A macabre makeover at Casa Loma

Spooks’ season arrives hallowed hall

Legends of Horror
Now until Mon., Oct. 31
$35-$55 Regular, $150-$200 VIP
Haunted Immersive Experience
Casa Loma, 1 Austin Terrace, Toronto

I know I’m getting close to my final destination because the streets are cloaked in fog. I’m driving towards Toronto’s historic Casa Loma, transformed for the month of October into an immersive haunted experience. With the sun set and a smoke machine working overtime, I can faintly see the eerie glow of red and green lights beyond the castle’s perimeter wall.

I’m among the first group to experience this year’s version of Legends of Horror, Casa Loma’s long-established haunted house. As I pass through the entrance gates, I hear screams in the distance. I have 2km of trail and the castle’s winding tunnels ahead of me and I can’t wait to see what awaits me in the dark.

Twisting paths are lit up in an array of colours, just bright enough to light the way while still concealing characters in the bushes. Tombstones and skeletons are scattered among the grounds. Vampires, ghouls, killer clowns and other nightmarish creatures greet me along my self-guided walk. Some are spotted from a distance, while others wait to jump out as you draw near.

Those that attended Legends of Horror last year may remember the layout of the indoor haunted house and will be pleased to know this year’s floor plan is altered. While some rooms remain the same, like the house of mirrors and the blood-splattered kitchen, others have new decor and new actors with hair-raising screams.

The halfway point brings a moment of respite. As I ascend the steps to the garden terrace, the mood shifts as drink tokens are passed around and Dua Lipa blasts from the DJ booth. The castle’s glass pavilion is now a bar and dance floor. Guests with VIP tickets can use their tokens on signature cocktails and party food. An impressive dragon sculpture is perched at the centre of the room and a lineup is forming around a photo booth with a bright orange backdrop.

Refreshed, I make my way back outside to admire the light projections across the castle’s exterior. The fountains glow bright red and every so often a tall cloaked figure with a skeletal face glides past.

The second half of the experience takes place in the underground tunnels leading to the stables. Here, strobe lights pulse and mangled bodies dangle from the low ceiling. There’s a phantom playing an organ and a witch waiting to hiss at you. The tour ends with a demonstration by Doctor Frankenstein and his prized creation, while the Bride of Frankenstein contorts her body in the corner.

How scary you find the experience depends on your disposition. Those with a fondness for the macabre may find it more fun than terrifying, but a good time was clearly had by all. For those with young children looking for a Halloween activity, Legends of Horror offers family hours from 5pm – 6:30pm with no live actors and more daylight.

A new addition this year is Zombie Apocalypse, an immersive experience that takes you through the fictional story of pharmaceutical company Biolux and its failed experiments. Hosted across the street at 175 Kendal Avenue, tickets can be purchased separately ($40 – $50) or paired with Legends of Horror ($75 – $85) for a prolonged evening of terror.