LOS ANGELES HAUNTED HAYRIDE
Growing up in the midwest hayrides and tractors were a bit more commonplace, but the idea of a haunted hayride in the middle of Los Angeles is unique. The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride is located in Griffith Park near the old zoo area. The hayride, dark maze and trick or treat area are the three main haunted attractions at the event. There are also food vendors, psychics, entertainment and a creepy carousel.
LA Haunted Hayride is a fun event, however 2017 was not their strongest year. The clown theme was interesting enough, but not very original. I liked their use of the old zoo area and incorporating the animals. The oversized marionettes were fun. The guy on the motorcycle looked cool. Overall the hayride didn’t deliver those stunning staged scenes I have come to expect from this event. This year it seemed a bit lighter on actors and the scares seemed to be focussed primarily on jumping on the wagon or stalking guests a little too long along a sparsely decorated path.
The House of Shadows maze is a dark maze with a handful of actors that work very hard at jump scares. It’s a fun place to get lost with your friends. There are a few dimly lit scenes within and some writing on the walls to “help” you to the correct path. There was a half deflated airbag effect that was less than effective. It isn’t the scariest or prettiest maze I’ve seen, but the idea of getting lost in an actual maze is quite fun.
Trick or Treat was the only attraction that made me put away my camera specifically saying “no lights, photos, videos, snapchat, instagram, etc while inside”. I wondered if that was so the poor quality of the attraction wouldn’t get plastered all over social media. It was a lot of fun the last time I did it…actually one of my favorite things in Los Angeles because of the creativity of trick or treating at the homes of different creatures. This year the set looked like it needed some touchups, the actors weren’t behind their doors to answer the knocking and there was no candy for the trick or treaters. It was a series of awkward moments where we would knock on a door and wait, then an actor may or may not appear to try and do some sort of jump scare that we were literally standing around waiting for. It seems to have lost motivation for Trick or Treat when they removed the Trick or Treating element from the attraction.
Overall this year was disappointing, but I still look forward to seeing what they do next year. I hope it is a fun theme and they reignite that spark of creativity that I have enjoyed so much from them in the past years.
House of Shadows Maze
QUEEN MARY’S DARK HARBOR
You don’t get much scarier than a haunted attraction in an actual haunted location, for that reason Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor is a must see event. The mazes are fun and the actors work hard to create jump scares, but this attraction has a built in creep factor that can’t be created by the best designers in the business…it has real ghosts! I know because I saw one here years ago and didn’t even realize it until I talked to the staff later. (I thought it was just an elaborate special effect they had added to the pool area, but it was actually the little girl.) Now every time I walk through the ship I keep my eyes open.
Whether or not you personally encounter an actual ghost, you will have a spooktacular time at Dark Harbor. This year they have 7 mazes with 4 of them on the ship. One of my favorite things about Dark Harbor is how they theme the mazes after real ghost stories from the ship. Lullaby & B340 are definitely favorites as far as story and creep factor because of the real stories they are based on. I really enjoyed the opening scene of Soulmate this year as well. The new ship maze, Feast, is innovative and fun especially when part of the audience is made to crawl into an oven while the rest pass by looking in on them. Dark Harbor also stepped up their interaction with guests in Circus this year by adding a few alternate paths where chosen guests may go through a ball pit or be invited into a secret bar within the maze. Deadrise is as scary as ever with it’s agile, hardworking actors popping out from every direction. Intrepid is really the only maze at the event that seemed a bit out of place to me. It didn’t tell a clear story and seemed a bit thrown together, but the actors still did a great job. (The ship’s captain explained Intrepid to me after I’d gone through it and apparently it has a clear story, it just isn’t conveyed as well as the rest.) There are also multiple entertainment stages, slider shows, walk around entertainment and monsters, multiple bars, food vendors, a souvenir shop, and a VIP area. The entertainment schedule was impressive. You would need to attend multiple nights to see all of the entertainment.
Overall Dark Harbor is a well run, professional, fun event at a truly haunted location. It is also a very popular event so arrive early and consider a front of the line pass as it can get very very crowded. Leave time for traffic and parking. There is onsite parking for a fee. Check their website for details on parking and other things to know before you go.
*VIDEOS BELOW ARE COMPLETE MAZE WALK THROUGHS CONTAINING SPOILERS*
THE USS NIGHTMARE
The USS Nightmare is not your traditional haunted house. It is immersive storytelling on a boat. It’s located just outside of Cincinnati hidden on the river. (We did not see any signs for the event until we’d found it.)
My husband and I opted for the RIP experience, therefore we had additional scenes and a more hands-on experience than the standard ticketed guest. I highly recommend doing RIP. We were given a flashing necklace and were directed to a special queue line. We were our own group to start, however about halfway through the attraction the actors put us together with a larger group of teenage girls.
The story is basically that the boat had a terrible accident and those aboard are lost spirits. I really enjoyed the way in which characters would introduce us to future characters through story and requesting we complete certain tasks when we meet them. It was fun anticipating what the Captain and Ana would be like based on the little info we had received. We did our best to complete tasks such as asking the clown a question, giving an object to Ana, however we realized after we left that we completely forgot to tell the captain something we were supposed to. It makes me wonder if that would’ve given us a different experience or made no difference at all. We did notice we were covered in clown weave by the time we finished and not sure if that was something we did or random.
The path was interesting starting with an intense elevator ride and taking us throughout the boat. I loved the use of maze elements. I found the repetition fun throughout the walk and felt it must represent being stuck in a loop as some hauntings appear to be. The decor on the boat was good. The props and effects were well suited for the story for the most part. The make-up and costumes were fine. There were a few really fun effects, that although I’ve seen them used in other haunts, still caught me off guard since I didn’t expect to see them on a boat.
The actors worked very hard to give a great performance. Some were more gifted than others when it came to interaction and improvisation, but they all seemed to know their characters well. I found the clown with the large weapon to be just incredible, as well as the actor at the beginning and the elevator operator. Some of the characters had to interact with the audience more than others, such as getting us to eat and drink things or reach into buckets to fish out objects with our hands. They did a great job as a cast.
Overall USS Nightmare is a fun immersive theatre piece. I wouldn’t call it a standard walkthrough haunted house if you upgrade to the RIP Experience, I can’t speak to general admission.
FACTORY OF TERROR
Factory of Terror is a good standard haunted attraction. It makes a lot of top haunt lists, but I wouldn’t say it’s really worth a special trip. It’s got some great visual moments and really elaborate puppets, set and tech at points and then there are large sections lacking creativity.
I did enjoy the mirror maze and some of the moving floor and wall effects. I felt the use of vertigo tunnels and airbags was excessive and ineffective. There were A LOT of very loud sounds throughout that eventually became less of a jump scare and more of a headache.
Factory of Terror claims to be one of the longest haunted houses so we expected much more, but it was simply multiple small haunts. One of the most frustrating things about the event was the theming inside each walkthrough. It was very difficult to figure out what was going on because they were divided up as if to have distinct themes but once inside each maze seemed to change within itself as if they didn’t really know what story they were telling. Stronger theming within each maze could help the actors make stronger character choices.
There were a handful of very talented actors, but overall most had no idea what they were doing. It really felt that they lacked proper training. One entire walkthrough was basically growling. The maze with the large gargoyles in front had some of the best actors and one incredibly unprofessional actor (the first scare when you walk in) was literally playing on her cell phone and looked up annoyed when we stared at her waiting for her to do something and then waved at us as if to say, “move along, stop bothering me.”
Overall Factory Of Terror seemed to be run by nice people that have a passion for haunting, but need some tweaking and the actors need training. If you’re in the area definitely check it out, but I wouldn’t drive far out of your way to see it.
LEWISBURG HAUNTED CAVE
Imagine walking along a bridge over water inside a cave in darkness and feeling something grab your ankle. I don’t have to imagine it, it happened tonight at Lewisburg Haunted Cave. That was the beginning of a very exciting adventure through this one of a kind, truly scary haunted attraction in Lewisburg Ohio.
I have experienced many amazing haunts around the nation from Hollywood style makeup and sets to immersive storytelling to extreme individual experiences, but it’s rare I am actually scared in a haunted attraction. Lewisburg Haunted Cave is genuinely scary and thrilling in a way I’ve rarely experienced. It’s a perfect balance of “fun fear” meets “real fear”. There were moments I legitimately screamed. The unusual underground setting with it’s uneven wet ground, bridges and, claustrophobic nature play a big role. The unexpected moments with perfectly placed pyrotechnics are stunning. The full sized vehicles were impressive. I think the standout scene with Satan giving you actual choices is one of the very special ways this haunted attraction shines above the rest. I mean how unnerving is it to know you have to choose correctly or you could get lost wandering around inside for who knows how long? Honestly though the truck was the moment that made me hit the ground with tears in my eyes. I don’t want to spoil the moment here, but if you’ve been there, then you know the moment I’m talking about. It was such a well done scare that it took a moment for my reality to catch back up to me and remind me that it was a haunted house and I was safe. (They got me good.)
This was about an hour experience because we didn’t get lost. It can take longer. It is dark and the ground is uneven. Please wear sturdy shoes that you won’t care about getting dirty. I wouldn’t recommend this for young children or anyone with health issues that could be aggravated by stress.
It is an impressive combination of genuinely creepy atmosphere, effective actors, awe inspiring animatronics, top notch sound and lighting design, physical and mental stimulation that attacks all of your senses and even pyrotechnics inside one of the most unique venues I’ve encountered. Basically what I’m saying is…it’s amazing!!! Don’t be mislead by the inexpensive ticket price, it’s worth much more for this experience. *They also have a historical tour type hayride that is more family friendly as well as entertinament and concessions. I highly recommend Lewisburg Haunted Cave.
*Due to time constraints we were unable to ride through the family friendly attraction.
INTO THE BLACK
Have you ever wondered how you would react if you were the character walking through the spooky house alone in a horror flick? Now you have the chance feel what that is like. Into the Black at the Los Angeles Fairgrounds in Pomona California is a new Halloween event for 2017. It is a three part adventure in that there is a short movie, VR experience and walk through haunted house that all work together to tell the story. You can watch the movie on YouTube before attending the event. The VR experience is a fun short adventure into the past to meet the characters of the home and find out a little more of the history of the house and it’s former residents. The haunted house is an individual experience inside the house which we have now gotten quite familiar with. Overall, it’s a creative, fun and unique event.
The haunted house is beautifully designed and truly feels like it’s own character. One of my favorite things about the design is the use of space. I enjoyed the large room scenes in combination with the claustrophobic hallways. I also love that there are choices to make within the path. The make-up is amazing, of course. Afterall, Larry Bones (Boneyard Effects) is an incredible make-up creator. The hardworking actors are perfectly placed to build tension and then pounce. The sound design is also wonderfully done. I loved the moment when I was following the sound, but could barely see anything. Everything works together so well to create a fresh style of psychologically thrilling experience.
You can more of my thoughts in the YouTube video below along with my husband and short interview with Larry Bones.
This escape room game is not for the weak. Escapade Games Zoe is both a haunted house and an escape room game. The story is interesting. The set and props are well done. The puzzles are good and the flow works. There is also a good amount of high-tech puzzles in this game. Basically it encompasses the escape room that so many future escape room players picture in their heads when they ask,”Is it scary?” and the answer is yes.
Be prepared for an immersive experience that includes strong creep factor as well as jump scares. There are spirits in this game (in the form of live actors) that will attempt to distract you in the most haunting ways. This is a perfect event for those looking for a more immersive haunted experience any time of year, not just October when the general public is looking for a fright.
Below is a list of the Escape Rooms I’ve played roughly in order of MY favorite to least favorite. Note: I prefer strong storytelling and immersion, especially in horror, paranormal & magic themed escape rooms, so my preferences may be different than yours. Feel free to write to me Twitter @christinebarger or Instagram @TheHauntGirl
ESCAPE THE NETHERWORLD – SASQUATCH
ULTIMATE ESCAPE GAME ATLANTA – SUBMERGED
ESCAPE THE NETHERWORLD – HAUNTED
ESCAPE THE NETHERWORLD – TIKI
ULTIMATE ESCAPE GAME – AMNESIA
TIME TO ESCAPE ATLANTA – THE GRAND ZEPLIN
TIME TO ESCAPE ATLANTA – HIGH NOON IN THE OLD WEST
ULTIMATE ESCAPE GAME – ENIGMA
TIME TO ESCAPE ATLANTA – THE LAUNCH
ULTIMATE ESCAPE GAME – ERASED
MISSION ESCAPE ATLANTA – THE HOTEL
TIME TO ESCAPE ATLANTA – AL CAPONE’S SPEAKEASY 1929
ESCAPE WOODS – HOPPER’S CABIN
MASTERMIND ESCAPE GAMES – SUPERHERO TRAINING FACILITY
ESCAPE THE NETHERWORLD – NOSFERATU
MISSION ESCAPE ATLANTA – THE STUDY
MYSTERY ROOM – HOUDINI
MYSTERY ROOM – HOLLYWOOD PREMIERE
BIG ESCAPE ROOMS – PHARAOH
BIG ESCAPE ROOMS – CLOWN
ESCAPE THE NETHERWORLD
I have never been so impressed with storytelling from beginning to end as I was in Sasquatch. This escape game is one of the best examples of storytelling through immersion that I have seen nationwide. I felt a true sense of urgency throughout the game. The effects through use of set design, lighting, sound and other special effects was exactly what you could expect from the company that brings you one of the most impressive haunts in the nation. The puzzles were fairly first generation, but were tied in enough throughout the story that it worked well. The payoff at the end of the game is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen in an escape room. Overall I was incredibly impressed with this game. I highly recommend making the trip to play it if you love immersive games.
Ghost themes are always a favorite with me. I thought the story of the captured ghost and paranormal entities was a very fun setting. The room looked great. The props and effects were unique and fun. I adored the hint system in this game. I also loved our amazing gamemaster. The puzzles in this game are designed for a large group in a way that feels a little like busy work. Several of them are tedious physical puzzles. Again they are fairly first generation puzzles, however the props are beyond what I’ve seen in most other escape games. The finale of the game is incredible IF you win. Unfortunately you will not experience it if you lose. Overall this is a fun and unique escape game.
Vampires are another favorite theme of mine, unfortunately I’ve yet to find a vampire themed room that really knocks my socks off. Nosferatu had a clever hint system and fun theme, but the game left a lot to be desired. I should mention that we were partnered up with a rather large group that didn’t really seem to want my husband and I to play (even though they joined our booking knowing we had already signed up). Also the gamemaster for this experience was a bit of a jerk, which also may skew my opinion of the game. We were given envelopes with information about our individual characters, a task and information to memorize. In order for a player to win the group must stab the vampire’s heart and escape PLUS each person must complete their task. It’s a lot of instructions and things to remember for something that doesn’t really add to the game in my personal opinion. It just made the game start off feeling complicated. The room itself wasn’t impressive in set design. There were A LOT of locks and keys in the game. The puzzles were tedious and uninteresting including very time consuming physical puzzles, deciphering and reading. It was definitely not my style of game, even though I was incredibly excited for the theme. My husband and I both accomplished our personal goals, but somehow a decision was made on the final puzzle that did not include us and it was incorrect. If you choose incorrectly at the final puzzle, you lose. The answer is simple if you look at all of the puzzles in the game you will clearly see it. Nothing in the game is too complicated, it’s just all time consuming and there is a lot to do. I imagine this could be a fun game for a large group of beginners, but it was certainly not my kind of game.
Escape the Netherworld is an incredible escape room company with impressive games. They are perfect for large groups of all levels. Experienced players should also enjoy these games whether they have a team of two or group. (I would caution players from doing all three games back to back like we did though. The puzzles started to blend into each other because the puzzle styles are quite similar in all of the games.) My main frustration is that they have created the most outstanding payoffs for winning the games and you only get three hints during gameplay. I strongly feel that the experience of winning these games is as fun as the gameplay and everyone should really be encouraged to complete it within the allotted time. Therefore I wish they allowed for unlimited hints and would try to encourage everyone to get through. I know there will still be people that do not take the hints, but at least they’d have the option. If not then maybe consider making an equally impressive losing payoff.