The Bearded Lady Is One Of My Favorite Weird Places In LA
Here we are, come at last to the last spooky adventure of our column, TINSELTOWN TERRORS?!? After facing extreme heat, Santa Monica lunatics, the piss-soaked alleyways of Hollywood Boulevard, and Nazi ghosts, I think we’ll do something a little different as our little finale.
No more guided walking tours, no more goddamn mountainous staircases, thank you very much. To be honest, my legs hurt. The morning after Murphy Ranch, which was probably between three and six miles over rough terrain, my calves felt like they’d been covered in papier-mâché and used as piñatas to celebrate the birthday of the World’s Strongest Child. (The more context-clue-savvy among you may have noticed that I sometimes have to walk with a cane. This is due to a medical condition known as “hexed foot” by the closest thing to doctors that I can afford.)
So, yes, I want a break. We’re not going to be looking for ghosts today. Instead, I’ll be taking you to one of the coolest, spookiest places in Los Angeles: The Bearded Lady. Full disclosure: I absolutely love this place and come here all the time. So with that being said, come with me to the depths of Burbank, land of movie studios, a Barnes and Noble which inexplicably has an incredibly loud gym above it, and more gun stores per square foot than a city in a Borderlands game. It has at least four permanent Halloween-themed stores. Yeah, it’s my kind of place. So, accompanied by my wife Kate, we got in the car and made the laborious ten-minute drive into the dark heart of Burbank.
The Bearded Lady
Say what you will about Burbank. Say Porto’s is over-priced and under-quality’d (correct). Say it’s whiter than a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band (also correct). Say comedy writers make jokes about it that are way too niche (also, sadly, correct). It also has plentiful free parking, which in LA is rarer than a tech millionaire who doesn’t know the rush of taking a human life. Sometimes I’ll go to Burbank, park for free, and then leave, just for the thrill of it.
How to explain The Bearded Lady? Well, allow me an example. How many times has this happened to you: you need some vintage mortician’s tools, a taxidermy chicken, and a large bucket of assorted teeth – but you don’t have time to make three different stops! Well, the Bearded Lady has you covered. It’s an oddity store of the sort that I thought only existed to sell curséd objects in the short fiction of Edgar Allen Poe and some college towns in New England, but it’s also a fashion and lifestyle accessory store for goths (or, as they prefer, “the macabre inclined”), but it’s also like a store that sells merchandise from horror classics of yore, but it’s also a rotation museum on a series of spooky topics.
The central part of the Bearded Lady is the kind of place that always has exactly what you need… but it costs an arm and a leg *ominous thunder sound effect*! If a weird little guy shows up behind the counter and starts speaking in riddles, well, I’ve read enough Stephen King to know that sometimes it’s best to punch in the dick first and ask questions later – wait, maybe that’s why I’ve been having so much bad luck with job interviews? The point is, this place is a treasure trove. You might think it’s tacky, but what do I care what you think? I’m the one writing the article, pal. Old dental equipment, Jacob’s ladders, dead insects, dried herbs, t-shirts, a mirror that’s been ensorcelled to lie – it’s like if Wal-Mart appeared as evil as it actually is.
And that’s just the first room! Off to one side is a room that sells goth-y clothes, purses, candles, things of this nature, like if Hot Topic was actually good. There’s also a tarot reading area, but their tarot reader seemed to have the day off. Maybe they’re part of a union? The International Brotherhood of Fortune-Tellers, Soothsayers, and Oracles? Good for them, they need a union – because all prophets are wages stolen from the worker!
Next up is the Camp Horror room (which looks exactly like it sounds), and the entrance to the Mystic Museum. For a modest fee, you can go into the back rooms of The Bearded Lady, which houses, you guessed it, a museum. For a while the exhibit was Slashback Video, a complete reconstruction of one of those VHS rental places I mentioned. Which on the one hand is unbelievably cool as hell, but on the other, it’s weird that things that were common well into my teenage years are now far enough into the past that people will pay money to pretend to be in one.
Slashback Video has since shuffled off into wherever it is museum exhibits go when they die, and the theme of the new exhibit is 90s Slasher Movies. We paid the fee and stepped inside, where we were greeted by a reproduction of a 90s kitchen. Which was cool and all, but, as someone who was alive in the 90s, was somewhat underwhelming. What’s next, a guy’s gonna come out and berate my sexuality because I don’t want to play football? That would really complete my 90s Experience!
There were a lot of really cool details in this first room, not all of which I want to spoil for you. Go give these folks some money, they deserve it. And if you don’t live in LA, then get on their website and spend some of your hard-earned cash. Keep LA weird, don’t let this incredible place get turned into a Sharky’s. Anyway, there was a little closet that faithfully replicated what it was like to be in Buffalo Bill’s murderhole from The Silence of the Lamb, the Scream room, and the room that kinda pushed the concept of a 90s “slasher” to its breaking point.
Finally, there's the Candyman room. Any regular Will-Heads out there will know I have an enduring love/borderline upsetting fixation with this film. I could probably write a whole article about my connection to this film – oh wait, I already did! Needless to say, seeing all this Candyman stuff had me bouncing around like an excited Missourian child seeing blood at their first-ever demolition derby. “Kate,” I exclaimed, “look! It’s Candyman! And the graffiti, it’s just like in Clive Barker’s short story the film was based on, first published under the name The Forbidden in Volume Five of The Books of Blood, published in America as In the Flesh, sometimes known as Sweets to the Sweet!” (“Oh wow,” she said.)
There was a bit more to the museum, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. In the end, the Bearded Lady and the Mystic Museum are celebrations of the spooky rather than the frightening, and that suits me just fine after nearly getting stranded in a haunted canyon and having to spend a day getting screamed at by New Balance Shoes Iron Man on Hollywood Boulevard. The spooky is the sanitized cousin of the frightening: it borrows the aesthetic of that which is unheimlich, but removes the troublesome element of the unknown. It makes what scares us a known, controlled quantity, which allows us to revel in it safely. And, in the end, is that not what Halloween is about? That and buying your significant other revealing clothing in the name of holiday spirit? I say yes, because in America, sexuality frightens us, and as such it has made Halloween the de facto horniest day of the year – sorry, Flag Day!
And that’s it! Ol’ Sweet William’s had enough spooky capers for one month. But don’t be sad: you can always make your own spooky LA adventures. Perhaps you can find the legendary Highway Chickens? I’m not sure how scary that would be, but you do you.
William Kuechenberg is a repped screenwriter, a Nicholl Top 50 Finalist, and an award-winning filmmaker. He’s currently looking to be a writer’s assistant, a showrunner’s assistant, or even to be staffed on a television show: tell your friends, and if you don’t have any friends, tell your enemies! You can also view his mind-diarrhea on Twitter.