Last month I had the chance to check out LA’s Haunted Hayride, a haunt that I had been looking forward to attending since I first moved to California. Having grown up on the East Coast, I have always been a fan of the haunted hayride so I was looking forward to seeing how the West Coast executed an experience that I have a soft spot for. This year’s theme was centered around clowns, and though I’m pretty much over the clown haunts and scares, I was willing to see what LA’s Haunted Hayride would bring to the table. The following is a review of each of the experiences in the order that I went through, and unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of good things to say.

PURGATORY

Description: An ALL NEW LAYOUT that may just make Purgatory the best part of the entire attraction. The charm and magic of our old world ‘haunted village’ invokes the nostalgia of Halloween past: smell the freshly cut hay, feel the chill of cold fog, and see the deep, rich orange glow of jack o’ lanterns as you pass through our gates. Become a part of the show at Theatre Macabre, ride the Scary-Go-Round, enjoy food & drink at the Grub Shack, shop in the Bootique, visit a psychic and get ready, we’re about to blow your minds.

Thoughts: Walking through the area that houses LA’s Haunted Hayride was probably one of the more better experiences of the night. I absolutely adored the pumpkin shrine as well as some of the other decor that we passed by. There was definitely a ‘Halloween’ feel that emanated through the choice in design that I wished carried over into the hayride and haunts. If anything, this area definitely showcased more of the creative talent that LA’s Haunted Hayride is known for.

HAUNTED HAYRIDE

Description: Take a seat on our tractor pulled hay wagon as we slither through the genuinely haunted woods of Griffith Park’s Old Zoo. Meet a legion of vicious clowns waiting with more psychopathic fun than any wagon can handle. And if you think you know clowns…you don’t know our clowns. The evolution of demonic possessions that live within these trees have created a darkness that will leave with you, sleep with you and dream with you. You will wander through unforgettable life-sized sets to an all original narrative and cast of characters from the safety of the wagon. That is until you disembark ON FOOT to experience the winding, weaving Corn Maze smack dab in the middle of the ride! This years hayride will be your favorite hayride to date. We are sure of it.

Thoughts: I really wanted to love this, I really did. Haunted Hayrides are what I grew up on and I was over the moon at the thought of being able to experience such a well-known one in California; however, I left this experience feeling less than thrilled. First off, I had a lot of concerns related to the safety. Upon boarding the hayride, we were all told to stand and move towards the back until everyone got on. Now, the problem with this is that there are no rails enclosing the hayride, so all it would take is one person to trip and they could bring down a slew of people resulting in injuries. I’ve also never gone on a hayride where we were all told to stand, typically, when you board you move all the way to the back and immediately sit as the rest of the guests boarded. If the owners want to do this the other way, I would highly suggest that they put some type of safety railings around the hay wagon so as to not worry about injuries from falling. Also, there was nothing help people who are boarding or disembarking the wagon. Considering that there is large gap between the wagon and the ground, I would suggest having some type of stool to help people who are either coming on board or exiting, especially for those who may have a disability or are older.

As for the ride itself, there were moments that I enjoyed, but what really threw me off was when we were told to disembark for a corn maze. At the time, I thought this was a unique way to split up the ride, but I noticed rather quickly that there was additional cause for concern. First off, the path through the corn maze is barely lit, and with an uneven terrain, that’s a definite concern for those who have trouble walking (and those who don’t). Also, having scare actors lying on the ground, where there is barely any light, and the addition of the uneven terrain is just screaming for an accident to occur. Though I do think it’s cool to walk through Griffith Park at night, I would highly suggest that the owners indulge in more lighting, especially if they are going to have guests walk through uneven ground.

In terms of the design, I felt the first half of the hayride was the strongest. After we board the wagon upon exiting the corn maze, the design gets rather…. odd. The first half was dedicated to clowns, followed by a corn maze, followed by different holidays that had a horror spin to them, ending with clowns that were supposed to represent Donald Trump and his presidency. Though it was complete satire, none of these vignettes flowed together as one unit, instead it felt like a hodge podge of whatever, with political statements thrown in at the end. I think the best course of action would have been to take one of those ideas, whether it be clowns, making fun of Trump, or horror holidays, and run with that instead of trying to inject all three into the experience.

TRICK OR TREAT

Description: It’s Halloween EVERY NIGHT. Go get candy from strangers. The interactive neighborhood has doubled in size and has tripled the mischief. The suburb of Hell welcomes trick-or-treaters to go door to door and come face to face with its freakish occupants. You’ve always known your neighbors were a little off, so tonight let’s pull back the curtain. “Ding Dong!”

Thoughts: I was really excited to go through this house as I love the concept of being able to go trick or treating as an adult and coming into contact with a host of unsavory characters celebrating their beloved holiday. As for my experience, this was probably my favorite of the night, but that’s not really saying much. I had heard in the past that when they had this haunt guests would receive candy, but this year that was not in the cards. Normally that wouldn’t be a big deal but if you haunt is focused on the act of trick-or-treating than one would think that’s exactly what would happen. Instead, we get a variety of uniquely designed homes to knock on, with no payout in the end. I will say I did enjoy the designs of the facades at each place we stopped, as well as the characters that we came into contact with, but other than that there really wasn’t much going on. No candy, no scares, and no real focus on what was supposed to happen. I would like to see this haunt when it’s in its prime as I’ve heard great things about it, but unfortunately this year’s execution of it was a let down.

HOUSE OF SHADOWS

Description: Our legendary fan favorite scare zone. House of Shadows will leave you lost in the darkness. The shadows of the most vicious, the most depraved and the ugliest souls will take over in this re-imagined, colossally possessed demonic house. SoCal’s ONLY true dark maze.

Thoughts: I want to preface this by saying that I have never walked out of a haunt before. I’ve never had a reason to, even when going through some pretty extreme situations, I have yet to call the safe word or walk out. With that said, HOUSE OF SHADOWS was the only haunt that I ever walked out of due to frustration. By the time my guest and I had reached this haunt, we were pretty disappointed with the overall experience at LA’s Haunted Hayride, but we were hoping that maybe HOUSE OF SHADOWS would step up their game and be the surprise hit of the evening. Upon entering we were subjected to non-stop strobe lighting from multiple angles and wooden pallets painted black. We were told that we were supposed to find our way out but between the non-stop assault of overlapping strobe lighting and the scare actors who kept running into us, we found ourselves annoyed and completely over the entire experience. I don’t mind strobe lighting as long as it’s done well, but to subject actors to that atmosphere for hours on end, with barely any reprieve, is asking a lot. It was apparent that they were struggling as there were multiple incidents where they kept running into guests and I can only imagine how the strobe impacted them throughout the night. As we made our way through, my guest and I saw an emergency exit and decided to just leave. To get to the point of being so frustrated to not finish a maze is something I’ve never experienced and hope to never experience again. I would suggest that next year they swap out HOUSE OF SHADOWS for a new concept or at least redesign this haunt to actually make it scary.

Overall, I was extremely disappointed with LA’s Haunted Hayride. Having heard such great things about the experience in the past, I was looking forward to embracing what the attraction had to offer. I have a lot of respect for Melissa Carbone, as there are not many successful female haunt owners, but I feel like her vision has lost its focus. LA’s Haunted Hayride was once held in such high esteem that it makes me sad to see where it has gone. I really hope that in the years to come they are able to get this attraction back on track to make it one of the premiere events of the Halloween season. Even with all the negative feedback, I can see that there once was something great and I think it’s possible to resurrect that once again. I wish I had more positive things to say, but unfortunately that was not my experience. I can only hope that in the future, changes are made to make the experience much more enjoyable and safer for guests.

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Shannon is the Founder of Nightmarish Conjurings and a lover of all things horror and haunt related. When she's not obsessively collecting all things "Trick 'R Treat" related, or trying to convince everyone that "Hereditary" is one of the greatest horror films ever made, you can find her designing interiors for commercial restaurants. An avid haunt fan, Shannon spends the entire year visiting haunts and immersive experiences throughout the Southern California area and hopes to one day design her own haunted attraction.
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