A Scaredy Cat’s Guide to L.A.’s Haunt Season

Los Angeles is quickly becoming a mecca for some of the wildest, weirdest Halloween events in the country. For horror lovers, October in L.A. is thirty-one days of thrills, with high-concept spook shows running nearly every night of the week. Scaredy Cat’s Guide

 

You, on the other hand, are snuggled up comfortably with a warm apple cider, windows cracked, taking in the cool autumn air. It’s the perfect night in. That is, until you fire up Instagram and see your friends having the time of their lives at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights. You were invited, of course – you just declined, because it’s “not your thing.” You don’t see what’s so fun about strangers leaping into your personal space every few seconds, and you’re certainly not about to throw down a wad of cash for the opportunity.

 

You’re a chicken, and you don’t care who knows it.

 

But there’s a feeling you can’t shake. You definitely don’t want to be there. I mean, it does look fun. But no thanks. Well…hmm.

 

Maybe it’s simple FOMO. Maybe you’ve been thinking of ways to take a baby step out of your comfort zone. Maybe you want the smallest whiff of this “adrenaline” you keep hearing about. Maybe you’ve read about about the beautiful sets and costumes these L.A. shows have to offer. Or maybe there’s just no damn way Carol in HR is braver than you.

 

universal studios hollywood halloween horror nights john murdy hhn los angeles haunted attractions

Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights

 

I understand, because I was once like you. In fact, I still am.

 

Oddly enough, even as a staff writer for Haunting, I don’t like being scared, and I particularly hate jump-scares. Walking through a haunted house, I still find myself covering my eyes when turning a corner or entering a particularly dark room. I’m a naturally tense person, and years of attending haunts has done almost nothing to ease that tension. Why do I keep going back?

 

Honestly, I’m not sure. If you’ve never been to a great haunted house, it’s something you need to experience for yourself. There’s so much to love and appreciate, despite the regular jolts – from the amazing artistry, to the twists on tropes and traditions, to the intoxicating blend of joy and pride upon your survival. Most of all, though, haunted houses are intense shared experiences with friends, and it’s almost impossible not to giggle the whole way through. Inside jokes will be born, and hilarious memories will be made.

 

That doesn’t sound so bad, right? It’s not! It’s super fun, and we’re going to get there together. I’m going to lay out a list of recommendations for chickens of all types, starting with the scaredy-est cats of all.

 

Halloween Horror Nights

A jump-scare from Halloween Horror Nights

 

The Total Chicken: “I love Fall, but want to celebrate Halloween at a distance”

 

If you enjoy the warm Autumn colors and adorable kids in costumes, but fear has absolutely no place in your life, you might be surprised to learn that there are a number of events designed for people just like you! Rather than a walk-through haunt with jump-scares, you might enjoy one of the many festive yard displays throughout the city. It’s like Candy Cane Lane, but the elves and reindeer have been replaced by jolly skeletons and grinning jack-o-lanterns.

 

Boney Island (although dark this year) is probably the most beloved of these attractions, and by far the largest. It’s a collection of scenes featuring animatronic skeletons, who just want to party and show off their magic tricks. There’s a singing pumpkin show with water effects and entertaining projections, there are live performers and magicians, and plenty of fun and clever photo opportunities. Boney Island has no scares of any kind, and is a destination for families of very young children.

 

Ghost Train Griffith Park family-friendly

Ghost Train at Griffith Park

 

Other wonderful displays are Studio City’s Rosehill Haunt, Opechee Haunt’s Jack’s JamBOOree, The Haunt with No Name, and Spooky Hollows (which also offers an optional walk-through). Ghost Train (also dark this year) is another wildly popular attraction featuring no scares whatsoever, in which guests board a miniature train rolling through cute, Haunted Mansion-esque scenes. Irvine’s Boot Hill is somewhere between a yard display and walk-through haunt, making it a great next step into the next intensity level.

 

There’s no shame in drawing the line there! For many people, Halloween is a feeling, a color palette, a bit of nostalgia. But if you think you might be ready for the next step, read on.

 

Midsummer Scream | Spooky HollowsSpooky Hollows Yard Display

 

The Spiteful Chicken: “Okay fine, but I hate you all and I’m closing my eyes!”

 

Haunts in your Community

I’ve you’ve never been to a haunt before, and your friends simply will not let you off the hook, take control of the negotiations. You want the least scary one, you want it to be over quickly, and they’re buying you In-N-Out afterward.

 

Your best bet will be one of the many home haunts scattered throughout the city. A home haunt is just what it sounds like – a haunted house run out of someone’s home. These are typically passion projects, and you’re sure to get a warm welcome from creators who are thrilled to share their artwork. Even better, they’re almost all free, so even if you hate it, at least you didn’t pay someone for the experience (that said, if you love it, which you begrudgingly will, you should throw a few dollars into the donation box).

 

Most home haunts last five minutes or less. You can handle that!

 

Rotten Apple 907 stands out as one of the best introductory haunts in Los Angeles. Sure, there are jump scares, but it’s not too intense, the theme is generally light and fun, and it’s over before you know it. Burbank’s Haunted Adventure is fairly long, but is run by Burbank’s Parks Department and is a light, scrappy production in which scare-actors (mostly children) tend not to come too close. The Backwoods Maze is one of the most artistically brilliant home haunts, with a very unusual cartoony sci-fi theme that’s a little less frightening than larger productions. There’s a ton more – and way too many to name, so check out our guide for any in your area.

 

The Farm, Home Haunt, Glendale, CA, Halloween, Los Angeles,

The Farm in Castaic, CA

 

Sit Back & Enjoy the Hayride

If you’re not quite ready for a full walk-through experience, consider the LA Haunted Hayride. While there are walk-through mazes on the grounds, the hayride itself is great for less courageous guests, especially if you can find a way to sit toward the center of the ride. The Hayride basically consists of different characters chasing you down and swiping at you from outside the vehicle. You’ll quickly relax once you notice the invisible barriers around the trailer that actors do not cross. If you’re really nosy, you can peek your head over the side and easily spot actors trying to sneak up on you. There is sometimes a walking portion in the middle of the ride, but scare-actors seem to maintain a healthy distance even here.

 

LA Haunted Hayride | Map

The grounds of LA Haunted Hayride

 

Turn on the Lights

Another feature of some traditional haunted houses is a “lights on” tour. On any normal night, Reign of Terror is one of the scariest haunts in town – but two nights in October, they offer a version with no scare-actors, in which you can casually stroll through the haunt’s unbelievable sets in their fully-lit glory. There are also haunts with “no scare” portions of the night, just for chickens like you and I! Pumpkin Jack’s, Desert Decay Manor, and The Curse of the Treasure all offer this option – check their websites for details.

 

Let’s Escape Together!

You might also try a horror escape room, most of which are visually creepy but do not include actors who will jump out and scare you. Some examples of great horror rooms with no jump-scares are Cross Roads’ The Hex Room, Quest RoomsBloody Elbow, and The Room’s The Cabin in North Hollywood. The realistic set design in these rooms will get your blood pumping, but there are no sudden scares to speak of. There may be dark corners to investigate, but you can always make your friend do it!

 

crossroads escape games anaheim hex roomCross Roads Escape Games’ The Hex Room.

 

Get Immersed in the Childhood Nostalgia of Halloween

If you’re looking for something whimsical and full of childhood imagination, then The Infinite Autumn is your new best friend. Focusing on costumes, playfulness, and scary stories told around a campfire, this new company promises to create experiences that are not meant to be frightening or extreme, but rather recall the youthful joy of Trick or Treating, dressing up, and dreaming of make-believe worlds. You are the star of these experiences.

 

Infinite Autumn

The Infinite Autumn is a celebration of childhood Halloween.

 

The Discerning Chicken: “I’m in, but this better be good!”

 

A True Walk-through Haunt

Now we’re talking! You’re still terrified, but if you’re going to spend a chunk of your weekend and hard-earned cash, you want the best of the best. This better be worth it! Oh, it will be.

 

We’re now moving into full-blown, elaborate haunted houses. My immediate recommendation is Reign of Terror, which offers a gorgeous, theme-park quality attraction at a fraction of the price. It’s easily the best value in the city, and you can go through with a fairly large group of friends. Make no mistake: Reign of Terror is scary. But you’ll be fine, and have lots of good laughs along the way. Since it’s one long maze, once you’re done, you’re done – unlike theme parks where you’ll have to work up the courage again and again.

 

thousand oaks reign of terror rot haunt haunted house ventura county janss marketplace

Reign of Terror Haunted House

 

Let’s Go to a Theme Park!

Speaking of theme parks, there’s a reason the big players are associated with long lines and high ticket prices. These attractions feature world-class set design, costuming, lighting, and special effects. Though you may not enjoy the jump-scares, if you have any interest in art or design, there will be lots to appreciate at these productions. There are differences to be aware of. Halloween Horror Nights is the gold standard for production design, but its mazes basically amount to one jump-scare after another with little to no interactivity outside of scare zones. Knott’s Scary Farm is more charming, interactive, and intimate, but lacks the big-name IPs of Universal. Six Flags’ Magic Mountain has its Fright Fest event, which has a fairly straightforward set of mazes but also includes horror twists on some of their popular roller coasters. For chickens like us, the benefit to these attractions is that you typically walk through in what haunt fans call a “conga line” – an unbroken stream of guests. This means it’s often easy to predict what’s coming by looking a little further down the path.

 

Dark Harbor 2019 Queen Mary's Dark Harbor 2019

Dark Harbor’s Intrepid Maze; Photo by Taylor Winters

 

A great middle ground to consider is Dark Harbor, a full-fledged Halloween carnival staged next to and within the historic Queen Mary in Long Beach. Not only is Dark Harbor considerably cheaper than its competitors, it has the advantage of using the bowels of the ship itself as a backdrop for many mazes. If you’ve never toured the Queen Mary, you’re in for some awesome and creepy sights as you make your way through engine rooms, abandoned recreation rooms, and even the former kitchen area.

 

If you decide to go to one of the big theme parks, most haunt enthusiasts will tell you to go for a VIP or front-of-line pass, as some of the more popular mazes can easily reach 2+ hour waits. If you think stalling in line is a good way to alleviate your anxiety, think again. The waiting is the scariest part!

 

The Indie Haunter

“Alright,” you say, “but I don’t want to wait in lines or support a giant corporation. What’s this weird stuff I keep hearing about?” It sounds like you’re ready for Zombie Joe’s Urban Death: Tour of Terror. Located in North Hollywood, Urban Death is an avant-garde horror theater performance that features wordless vignettes performed in front of a small audience of about 40. (It’s tough to explain! Read a full review here). There are few if any jump scares in the theatrical show, and you’ll watch from the safety of your seat (unless you’re in the front row, which may get somewhat intimate). During the month of October, however, Urban Death includes a haunted maze built out of black garbage bags where guests will have close-up encounters with a multitude of freaky characters. Though the Tour of Terror maze features far fewer jump-scares than larger attractions, it’s more uncomfortable and creepy. The maze portion will certainly be a challenge for chickens, but it’s worth the struggle to see the wildly entertaining Urban Death performance. It should be noted that Urban Death typically contains full-frontal nudity and very dark themes, and is only appropriate for adults 18+.

 

Zombie Joe’s Urban Death

 

Immersive Horror Places You in the Narrative

Finally, if you’re looking for something really special and want some crazy stories to tell around the water cooler, check out any of Just Fix It Productions‘ artsy, atmospheric immersive horror experiences. JFI produces great introductions to immersive theater, and while their roots are in horror, they’re more interested showing you powerful and beautiful imagery than making you squirm. The buzzword “immersive” is used to describe shows where the audience exists within the narrative framework of the show – meaning you may interact directly with characters and sets, and may even have an influence on the story. And yes, JFI makes shows where “they can touch you” – but the touch is never aggressive, and mostly involves characters taking you by the hand to lead you from one place to another. (To be clear: aggressive touch is only found in extreme haunts – and you won’t find yourself in an extreme haunt by accident.) Though it’s less obviously “scary” than a traditional haunted house, these shows are more about the fear of the unknown, as the story is often abstract and could shift at any moment. It’s actually an easy recommendation for horror newbies, but the premium price and inclusion of touch can come off as intimidating to potential guests. Either way, it’s quite simply one of the best shows of any kind in Los Angeles, and if you like cool stuff, you’ll love JFI. Check out a recent review here.

 

Haus of Creep | Creep LA | JFI Productions

Just Fix It Productions’ Haus of Creep. Photo by Jeremey Connors

 

The Soon-To-Be-Ex Chicken: “I’ve been scared long enough! Bring it on!”

 

You just got dumped, lost your job, changed your name, and you want to start a new life for yourself. You’re tired of being afraid! You want to be that person who’s up for anything, and you’ve got no patience for baby steps! You want the biggest, baddest, scariest experience around! You’re all in!

 

Theoretically you’re looking for an extreme haunt – but let’s pump the brakes here. We don’t recommend extreme haunts for someone who’s new to haunts or horror in general. (On top of that, many of them probably wouldn’t let you attend, as they allow only guests who truly know what they’re getting into.)

 

Still, there are some intense experiences that could be great for the lifelong chicken looking to take a serious plunge.

 

The Starter Extreme Haunt

You could try The 17th Door, a haunted house that begins introducing some extreme elements such as electric shocks, bugs, and claustrophobia. They actually offer a “mercy” glow stick that will prevent actors from touching you and allow you to “mercy” out of a room – which is their way of saying “skip a room that is too scary for you.” This makes it a great first haunt for someone looking for something more visceral than your normal walk-through haunted house. The 17th Door is challenging but survivable, and will be a real badge of honor among haunt fans.

 

17th Door | Crybaby Vixi Ward VR

The 17th Door; Photo by Taylor Winters

 

Live Actor Escape Rooms

Another good way to test your bravery is at one of the more intense horror escape rooms that feature live actors. In particular Escapade Games’ Zoe is known as the scariest game in Los Angeles, and many reviews point to it being scarier than just about any haunt in the city. There is some light touch involved, and the owners often boast about the number of players pulled out of the game due to abject fear. If you’re looking for a way to prove yourself, there are few other experiences that will give you the sense of accomplishment that you’ll feel after escaping the clutches of little Zoe. Other escape rooms with legitimately scary moments are any of The Basement’s four rooms (they are all amazing and highly recommended here) and Level Games’ Menagerie, both of which feature live actors. Cross Roads Escape Games has also launched an immersive show called The Séance which also includes intense and frightening moments.

 

The Extremest of Haunts

Finally, if you felt a pang of defiance when I discouraged you from looking into extreme haunts, you just might have the genetic marker that will gain you entry into the darkest corners of L.A.’s horror underworld. Our profile pages for HVRTING, bl4km4ss, and Santu Deliria will start you down a path from which there may be no return.

 

Serialized Death | HVRTING

HVRTING’s Serialized Death; Photo by Taylor Winters


It’ll Be Fun, I Swear!

 

Here’s the thing about being the chicken of your group – you’re the star of the show, and the fun starts with you. It’s a drag to go through a haunted house with fearless bros who refuse to flinch. Someone needs to scream and yell creative obscenities. Someone needs to stand frozen in front of a dark doorway until their friends physically carry them into the next room. Your significant other, or perhaps your crush, needs you to grab their arm with an unrelenting vice grip. The haunted house chicken is a Halloween tradition as essential as the jack-o-lantern, and without you, the holiday just isn’t the same.

 

Remember that there’s no wrong way to enjoy a haunted house (except for punching the actors). Covering your ears or eyes isn’t cheating. Embrace the fear – the more scared you are, the more euphoric you’ll feel when you reach the exit. You might get hooked, you might not, but it’s an accomplishment you can carry with you the rest of the year. Good luck, it’s gonna be great!

 

Terrible, but great!

 

For more information on the intensity levels of the various experiences available throughout L.A., check out Haunting’s Intensity Guide

MORE ABOUT HAUNTING


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About The Author

Dan Waldkirch
Dan is an artist, musician, chess player, and broken Swedish speaker from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. As the jumpiest man in Los Angeles, he's every scare actor's dream come true.

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