Southern California has the best Halloween season in the world. But there's so much to do and so little time!
Here's some of my favorite Halloween attractions and haunts to get you in the spirit, along with my prescriptions to make sure you get the kind of fun and scares you want at a price you can afford.
Halloween Haunts in LA for 2013
(for anyone and everyone looking for a good scare, starting at $38)
This original theme park haunt has been around for 41 years, and Knott's still delivers the more scares and fun than anyone else . Admission is $38 most nights with 10 mazes, tons of hilariously unpredictable scare actors roaming the park, plus Elvira's Sinema Seance performance twice nightly-- you get A LOT for your money. This haunt is great for all ages except small children, and there's something for everyone because the regular theme park rides and roller coasters are still open during haunt.
EXTRAS: Make sure to check out Fast Pass which allows you to cut in line for mazes and entitles you to Skeleton Keys that get you into interactive rooms at the beginning of 4 of the mazes.
Also, the most unique attraction in Knotts is Trapped-- an interactive reservation only maze that you can bring up to 6 guests into for $60. You sign a release form before Trapped where you agree that the actors are allowed to touch you-- and that if you utter the safe word "Boysenberry" you'll be escorted out of the maze with no refund. (Last year Trapped had me eating crickets and being filed away on a morgue slab-- but this year's maze focused on big action movie-style scares rather than small closed spaces, so beware!)
I highly recommend Knott's and Trapped to hardcore horror haunt fans as well as fans of the season just looking to dip their toes in for some Halloween fun!
(for mature audiences who need a good shock and rock, starting at $30 )
Honestly, I think Rob Zombie is a Halloween horror haunt genius. If you're looking for scares and shock with a side of rock, you will LOVE Rob Zombie's new Great American Nightmare. This is the first year for Rob Zombie's haunt out in Pomona, but he's no stranger to maze design-- he also designed a House of 1000 Corpses maze for Universal's Halloween Horror Nights in years past.
But Rob's done something entirely more obscene and horrifying now that he's out on his own-- and I mean that in the best possible way. There's only 3 mazes at Great American Nightmare. but you also only have to wait in line once to experience the whole Nightmare under one roof, which is a great idea. First there's The Lords of Salem in Total Blackout maze where upon entry you put a black bag over your head and feel your way blindly through a darkened maze. Despite my best efforts a fiendish ghouls separated me from my friends both times I went through, and I had to wander in the dark alone while being attacked by monsters and shocked by electrified walls and subjected to maddening sounds all around me. The next maze is El Superbeasto, a cartoonish 3D maze full of colorful and obscene nudity... like the entrance to the maze itself:
But the last maze House of 1000 Corpses is the real piece de resistance of the Nightmare. Instead of a retread of the Universal maze or the pitiful cart ride as seen in Zombie's famous film, this maze is a walk through of both real and fictious murders in history. Familiar scenes from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and American Horror story are featured, as well as Lizzie Borden, Elizabeth Bathory, and of course Zombie's own movies-- but it's in his famous serial killers scenes where Zombie really shines. There's a scene of Jeffrey Dahmer drilling the head of another Jeffrey Dahmer in a courtroom, John Wayne Gacy in clown makeup claiming he never hurt those kids-- and two rooms of the Manson murders with a Susan Atkins lookalike screaming pig at you with a pregnant corpse on the floor and a young Manson rambling in the next room with "Healter Skelter" (correctly mispelled!!!) painted in blood on the wall behind him. Honestly, if you find this sort of twisted real life horror as fascinating as I do you'll love Rob Zombie's maze. If not, stay far far far away.
This haunt is not for everyone, but it's a great deal for your dollar at only $30 a night including 3 mazes and live performances by rock bands. It's also worth the trek out to Pomona and attracted more of a scene-like concert crowd the night I was there rather than your typical theme park crowd. I highly recommend this new haunt and look forward to seeing if Rob Zombie's able to top himself again next year.
(for people who dream of shooting up zombies in real life, starting at $30)
Ok, first thing off this haunt is NOT in Hollywood -- it's in Bellflower. Where the hell is Bellflower you ask? Google it, I say-- it's worth the drive.
This haunt is unique because the location is a paintball field the rest of the year and YOU GET TO ACTUALLY SHOOT PEOPLE DRESSED AS ZOMBIES WITH AIRSOFT GUNS AND PAINTBALL GUNS. Do I have your attention? Is that interactive enough for you?
The mazes here are unique and fun, but the real appeal is the killhouses where you shoot people dressed as zombies. Admission is $29.00, but there's numerous coupons available to get discounted admission into the park. If you've always wanted to shoot zombies in real life, here's your chance.
(Only one of the killhouses was open when I attended on media night, but I plan to go back and kill a lot more zombies.)
(for kids of all ages, $10)
While I love hardcore scares at Halloween, I also appreciate creativity and fun for the whole family-- especially when it comes with a slightly twisted appreciation of the macabre. The Ghost Train is a not for profit labor of love that's put on every Halloween by the Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum. It's a 20 minute tiny train ride through the real hills and valleys of Griffith Park and features a collection of themed yard haunt type animatronics set up into themed scenes -- old West skeletons, aliens, a demented nursery, killer clowns,, man eating plants, etc.
This ride is so charming and nostalgic that it really makes me feel like a kid again. For $10, you'll have a frightfully good time but there's no big scares and no haunt actors jumping out at you--just creativity and spooky animatronics on display. Still, this is a must ride for me every Halloween and I always wish I had time to go more than once each year.
Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights
(for everyone, especially if you love current horror movies and tv, starting at $44)
Don't get me wrong, I LOVE HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS. But so does everyone else in Los Angeles. That's why the lines are long and the crowds are massive. The only way for a hermit-writer like me to bear it all is to shell out for a $119 Front of Line pass so I have time to go to every maze... but honestly, I crave it and go absolutely every year.
Universal has the highest production value scares as well as branded properties like Evil Dead, Insidious, and The Walking Dead with plenty of gore and guts. I love love love Universal, but honestly the lines are a lot to deal with.... so if you're in the mood for a quick scare rather than a whole night of waiting in line, there's a lot of other options out there.
(if you like the idea of fun scares on an actual historical ship, starting at $20)
The Queen Mary is a tourist attraction year round, but around Halloween it becomes the home of the Dark Harbor and this year it's a literal carnival of frights with a new circus theme. This year the Dark Harbor has a lot of new additions, with a ferris wheel, zipline, plus the all new "freak show" midway.
Dark Harbor features 3 mazes aboard the ship as well as 3 more on land including the exciting new Circus maze under the dome-- oh, and be on the lookout for the kiddie slide within the maze, I missed it my first run through! Basically the freak shows are small stage shows that take place inside metal shipping containers that each contain a single scare or gag, but they're a lot of fun and are great quick hits to try out between mazes-- especially The White Spirit, a fogged out room with a ghostly figure lurking inside and my beloved Crabman... who yes, is just a guy in a Crabman suit, but I laughed really really hard anyway.
(for theatrical interactive scenes with no gore but lots of stunts, $65)
Enter Delusion: Mask of Mortality is a interactive play about a mysterious plague infection that incorporates stunts, interactivity, and scares. Written and directed by Jon Braver, this experience is a little more expensive but would make for a great adventurous date-- but don't expect blood, gore, or the jump scares you might see at a maze at Knott's or Universal. Do expect to hide in closets and under beds, and to participate in the story.
(for older kids and adults looking for a good scare, $15)
Urban Joe's thing
Blackout Haunted House
If you've never been to the Old Town Haunt, this is your last year to try it out. You'll journey into the bowels of an old bank building's winding corridors while you're attacked by ghosts and various creatures, and then crawl through a pitch black tunnel. The old banking building has a wonderful musty ambience, and I've seen kids as young as 8 or 9 enjoy these scares -- as well as plenty of adults emerge screaming.