Halloween has arrived in Southern California and it’s never been more twisted. The savage minds at Universal Studios Hollywood have crafted another Halloween Horror night filled with hit mazes based upon killer movie franchises, eight in all this year!
Photographer Cakvala and I headed into the foggy streets of this working movie studio to confront our fears . . . I’m going to need more therapy, or something to calm my nerves. For the most part, it was loads of cringe-worthy fun, but we do have some criticism and some advice for those planning a visit.
American Horror Story: Roanoke
Last year’s American Horror Story maze was one my favorites. It was the longest maze and one of the best designed. This year’s AHS maze, while much shorter, is also exquisitely crafted, with detailed sets and rich storytelling.
The theme of this year’s maze is based upon the “Roanoke” season of the horror anthology series, and there’s plenty of creepy elements for the attraction to rely on. Let’s just say that there’s murder, cannibalism and blood-sacrifice for you to look forward to . . . oh . . . and murderous men with pig heads.
I’ll lay it right on the line for you, THIS was my favorite maze this year. It wasn’t overly gory, which I appreciate, and had a cinematic feel. The Shining is based on Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror film. I remember seeing this film as a kid and the building tension as the lead character slowly spirals into madness, placing his family in extreme danger.
The things you loved about the movie are all here. REDRUM, the twins, Here’s Johnny, All work and no play make Jack a dull boy . . . It’s like walking through a film. I had the unique opportunity to tour this maze a couple of weeks ago during construction with Universal Creative Director, John Murdy, who’s the power broker behind the Haunt. Take your time to look at the props. There’s a lot of attention to detail here. Because Horror Nights is at a working movie studio, they have access to scripts, show notes, and even archive photos. You’ll see just the right carpet, a map of the hedge maze, even costumes that look just right.
Check into the Overlook Hotel and let me know if you agree with my assessment. . . that is if you make it out alive.
Ash vs. Evil Dead
It’s a tale as old as time itself. Boy finds evil book in an abandoned cabin in the woods. Boy unleashes an ancient evil upon the earth. Boy loses his friends (and his hand). . . but THIS story takes place after all that. Three decades later, when Ash accidentally unleashes the evil dead once again.
I think it DOES help you enjoy an attraction to know a bit about they story they are trying to tell you. Otherwise, it can quickly become a conga line of scares and the story can easily get lost in the shadows.
Titans of Terror
Universal is a studio famous for monster movies. In the past they’ve paid homage to Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man and other creatures of the night. But those aren’t the “Titans” being celebrated here. In this incarnation of Uni’s Terror Titans, it’s Leatherface, Jason & Freddy you’ll need to watch out for.
You’ll find this one near Water World. If you arrive at opening, resist the temptation to do this one first. Everyone stops here first, so you’ll be missing an opportunity to outrun the crowds by heading down to Insidious and the Shining on the Lower Lot.
THIS is the maze for all you sick, twisted folks. It seemed like every bloody trap from the SAW film series was in here. So much terror, gore, blood. It was hard for me to get through this one. Had to turn my brain off and just keep walking.
Based on the hit film franchise’s upcoming “Insidious: The Last Key.” How do they base a maze on a film that hasn’t even come out yet? Well, this was another of the mazes I was able to tour while it was under construction. And it’s amazing the access John and his team had to this film while it was in production. What you will witness is like a trailer for a film. . . a very, very, scary one at that.
The storyline revolves around parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainer’s past, starting with a childhood in which her paranormal abilities emerge… until her mother’s untimely death by a demonic entity.
There’s a lot of psychological terror in this one, rather than blood and gore. I REALLY enjoyed this maze.
The Horrors of Blumhouse
This maze is a bit like Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean or Haunted Mansion in that it sets a tone, but isn’t tied to a storyline. Instead, Uni has stitched together scenes from The Purge franchise, Sinister movies and soon-to-be released Happy Death Day.
We did this maze last, at the very end of the night, we were tired, and hungry, and thought about just shooting a photo or two of the exterior and making our exit. But we thankfully summoned up the strength and courage to plow through this unique attraction which blends outdoor and indoor spaces in a way that few other mazes have. The Purge has been done at Horror Nights in the past in a big way. This was a uniquely smaller more intimate experience than the massive scare zones of year’s past.
The Walking Dead Attraction
The Walking Dead is a permanent attraction which you can visit on any day of the year. But they do enhance it a bit for Horror Nights. If you are short on time and know you’ll be back to visit Universal Studios soon, you could skip this one. But you’d also be skipping one of the most detailed and perfect looking mazes ever built.
If you are a fan of the show, take the time to do this maze!
This year’s mazes are mostly all solid. That’s a hard thing to accomplish. Generally there are 2 or 3 mazes which get most of the budget, some moderately well themed mazes, and a couple of capacity fillers. But this was a great line-up. While they weren’t all to my personal taste in haunted attractions, I could still appreciate them and I know that most guests would too.
Sadly, there are some exceptions to my praise for this year’s event.
Titans of Terror Tram: Hosted by Chucky
I’m pausing to take a deep breath and think about how to address this attraction. . . .
On the one hand, the Terror Tram is ALWAYS a highlight for me. You take the iconic Tram down to the lower lot and then disembark and walk through the Psycho sets before trekking through the carnage of the War of the Worlds airplane crash set. It’s breathtaking to be in the middle of all that real Hollywood awesomeness. This should be a slam dunk experience. Should be . . . Unfortunately, they have an operations nightmare here. For the 2nd year in a row, they have decided to run trams nonstop without regard to the backup they are creating with guests on the lower lot inside the attraction itself. An entire tram of people are dumped all at once in front of the Bates Motel. But because the path intermediately begins to narrow, everything quickly bottlenecks. This is only made worse when the next tram arrives before the guests from the previous tram have even been able to clear the area. Unfortunately, the crowd crush and slow shuffle continues all the way until you get back on the tram to head to the unload station.
This all has the unfortunate effect of killing an otherwise awesome attraction. I just want all of the directors of this event to take turns riding this attraction throughout the evening so they can see for themselves why dispatch speeds DO make a difference in guest enjoyment of an attraction. Please fix this guys and gals, it can be done and should be done to improve guest experience. Better to hold guests in a single long line at the beginning so they can experience the attraction itself it all its glory, rather than turning the entire experience into an excruciating line that never gets better and only makes the guest and the scare-actors frustrated by the oppressive crushing of the crowd.
I give this attraction an “D-” rating based upon guest experience alone. If they could fix the capacity and crowd flow issues, it would probably be a sold “B” (an “A” for folks looking for a real Hollywood experience with a lower scare level). FOR THE 2nd YEAR IN A ROW – PLEASE FIX THIS ATTRACTION!!!
I’m going to preface this section with a bit of unfortunate news as well. An overall lack of large Scare Zones was felt this year – there are only 3 tiny ones. Scare Zones set the tone of an area. They provide special ambiance, music, lighting and props to keep the magic going between mazes. Because there are only two mazes on the upper lot, it’s in serious need of a massive scare zone running the length of the main artery leading to the Lower Lot and Studio Tour. Unfortunately, there is only a single small scare zone at the entry to the park and then you have to go all the way to the lower lot to experience the remaining TINY scare zones.
There’s another reason Scare Zones are important for busy events such as Horror Nights – they provide something for folks to do when the lines for all the mazes top out over one hour. The Scare Zones are what make you still feel like you had a great time.
This is a huge negative to this year’s Horror Night event. The vibe of the whole event has been thrown off by a lack of activity on the upper lot. In fact, I went Facebook Live on the Upper Lot and my photographer and I walked, and walked and walked and we had nothing to show the MiceChat audience. So we got on the escalator to the Lower Lot. But when you get to the bottom of the Escalators, there is STILL no scare zone. That’s a HUGE amount of time with no scares.
Urban Inferno: Is a great scare zone which is essentially an outdoor maze. Rather than spreading the zone out, they’ve tightened the experience into a twisting maze-like area which accommodates far more guests than an actual maze. Burnt Lost Souls, Half-Goat Executioners, Mad Monks, Blacksmiths Firging the chains of Purgatory and Satanic demons inhabit this zone. It’s a lot of fun and very well done, but it’s packed into a very small little corner
Hell-O-Ween: Witches, ghosts, vampires, werewolves and undead children wander among stacks of jack-o-lanterns. You’ll find this zone at the entry to the park. It does set a tone for the event but should be vastly expanded to keep the upper lot vibe going. (at least to the entry of Springfield USA).
Toxic Tunnel: Let’s face it, this is just a tunnel with some loud music and flashing lights and some scattered scare actors wandering around with machetes. It’s very short and completely unthemed. However, here’s the description that Universal uses to sell it:
“Utility workers were doing repairs inside the tunnel and accidentally burst a pipe with toxic gas. Hazmat teams were called in, but everyone has been infected by the gas and turned into zombie-like sub-humanoids (as usually happens in this sort of situation). You just need to get past the crazed workers before the toxic gas turns you into a subhuman!”
I didn’t feel any of that when walking through that tunnel.
I can’t even comment on this. Universal has given up on original shows for Horror Nights. Original creative entertainment like Bill and Ted are long gone. There’s no Rocky Horror Sing-A-Long. No monster musical review. The singular show they offer this year is a masked hip hop dance troupe (who played for several years at Knott’s Scary Farm before moving to Universal). They’re good, but they don’t carry the weight of the old “Bill and Ted” show or Knott’s massive “Hanging” and “Elvira: Mistress of the Dark” shows. This is also a nagging weakness for HHN.
This and That
There’s some interesting merchandise in the main store near the exit of the park. Each of the mazes has its own merchandise.
So, how does the totality of the event stack up? Well, it’s high entertainment to be sure. These horror mazes are the scariest theme park attractions around. But the event seemed smaller to me this year, in part because the Scare Zones were so minimal in scale. The whole park used to feel like one big haunted attraction to me. But not this year. No giant outdoor set pieces (like the scaffolds and flames in years past), no decorations on the Upper Lot European streets, no big show, and most of all the lack of scare zones.
If you had never been to this event, you likely wouldn’t have felt the way I did. But I’m a Halloween veteran and these sorts of things are important to me. The mazes are as good or better than ever . . . it’s the rest of the event that had me looking to see if I’d missed something important.
Should you buy a ticket? I think so. And if you are interested at all, you should get that ticket right away. Universal sells out!
But which ticket is right for you? If you don’t need to see everything and don’t mind waiting in line (or you are tight on funds), get the General Admission. You can maximize your time by getting to the event at opening and immediately heading to the lower lot to experience the 5 mazes down there. By the time you get to the upper lot, the lines will be much longer, but you should still be able to experience the Terror Tram and if you watch the wait boards, you may get lucky on Blumhouse or Titans of Terror.
If, like me, your enjoyment of an event begins to decline rapidly when you wait longer than 30 minutes for anything, then Front of Line is for you. You can still maximize your time by arriving early and following my advice above. However, the Front of Line pass will assure that you see everything if you don’t show up late. It’s worth its weight in gold; unfortunately it’s priced like gold too.
So what could be better than Front of Line? What about adding a private tour guide, dinner and alcoholic beverages (which aren’t otherwise available at this event)?! Sound good? Then the R.I.P. Tour was made just for you. You’ll get a gourmet buffet dinner with drinks in a private dining room. Unlimited front of line to all the mazes and available rides. Free valet parking. And a special entrance into the event. You’ll be placed in a group of up to just 14 guests.
- General Admission ranges from $75 to $95 depending on the date you select
- Front of Line ranges from $169 to $219 – and is worth every penny
- R.I.P. Tour – ranges from $269 to $319
And that’s a first look at Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights 2017. I’ll be back. I want to give the event a followup look when I don’t have the added stress of podcasting, writing and live blogging. I’ll be sure to update you on that as well as the daily operation of the park in my next update from the movie capital of the world!
Happy Halloween Everyone!