Hidden away in the dark recesses of the Garden walk is an independent haunt with a loyal following. The Empty Grave Haunted attraction opened its doors last weekend for limited hours of operation until the haunt season kicks in to full gear. Early? Yes it’s very early, even by our standards. But owner Mike Talorico and his misfit band of monsters got an offer that they just couldn’t pass up and they decided to jump right in.
As Mike tells it, they love setting up haunt at the Gardenwalk. It is a huge space with lots of interesting enclaves in which to build, has plenty of parking and there are plenty of restaurants for folks to eat in before or after visiting. Mike also speaks highly of the new owners and managers of the shopping center and it seems that the feeling is mutual.
A few months ago the new owners approached Mike with the idea of opening early to take advantage of the summer crowds. An odd idea, but they had bigger plans on the horizon. With things beginning to turn around for the struggling shopping center, they have their eyes on long term plans. They wanted to see how off-season guests would react to a spooky walk-through attraction in the mall. The only caveat was that the Empty Grave would have to move into a much smaller space than they have used in the past and they would need to open within two months.
Mike, always the sunny optimist, took them up on their offer and moved in to the old Hollister location next door to Bar Louie. With little time, he and his team whipped up a haunted maze that is actually pretty good. But, as time rolls on and they have additional time to work on the space, the attraction will be something remarkable.
Set in an old mortuary, guests are escorted into a room and given the backstory. A trademark of the Empty grave, the short preshow strikes a tone and sets up the story nicely. In one of the more theatrical beginnings to a maze that we have seen, the narration ends and a spotlight rises on a red velvet curtain. The curtains mysteriously part and your journey begins.
As guests wander through the decaying halls of the funeral home and mortuary they are treated to a new level of tech savvy and scares not seen from Talorico before. This isn’t the mom and pop haunt that it was when they first started over at the Block at Orange many Halloweens ago. No, this is a far more substantial operation now. Fully constructed walls, flashes of detailed theme and set decoration, high quality sound design and even a judicious use of smells assault visitors this year.
The Empty Grave strives to create a mood and advance a storyline. However, things do begin to falter a bit about halfway through. The maze begins in a very literal environment; a foreboding mortuary and house of death. This alone is creepy and a scenario rife with potential.
But, as the journey continues, the settings become less literal and more surreal. With a bit of additional work, this would be very effective. But as the maze is now, the second half plays out like a montage of frightening scenes which don’t really flow well one into the other. Don’t get us wrong, they are effective scares. But all that early work in building mood gets muddled a bit the further you venture into the maze. It’s not a deal breaker for us, and most guests probably won’t notice as they’ll be to busy screaming and being chased by monsters.
Another observation is that while Mike and his crew have built an inventive and winding pathway in such a compact space, this haunt lover mourns the loss of the wide-open space from the prior (much larger) location. Mike was known for that moment in the maze when things suddenly opened up from tight walls into a massive set. But there just isn’t enough space this year for Mike and crew to create that moment. The uninitiated will find the maze entertaining regardless. It is merely an observation from prior years and we hope Mike will have more room to expand in years to come.
Minor complaints aside, the team of monsters are fully invested and give it their all. They sell the entire experience. Mike should be very proud of the family of talent that he has collected and the palpable sense of camaraderie and ensemble that they have going. They are good. They are really good. And they are allowed to really let loose and get improvisational with the guests they encounter.
We are sure that the maze will continue to develop and improve as the Halloween season draws closer. After all, it’s not even September yet and they are already getting screams. Well worth your visit.
The Empty Grave is open weekends
now through October 31st
General admission prices are just $13.There is also a special VIP Funeral Package for two that includes two tickets, front of the line access, and two Empty Grave T-shirts.
We are already planning our return to the Empty Grave. It’s a fun diversion and is a great excuse to visit the Anaheim Garden Walk. Start your Halloween early this year!