to be from Ten Thirty One Productions, an entertainment company that creates, produces and owns live attractions and events in the horror genre.  TTO provided us with a VIP press pass (it meant no waiting in lines; thanks, guys!).  Consequently, Michael got to see the infamous Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, which has been voted Southern California’s most popular Halloween attraction for two years in a row, according to their website (no clue as to who rendered this judgment, tho, which makes us wonder … Oh, well).   CreepyLA.com calls it the “anti-amusement park,” and the title appears to be well deserved.

Anyway … Take it away, Michael!

Hello again, All Hallows addicts, and welcome to the best Halloween attraction you’ve probably never been to.  It’s the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, and in 2014 it was staged in the allegedly haunted Griffith Park in L.A.’s northern precincts (read more about the hauntings of Griffith Park in a related post).

For those of you unfamiliar with Greater Los Angeles, Griffith Park is a huge preserve located at the northern city limits of L.A. in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains.  The park lies between I-5 on the east, U.S. Route101 on the west, the Ventura Freeway/CA Route 134 on the north, and Los Feliz Boulevard on the south (you enter from Los Feliz, which, BTW, is also the name of a pretty nice neighborhood there).  Griffith Park is perhaps best known for Griffith Observatory, which is up on what is probably the park’s highest promontory and overlooks from on high the depressed bowl in the landscape that is metro L.A.  However, Griffith Park also has not only a variety of terrain of different altitudes, flora and fauna but also such local landmarks as the L.A. Zoo, the Autry Center, and the Greek Theater.

I was lucky enough to be there on Halloween Night itself last year for the ghoulish event.  It couldn’t have been a better setting:  a cool, rainy night in the City of Angles (to quote Jack Webb’s Joe Friday and Dan Ackroyd’s hilarious turn as his nephew, also named Joe Friday, in what was both a spoof and homage; but we digress).  It was dark in the hills all around, and they were definitely not “alive” with the sound of music.  Instead, it was a rural setting reminiscent of Halloween’s roots, the ancient harvest celebration.  There was a definite spooky ambience that you simply couldn’t get from some slick amusement park.  It also had that cold, rainy element going for it (you know:  Dark And Stormy Night territory).  Even Mother Nature cooperated.

In short:  Perfect.

At first you think:  Aaahhhh, it’s just another hayride with a few extra noises thrown in.  No such thing.  The approximately 25-minute ride presents visitors with an assortment of ghouls, ghosts, and spirits close up, popping in and out of the park’s natural hiding places, including caves and trees.  The TTO folks brought along some Gothic and burned-out structures and tucked those into the landscape as well for the ghouls to emerge from.  It was an appropriately creepy, scary event with suitable ambience.  Excellent!

One of the 'demons' of the Dark Maze  (Photo courtesy of Ten Thirty-One Productions

One of the ‘demons’ of the Dark Maze  (Photo courtesy of Ten Thirty One Productions)

As we entered the staged section of the grounds, there was a Halloween-like village in the middle of a rural-looking area.  The scary-go-round was there, too.   Also, several tents featured people were selling food and souvenirs, and some of that likewise housed other attractions, such as the House of the Horseman and the Seven Sins Sideshow.  Finally, there was also a large, pitch-dark maze with ‘demons’ cavorting in it (we think that may have been the section officially known as Purgatory, but we could be wrong; it certainly seemed like Purgatory, anyway, with all those demons).  All of those mini-venues can be seen if you get an all-events pass, which is more expensive than just a hayride ticket (see Marie’s addendum at the bottom for details).

These photos should give you the idea (some are better than others, and towards the end there’s a shot of a hooded entity with bright red eyes staring out at everything and everyone that it hopes to possess – oooh!).

Fake lava; what else?  (Photo courtesy of Ten Thirty One Productions)

Fake lava; what else?  (Photo courtesy of Ten Thirty One Productions)

The experience

Here’s the way Ten Thirty One described the event on their website:  “Armies of demonic forces and dark presences litter the grounds and are frantic to strike at their favorite `hayriders.’”   Well, if you recall your ghost mythology from the film Poltergeist, some spirits are apparently attracted to the life forces of certain kinds of individuals.  Which leaves us with the creepy question: would you have been one of those ‘lucky’ ones had you gone?  Brrrrrr!  Gives me the shivers just thinking about that.

Now that you’re up to speed, let’s get to our review, starting with the boarding area.  The crowd, for the most part, ranged from older teenagers to fiftysomethings, near as I could tell.  Lots of couples, too.   The ‘ride’ part of the hayride was very traditional, provided by a basic farm transport, i.e. a tractor pulling a large wagon that seats some 30 people.  While waiting on get on that wagon, however, we and the next group of victims – uh, I mean visitors – were put in a cage.

Now, I don’t exactly know why we were caged.  Perhaps it was for our own protection; perhaps they meant to scare us with that, too.  Or, perhaps they felt we deserved imprisonment.  Happily, the incarceration didn’t last too long before our wagon was ready (at least for my group; but come to think of it, I’m not sure what happened to the group in the cage that was behind us.  Maybe we just got lucky).

Most of us have an inborn natural fear – or at least wariness – of the dark.  For one thing, people and other nocturnal creatures can jump out at us in the dark.  On Halloween, those creatures are supposedly of the ghoulish or ghostly variety.  And we’re not talking Casper The Friendly Ghost, folks.  So, as the Hayride meandered through its designated section of Griffith Park, there was more than enough wariness to go around as it was very, very dark and there was a lot of special-effects fog added for good measure.  Think The Wolf Man in the 1941 version.

A ghoul of a soldier reads the mail  (Photo courtesy of Ten Thirty One Productions)

A ghoul of a soldier reads the mail  (Photo courtesy of Ten Thirty One Productions)

The dark and the fog really helped the F/X creatures remain hidden until they suddenly appeared – and when they did, they were right on top of us, not in the distance!  Put it like this:  these ghouls, ghosts, spirits, shades, goblins, demons, whatever – they wanted in, and I mean to get in the wagon.  Yikes!!  The creatures really did seem to come out of nowhere and made quite an impression.  Especially the 10-foot skeletal ones.  Don’t say we didn’t warn you.  You’re free to wander around after the hayride, too, but be aware that the spookyfolk are wandering around as well (and might Get You).

The boilerplate

The organizer was smart enough to provide a safety disclaimer in addition to the thrills.  This video will give you more of a sense of the Halloween ‘haunted’ horror attraction and what it was like to be there.

Ten Thirty One Productions, BTW, was founded by former Clear Channel Media & Entertainment executive Melissa Carbone and current CCME executive Alyson Richards.  Melissa appeared on the TV show Shark Tank and landed the biggest deal in the show’s history, receiving $2 million – in return for giving a 20-percent stake in Ten Thirty One to Dallas Mavericks owner and billionaire Mark Cuban.  Nice way to get financing, eh?

The company says its mission is to create unique horror content experiences that are interactive and immersive, then market them in large metropolitan areas where hundreds of thousands of guest can scream, run, and, as a horror bonus, “be ruined for life.”  Charming!  Ten Thirty One stages other horror events throughout the year, such as the Great Horror Camp Out, which will also be held in Griffith Park this coming June.  TTO promises to change up the 2015 LA Haunted Hayride and add many new elements.  There will also be a New York Haunted Hayride debuting for Halloween in 2015.  Can’t wait!  No doubt neither can the ghosts and ghouls of the Big Apple.

Spooky Pans  (Photo courtesy of Ten Thirty One Productions)

Spooky Pans  (Photo courtesy of Ten Thirty One Productions)

Marie’s addendum

Michael’s reaction to this venue is based on a VIP pass, which anyone can buy if you’re willing to spend the money; your experience may be very different, however, if you pay a different ticket price (meaning: a lower one).  For the sake of objectivity and accuracy, I searched for visitor reactions on other websites.  From what I can gather of other online reviews/listings such as TimeOut L.A. and Yelp! Los Angeles, visitors rate this venue more as scary-fun rather than truly scary-terrifying, but still generally enjoyable.  In other words, even though a good number of the visitors seem to be randy teenagers looking for some thrills to ‘up’ their already pumped-up libidos, most of the hayride and sideshows are middle-school-kid and family friendly, though I certainly wouldn’t bring children under 12 to this event (the organizers may not even let them in, as there may be an age limit).  The F/X and production values are good and seem to be very creative.  However, even Yelp’s user ratings for the venue only averaged out to 3 of 5 stars, so beware of hype (or are we all just so accustomed to over-the-top spectacle that it really takes a lot to wow us these days?  Your guess is as good as mine).

There seem to be a number of complaints on Yelp! in particular about exceedingly long lines and parking problems (as in, being forced into parking lots within Griffith Park that are distant from the venue itself because of the huge crowds attending).  It sounds like getting a $58 per person VIP pass is a must if you want to skip those long lines – but if everyone gets a VIP pass, that negates any advantage re: cutting in front of lines, and you’re back to long waits.  The all-attraction pass is $42, but with that you still get to wait in line.  The so-called unlimited-ride tickets may not live up to their name, either, if you’re dealing with hours-long waits (some reviewers complained that they only got on some rides once during the entire night because of the crowds).  That’s the problem with events and venues that get too popular:  when everyone wants to be there at the same time, long waits are inevitable.  A $30 per person general admission ticket, on the other hand, will only get you into Purgatory and the hayride itself, not into the other attractions.  If you’re fine with that and can get there really early ahead of the crowds (good luck!), the general admission may do for you, especially if you have a lot of family members going.  Still, remember to bring extra cash anyway for food and souvenirs, etc., and be prepared for delays.

Zombie scarecrow?    (Photo courtesy of Ten Thirty One Productions)

Zombie scarecrow?  Yikes!  (Photo courtesy of Ten Thirty One Productions)

You can also get cut-rate super saver rates on all levels of tickets by buying them well in advance; see this page for details.  From my own perspective, however, it’s the ticket prices that are the scariest thing about this place (but then, I won’t go to Great America, Disney World or any other theme park, either, because I object to paying so much for so little; hell, for that kind of money, I’d rather take a cheap fare to London or Paris for the weekend.  But that’s me, and I digress.).  In the end, you’ll just have to go and judge for yourselves.

That’s it for our haunted hayride write-up.  Hope you’re feeling properly spooked by the photos.

Until next time, spookyfriends (assuming I survive, should I attend the Great Horror Camp Out),
Michael (and Marie!)


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