It’s not just an October thing. No, here in Los Angeles, we start preparing for Halloween during November of the year before — but it’s not just our home haunts, special effects make-up expertise and elaborate costuming that makes L.A. particularly creeptastic all year long.
It’s our proximity to and unusual comfort with the scarier side of nature — owls, snakes, tarantulas, and the like. It’s the blurred line between fantasy and reality that places us in that no man’s land between a dream state and being awake — where we’re not sure if we’re remembering something that actually happened, or whether we saw it in a movie or read it in a script.
Of course, we’ve also got our fair share of hauntings — but rather than fleeing from the dead and the undead, we’ve learned to embrace it all. Here are six great examples of places that help make the City of Angels more like Spooksville, U.S.A.
1. Dapper Cadaver, Sun Valley
This is a busy time of year for Dapper Cadaver, the horror props house by the Burbank Airport that sells and rents anything from coffins to aliens, dinosaurs, and incredibly realistic-looking-but-fake corpses. It gets a lot of its business from Hollywood, but it also supplies the creators of home haunts as well as collectors of oddities like vintage surgical instruments, skulls and other bones, and jars of preserved critters (some fake, but some real). In fact, their work is so good that it can be difficult to tell the difference between a prop and a specimen — although you’d be safe to assume that there aren’t any actual dead bodies in their showroom. But catch one of their glassy-eyed, disembodied heads out of the corner of your eye, and you’re likely to jump a little. Dapper Cadaver is open to the public during the week all year round, but in October you can also visit on Saturday for that fake goat or stone archangel you’ve been meaning to get for your yard.
2. Skeletons in the Closet, Lincoln Park
You probably wouldn’t expect any coroner's office to have a gift shop — but at the County of Los Angeles Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner, that’s exactly what you’ll find. Just walk through the front door of the former Los Angeles General Hospital administration building on the LAC+USC Medical Center campus, check in with security on your left, and enter “Skeletons in the Closet” on your right. You’ll find garment “body bags,” crime scene beach towels, chalk outline welcome mats, coffee mugs, keychains, mousepads, and even toe tags. Although there’s a fair amount of levity to many of their product offerings, it shouldn’t detract from the serious business of the coroner’s office. In operation since 1993, the store’s mission is to “promote how fragile life is and create awareness and responsibility toward one's actions.” But if you visit in person, it’s also a good way to give yourself the heebie-jeebies inside a building that you otherwise wouldn’t wish to visit.
Ever wish that your antiques store sold medical equipment? Or that there was somewhere to get your crazy cat lady friend a black cat Ouija board? Have you ever been to an artwalk and thought that there just weren’t enough ghosts in the galleries? Well, it’s your lucky day, because Burbank’s Bearded Lady has got all of that and more, between its two locations just two blocks way from each other on Magnolia. The “Vintage & Oddities” shop is more of a traditional shopping experience with a dark twist, while the more recently-opened “Mystic Museum” down the street features a shop of new oddball gifts in the front and a museum / art gallery / event space in the back. The art on the wall switches out regularly, but there’s also a permanent collection of vintage occult paraphernalia, including an impressive collection of “spirit boards.” Special events hosted in the museum include séances, magic shows, and sideshow acts. Both shops are conveniently located a short distance from the Halloweentown year-round horror headquarters, the horror specialty bookstore Dark Delicacies, and the dark-leaning, monster-friendly collectibles and comics shop Creature Features.
4. Necromance, Hollywood
There are those who enjoy the delicious spookiness of fantasy, and others who prefer the terrifying truth of real life. With its collection of bug, bones and skeletons, and sea creatures and shells (some of which have been made into jewelry), Necromance can definitely satisfy your curiosity of the natural history and wonders of this earthly realm. You can get one-of-a-kind poison bottles, freeze-dried and taxidermied rodents, and a real contemporary medical bone saw. Some of the items in their retail collection veer towards the occult — shrunken heads, crystals, beads, and various talismans — but by and large, the items here prove that truth can be stranger than fiction. Prices range from $1 to $150+, so when you go, buy a little something rather than just window shopping or taking photos.
5. Dearly Departed Tours, Hollywood
Dearly Departed specializes in bus tours and walking tours of L.A.’s most famous sites of murder, celebrity death and burial, and horror film locations — but they’ve also got a storefront on Sunset Boulevard that’s a combination museum and gift shop. Visit it to see their shrines to various dead celebrities and relics relating to the crimes of Charles Manson, and collect your own piece of history by buying something salvaged from an assassination or, say, the Hindenburg disaster. They’ve also got their own branded swag, like tote bags, reproduction motel room keychains, and death-positive t-shirts with slogans like “future corpse.” And while you’re there, sign up for a tour. If unsolved crimes and serial killers are a bit too much for you, they also have a regular “Nastie Nellie Oleson” bus tour co-hosted by actress Alison Arngrim of Little House on the Prairie. If she offers you a prairie bonnet to wear during a photo opp, by all means, WEAR THE BONNET.
6. Hollywood Wax Museum, Hollywood
I don’t think the Hollywood Wax Museum really intends to be a scary place, but it’s downright terrifying. And that’s before you even descend into the “Horror Chamber” in the basement. Down there, it’s a mad monster party where Dracula mingles with Frankenstein while Hellboy looks on. Chucky is behind glass, and Hannibal Lecter is behind bars. The Phantom of the Opera has doffed his mask, and Pinhead still, well, has pins in his head. Upstairs, you can find wax figures of Charlie Chaplin, John Wayne, Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Lucille Ball, Hugh Hefner, Clint Eastwood, Rocky, Forrest Gump, and Michael Jackson — some of which are creepy enough without the ties to classic horror cinema. Or maybe that spooky feeling is coming from the Hollywood characters that aren’t cast in wax — especially since the museum, which first opened in 1965, is rumored to be haunted.
Bonus: Thriller House, Angelino Heights
Walking down Carroll Avenue in Angelino Heights is like walking through a neighborhood that’s just full of haunted houses. It’s no wonder that this is a popular destination for trick-or-treaters on Halloween. Several of these Victorian-era mansions have been restored or are in the process of being restored, but they get their “creep” cred from having appeared in any number of unsettling T.V. series, films, and even music videos. Down the street from the “Charmed House” at 1345 Carroll Avenue is the house made famous in Michael Jackson’s 1983 magnum opus, “Thriller,” possibly the most famous music video of all time. Known better to architectural historians as the “Sanders House,” the Queen Anne-style manor was originally built in 1887. It’s one of the only remaining examples of a design by the architectural firm of Kysor, Morgan & Walls — and it’s one of the stops on the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Angelino Heights Walking Tour.