Halloween has arrived! The scariest of all the major theme park haunts launched its 2016 season last night (September 16th). Dusty Sage (your author) and Anthony Hays (your photographer) braved their darkest fears to deliver you the news, photos and tips from this year’s epic event.
Halloween Horror Nights has an all-star lineup of mazes this year which includes: “American Horror Story,” “The Exorcist: The Possession of Regan MacNeil,” “Freddy vs. Jason: Dream Battle,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Blood Brothers,” “Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield,” “Krampus: The Christmas Devil,” “The Walking Dead,” and Eli Roth’s “Terror Tram.”
Here’s the good news, this is the single best year for Universal Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights that we can remember. Every maze is a hit. While some may be a little better than others, none of them are a waste of your time. The scare zones also do an admirable job of adding to the fun and energy of the event.
Here’s the bad news, it doesn’t matter how wonderful something is if you can’t see it because you’ve run out of time due to super long lines. The best attractions in the world quickly lose their luster when you wait 2+ hours to experience them. Opening night for Halloween Horror Nights was completely sold out. And it felt that way. BUT, we have solutions for you below to ensure that you have the best time ever at Horror Nights.
Below, you’ll find our review of all the mazes and scare zones, along with some tips and lots of photos of all the mazes as well as of the star studded opening night red carpet. Be warned, there’s some graphic stuff here as well as some spoilers. If you are squeamish or don’t want to know what the mazes look like, read no further. But we dare you to read on. Come on, you can do it!
The Exorcist: The Possession of Regan MacNeil
Location: Adjacent to The Mummy Ride
This was the big hit of this year’s event. While the Exorcist may be an older movie, it’s also a classic. Fans have been asking Universal to make this maze for years. However, do to the difficulty of the subject matter (the maze largely takes place in a bedroom), the property had remained elusive, until now. John Murdy and his team of murder makers have brilliantly brought the The Exorcist to life at this year’s Halloween Horror Nights. The maze recreates some of the film’s most haunting scenes, ushering guests into its unparalleled terror as if their very souls were possessed by the devil. As the story develops, you’ll experience the iconic levitating, head-spinning, vomit-wrenching, skin-crawling moments from the original film. It’s a horrific battle between innocence and evil.
“American Horror Story”
Location: One of three mazes on the Metro sets of the backlot
A close 2nd to Exorcist is “American Horror Story,” FX’s critically-acclaimed, Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning television series, which has also been adapted into a maze this year. Three seasons of the hit TV show have come to life at Halloween Horror Nights. You’ll make your way through scenes from “Murder House,” “Freak Show,” and “Hotel.” Spirits, killer clowns, and a deadly hotel are among the themes in this maze. There are also some fantastic effects and scare traps. There’s a reason this maze commanded two and a half hour waits all night.
“Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield”
Location: Adjacent to the Jurassic Park ride
You’ve got to appreciate Universal’s ability to build elaborate facades and sets for their mazes. “Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield,” is a prime example of that. Escaped mental patient Michael Myers makes a homecoming return to Universal in an all new story line. But beware, “You can’t kill the Boogeyman.” The familiar character and music make this a bit of a nostalgic and very welcome addition to Horror Nights.
“Freddy vs. Jason”
Location: Metro sets on the backlot
In “Freddy vs. Jason,” demented killer Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street) returns to the scene of the crime, this time accompanied by notorious hockey mask killer Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th) to inflict twice as much terror. Inspired by the 2003 film that brought together two of the biggest icons in horror history, this new experiential maze will thrust guests into an epic battle between Freddy and Jason. And only one of the mass killers will survive. Will you? There were several folks we spoke to who felt this was one of their favorite mazes of the year. This maze is heavily dependent on the actors playing Freddy and Jason. If you walk through at the right moment and get caught in the battle, you’ll be dazzled. However, if you march through too quickly and miss out on the action, you may be left with a very different opinion. Sometimes is pays to take your time to stop and smell the carnage.
“Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Blood Brothers”
Location: Adjacent to the WaterWorld attraction
This one scared the heck out of us the moment we stepped inside. There is a brilliant opening gag. But, again, it all depends on timing. If you experience it, you’ll be grinning for the rest of the experience, if you don’t, you are really missing out. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Blood Brothers” uses the characters and concepts of the terrifying films to create an all-new maze which pits guests against the unsavory wrath of demented killer Leatherface and his mentally unhinged brother ChopTop. The boys have expanded the family’s cannibalistic enterprise to slaughter a new generation of innocent victims. The perverse duo now run a grotesque BBQ restaurant staged inside a dilapidated roadside gas station. They just can’t wait to serve you. 😉
Location: One of three mazes on the Metro sets on the backlot
Humor and horror are the hallmarks of “Krampus.” That may explain the mixed reaction. The maze had a relatively short wait compared to other mazes in the park. However, it has one of the best sets, music, physical effects and lighting of any maze on property. To me, it was amazing and one of my top picks. But not everyone may get this Christmas tale about a “half-goat, half-demon” horned creature who emerges to terrorize those devoid of holiday spirit. Krampus is the ominous shadow of Saint Nicholas. That would explain the Dark Elves, sinister gingerbread men and killer snowmen. For me, it was a holiday delight.
This year’s Terror Tram was brought to life through a collaboration with Eli Roth (“Hostel”) and his digital network Crypt TV. The story unfolds as soon as you sit in the tram. As you journey to the lower lot, the monitors on the tram tell you the story of serial killer clown “Hollywood Harry,” a former jovial celebrity clown turn depraved murderer, and the minefield of carnage he’s left behind. The entire tale is layered upon Universal’s own history, which was greatly appreciated by me, even if 90% of the other guests were paying no attention what so ever to these critical bits of narration.
The story is essentially that a onetime endearing clown found himself exiled by the very Hollywood entertainment community that once adored him. With an all-consuming anger and hatred, Kappowitz—a now crazed and disheveled recluse—took refuge from society by hiding out at Universal Studios, emerging as notorious serial killer clown, “Hollywood Harry.” Recurring murders began to dominate the studio, as “Hollywood Harry” drew strength from recruiting other outcast former clowns who, together, took revenge on Studio Tour guides and visitors alike, ceremoniously killing them, and leaving behind a deadly trail of terror.
See, there’s a lot of backstory there. If you listen on your way to the drop-off point, the entire experience will make much more sense. Otherwise, you’ll just be walking through the amazing Psycho and War of the Worlds sets wondering why there are so many clowns around.
We do have one bit of criticism for the operation of this maze. Too many guests were dropped off at the lower lot destination on opening night. This resulted in a frustrating backup in the walk-through experience. Perhaps Universal should monitor crowd flow through the lower lot portion and meter the rate at which the trams are dispatched. It would be better for guests to be held in the queue before entering the tram than to be held within the experience itself, seemingly for no reason.
“The Walking Dead”
Location: Upper Lot next to Starbucks
“The Walking Dead,” Universal Studios Hollywood’s all-new daytime permanent attraction, is plussed up for Halloween Horror Nights. The already amazing maze is enhanced with extra scares and nearly double the scare actors of the day time version of this attraction. Even if you’ve done this during the day, it’s worth visiting at Horror Nights. The only negative is that this experience is SO real and fully realized that it can make some of the temporary mazes feel inadequate in comparison.
Here’s a bit of video of Dusty and Anthony enjoying the upper lot, talk about which mazes were our favorites, and even a few moments of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre maze. We even have a run in with famed theme park designer, Brent Young:
Location: Throughout the entire theme park and areas of the Metro sets backlot
In a change from previous years, Universal is using a common theme to tie together all of the scare zones throughout the park. Riffing on the “Election Year” theme, all of the zones will be based in the sinister and dangerous alternate reality of the Purge. Iconic scenes from each of the frightening films will recreate the turmoil and pandemonium that exists when masked vigilantes hunt for victims during the government’s annually sanctioned killing spree. Like civilians in the movie fighting to survive, guests must rely on their cunning wit, luck and speed as they attempt to outsmart and outlive the anarchy brought about by those who believe in an “eye for an eye.”
An original scare zone element will be “The Purge: Gauntlet of Fear” that delivers unbridled fear as guests are funneled through an area of the park to try and escape the horrors of the mass slaughter that awaits them. It’s not quite a maze but more than a normal Scare Zone.
Here’s a bit of video from the Purge Gauntlet of Fear zone. We filmed this just as Horror Nights was opening for the 2016 season at 7pm. So 1) this is the first time the actors have seen real guests and 2) It’s still pretty bright out. This zone will have more ambiance later in the night. But, the light helps us show you more of just how long and immersive this experience really is for a scare zone.
Location: Special Events Show venue
The Jabbawockeez return to the stage within the Special Effects Show venue donning their signature white masks. For the first time, they’ve added a female dancer to the crew. The diverse group of dancers will perform a repertoire of innovative, synchronized choreography accompanied by a stunning laser lights display that will come to life in a full spectrum of color. The all-new, high-energy Jabbawockeez show, created exclusively for “Halloween Horror Nights,” will once again underscore the dance crew’s unique brand of humor as they transport guests into a new realm of gravity-defying dance, elevated to new heights by special effects and pulse-pounding music.
No offense to the Jabbawockeez, but we skipped this. The mazes and scare zones were our priority. But we remember the troupe from their days performing at Knott’s Scary Farm.
|Tips and Tricks|
Unless it’s cold and you need to buy a sweatshirt, save your merchandise buying until the very end of the night so don’t have to lug shopping bags around with you all night in the mazes. There are some fun items in the store near the front gate, which contains merchandise inspired by all of the mazes!
Three of this year’s mazes are located on the New York sets on the lower lot. You get there by walking a back stage path which begins at Transformers and ends very close to the King Kong attraction. While this is sort of a neat opportunity for many folks to see parts of the back lot they’ve never experienced before, the length of the walk and steep incline of parts of the path are going to prevent some folks from making the trek. But fear not, they do have a shuttle option available for those who need it.
Plan your Path
Choose your path wisely. Most guests will enter the front gate and hit up the attractions on the upper lot. Don’t be a sheep. Head straight down to the lower lot to start your journey. The two longest lines are for American Horror Story and Exorcist, both on the lower lot. One option would be to visit Exorcist first. It lets out not far from Halloween (which would be your next stop). Then you could make your way to Transformers and start your walk to American Horror Story, Freddy vs. Jason and Krampus – which are are all located together on the New York street sets. Then make the LONG walk back up hill to the lower portion of the theme park, up the starway and toward your final three attractions: The Terror Tram, Walking Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But, whatever you do, don’t waste time in those critical first hours of the event.
To Pay Extra or Not
This is what opening night looked like. The wait for many of the mazes continued to creep up into the one to two hour range as the evening progressed. While lines were VERY short when Halloween Horror Nights opened at 7pm, by 10pm the lines for two of the mazes had swelled to 140 minutes each! That’s insane. There are two lessons for you here: 1) Arrive as soon as the event opens and take advantage of the shorter lines. 2) if you have the money to spend, get the “Front of Line” passes which allow you to avoid most of the wait. It could very well be the difference between being able to do ALL of the mazes or only a few. Can you afford it? Tickets for the event and for Front of Line change depending on which night you would like to attend. Check the calendar and pick a day that fits your budget. But Front of Line can add up to $200 to the cost of your ticket, so choose wisely. For us, Front of Line is the only way to go. But if you are short on cash and don’t want to miss out on the scares, our advice is to go early, do the most popular mazes first and save the Terror Tram, Walking Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre for later in your trip.
|Red Carpet Opening|
Hollywood Horror Elite Descend Upon Universal Studios Opening Halloween Horror Night
Celebrities in attendance included Linda Blair (“The Exorcist”), Eli Roth (“Eli Roth Presents Terror Tram”, Hostel), Michael Dougherty (Krampus), Seth Green (Krampus), Slash (Musician), Evan Peters (“American Horror Story”)Denis O’Hare (“American Horror Story”), Finn Wittrock (“American Horror Story”), Naomi Grossman (“American Horror Story”), Elizabeth Reaser (Ouija: Origin of Evil), Jabbawockeez, Edwin Hodge (The Purge), James Wan (Insidious, Furious 7), Leigh Whannell (Insidious), Guillermo Diaz (“Scandal”), Michael Rosenbaum (“Impastor”), Olivia Holt (“I Didn’t Do It”), Dylan Minnette (Don’t Breathe), Cody Christian (“Teen Wolf”), Mark Ballas (“Dancing with the Stars”), Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), Brighton Sharbino (“The Walking Dead”), Kyla Kenedy (“The Walking Dead”), Kate Siegel (Ouija: Origin of Evil), Mike Flanagan (Ouija: Origin of Evil), Lulu Wilson (Ouija: Origin of Evil), Annalise Basso (Ouija: Origin of Evil), Kerris Dorsey (“Ray Donovan”), Diego Boneta (“Scream Queens”), JLouis Mills (“Heartbeat”), BC Jean (Musician), Rafael Amaya (“El Señor de los Cielos”), Alicia Machado (former Miss Universe), and John Murdy, Creative Director at Universal Studios Hollywood and Executive Producer of “Halloween Horror Nights,” among others.
If you have an hour to spend, we streamed the red carpet live on Facebook. You can watch that video here:
LIVE from the red carpet at Halloween Horror Nights – Hollywood. Big celeb list expected: Celebrities in attendance to include: Linda Blair (“The Exorcist”), Eli Roth (“Eli Roth Presents Terror Tram”, Hostel), Michael Dougherty (Krampus), Seth Green (Krampus), Slash (Musician), Evan Peters (“American Horror Story”)Denis O’Hare (“American Horror Story”), Finn Wittrock (“American Horror Story”), Naomi Grossman (“American Horror Story”), Elizabeth Reaser (Ouija: Origin of Evil), Jabbawockeez, Edwin Hodge (The Purge), James Wan (Insidious, Furious 7), Leigh Whannell (Insidious), Guillermo Diaz (“Scandal”), Michael Rosenbaum (“Impastor”), Olivia Holt (“I Didn’t Do It”), Dylan Minnette (Don’t Breathe), Cody Christian (“Teen Wolf”), Mark Ballas (“Dancing with the Stars”), Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), Brighton Sharbino (“The Walking Dead”), Kyla Kenedy (“The Walking Dead”), Kate Siegel (Ouija: Origin of Evil), Mike Flanagan (Ouija: Origin of Evil), Lulu Wilson (Ouija: Origin of Evil), Annalise Basso (Ouija: Origin of Evil), Kerris Dorsey (“Ray Donovan”), Diego Boneta (“Scream Queens”), JLouis Mills (“Heartbeat”), BC Jean (Musician), Rafael Amaya (“El Señor de los Cielos”), Alicia Machado (former Miss Universe), and John Murdy, Creative Director at Universal Studios Hollywood and Executive Producer of “Halloween Horror Nights,” among others.
Posted by MiceChat.com | The Happiest Place in Cyberspace… on Friday, September 16, 2016
|Did you attend opening night of Halloween Horror Nights 2016? Let us know what your favorites were. Do you love Uni’s Haunt? Excited about any of this year’s mazes? Let’s hear from you.|
More MiceChat news and videos from the event on our Facebook page: