There's something simply magical about the turn of the seasons this time of year. The first tickle of chill in the fall air, leaves lining quiet residential streets, hell, even the air smells different. While life in LA doesn't exactly afford one the true autumn experience that you're most likely to get in, say, the North East, that just means we savor every inkling of it that we can get. When offered to attend the LA Haunted Hayride this year, we jumped at the opportunity. What better way to ring in the Halloween season than a haunt in a hayride!? So when the day came, my lovely girlfriend, Elissa, and I headed out to the Griffith Park Abandoned Zoo to see what the hayride had to offer. This review is a combination of both of our thoughts, however, I will notate Elissa's comments to differentiate from my own.
For those who have never been to the Old Zoo at Griffith Park, it is quite literally exactly what it sounds like. It's the original Los Angeles Zoo, and it now stands as an abandoned relic of what once was. The bars from the enclosures have been removed and the zoo has been open to the public since the mid-60's. What stands as a fun outing for the whole family during daytime hours quickly takes on somewhat of a sinister energy after the sun falls and the moon creeps over the treeline. The zoo itself is located at the end of a long trek down Crystal Springs Road, which is ominous enough without signs lining the road warning you to turn back and never return. It is a nice touch, and the environment in which the hayride itself is set gives the event a very Camp Crystal Lake feel.
While the Hayride is the main event, there are several other options for entertainment. In addition to two mazes (Ouija: House of Shadows and Trick or Treat), there is an audience participatory show entitled the Theatre Macabre, the "Scary"-Go-Round, pumpkin carving and psychic reading. After taking it all in for a moment and grabbing a soda (sorry kiddies, no booze at this one), we decided to get in line for the hayride and see what all the fuss is really about. As you snake your way towards the tractors, you're treated to a haunting soundtrack blaring out of speakers hidden in the woods, and screens playing various scenes from famous horror films. When it's finally your turn to board the ride, you are herded with a group of 30 to 40 other unfortunates into a literal cattle gate to await your tractor trailer. Again, I thought this was a nice touch, however, there was still next to no mention of the theme of this year's hayride: Secret Society. After spending a decent amount of time squeezed into our enclosure, we were sent to our tractor where we plopped down in a pile of hay and sent on our way. Something to keep in mind, you will be sitting on the floor of a flatbed trailer in a pile of loose hay, as opposed to bales of hay or even seats. Those with hay allergies may want to keep this in mind.
The ride itself is divided into a variety of small skits and scenarios placed at several stops along the course of the ride. You will watch a small scene unfold before characters break their fourth wall and rush the tractor as you move along to the next scene. At the midway point, you are ushered off of the trailer and sent through a maze-style haunt before being sent back onto the tractor to finish the ride. While some of the scenes on the actual ride portion were fun and interesting, they felt very disjointed and had little do with the next. Overall, I had two issues with the hayride portion of this event, one being that the theme (which is extremely hyped up on their website) was mentioned maybe twice throughout the entire ride. The other issue I had was more of a personal issue in that while walking through the maze-portion there were several tripping hazards in low lit areas, one of which being a hitch that was left attached to a bus being used as a set piece. After a character jumped out and scared us I had the unfortunate pleasure of jumping forward and slamming my shin into the hitch, which is still sore over a week later. I hope for the safety of future guests that this has been remedied and will no longer be an issue.
Elissa's thoughts on the hayride: Overall I had a fun time with the hayride. The actors were really putting 100% into their performances, and as a former character actor I really admired that. There's a cannibal scene that I really like (Ryan liked that one a lot too), it was definitely my favorite. And while the maze in the middle was fun, it probably wouldn't have hurt to save it for the end. Getting in and out of the tractor right in the middle of the event just seemed a little odd. Lastly, I did assume that we would be sitting on barrels, or hay bales, so a bit of a head's up would have been appreciated as far as that's concerned, mainly for people with problems sitting and standing or those with bad allergies.
Following the hayride, we decided to venture into one of the traditional haunts: Ouija: House of Shadows. Based off of the film, this one took the term maze to heart. You are sent into a pitch black maze with nothing but flashing strobe lights and your wits to find your way out. After several wrong turns leading to dead ends, you will eventually find your way back into the cool fall air but unfortunately, this was not the case for us and several of the other guests traversing the maze with us. With little to no indication of where to actually go, and characters who were merely watching us stumble our way through the maze we ended up coming out of what turned out to be an emergency exit, thinking we had found the end of the maze. Discovering that we had missed god only knows how much more of that maze was somewhat disappointing.
Elissa's thoughts on this maze: I had no idea it was going to be a complete blackout maze leading me to go into it completely blind (no pun intended) The use of the strobe lights in such tight spaces got to be just a little much and had I known it was an actual maze and the strobes were going to be that strong, I would have thought twice about going in at all as I'm sensitive to things like that for long periods of time. There was a point where I started experiencing anxiety and wanted to exit, and not in the "I'm scared so that's kind of coll that I was so scared I had to leave" way. There should be a warning if there is going to be heavy use of strobe in claustrophobic areas like that. I'm a bit claustrophobic myself, so I could only imagine what it would be like for people with extreme claustrophobia, or worse case, epilepsy. Finally, it wouldn't have hurt to have a few more actors in the maze, I saw maybe 2 or 3, but I think the maze would have faired better with either a lot more actors, or none at all.
Finally, we got in line to head through the final maze and attraction of the event, Trick or Treat. Now, this is a fun concept, you head through a mini neighborhood filled with nefarious ne'er do-wells and, well, you knock on the doors and trick or treat. You never know what may be lurking behind the next door, and that's part of the fun. The other part of the fun? You actually get candy! Another nice improvement over the last maze was the fact that this one was well lit, outdoors and provided plenty of room to move around, look at the sets and take it all in. I really enjoyed this maze, up until the point that a character, who was sitting on one of the porches in a rocking chair, began yelling profanities at another guest who, in his opinion, was taking too long looking at a set as she was "holding up the line for other guests". Keep in mind, this is not a traditional "congo line-style" maze, but a large pathway designed for guests to walk around and take in the environment. Needless to say, our jaws were hanging in disbelief. No actor should ever break character, or speak to a guest in that way PERIOD. Elissa is a seasoned character actor, having worked Halloween Horror Nights for 7+ years, so she had a few choice words to say about this aspect of the evening. This was one of our favorite aspects of the evening though, the houses were a ton of fun and the actors (aside from our favorite guy) really brought their A-game to this haunt as well.
We were very excited to kickoff our Halloween season at a haunt that we had never been to before, but overall, we were sorely disappointed at what the LA Haunted Hayride had to offer. From injuring myself in the hayride itself, to becoming disoriented and missing half the experience of one maze and hearing an actor treating a guest so horribly at the other, it's hard for me to recommend this haunt to others. Keep in mind, this is just our experience, and it does not speak to the experience that others have had, even on the same night. It's just unfortunate that it was the experience that we had our first time going.
Keep it spooky,
Ryan and Elissa