November 1st, 2009

*Sigh* Another Halloween come and gone...

Ricky and I managed to pull off possibly our best Halloween ever this year.

We started with a ride on the Griffith Park Ghost Train on Thursday night (for those of you who don't know: The Live Steamers are miniature trains that you ride on by straddling the tiny bench, and it takes you around several miles of track on the north side of Griffith Park). The line was moderate, and entertaining in itself, winding past (among other things) the "Transylvania Orphanage". A highlight: When the two stupid, posturing ten-year-old boys in front of us tried to reach into the display to mess with it - and instead jumped a mile as one of the dolls (see photo) suddenly came to life, the eyes lighting red and the head spinning. The train itself always adds one or two new things, and we really loved the evil wedding and demonic clown tunnels...but really, guys, the farting ghosts were a bit overdone. One last year was kind of silly in that eye-rolling way...but this year there were not only several, there were also huge drums labeled "TOXIC" and "FART GAS". Okay, yeah, I know this thing is supposed to be for kids, but...come ON...Still, we love this attraction, and the gorgeous moonlight overhead would have made it mesmerizing even without the groovy Halloween stuff.

I still haven't worked up the courage to hit the West Hollywood shindig (I need a guide - any volunteers?), but this year we visited three smashing haunted yard displays that came highly recommended (thank you, Hollywood Gothique!), and more than lived up to the hype:

We started with the amusingly named The Haunt With No Name, located just off the 101 Freeway in Tarzana. This was a simple but nicely done yard display that borrowed a few notions from the legendary Hallowed Haunting Grounds - they had the chanting druid, the spirit haunting the crypt (see photo), and the flickering fireflies. Sadly, it was only a fraction the size of the Hallowed Haunting Grounds, but given its close proximity to House at Haunted Hill and The Forest of Mirrors (why are all these things in the west end of the San Fernando Valley? I thought the valley was only about porn), it's worth a stop.

Just a couple of exits further west on the 101 (albeit situated some distance from the freeway) is The Forest of Mirrors, and this one was our favorite new discovery of the year. You'd never expect to find this little gem hidden away in upper-class suburbia, in a house once owned by no less than Buster Keaton. The haunting starts with an amazing display of three ghosts in the garage, arguing over the best way to scare visitors; although the ghosts were done via a fairly typical projection method (such as that also employed at House at Haunted Hill), the projections are presented in a high-contrast image that's completely unique (and the routines were pretty funny, too). Once you've been sufficiently entertained by the ghosts, you enter the Maze itself by walking past the side of the house and into the backyard, where mirrors have been strategically placed to create a whimsical and confusing maze. The maze centers on a pit full of skulls, and eventually winds past a guy disguised in foliage who jumps out at you (I'm not usually of fan of the live-actors-jumping-out-at-you gag, but this was done with such good-natured amusement that it was impossible to be irritated). The show wound up with a final walk down a narrow, scary side of the house, and back out onto the street, where we could now see that the main front of the house featured a spectacular lightning show and a large sign for the attraction. This was all beautifully done, with virtually no cheese factor. And the best part for me: The group of half-a-dozen middle-aged folks lounging on the back patio of the house, drinking, toasting everyone with "Happy Halloween!" and just enjoying watching kids get scared out of their wits by Foliage Guy. I think those people are my new personal heroes.

We wound up our haunted expedition with our perennial visit to the astounding House at Haunted Hill, which still retains its hold as the current king of yard haunts. This year they'd actually blocked off the entire street leading up to the house, which made for a long walk from our parking spot down Canoga Avenue, past traffic on a narrow street with no sidewalks (far and away the scariest part of the evening), but they'd made the walk fun by dressing it up along the way with a cackling witch, a ghoul or two, and a werewolf (sadly just a dummy). The place was absolutely mobbed, which was surprising, given how in years past we've commented on how low attendance was (apparently they got some newspaper writeups this year). It was as impressive as ever, although our only complaint is that we wish they'd add or vary one or two things for those of us who are repeat viewers. Still, it's detailed enough that there are always fun things to linger on and enjoy. Thanks, House at Haunted Hill!

We rounded out the weekend on Sunday with our annual visit to the Forneris Farms Corn Maze (should that be Maize Maze?). It was a good one this year, and we got well and truly lost (enough that we actually got a bit sunburned on a very warm November day). Two years ago they started hiding "Cornundrums", or signs with silly riddles, all through the maze, and damn, we've still never found all of those things, despite trying to navigate every twist and turn of the maze. The farm also has a fine pumpkin patch, and - as you can see from the photo - I, the Halloween Queen, blessed it with my official gesture of approval this year.

We ended this year's festivities with a visit to the nice little neighborhood Dia de los Muertos festival held in the historic Andres Pico Adobe Park, but it was very small this year, with less ofrendas (ceremonial altars to the dead) and vendors than in years past. We enjoyed the performances of a lovely folkloric dance troupe, but were slightly disappointed by the reduced size.

And because it's now midnight...Happy All Souls Day! Time to start planning for next year's Halloween...

(All photos by Ricky. You can see his entire Flickr set here.)