In the parlance of the Halloween trade, it would be better to say Melissa Carbone didn’t have a dream as much as a nightmare: scare the heck out of people in an old-fashion Fall Harvest/Halloween kind of way.
The former LA-based Clear Channel Media executive, who was their youngest general sales manager ever, always loved Halloween and is a self-described Halloween fanatic. Young Melisa’s small-town New England upbringing was ripe with Halloween events to attend and hayrides to go on.
As an adult she got more and more involved turning her home into an elaborate Halloween haven for her Los Angeles’ Westwood neighborhood each Old Hallows Eve.
She also became a “home-haunter.”
Soon Carbone decided it was time to quit her lucrative corporate job to pursue her real passion, that of delighting and scaring folks with her vision of a Halloween attraction.
Besides her job and career, she also said goodbye to her life savings to pursue the opportunity she researched to confirm wasn’t an illusion. She wasn’t chasing ghosts, she was creating them.
It worked. The LA Haunted Hayride , which Carbone began in 2009, has become the #1 rated Halloween attraction here in Los Angeles, and has been for some time. (By the way, it’s staged at Griffith Park, and we did a post about the alleged haunted history of Griffith Park back in 2015).
Carbone is the master-mind behind the Hayride and all that goes with it. When she appeared on the TV show Shark Tank in 2013, she landed the biggest deal in the show’s history. She received $2 million – in return for giving a 20-percent stake in her company at the time, Ten Thirty One Productions, from Dallas Mavericks owner and billionaire Mark Cuban.
Carbon sold her company recently to 13th Floor Entertainment Group, but she is still in charge of the Hayride.
Her commitment to delighting and scaring you is unwavering. “We want to keep our attractions fresh because we never want people to expect what’s coming,” she told me.
But the absolute best part, where she had me at, was when she shared her philosophy behind the attraction:
“At the LA Haunted Hayride you feel like you’re in small town Americana,“ Carbone says. “It feels like a fall festival Halloween. The continuity of the LA Haunted Hayride is we never take you out of the Halloween mind-frame.”
While she has admiration for Knotts Scary Farm and Universal Studios Hollywood Horror night, they aren’t her competition.
“When you go to an amusement park you get taken out of the mind-frame because walking from one maze to the next you’ll walk by (for example) The Simpsons or the Sponge Bob square pants ride and it takes you out of Halloween for a second,” she says. And we try to never do that with any of our attractions.”
Carbone also wrote a terrific book called “Ready, Fire, Aim: How I Turned a Hobby Into an Empire.” She provides alot of business wisdom and advice in her book, which she wrote all herself. Yep, no “ghost” writer.
The Experience: Purgatory
When you walk through the gates to the Haunted Hayride, well, there is a nice little haunted village you encounter first. It’s called “Purgatory.”
As the LA Haunted Hayride web site puts it: “Our villagers have prepared their stomping grounds for the ultimate Halloween experience. Become a part of our interactive shows, take a ride on our beloved undead horses on the Scary-Go-Round, visit our wickedly insightful psychic and shop in our charming Bootique. Our haunted village is quite pleasant, but we have only mentioned what’s in store for you in Purgatory.”
Once you get “acclimated,” it’s on to the hayride. I hadn’t been there since 2014, I found a couple of things especially to my liking.
The LA Haunted Hayride
It starts with a line and ends with a scream.
The hayride itself, which lasts around 20-25 minutes moved at a much slower pace than I remember it before, which I mean as a very good thing. And it even stops so you can take in the horde of gleeful ghouls who call Griffith’s Parks haunted woods home.
(Or to paraphrase what was said about John Rambo in “Rambo,” what we call Hell, they call home.)
This marauding horde is clearly waiting for you, in and out of the creepy fog. They truly “enjoy” visitors. In fact, they live for them.
Remember, if you’re old enough, when clowns were friendly, like Bozo? Ah, not anymore, and certainly not in these woods.
I don’t want to tell you too much more, as I’m sure between this post, their website and video you will get the idea.
Wanna “Trick or Treat?”
The other attraction that I really liked on the grounds of Purgatory is called “Trick or Treat.”
As their website explains it: “In this haunted village Halloween never ends, and trick-or-treating is a nightly activity. Explore the neighborhoods by going door to door to encounter its occupants and all their mischief. All you have to do is knock.”
These “occupants?” Spoiler alert: Yeah, they’re ghouls.
Hey, it was all pretty darn good. Plus I got treats and got out of there unscathed.
Check the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride website for times, days, tickets and other information and disclaimers.
Well, our time is at an end for this post. As as the ubber Morlock said to the Time Traveler in 2002’s “The Time Machine,” “you have your answer. Now go.”
Until next time.