Our evening at the 2015 Los Angeles Haunted Hayride began as it usually does, with their black carpet event. We arrived to the Griffith Park Old Zoo location just prior to dusk and checked-in with the media desk. We got situated on the press line side of the red carpet and waited in the sprinkling rain for the celebrities to arrive. One by one, they came and walked the carpet. We got the chance to see Bridget Marquardt, Bryan Greenburg, and Elaine Hendrix – to name just a few. After taking photographs for a while, it was time to venture into the event location proper and check out its various attractions. The LA Haunted Hayride offers three ticket tiers – General admission for $43, VIP admission for $59, and a hayride only ticket for $30.
The LA Haunted Hayride has consistently been one of my favorite Halloween attractions for several years now – very sadly, until this one. Unfortunately, the entire narrative of the hayride attraction is muddled and inconsistent with no real payoff. The queue line is dotted with monitors telling about the history of the mythical “boogeyman”, so I fully expected the hayride to be a search for or, perhaps, an escape from the boogeyman. The different vignettes that your hay cart passes by seem disjointed and, even though we got teased of the boogeyman’s approach near the end of the ride, there is no climax or resolution featuring the creature itself – it just falls a bit flat for my liking. Also, the hayride was missing some of the technical ingenuity from years past.
Past hayrides featured growing demons, burn victims still smoldering as they attacked the hay cart, and even crow people that descended on the cart via giant, flexible poles. This year seemed to lack that magical, “how did they do that” factor. Additionally, they have erected these black vinyl-draped fences along a lot of the hayride route. This is a mistake as the outlying forest of the Griffith Park Old Zoo location is really creepy and seeing it adds to the overall ride experience. Even seeing glimpses of the next vignette in the distance adds to the suspense of what might happen to riders. TenThirtyOne Productions was very focused on getting the New York Haunted Hayride online this year and, in its natal form, I can’t help but wonder if it took some of the work away from the LA experience. My hope is that next year, after the New York Haunted Hayride has had its base infrastructure set up, that the designers and creators of the experience can more equally share their time between coasts. That is not to say that the hayride is devoid of scares – not by any means. Several people in our hay cart were screaming like banshees as the monsters terrorized them. Overall, the hayride just didn’t live up to its previous incarnations this year.
(As an aside, I must confess that I am terribly saddened to have had to write that preceding paragraph. I have been a fan of the LA Haunted Hayride for a long time – it is the only haunted attraction in Southern California that successfully merged the feel and look of a Midwestern Halloween carnival with modern effects and scares.)
After the hayride, we ventured over to Jack’s Carving Shack where, for a small fee, guests can carve pumpkins. The first Sunday night of the event’s run saw very little in the way of crowds, so there were really no lines for anything. This, undoubtedly, will change as we get more into October proper. The hayride can attract over 60,000 people a season, so be sure to get there early if you attend. Last year, we saw all manner of cool-looking pumpkin designs and it is always fun to see how creative people can get with their creations.
The “Grub Shack” is back this year and the menu hasn’t changed since last time. It’s all vegan-friendly, so don’t expect your burger to be real meat. That being said, the “Pumpkin Head Fritters” are delicious. Unfortunately, they are still using cold caramel sauce on the “Candyman Apples” – a mistake. I hope next year they select hot caramel to drizzle on them. I know hot caramel can be tricky, but the pay-off in taste experience is well worth it. The “High Tension Taquitos” where also good as were the “Misery Mac & Cheese Balls”. Do yourself a favor and just order the mac & cheese balls plain – sans ranch or BBQ sauce. The “cheap” flavor of the sauces detract from the crispy, cheesy goodness of the cheese balls. Also, they should bring back the hot chocolate that the “Grub Shack” had a couple of years ago – nothing sets the Halloween mood like candied or caramel apples and hot cocoa on a cool Fall evening.
Here is another example of where the LA Haunted Hayride needs to regain a bit of its previous “heart” from past years. In past hayrides, the event would see these concession workers walking around the grounds selling things like candied apples, popcorn, sodas, etc. What was cool was that they were all themed and costumed in some way. I loved the candied apple hawker’s mask that looked like two candied apples were shoved into his eye sockets. This year, there was simply a guy who looked like he walked in from the public park with an ice chest of sodas and a stool sitting on the side of the event grounds – no uniform or costume. In fact, I was tempted to call security at one point because he didn’t look like he was an official worker of the LA Haunted Hayride or its food vendor. Then I saw a recent image from the NY Haunted Hayride and, sure enough, there was the candied apple mask. I do believe they split their resources a ton this year in getting the East Coast event off the ground.
The “In-Between” dark maze has returned and is as winding and disorientating as ever. Guests are given a small lamp and are made to wear masks inside. The cool part about this haunted house is that the monsters are wearing the same kind of masks. So, guests are never sure if they are running into monsters or other lost souls trying to navigate their way through the dark experience.
The new “Trick Or Treat” haunted house offers guests a chance to engage in trick or treating, LA Haunted Hayride style. Guests move from scene to scene, receiving either a trick or a treat – the treats in this case being real candy! The timing of some of the gags was a bit off but, overall, this was interesting to go through and experience.
“House of Shadows” is also a new haunted house at the LA Haunted Hayride. A semi-escape room style experience, groups of guests are made to navigate the dark interior looking for the boogeyman. There are several neat little gimmicks throughout the haunted house and, overall, this was the most successful of the various attractions at the LA Haunted Hayride. Definitely check this one out if you get up to the LA Haunted Hayride this year.
Overall, this year’s Los Angeles Haunted Hayride feels like it has taken a backseat to TenThirtyOne’s New York Haunted Hayride. They seem to have received a lot of costumes, masks, and props from the LA experience and it has suffered for it. I would call this season a growing pain for the event – you will have fun, but you may be letdown if you attended the events previous incarnations.