Text and photos by SCOTT FEINBLATT
Every year during the Halloween season, haunted attractions pop up. Sometimes they’re old favorites, and sometimes they’re new to the scene. Some of them are branded with franchise horror monsters and some are completely original. While major theme parks pump a lot of money and hire professional scaremeisters to put on a high-class experience, smaller haunts have the charm of grassroots dreamers and volunteers. Depending on your tastes (and the size of your pocketbook), it may be difficult for you to figure out just which haunted attraction(s) are right for you. After all, there’s only so much time in the season. Hopefully, this little round-up of haunts in the greater Los Angeles area will help guide you on your way as the No. 1 horror holiday creeps closer … and closer…
Six Flags Fright Fest (Valencia)
Six Flags Magic Mountain is an epic theme park. Stretching 262 acres and featuring no fewer than twenty roller coasters, this amusement park’s haunt season evening hours see the park turning into a colorful playground of ghostly entertainment. With annually updated attractions, Six Flags Fright Fest invites fear-seekers to brave six haunted mazes, explore eight scare zones and experience three additional haunted entertainment showcases with the unleashing of the park’s monsters at 7 p.m., the undead pirate show and rocking Voodoo Nights stage performances, which take place at different times throughout the evening.
Some of the mazes seem a little short and some of the scare zones seem a little small; However, given the number of spooky goodies, the extensiveness of some of the haunted elements and excellent make-up, costuming, set designs and scare actors, the park is a wonderful place to bask in the Halloween spirit.
Delusion has been a successful experiment in immersive theatre since it premiered in 2011. Every year, its producers come up with a new story in which guests play crucial components. This year, the creepy, old site is the home of a cult of LSD-fueled hippies that operate on grounds that are infused with chemicals that (gulp) resurrect the dead!
Over the course of the roughly hour-long experience, guests in small groups of around eight to ten are introduced to their roles (this year, guests are deprogrammers attempting to break someone out of the cult), led through various harrowing moments (hide from the sentry, escape the raving zombie, don’t alert the crawling mutant monster hiding under the table, etc.), and ultimately completing the scripted story cycle by completing various objectives along the way. For those who like to immerse themselves in the spirit of a creepy scenario, Delusion provides an excellent framework to experience fun, fear and an imaginative milieu in a safe environment.
Prism is a fairly small haunted attraction that operates out of a mall. Having said that, it is an imaginative and charming attraction that very palpably takes guests on a frightening and disorienting journey. Prism is also a guided attraction that operates with small groups in a theatrical setting.
Initially, guests are enlisted by some stressed-out governmental personnel to aid in, well, saving the world. Evidently, some mutating virus has been unleashed within the building, and guests must make their way through the mutants, locate the antidote, and disperse it into the atmosphere to counteract the contamination. The entire journey is disorienting, as it takes place within delightfully endless fog clouds that disorient guests and obscure their various frightening assailants who take advantage of the miasma with loud noises and frequently emerge bearing odd and disturbing props and tools befitting the scenario. The conclusion of this experience is especially cool, but you ain’t gonna hear no spoilers from me!
Hauntington Beach Manor (Westminster)
Located right next to Prism at the Westminster Mall, Hauntington Beach Manor has much in common with Prism. It is a smallish production that takes place as a guided tour with one group at a time that successfully transports guests to other worlds.
The tale of Hauntington Beach Manor involves a ghostbusting operation (gone awry, naturally). After viewing a short video on the background of a local haunting and learning that there is a team of professional paranormal researchers on the case, guests follow the directions of the various actors, who guide them from one scenario to the next until, before long, there is a containment breach, and a ghost escapes her prison. Subsequently, guests experience the carnage and madness that the spirit of Lucy has caused as they make their way through bedrooms, restrooms, and even a sewer (mind you, stay on the stepping stones and avoid the water).
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios (Universal City)
Halloween Horror Nights is pretty much as big as one can get with a haunted theme park. Not counting size (Universal Studios, Hollywood, occupies over 400 acres), Universal Pictures owns a great percentage of the most popular horror franchises. Thus, some of the characters and themes that guests will see while experiencing the nine haunted attractions include Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Halloween, characters and vistas from the Jordan Peele films Nope and Us as well as elements from Blumhouse’s Freaky and The Black Phone.
After having scaled back a bit for last year’s return – it went dark in 2020, as did many others, due to the COVID pandemic – Horror Nights is as big, beautiful and terrifying as ever! I found it hard to narrow down my favorite maze because they were all so unique. The three scare zones are highlighted with top-notch designs, lighting schemes and roving actors (including the non-haunt area of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is populated by Death Eaters), The enormity of the overall spectacle is so great that some elements go to ludicrous levels such as that moment when guests step off of the Terror Tram and are bombarded by a hoard of chainsaw-wielding clowns. To top it all off, the Jabbawockeez show is always fun!
Dark Harvest (Anaheim)
After that big shebang, we thought we’d dial it back a bit and tell you about this little but potent haunt in Anaheim. Dark Harvest is another homegrown operation that packs quite a punch. Small groups are admitted into the facade of Shady Pines Asylum, where they follow the action from one room to the next, right after everything goes wrong…
From the moment the admitting receptionist is slain after greeting the guests, it is clear that the inmates have taken over the asylum. As guests make their way through the many creatively designed rooms – each housing a playfully grisly scene – they are alternately guided by giddy, menacing inmates and desperate asylum staff members to continue on their way to enter into the next patient’s clutches or find a means to escape the madness. The team members behind Dark Harvest use their imaginations to stretch their respectable bag of tricks quite a ways and do a wonderful job of rendering their haunt into a wonderfully diverse journey.
Knott’s Scary Farm (Buena Park)
Knott’s Scary Farm may not have the enormous territory and roller coasters of Magic Mountain or the franchise horror elements of Universal Studios, but it has always held its own as a top-notch haunted theme park with wholly original concepts and mazes designed by some of the best haunters in the industry.
This year, nine delightful mazes (including Bloodline 1842, which features interactive laser guns), five scare zones and three stage shows wait to take hold of guests’ souls. The shows include Carnaval Du Grotesque, Conjurers – Dark Magic and (my favorite) Puppet Up! – Uncensored. Given that Knott’s is only a fraction of the size of the other two theme parks on this list, the creative team seems to have no problem making almost the entire park into a spooky environment. While the various scare zones have distinct flavors, any place where guests find themselves in the park seems to have a bit of that Halloween.
Haunted Harvest (Chino)
Last, but certainly not least, is Haunted Harvest. This maze has a couple of distinct differences. First, it is only one component of a larger, family-friendly, Halloween-infused fairground with a petting zoo, carnival rides and pumpkin patch. Secondly, of all the haunts on this list, it capitalizes on the fears hiding in nature, specifically, it is in a cornfield.
After being admitted alone or in very small groups (gotta love the anti-“conga line” approach to haunted mazes) guests walk through a compact haunted house that consists of a few rooms. Next, they enter the corn. Throughout the rest of the experience, each individual or group walks through extensive stretches of unlit rows of corn. It is wide enough, but except for the occasional scare actor hidden in the corn, it is dark, and the quiet guests (you know, the ones that don’t nervously banter the whole time to hide their fear) are left to the sound of the gentle wind caressing the leaves of the corn stalks around them as they make their way into the unknown until … they come to another facade and enter another brief haunted house with yet another theme (e.g. serial killers, Christmas monsters, etc.). The experience is extremely satisfying!
That’s it for the ones we were able to check out for you, dear readers. However, here are a few more that have impressed us in the past:
Urban Death Tour of Terror at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre (North Hollywood) provides a short maze and a mini version of the Urban Death show – a disturbing and thought-provoking bit of experimental, horror theatre like no other.
Coffin Creek (Corona) is another grassroots haunt featuring five mazes in the perfect setting of a renaissance fairground.
The 17th Door (Fullerton) is a haunt so extreme you need to sign a genuine waiver to enter.
And, finally, Reign of Terror Haunted House (Thousand Oaks) is one of the oldest, most treasured and noteworthy mom-and-pop haunts in the greater Los Angeles area, which now includes ten haunted attractions.