It’s time for my very first Halloween Horror Nights review on Horror-Movies.ca! Many of you won’t know this, but before I joined the Horror-Movies.ca team I ran a personal blog where I wrote about Halloween all year long. This included covering major Halloween events like Halloween Horror Nights.
Well, I’m continuing that tradition here and now with an in-depth review of Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights event. With these reviews I usually do a mini-review of each maze and then cap it off with some sort of grand thought at the end. I’ve also included photos and video (thanks to Dan of ThemeParkHD) for your viewing pleasure.
This year the park kicked things off with an opening night ceremony that involved characters from “The Purge” causing chaos in the streets of Universal’s main entrance. Unfortunately, I always miss the ceremony since I’m usually in the Eyegore Awards, but it’s probably for the best. Just look at that madness! How do people not get trampled? Fuck that. Still, I can see how that would be fun for some.
The inclusion of characters from “The Purge” fit well into that area, though, they were a bit simple in design. Which is no fault of Universal, as the villains in “The Purge” were just random maniacs in masks. It just makes for a less visually exciting experience, but it’s nonetheless thrilling when you’re being chased by someone with a chainsaw.
The first attraction that guests will explore as they enter the park is “Monster Remix Resurrection.” This is a returning maze and, while it does have some slight modifications, it’s largely the same as last years experience. In terms of scares, this is the least thrilling attraction to be featured at Halloween Horror Nights. However, it’s still a fun and enjoyable journey into absurdity. It’s dubstep music and monsters, it’s purposefully supposed to be frivolous and fun. Not everyone will enjoy it, but it’s a great way to get you hyped up for the rest of the night.
The other maze on the upper level of Universal Studios is “El Cucuy”, an original property not based on any movies. This was, by far, the most disturbing attraction Universal Studios Hollywood has ever had. I attribute that, largely in part, to the fact that this maze centers around kids being murdered and kidnapped. Last years “La Llorona” dealt with a similar theme, but this maze takes it to another level. But what’s great about it is that you don’t see the horrific stuff happening, it’s all implied. For example there’s one moment where you walk into a kid’s birthday party and there’s one body and a whole lot of blood all over the house. You don’t see any kids being murdered, but you know exactly what happened in that house and it was enough to give me some powerful chills.
It also doesn’t help that you can hear Danny Trejo’s voice all throughout the house as he relates a creepy ghost story to you. Overall, this was one of the best mazes at this years event. It had great environments, well-placed scares, and a unique theme that made it feel completely unpredictable. What I mean by that is that when you’re going through a maze that is based on a movie or TV show, you can guess what’s going to happen in each room. However, when it’s an original property, you have no idea what awaits you around every corner and that’s a thrill I needed at Universal.
Our first movie themed property of the night was “Insidious: Into the Further.” Once again, Universal proved that when it comes to replicating the feel of a horror movie they’re the best in the business. Every room leaves you feeling like you just stepped into a set-piece. And with this maze being based on Insidious 1 and 2, there are plenty of moments for them to capture and emulate. One small complaint that I have is that I felt that the “red-faced demon” was a little overused in the house. I know he’s an iconic figure in the movie series, but he’s a rarely seen entity as well. It might’ve been more effective to have seen him less. Otherwise, “Into the Further” is a fantastic maze that’ll be a treat for any fan of the film.
Unfortunately, not every maze is going to be a winner and it would appear as if “Evil Dead” was the weakest of all the mazes featured at this years event. Perhaps, as the event goes on, the scares will get better and the coordination will be tighter. However, I have to judge it on my own experience and I thought that the scares were weakest here. A lot of the scenes seemed to revolve around trying to be disturbing, rather than actually scary. Which, to be fair, would be accurate to the movie. However, this attraction doesn’t have the same impact. Sometimes the line forces you to blow through a scene so quickly that you barely notice what’s happening and other times you’re stuck in a room for so long that the impact of what you’re seeing turns from horror to comedy quite quickly. I was looking forward to this one, but it just didn’t resonate with me.
“Black Sabbath 13: 3D” isn’t the first time a musical act has been featured at Halloween Horror Nights. In years prior, shock rock icon Alice Cooper was featured prominently in a maze as well. If you’ve seen that attraction, “Black Sabbath 13: 3D” is very similar in style and in tone to what they did with Alice Cooper. However, while they may utilize similar visual tricks and effects to create a acid-trip 3D experience, the scares are still unique. There are quite a few good thrills and chills throughout this maze, but I really just wanted to stay and stare at everything. Which is a compliment to Universal’s ability to design and create some remarkable set-pieces. It may not be the scariest maze at the park, but it’ll be a visual feast your eyeballs won’t soon forget.
One of the greatest experiences you’ll find at this years event is that guests are being allowed into previously inaccessible areas of Universal Studio’s backlot. “The Walking Dead” took over the New York street area and transformed into a zombie-infested landscape. It was truly an amazing sight to behold and captured that “movie studio set” experience like never before.
Of course, “The Walking Dead” had more than just a scarezone, they also had their own attraction as well. If you thought that last years Walking Dead experience was a little weak, like I did, then you’ll be happy to know that that this years attraction has been greatly improved. Taking place in the prison and in Woodsbury, this years maze has a lot of truly frightening set pieces to work with. From the Governor’s trophy room to the narrow hallways of the prison, there are plenty of areas for zombies to lurch out at you.
Unfortunately, while this was an awesome experience, it also featured one of the worst lines. The wait was over two hours and once you got in the maze, it slowed down to a snail’s pace. Which, I understand, is a hard problem to fix and not unique to Universal. It’s just something that happens when an event becomes too popular.
Finally, “The Walking Dead” was also featured in Universal’s famous Terror Tram experience. For those that don’t know, this is a unique experience where Universal transforms part of their backlot into a haunted attraction. It’s one of the only times of the year where you can get off the tram tour and walk around actual set pieces. “The Walking Dead” is featured once again and, like the maze, I felt that this was a better experience than last years edition.
This year there seemed to be more zombies and more scares. Last year I felt like I encountered a zombie every now-and-then. However, this year they’ve clearly addressed that problem as I felt I was running into a creature every couple of steps. It was much more enjoyable and it implemented more set pieces than we’ve seen before. However, getting on to the tram was a weird experience as people were chaotically unloaded and loaded into the cars. It didn’t seem to be as safe or organized as Universal usually is.
This is another banner year for Universal Studios Hollywood. I don’t know if I’d say it was the best year yet, but there’s no denying that the park is still the industry leader in horror attractions. With it’s big production values and recognizable movie names, Universal provides an experience you won’t find anywhere else. However, with the crowds growing bigger every year, I think that the best way to experience Halloween Horror Nights is if you buy a Front of the Line Pass. Which, of course, raises the price of admission. If you don’t buy one, though, you run the risk of standing in lines that can last in excess of several hours. There’s a lot to get out of the park, but in order to do so you’ll have to plan your trip carefully.