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After attending the LA Haunted Hayride’s “black” carpet VIP event, we got the chance to attend the attractions as a guest would. Last year, the LA Haunted Hayride was our favorite event of the season for its refreshing take on bringing what seems, at first glance, a traditional Midwest Halloween carnival/hayride to the hyper-modern world of big-budget Southern California haunted attractions. Somehow, the event manages to pair this Halloween carnival atmosphere with great special makeup effects, excellent monster talent, and technically-impressive practical effects and gimmicks.

The hayride itself took about 25 minutes in total once we were seated and departed through the large, ominous stone archway. Along the voyage of our slow-moving tractor and hay cart were several scenes of gruesomeness and fright. I have to give special attention to the “burn costumes” of some of the monsters haunting the hayride. The costumes utilize an ingenious lighting gimmick that I FULLY expect other haunts to try and duplicate during the 2014 haunt season – good job, gang! The only point of contention I had with the hayride was a slight bit of scene/set re-use from last year’s incarnation. While I think recycling is great when it comes to ecology, I was hoping to be treated to an entirely fresh, new assortment of scare-scenes. Despite this very minor issue, I found the experience to be thrilling and applaud the energy levels of the talent working it. We rode several times during the night and got the same experience at the start of the evening as well as the end.

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Over the course of the evening, we spent a lot of time just milling about “The Purgatory” side show area. This concourse features several interesting attractions, from Jack’s Carving Shack where, for a small up-charge, you can get professional coaching and the chance to carve a pumpkin, to the “Scary-go-Round” and a cool house of mirrors. Additionally, the stage area was home to a duo of paranormal investigators talking about their various, frightening experiences throughout their adventures. This is really cool as the event didn’t try to put on a show of their own or bother with scripts, jokes, or gags. Instead, they just let these two guys talk about their experiences. The raw, realistic re-telling of these stories helped to sell the uniqueness of the LA Haunted Hayride.

Another area where the LA Haunted Hayride excels is its stable of characters, monsters, etc that roam the grounds. ALL of the ones that I witnessed stayed in character for what seemed to be the entire evening. I never once saw any of them alter from their in-character personas. It was refreshing to see and I applaud them for their efforts. Even better is that, while there don’t seem to be many monsters roaming the grounds, the ones that were are memorable and iconic. There is a bloodied and creepy-as-hell “ice scream” man with a whip smart wit, a large zombie clown that towered over everything, an insectoid monster, and even a medical experiment gone-awry featuring some truly disturbing and gruesome wounds. One character that I don’t think I will forget anytime soon was a small in-stature Witch who seemed to float about the grounds with a graceful, hunched gait and a characterization/expression that was a cross between absolutely endearing and wholly sinister – a very effective and hard to achieve combination.

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The LA Haunted Hayride’s walk-through maze, “The In Between”, was back again this year, sending guests into the darkness armed with only a low-voltage lantern. The maze had plenty of dead ends and twists-and-turns to keep us guessing and it is nice to have to work a bit to find your way through it. It should be known that those of you who are claustrophobic may need to use one of the maze’s emergency exits as the walkways get can pretty narrow. Along with the strobe and fog effects, it reminded me a lot of going through “The Further” mentioned in the Insidious films.

Obviously, it wouldn’t be a Midwestern Halloween carnival without great food and the LA Haunted Hayride accomplishes this feat in spades. The horror-themed grub was delightful and I highly recommend hitting the snack cart up early as the hot chocolate and apple cider sold out within a couple hours of the evening! My favorite eats on the menu were “Carrie’s Caramel Apple Donut Holes” and the “Candyman Apples”. I was not a huge fan of the “Psycho Sloppy Joe” sandwich, but I am happy to report that is the only dish I can say that about. You will not be disappointed in waiting to eat until you get to the event.

Another cool attraction within the event is the “Death Row” photo opportunities tent, which features a plethora of well-designed sets for attendees to take photos in. Many haunted attractions in Southern California charge for photo ops like these – the LA Haunted Hayride has just put them out for guests to enjoy at no extra cost. Normally, this wouldn’t be worth mentioning but the quality of the sets within the Death Row tent are excellent!

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Overall, I am happy to award the LA Haunted Hayride a solid 5 out of 5 stars. Thus far, it was the most near-perfect Halloween event I have been to this season. If I didn’t have to trek from Orange County up to LA County, I would be coming back a lot more in the next few weeks. For ticket information and more, checkout the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride’s official website.

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Jerry Paxton

A long-time fan and reveler of all things Geek, I am also the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of GamingShogun.com