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I had the honor this year to be part of the expert panel for USAToday’s 10Best where I nominated escape rooms & haunted attractions for their annual list.

Be sure to support your favorites by voting at the links below

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HAUNTS – Los Angeles Haunted Hayride – California

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

HAUNTS – Factory of Terror – Ohio

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.

HAUNTS – Lewisburg Haunted Cave – Ohio

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.

ESCAPE ROOMS – The Elevator Shaft at The Basement – California

THE ELEVATOR SHAFT 


The Basement has always been ahead of the competition when it comes to immersion and storytelling in their incredibly fun horror escape games, but they’ve really outdone themselves with their latest game: The Elevator Shaft.


The Elevator Shaft is the new Chapter 2 in the 3 part story of The Basement escape games. It is in the space that the Boiler Room once occupied, but don’t be fooled by that because even though it replaced Boiler Room it is a completely different game. The technology is new and advanced compared to anything I have yet to see in an escape room. It features a hydraulic descending elevator hanging overhead, exciting audio effects, fog, water, and lighting effects. The set design is gorgeous, like something out of a movie. The tension that is created in the room is incredible. I’m fascinated by how the room breathes life into the story without using live actors inside the room.

Up to 6 guests are trapped inside this elevator shaft with only 45 minutes to escape. I personally think 3 players is the perfect number for this game, but everyone knows I always prefer to play alone or with only my hubby since we don’t have an established team with which we regularly play. However, I believe you need at least two people to complete the game due to certain puzzles. In my opinion, communication is much more essential in this particular game than the typical escape room. This is the perfect game for a group of friends, especially if they love the horror genre. I imagine it could be a nightmare for someone that is claustrophobic, though. Afterall it’s a fairly small space since it is the size of an elevator shaft with an elevator falling on you.


Here is the story of The Elevator Shaft taken directly from the press release:

About 3 months ago, cannibalistic serial killer, Edward Tandy hired an engineer named John to help him make some “engineering” changes to an antique service elevator on his property. After working on the elevator shaft for a day or two, it became clear to John that Edward’s use for this machine seemed sinister in nature. He confronted Edward and refused to help any longer. Edward told him that not only would he continue to work on the project, but that he would not be allowed to leave the compound until the project was complete, and if he did so, John’s wife and daughter would be killed. Now the project is done and John is long dead, his life taken inside the death trap he helped to build. You wake up and find yourself in the bottom of the shaft, with a video recorded by John himself. Unbeknownst to Edward, the engineer has hidden a series of steps within the inner workings of the elevator, that if you’re able to figure out, you can blow open the emergency access to the shaft and make a run for it. Can you decipher John’s notes, and find the secret sequence of steps in order to escape? Or will you be crushed by the 10-ton antique steel monster that hangs above?


The Elevator Shaft is one of the most immersive and unique escape rooms I’ve played and I highly recommend it.


 

ODDITIES – Jurassic Planet at the LA County Fair – CA


I’ve never been particularly interested in dinosaurs, but I heard about Jurassic Planet and my curiosity got the best of me. I’m glad it did. 

For only a small $5 up charge to your fair admisssion you can walk among 40 life sized realistic animatronic dinosaurs. It pretty darn cool! I know they aren’t actually real dinosaurs (except for a few live creatures on display such as an emu, alligator and tortoise), but they seem pretty real if you let your imagination run wild. I found myself wanting to pet them and at one point talking in “baby talk” to a few adorable animatronic baby dinos. 

I really enjoyed Jurrasic Planet and wanted to share it here. I also recorded a bit of my experience which you can watch from YouTube below. 

ESCAPE ROOMS – Omescape: Kingdom of Cats – California

YOUTUBE REVIEW

OMESCAPE WEBSITE

When I heard the game was cat themed and we’d be in a kingdom of cats I imagined I’d be chasing mice and solving physical cat type puzzles, however that is not this game. This is a great example of expectations not being met, but it’s not necessarily the creators’ fault. I had expected a completely different experience and was disappointed. You are actually humans in a cat kingdom trying to solve puzzles. The game itself, with no expectations considered, was an average game.

It’s a solid, well designed game for the most part. There are creative puzzles and a blend of ways to think in order to solve them. There were a few that were a bit of a logic leap here or there, but not so drastic that they couldn’t be solved with a little guidance. The game felt a little dated in it’s technology and style. There is a lot of crawling, so not the best for player with knee trouble or claustrophobia. Not my kind of game, but not bad either.