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Favorite haunts of film fiends

October 12, 2006|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

DON'T let the palm trees, shopping malls and congested freeways fool you. Tucked away in the rocky canyons, the serene neighborhoods and the steep hillsides of Southern California are the creepy settings to some of Hollywood's most frightening moments.

When the Frankenstein monster pitched that little girl into a lagoon, he sealed his fate on the shores of Malibou Lake in the Santa Monica Mountains. When Michael Myers escaped a mental hospital in "Halloween," he went on a killing spree in a tree-shaded neighborhood in South Pasadena. When Boris Karloff was disinterred in "The Mummy," he was freed from a tomb not in Egypt but in a local desert.

The sunny Southland holds a special place in the hearts of horror movie buffs as the spawning ground for some of Hollywood's most memorable horror flicks.

Invasion hideaway

Enter Bronson Caves after a short hike from Bronson Park in the Hollywood Hills and you are enveloped in cold darkness. In the golden age of horror movies, this abandoned rock quarry was the go-to place for creepy cave scenes: It was dark, quiet and only a few miles from the studios.

"This area is hallowed grounds for sci-fi fans," says Harry Medved, coauthor of "Hollywood Escapes," a travel guide to film locations.

In the 1956 sci-fi classic "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," the folks in the little town of Santa Mira were mysteriously replaced by emotionless replicates created by alien pods. Fall asleep and the pods replace you. A doctor who uncovers the truth tries to flee with his sweetheart to an old mineshaft, portrayed by the Bronson Caves, on the edge of town. But his sweetheart can't stay awake and soon she too joins the ranks of the pod people.

Frankenstein's fate

The morning sun shimmers off the water of a secluded mountain lake where an angelic girl picks daisies on the shore. It is a scene of sheer innocence until a hulking figure pushes through the bushes. It's the pale-faced mutation raised from the dead in the 1931 classic "Frankenstein." This scene along Malibou Lake sets the stage for the climactic clash between the monster and the villagers. Today, the crescent-shaped lake is bordered by expensive homes and encircled by gates. Much of the property is private, so trespassers get the same reception Frankenstein's monster got from the film's torch-wielding villagers.

A monster's lair

The sun creeps toward the horizon at Leo Carrillo State Beach in Malibu. From the bluff next to the road, the scene is paradise. But follow the dirt path under lifeguard station No. 3 around a rocky outcropping and you come to the lair of the giant, brain-eating crustacean from the 1957 B-movie classic "Attack of the Crab Monsters."

This cave was used so often by horror mogul Roger Corman that the area got the nickname "Corman Beach." Inside, the air is damp and smells of seaweed. The sound of pounding waves echoes off the walls. It was the same when Pat Boone, James Mason and Arlene Dahl tried to flee the cave in the 1959 classic "Journey to the Center of the Earth," only to be attacked by giant, bloodthirsty reptiles.

Mummy's tomb

Twenty-five miles northeast of Mojave, along State Highway 14, tall blood-red sandstone cliffs announce the entrance to Red Rock Canyon State Park. The wind-whipped desert sand blows past yucca plants and Joshua trees. Hike in among the cliffs, where the walls block out all the light, and you can picture legendary ghoul actor Karloff -- his tattered burial wrappings dripping from his rotting frame -- climb out of his tomb in the 1932 film "The Mummy."

Halloween haunt

It's a patchy-sky afternoon in a quiet neighborhood of South Pasadena. Youngsters are walking home from school along tree-shaded streets. A black and brown cat sleeps on the windowsill of a two-story house on the corner of Oxley Street and Fairview Avenue. Except for the new beige coat of paint on the home, the scene looks just as it did in 1978 when a psychopathic killer stalked teenagers in the blockbuster "Halloween." A few blocks away, the movie home of the masked monster, Michael Myers, has been renovated, turned into office space and moved to a busy commercial district on Mission Street. But close your eyes and you can almost hear Myers' doctor warn the local sheriff: "Death has come to your little town."

Nightmare for sale

The white paint is peeling. The chimney bricks are crumbling and the shades are drawn. A "For Sale" sign in front of this two-story home on North Genesee Avenue in Hollywood reads: "Do Not Disturb Occupants." In the 1984 horror flick "A Nightmare on Elm Street," a serial killer, wielding a blade-jutting leather glove, attacks teens in their dreams. Freddy Krueger, the flesh-charred specter, torments a girl living in this once-cozy home until she discovers how to keep him at bay: "Whatever you do, don't fall asleep."

Carrie's prom night

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