When it comes to haunted houses and other Halloween attractions, L.A. has more options than a fun-size candy variety pack. But it wasn’t always this way.
A decade ago, only a handful of ghoulish events could spook Angelenos by the masses, spread primarily across theme parks such as Universal Studios and Six Flags. Of those ways to get a good scare, almost none utilized the terror of nature: What’s out there in L.A.’s mountains and hillsides at night? What could be creeping up in those trees? And what could be hiding in the Old Zoo? Fortunately, Melissa Carbone had a few ideas, and answered those questions with a now-iconic Halloween tradition: the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride.
What began as Carbone’s one-trail event with a humble hay maze and a small boardwalk area ballooned to an annual 30-acre takeover of Griffith Park that now features a dark maze; the general scare grounds, called the haunted village, complete with roaming ghouls; an interactive maze; a macabre-oriented gift shop; spooky-themed food vendors; and, of course, the hayride itself, which piles up to 30 guests into a truck that snakes its way through scenes and vignettes of clowns and demons and murderers that rotate from year to year.
To celebrate Haunted Hayride’s first decade, we caught up with Carbone to learn the art of the haunt—and just what you’ll encounter at this year’s trail and mazes.
How do you scare Angelenos? What’s the secret?
You put them in the woods at night! Honestly, the most integral character to the integrity of the hayride is the woods, right? That’s our biggest priority of character. In L.A. we shop, we eat and we go to movies—we don’t hang out in the woods at night because there’s really not a lot of woods to hang out in. So I think we have them, and that’s what scares Angelenos: taking this environment and doing something new in this space where they can get annihilated in the dark.
How are you celebrating 10 years? What’s new this year?
So first of all, it blows my mind that we’re in our 10th year. And what’s different is that we’ve collected all of the fan favorites from the past decade—all of the scenes that people loved, that people have asked to have back, some of the things that have been on the trail for two or three years but way back in the day—and we pieced them together to create what is essentially a hayride trail that’s all finales. There isn’t any fluff or fat on that trail; it’s all hardcore hayride of the past decade.
So if this trail all finales, is this the scariest year yet?
I would say so, yeah. I think this is the scariest year.
Are there any new additions?
Absolutely. We’ve got the pumpkin portal entrance, which is brand new. And every night is our anniversary party—so in addition to new stuff on the trail, like a few brand new scenes, we’ve actually reimagined some of the other things. Even though we do have a lot of throwbacks, we’ve made them slightly different so that there’s new things and excitement around them; Trick or Treat [an interactive maze] is back, but with a whole new facade, new characters, and that’s our own dystopian suburbia.
And in the House of Shadows [a dark maze], I think that’s it’s scariest year ever. It’s hell, so there’s a lot of red, a lot of smoldering embers, there’s a lot of characters in there turning up the creep factor.
Tell us a little bit about how Haunted Hayride began—how did you personally start all of this?
Alyson Richards, who was my wife at the time, and I had this house in Westwood—very Suburban Soccer Mom, U.S.A.—and I was building these big displays in our yard, like it looked like Halloween just threw up on our yard. I was noticing hundreds of kids going through, and every year it was getting bigger and bigger, and I looked outside and saw parents canoodling and kids coming through and I was like, “What is this feeding frenzy around Halloween?”
So I looked into it and found it’s a $6.5 billion industry, and I felt [Angelenos] were very underserved for Halloween attractions at that time. There were really only three others: Universal, Knott’s and Queen Mary [Ed. note: Six Flags Magic Mountain’s Fright Fest began in 1993], and we were the fourth and much different from any of them. There’s a much different feel to this. So I just became a freight train of excitement for this project, and here we are 10 years later.
About how many people come through every year?
Oh my god, it depends on the year but we’ll do 60,000, 70,000, 80,000 people. The L.A. Haunted Hayride has become a Halloween icon here, which I can’t believe. That’s a hard thing to do in this town. And this year is our 10th, and we celebrate it every single night, which is scary and beautiful. Just follow the orange glow.
The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride runs now through October 31, with tickets ranging from $30.99 to $109.99. Find the full calendar and pricing information here. Private hayrides for groups of up to 30 are also available.