Mystic Motel, Ladera Ranch, CA
If you happen to be in south Orange County tonight and feel like you’re in the mood for a haunted attraction, head on over to Mystic Motel, an actual spooky dark ride that owner, Scott D’Avanzo, and his family have built in their residential garage!
We covered this attraction last year, when I stopped by to check it out for the first time. Unfortunately, since it was opening night and a home haunt, not everything was quite working, and I didn’t have a chance to return on a different night to see the finished product. This time around, I stopped by both Tuesday night, when Mystic Motel opened for the 2018 season, and last night, after a few nights’ of running. And the resulting product was even better than last year’s!
Mystic Motel this year shares a lot of similarities to last year’s version. Guests enter through a lobby area and proceed through a winding path to an “elevator” down to “the basement,” where they board single-person carriages that take them for a short but charming 35-second ride through a series of ghostly gags and triggered light startle effects. But Scott has added a few enhancements and a slightly different story this year. Instead of a receptionist to check in at the counter, the greeter outside informs guests that the maintenance man is on vacation but has left his dog in the basement. Warning: the dog hasn’t eaten all week! This seems like a ripe opportunity to report Maintenance Man Charlie for animal abuse, but we proceed anyway, passing by a diner with two haunting patrons and a couple of static strobe light scenes and a triggered airgun effect for some early startles.
Then it’s down the rickety, bumpy elevator, before guests board the ride. Compared to last year’s first night offering, this year definitely has a greater number of working effects, from a ghostly reveal to a boiler explosion to falling shelves and dropping corpses. And in the final room, guests do, indeed, come face to face with Charlie’s starving pup, who is really just looking for a handout. You can’t quite blame him. One last U-turn later and one final startle, and it’s time to disembark.
The experience itself is even briefer than most home haunt walk-throughs, but the accomplishment and technical magnitude of this haunted attraction loom quite large. Scott has been doing Mystic Motel on and off for over a half decade now, so the operation is more streamlined than the early days, which were laden with stories of the ride losing power, Scott pushing the carriages himself, and a few harrowing safety bouts that resulted in some shocking learning experiences, to say the least. This ride, which started out as an innocent request by Scott’s then five year-old younger son, has grown to become a labor of love and passion that is shared with the local neighborhood during the end of the Halloween season.
It’s also provided a catalyst for Scott to pursue a second career as a creative designer and manufacturer with his side project, Adrenalin Attractions (side project, but probably more time consuming than his regular work running a slot machine manufacturing, distribution, and installation company!). Through this, Scott has been able to create static props, thematic scenery, ride vehicles, and even actual built-out attractions for various private clients. There’s even visions of a full-fledged theme park and resort on the table based upon the lore that surrounds Mystic Motel. Though these are still in the drawing boards and presentation stage, this year’s Mystic Motel does have some hints to the mythic “Mystic City” by way of several road signs scattered around the D’Avanzo property.
Mystic Motel closes its doors tonight, so you’ll have to hope for next year if you’re not able to make it. That is not necessarily a guarantee, as Scott did not even make the decision to move forward with this year’s feature until relatively late in the haunt construction season. But it’s an absolutely entrancing little attraction, and another testament to the heart and zeal of home haunters all around Southern California (and the country, of course). Lets hope we will have an opportunity to check in again in the future, one way or another!
Also, completely unrelated to Mystic Motel itself, but I happened to spot this shark-themed yard display at the house across the street. They didn’t have any haunt or active spooky theming, but I felt like dressing up a home for Halloween to sharks was kind of absurdly awesome. And, who knows? Maybe this could be developed into an actual haunt. Just throw in a bunch of Halloween Horror Nights-style shark pop-outs for Jaws!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.