When I agreed to write about this year’s Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, I had no idea what I was signing up for. There obviously would be no classic hay-filled communal wagon ride. There obviously would be no communal anything. So how were the organizers (Thirteenth Floor) going to create a scary, on-edge environment given that the entire event takes place in the cozy comfort of your own car?
Thursday night, under the full moon, my friend Chelsea and I ventured out to Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas to see what this new hayride was all about. My two questions were: 1. How COVID-conscious is this event going to be? 2. Are people going to jump out and try to scare me while I’m driving? Because if so, I will most certainly crash my car and quite possibly kill someone in the process.
After our tickets were scanned through the car window by a masked employee, we proceeded down a dark road through creeping clouds of fog. This road is called “All Hallows Lane,” and features various haunted house facades, scary mannequins, and all sorts of spooky props akin to the ones you've come to love at the hayride in years past. Imagine a parade in reverse: where the spectators drive single file down the road, and the attractions line the side. Strobe lights and fog machines helped set the mood as well. Fortunately, no “jump scares” startled me into crashing the car. When it comes to waiting in line, we were early and drove right in. But if we had arrived later, the elaborate Halloween decor would have entertained us during the wait.
At the end of the road, we were ushered into a clearing, then into a parking spot in front of a 40-foot screen. The theme for this year’s “hayride” is a drive-in movie set in the fictional town of “Midnight Falls,” which was the setting of last year’s hayride. The scene looked like a classic drive-in movie setup revamped to enable a multimedia storytelling experience with themed sets and a few small stages. Traffic direction was definitely hectic and disorganized, but considering the entirely re-invented structure demanded by COVID, this was understandable. As the show began we tuned into the designated radio station and an announcer with a Vincent Price-style voice let everyone know that if they needed to use the restrooms “please wait until after the lights have turned off.” By this time actors in scary outfits had begun to enter the area donning creepy masks and brandishing chainsaws, so we figured going to the bathroom was going to be an absolute no-go.
The show was a smorgasbord of creepy sets, lighting, sound, effects, and most importantly live monsters and murderers from the town of Midnight Falls. The highlight of the event was the continual jump scares from these actors, who prowled around between the cars as short “horror” films and “horror” themed musical numbers were shown on the screen. The music and video production had a very B-movie cult vibe to me, which isn’t necessarily my cup of tea. We drowned the music out with giggles and the occasional shriek and I spent the hour-long event mainly watching the people around us instead of the screen. The man slinking around on stilts really freaked me out and impressed me with his ability to bend down and stare into my window. At one point a giant jack-o'-lantern monster emerged for the finale of a tragic retelling of “Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater.” The blend of kitsch and horror seemed just right.
Overall, the Haunted Hayride is a fun way to get out of the house and do something both spooky and safe during this COVID Halloween season. The drive down “All Hallows Lane” at the start is meant to evoke the traditional Haunted Hayride tractor experience, and the drive-in experience provides a safe alternative to the usual mazes of past years. Employees wear safety masks even under their stage masks, and we had no physically close encounters that weren’t divided by a car window.
With the absence of Knott’s Scary Farm and Universal Studios Haunted Horror Nights this year, the Haunted Hayride provides an alternative for people who enjoy live fright. The event format also allows more easily frightened folks who might not go to events like Knott’s Scary Farm the opportunity to experience live frights in a more psychologically cozy environment. Something about being inside a car with all the windows up (and the doors irrationally locked “just in case”) ads an element of playfulness to the fear. As the host chillingly put it, “Sitting ducks is what you are, the final resting place is in your car.”
Los Angeles Haunted Hayride runs select evenings through November 1. Tickets start at $49.99 per car (two people) and are available at losangeleshauntedhayride.com
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