The monsters that haunt our nightmares seem rather tame in comparison with the evil ghouls we must contend with in the real world right now, which makes Halloween a more welcome distraction than ever. It's a 8 billon-dollar industry for good reason: Halloween time is beloved by so many for the nostalgia, the candy, the dressing up, the partying and, yes, the escapism, eerie as it all may be.
Nobody does the spookiest time of the year like Los Angeles, the movie magic capital of the world, and as always, 2018 offers a hauntapalooza of happenings to choose from. Some of the ticket prices are downright scary, though, especially if you buy front-of-the-line passes (which you absolutely should do if you don't want to wait an hour for a 3-minute maze stroll).
To help you decide which deadly and demented environments to choose from, L.A. Weekly presents Friday Frights, every Friday in October, providing horrific highlights (but no spoilers) from the city's top “creeps night out” contenders. We begin with the cinema-driven scares of two studio attractions: Warner Bros.' Horror Made Here tour and Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights. Read on at your own risk!
Universal Studios has long been the top (rabid) dog when it comes to horror mazes and startling, freak-filled scare zones. Knott's Scary Farm (which has stepped up its game this year; read all about it here next week) usually comes a close second in terms of immersive environments and actual walk-through experiences. This year Horror Nights' big buzz was for the new Stranger Things maze, which was well done in terms of re-creating the sets and backdrops, but lacked the fear factor. The jump scares come courtesy of several Demogorgons (the sharp-toothed, flowerlike creatures on the Netflix show) placed throughout the maze, which re-creates Wynona Ryder's Christmas light-adorned living room, as well as the kids' school and Hawkins National Laboratory. The Demog masks are very well done, but the lower bodies are too humanlike, so they don't fully represent the ominous quality of those on the show. Even so, fans will dig the details like '80s music and lifelike mannequins representing the kids (Mille Bobby Brown gets an epic scene near the end, as she should).
Other Universal mazes include Poltergeist, Trick R Treat, The Purge, Universal Monsters, Halloween and The Horror of Blumhouse (with scenes from the production company's teen screamers such as Unfriended). If you love these films, chances are you will dig each of these in different ways. Universal Monsters was our favorite, as an old-school horror fan; it presents the iconic retro ghouls we grew up with and adds modern macabre touches and lots of gore. The Bride presented on the operating table as a big ol' bloody mess is pretty shocking … which is the point, right?
Warner Bros.' fearsome tour and maze setup is much smaller than Universal's, but fans of horror films new and old will still want to check it out as well. Themed experiences represent some of the best-known scary movies of all time: The Exorcist, Batman, It, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Conjuring and It.
Though the size and scope of the Warner Bros. attractions don't compare with a lot out there, WB does deserve big props for trying to do something a little different with each movie-inspired experience. The Exorcist — considered by many to be the scariest film of all time — is, wisely, more of a screening, featuring a sit-down setup with terrifying scenes from the film, and it's in a church! We won't reveal what happens inside but let's just say prayer won't help you escape. Like The Exorcist, a visit to The Conjuring House features actors who talk to you and attempt to bring you into the story (something that no other haunt really does). The melo-drama is a little cheesy, but it can be fiendish fun if you play along. Annabelle, the possessed doll seen in the series, has her own wicked scene that gives playtime a new meaning.
Our favorite part of WB's tour brought two unforgettable slashers together and provided a genuinely spooky outdoor walk on the outskirts of the studio lot, re-creating first the quiet, white picket fenced–in Elm Street (yes, Freddy was ready and waiting) and then, a dark and woodsy hike around Camp Crystal Lake, where bloody victims scream and warn you to turn back, and a very big man in a hockey mask follows you with a sword as you peruse massacred campers (they were probably having sex!) in log cabins and tents outside, surrounded by nothing but dirt and dark. Another reason to hate camping, but somehow we survived. And we liked this part enough to come back for a sequel. You will too, if you survive!
Universal Studios' Haunted Horror Nights runs nightly, with early entry at 5 p.m. Prices vary by date and time. Tickets and info here.
Warner Bros.' Horror Made Here tour runs nightly starting at 7 p.m.. Prices vary by date. Tickets and info here.
Next week's “Friday Frights” report: Knott's Scary Farm and Queen Mary's Haunted Harbor