…when Halloween finally approached the weekend, Friday night was to be moonless for the first time in years: great promise for terrific haunting.
Friday, October 24
As has become tradition, we met the weekend before the holiday to erect the HHG memorial monument and plan our excursions. Unfortunately our partner Nathan has recently moved to Tennessee, so he was not able to join us and his Turbidite Manor show was not to be seen this year. Nathan's craft was apparent in a major new prop at the House at Haunted Hill, so it has not been a total loss, but we miss him.
Rotten Apple 907 was presenting their opening night, so we decided to go there right away. This year their show was the Wizard of Odz, a twisted telling of the Wizard of Oz. As fans and CalHauntS members, they were very friendly and generous. The show was spectacular, well up to the level that we have come to expect from this classy group. The quality of the haunt was far better than most professional efforts, and well deserving of the price one would pay for those attractions. We were pleased to make contributions to their charity for 2008, Autism Speaks.
Thursday, October 30
On Thursday there were a few haunts available to visit, so we continued our tour that night. The first stop was The Smoke House restaurant, where we indulged in a fine meal as our group gathered. The special promotions for October birthdays, combined with the 1946 specials, and the proximity to the studios and our first stop made it an ideal choice.
The first haunt of the evening was The Fright Gallery where, after a two year hiatus, they were presenting another of their amazing parody musical productions. This year the show was "Dead of the Class", a ghoulish adventure through the halls of "High School Musical." It is not uncommon for this talented group to spoof Disney franchises, and it is all the more fitting considering their location is just two blocks from the headquarters of the Walt Disney Company. Despite a few technical irregularities, the show was well worth the wait. Congratulations to Keeth and the entire company.
Steve was not able to join us for the next stop because he had been called for a last minute work project, but Gary, Mark and Tim travelled to Santa Monica. The second, and final haunt of Thursday night was Poison Oak Street Haunted House. We had not visited this home haunt before, despite the fact that we had been invited by the owner, Adam, a professional aquaintance of our own Mark Phillips. We were soon sorry that we had waited so long. This show is an excellent example of what can be done using only animated props, combined with careful staging, control, lighting, and sound, to provide a very satisying haunt in the "startle scare" tradition. While not horribly graphic, the show is too intense for the very young. We enjoyed it thoroughly, and were particularly entertained by the front yard figures voicing lines from horrific, evocative films and recordings. Marlin Brando ("horror") and Tom Waits ("What's he building in there?") are definitely inspiring.
The time then grew late and we retired to rest for the next day of work and the Halloween night tour.
Halloween — Friday, October 31
On the appointed night we began our tour with The Witch's Castle, a home haunt nearby in Studio City. The front yard is themed as a cemetery with grave markers emphasizing television characters. The actual Witch's Castle portion of the haunt had the host witch producting treats from her cauldron along with fun light and smoke effects. We always enjoy stopping by this home with a great spirit for the season. They seem to have inspired their neighbors to join in the fun, and this block pointed out a trend of homes showing Halloween-themed videos on screens in their yards. The recent release of The Nightmare Before Christmas on Blu-ray surely contributed to the trend, but several classic monster/horror movies were seen.
Our next stop was another nearby home that featured an illusion of a ghostly girl playing the piano. The scene was reminiscent of our Organist and similar illusions. The online haunt community had pointed out a video of the girl on YouTube and contacting the poster got us an invitation to visit. We were impressed by the decorations, and the hosts occupation of Art Director helped explain the demonstrated quality.
Our friend Rick Polizzi retired his Boney Island show last year and sold all of his props. A number of the key props were purchased by another friend, renowned Imagineer Bob Baranick. We went to his home in Van Nuys to see what he had done. Were very pleased to see the spirit of the former show live in its new home, if on a smaller scale. Thanks to Bob for his efforts.
After visiting Bob we travelled to the far west end of the San Fernando Valley to visit the Forest of Mirrors Halloween Event. Our friends Matt and Lori told us about this unique home. The haunt is a walkthrough of a back yard with landscaping that includes many paths and large mirrors. At night the result is a very eerie experience. The addition of characters and decor for the halloween season is interesting, but we felt that most of the enhancements would not really be needed to have a fascinating experience. The low lighting combined with sound and perhaps the occasional special effect would make for a wonderful environment. Nonetheless, we enjoyed ourselves and we recommend visiting this event.
At that point, because we still have not learned how to visit and run quickly, it was getting later (past 10:00pm.) The next stop on our list was a neighborhood haunt that we had been invited to years ago, but when we drove by all was dark. The planned stop after that was Sherwood Sanitarium but it was scheduled to close at 10pm, so we deferred until next year.
Our last stop on Halloween was the home of the most serious fan of the Hallowed Haunting Grounds. Tony is the keeper of several of the former HHG props, including the Illuminating Ghost, the Standing Monk, and the kneeling and standing figures. It was good to talk to Tony and to see his display, a fitting conclusion to another Halloween-night tour.
Saturday, November 1
The day after Halloween, being Saturday, several displays were operating again that night. That included two that were on our must-see list. The plan was to stop by Hollywood Forever Cemetery for the Dio de Los Muertos celebration and to try some of the cuisine. Unfortunately the event was so busy that it would have disrupted the rest of the evening plans, so an adjustment was made. After a quick dinner, the HHG group visited the "Sleepy Hollow" front-yard musical in the Westwood area. The vast variety of Halloween creativity never ceases to amaze.
The next stop was one of our favorite haunts, the House of Restless Spirits, in Santa Monica. Of all the haunts that we have seen, this is the one that best reflects the quiet spookiness that was characteristic of the Hallowed Haunting Grounds. Eric, Rick and the rest of the team did not disappoint. The scenes, props and effects were brilliant as usual, and the few new effects were well up to their high standards. Although they cannot handle too many more visitors, if one is a fan of this type of show it must be experienced. Although we would have liked to stay and make sure we had seen everything, we had other stops to make before it got too late.
Because Steve had not been able to visit Poison Oak on our first visit, we stopped by there again. Fortunately Adam had decided to operate on the third night.
The final stop for the evening was the House at Haunted Hill. Matt and Lori present a highly scripted and produced show. Because we like their style, and Matt has a way of asking that makes one want to help, the Haunting Grounds crew have gotten involved with a few bits of the show.
Nathan sculpted their new monument with the talking face and, on his way to Tennessee, passed on the HHG chapel arches, which Gary and Tim helped install. The show was a very satisfying way to end our 2008 haunt tour.