From bloody amusement park mega-mazes to off-the-beaten-path haunts that push buttons and boundaries in the most raw and brutal of ways, L.A. is a veritable land of freaks and creeps when it comes to Halloween happenings.
But which spooky seasonal attractions truly bewitch? Which have the best visuals, atmosphere and concepts? Which simply scare the crap out of you most?
It depends on what you're into and what your personal fears are, of course. Is it ghosts and the paranormal, serial killers, monsters, demons or simply the unknown in the dark that send a chill up your spine?
The quick startle techniques employed by today's haunts and their hired ghouls are always effective, but the ominous and graphic environments are equally important at these things.
We sought to find a haunt for every taste by taking a non-stop tour of the most popular haunted houses and horror themed events the past weekend and several nights -- and a few of them were sleepless nights. Here, the terror-filled top 10 that had us shaking and will leave you shrieking for more.
Freakiest: Dark Harbor
There's something about a seaside locale that's inherently eerie and the Queen Mary's event benefits immensely from the nautical chill of the oceanside, not to mention the nostalgic presence of the ship itself. Of its six mazes, we enjoyed the circus-themed one in the adjacent Mary dome -- with mirrors, creepy clowns (who doesn't love/hate clowns?) and even a slide. The mazes on the ship, while fascinating from a history perspective and as an exhibit, since you are literally in the boat's musty bowels, were somewhat unpleasant to actually spend time in, or, like, breathe in. It's supposedly really haunted, but it was more claustrophobic than creepy. We actually felt bad for the actors down there trying to scare us. Our favorite Harbor horrors? The old-timey freak shows on the fair grounds, which are housed inside dark, garage-like structures with the doors slammed behind you! Patrons must walk in one or two at a time all the way down near the "freak" to get out, and sometimes the exit is hard to find, especially in two of the boxes, one blinding you with fog and the other pitch-black save for small cracks of light. We got stuck in one so long the costumed sideshow mutant had to show us the way. Think she she was thinking, "Gobble-gobble... One of us... We accept her!" like in the movie Freaks? 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach. Thursday-Sunday, through Nov. 2. $24 (GA advance) - $109 (VIP at the door) www.queenmary.com/dark-harbor/
See also: Pics from Dark Harbor's opening night .
Most Creative: Urban Death's Tour of Terror
Zombie Joe's "Urban Death" shows in a North Hollywood theater have garnered an avid cult following over the years, admired for their provocative presentation and gruesome underground artiness year-round. For the first time, UD has endeavored to create a more traditional haunt experience for Halloween, transforming its lobby into a macabre lights-off maze filled with shocking scenes you view only by flashlight. At the end of the maze, patrons are asked to sit in a circle on the floor in complete darkness, then shown dimly-lit, extremely bizarre theatrical vignettes. Though this one is obviously lower-budget than the big theme park thrillers, the vulnerability you feel sitting in the dark for extended periods of time is more effective than the biggie's bells and whistles. Your eyes start to play tricks on you, as do your ears. Did we really see and hear what we thought we did on "Tour of Terror"? Only the space's impresario, Zombie Joe, knows for sure... At Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Friday & Saturday showings at 8:30, 9:15, 10:00, 10:45 and 11:30pm, through Nov. 2; $12 (tickets at zombiejoes.tix.com). Reservation Hotline: 818-202-4120. www.ZombieJoes.com, www.UrbanDeath.com