It's a crisp and cloudless October night. A full moon peaks out from behind twisted, leafless tree limbs. Fog creeps around a bend in the road up ahead. We park in a bustling parking lot full of smiling faces, but getting out of my car I hear shrieks amidst the distant roar of a chainsaw. We know we shouldn't, but my boyfriend and I tentatively begin our walk toward the commotion. The fog grows thicker and, as we sneak around the bend, it takes on a curious orange glow. The screams get louder, the chainsaw more threatening. Closer we walk. Dark shadows up ahead slowly materialize. The orange glow becomes brighter, and more lights appear. Suddenly I am aware of faint music. It resembles carnival music, but it's off-key and manic. Closer we walk. The fog begins to clear. The screams are now deafeningly loud, and out of the corner of my eye I see a small group of people, running at full-sprint, from-what's that? The chainsaw gets louder and louder until I realize an escaped convict is chasing after them with a chainsaw! Although he looks much larger than they and full capable of outrunning them, he stops short, shakes the chainsaw at them, and defeated, retreats back into a dark, hillside barn. The shrieks turn into frenzied laughter as the group runs off into the darkness.
I have just entered the grounds of the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride.
It's October, but aside from a brief rainfall last week it doesn't much feel like autumn. Are you not quite in the Halloween spirit yet? A trip to the Haunted Hayride at Griffith Park's Old Zoo will quickly cure what ails you.
The drive leading to the site of the Hayride on Crystal Springs Dr. (from the 5 freeway) iscreepy enough to get you in the mood for a good scare. It's pitch black, and with all of the orange cones, construction equipment, and police tape due to the LADWP improvement project, it looks like zombies have taken over Griffith Park before you even reach the Hayride. Clever street signs that read "Cut Off A Head" almost help calm drivers' nerves, until you remember that you're descending into a canyon full of maniacs, murderers, and freaks.
Said maniacs, murderers and freaks greet you before you even have a chance to buy your tickets. But if you follow the lights blinking on the rooftop, tickets can be purchased at a ticket booth from a perfectly pleasant (and healthy) living human being. After that, though, you're on your own. Your ticket grants you entrance to the Hayride itself, the In-Between (a horrifying maze), and the Human Menagerie Sideshow which includes a hall of mirrors, a haunted merry-go-round, a magic show with Mister Wonder and his beautiful assistant, and a psychic reading with Madame April. Not bad for $35. ($25 if you opt out of the In-Between, but I highly recommend the full ticket. The maze is the scariest (aka most fun!) part of the night!)
I don't want to give anything away, so I won't go into great detail about anything. But the Hayride is awesome. It's definitely more funny and campy than it is scary, but the blending of humor and horror is the beauty of Halloween! I had a headache from laughing and screaming so hard after the second go-round.
A man, fully outfitted in Levis, plaid, and a rancher's hat, drives a tractor which drags behind it a huge hay-blanketed trailer bed. So yes, in case you had any fears, this is a genuine Hayride. (Bring your inhaler!) Riders slowly creep up an incline, through lighted stone gates resembling those at the beginning of the Jurassic Park tour. (As I'm sure you know, anything having to do with Jurassic Park is a good thing.) Immediately the trailer bed is hit with an inordinate amount of fog, which billows out from the gates and encircles the riders. Up ahead we encounter the ghostly visions of the Clifton twins, the daughters of Zoo Keeper Ferdinand Clifton, around whose night terrors the experience is based. They beckon you to come play with them, and-like it or not-off you go, into their demented, childlike dreamworld. What follows is a cast of characters whose sole purpose is to frighten riders of the Haunted Hayride. And they do.
After the Hayride, Mathew and I enjoyed the Human Menagerie Sideshow. Before mounting the spindly white horse skeletons on the carousel (or should I say, Carous-Hell), we watched as a ten-foot tall black scarecrow swayed through the crowd and stopped, ominously watching the ride, before gliding away into the darkness. As Mathew and I whirled backwards on our ghostly equines, a baby, the size of a full-grown man, and looking like he had suffered third-degree burns, wore a skeleton jumpsuit and stood beside the ride. He stuck his tongue out at me and pointed, waiting for us to exit the carousel. When we finally did, he slowly chased us until we reached the Hall of Mirrors. I didn't have much luck escaping to the Hall, as a dead, life-sized doll whose mouth had been stitched together cornered me in the claustrophobic space. She finally let me go, but not before putting her nose to mine, and screaming.
We ran out of there and headed to the entrance to the In-Between-the maze. Handsdown one of the scariest mazes I've ever been in. It's in an old barn they've constructed, and it is pitch black. They give you a light that somehow emits a red glow but offers your eyes no assistance. I don't scare that easily, but when it's that dark and you just know something is around the corner, it's hard not to get goosebumps. We made it through, but just barely.
After recuperating, we walked past the Grub Shack, which sold Children of the Popcorn, Sin' Omen Apple Rings, and the like. It all smelled delicious. Beyond it was Madame April's psychic reading table. I recommend doing this either at the very beginning of the night, at the very end of the night, or at the very least during Mister Wonder's magic show (located right next to the table) so you'll have something to entertain you. The line was not long, but it was very slow-moving. After about 20 minutes, we gave up and decided to go on the Hayride one last time. Worth it!
Conclusion: If you need something to jolt you into the Halloween spirit, the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride is the way to go. It's fun, it's spooky, and there are enough murderous crazies to chase after everyone. And they will! Consider yourself warned.
The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride is located at 4730 Crystal Springs Ave. The event continues Thursdays-Saturdays for the remainder of October. Visit their website for more information.