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Just When You Thought It Was Safe: Corporate Tie-Ins Come For L.A.’s Halloween Haunts

Out of obsidian shadows, the soulless entities come slithering, their eyes barren voids, their ravenous tentacles extended. They come for your disposable income, ready to wring every red cent from the marrow of your fleshy form.

They are corporate tie-ins.

And they’re appearing this fall at L.A.’s Halloween Haunts.

October may look a little different in the city this year, as two of the biggest names in local fright fests have announced the addition of strange new celebrities in their quest to scare the shit out of us all. Or at least transform us into ever more zombie-like consumers.

The Queen Mary in Long Beach, which for years hosted the beloved horror-themed Dark Harbor activation, is replacing that event with something called Shaqtoberfest, a Shaquille O’Neal-themed Halloween festival starting in late September. The family-friendly celebration promises trick-or-treating, games, live entertainment, “atmospheric areas,” and haunted trails that get progressively scarier as the moon rises.

In a quick video, Shaq introduces it as his own “twist on Halloween.” Shaq’s promotion to the status of instant Halloween icon feels somewhat forced and bizarrely random, especially as he makes the announcement in nothing more inspired than a black t-shirt. Don’t tell us that Kazaam get-up isn’t in your closet somewhere, Big Guy.

Shaq is teaming up on the event with Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group, the creators of L.A.’s increasingly unscary annual Haunted Hayride, itself the beneficiary of investment and exposure from the intellectual property known as Shark Tank, much to Mark Cuban’s later horror.

Meanwhile, over at Universal Studios, home to one of our and everyone else’s favorite seasonal events, Halloween Horror Nights, an announcement just went out that The Weeknd is working with the company to create mazes based on his album “After Hours,” which will debut on September 8, and in Orlando on September 2. The activation will be known as The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare.

Clearly, with a captive audience of teens and young adults in attendance, such a corporate tie-in makes a lot of sense on a commercial level. In April, The Weeknd inked a deal with Universal Music Group to partner on a bevvy of merchandising and audio-visual projects, and this appears to be one of the first shots in that salvo of selling-out.

Sports and pop music! How, um... scary.

Putting the artist front and center at Halloween Horror Nights is hardly any different than its usual mazes that put you inside of other Universal assets such as Frankenstein, Crimson Peak, and Purge-related mazes.

On a horror level, we sort of get it, too. We were raised on live Elvira, and Weird Al shows at Knotts Scary Farm, which always had a light, but like-minded, synergy with the scares going on outside. Universal has similarly already offered maze collaborations with musical artists like Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper, and Ozzy, while the Jabawockeez provided a break from the screams in a long-running live show at the park.

And let’s face it. Music can be dark and scary, especially when it’s good music.

We remain traumatized by our childhood experiences seeing Rockwell’s “Someone’s Watching Me” video and, honestly, by most of the art in the 80s. We also tend to love any overtly horror-themed music, from the Misfits and the Gravediggaz to Slipknot, The Pine Hill Haints, and The Groovy Ghoulies. And we will take the debate anytime to convince cynics that “The Monster Mash” is the best song. Ever. Period.

Sure, we sort of tuned out on The Weeknd once he bailed on the dark, barbiturate soul vibes of his earlier self-produced shit to embrace full pop stardom. But still, we could certainly see how his mangled face aesthetic and foreboding videos, with their Spielbergian horror vibes and Nicolas Winding Refn-style lighting, could lend themselves to a pretty chilling experience.

At the very least, it sounds scarier than Shaq unless we’re talking about this guy.

For his part, The Weeknd is quoted as saying, “I always wanted my own Halloween Horror Nights haunted house as Halloween has always been significant to my music, so this is a total dream come to life.”

And we can respect that.

Even if Shaq’s involvement might not make Halloween at the Queen Mary, famous for its forlorn passages and legendary ghost stories, demonstrably scarier than years past, we will keep our minds open for the sheer enthusiasm Shaq feels for Halloween. As Halloween people ourselves, we get it.

Still, we can’t help feeling like a world dominated by corporate synergy, and the contrived sudden appearance of IP is the very future we nineties kids tried to warn posterity about. Back when Nirvana and Ice Cube momentarily knocked C&C Music Factory off the charts. Before the ODs, band friction and Grunge star suicides forced the music industry away from taking chances and back into grooming Disney Jr. stars and boy band breakouts into states of semi-permanent celebrity for fun and big business profits.

The bigger question is: Where will it all end?

Will our surfeit of radioactive casualties, psycho payasos, and generic zombies soon be replaced en mass by trademarked movie monsters? And how long until we see Beyonce’s “Break Your Soul Boneyard,” Bad Bunny’s “Maldita Madness,” or something even scarier than another album by BTS infiltrating our spookiest season?

Perhaps more urgent at this point, as it comes to the world of corporate Halloween, will Hershey’s get its shit together by October 31st?

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