Calico Cooper, Alice Cooper’s daughter
Universal Studios Hollywood Creative Director, John Murdy. He can do creepy-cool well.
Scare zones are small themed areas in the existing pathways where outdoor thrills are set up for guests to walk through. These are sometimes a weak spot for Universal Hollywood due to space constraints, so we weren’t expecting to be overwhelmed. But one was acceptable, two were surprisingly good, and we were a bit disappointed by the others.
The Curse of Chucky
The Purge: Survive The Night
This scare zone is based on the movie of the same name with actors wearing masks straight out of the movie and some very appropriate set designs. It never seemed to be too long before a scare actor showed up and took your attention with as scare and a well placed axe or chainsaw.
Situated at the front of the park, this section jettisoned the normal go-go dancers and goofy humor in favor of a more savage feel. It really worked. The politician was the highlight of this area with giant fireballs that shoot off the top of the politician’s set.
The Cirque Du Klownz
Klownz scare zone is definitely one of the creepiest even if you don’t have a clown fear. The makeup, masks and costuming are excellent on the scare actors and they approach their roles with a creepy zeal that makes you wish they were slow moving big top clowns instead of an eerie meld of mime and serial killers in grease paint. The prop clowns that are part of the zones decorations with their very realistic eyes and faces that seem to follow you make you feel like you can’t even take refuge in the scenery.
The Walking Dead: Dead on Arrival
This year and, we are assuming every year until the construction on the upper lot is complete, Universal had to expand the Halloween event out into the New York City Backlot area. Two separate mazes were constructed on the lower studio lot, The Walking Dead: No Safe Haven, and Black Sabbath 13:3D. Guests have to board a secondary Tram (located near Transformers: The Ride 3D) and take a short ride to a drop off point that lands them smack into the scare zone, The Walking Dead: Dead on Arrival.
The Scarecrowz scare zone was located on the lower lot area in front of The Mummy, Jurassic Park and Transformers. This central plaza is an ideal space for a scarezone as it is a hub of activity, always busy, with plenty of traffic. But Universal never seems to really go for it down here and tends to leave the “zone” aspect up to the actors to create.
While there were menacing stilt-walkers lording over guests in raggedy burlap clothing there was literally nothing else there to suggest the theme of scarecrows come to life. There were no cornstalks, no crowz, nothing. Had they not had lights projecting the name of the scare zone on the ground and adjacent show buildings, the feeling of a specific area would have been lost. Scarecrowz just feels like a last-minute idea whose entire production was handled by the costuming department. Disappointing (but with good performances by the stilt-walking cast).
The Walking Dead: No Safe Haven (BACKLOT)
With the unbelievable success of The Walking Dead on AMC, there is simply no escape from the zombies this year. The Walking Dead maze follows the storyline of season 3 of the series and includes the major sets including the prison, Woodburry, and of course the Governor’s secret room. The Walking Dead mazes are always stunningly beautiful and perfectly crafted. But somehow the maze just didn’t gel.
Entering the prison set we begin to feel the tension as walkers follow us like caged tigers from behind chain link fences. This is actually very effective and seemed to promise a beautiful tension. But, once inside the maze quickly becomes a series of distraction scares, where one actor is the focal point and another zombie gets you from the side. As we mentioned, the sets are impressive, and this does go quite a long way. The setting and detail certainly make up for when the element of surprise is lacking. When you walk through Cellblock C it feels like it would be no surprise if you walked past Carl or Daryl going the other way.
Be sure to be on the lookout for a certain zombie with what looks to be a very full stomach, if you’ve watched season 3 you know who he ate and the character in the maze looks almost exactly like his inspiration from the TV series.
Black Sabbath 13-3D (BACKLOT)
Black Sabbath 13-3D features physical interpretations of the songs of Black Sabbath and takes you through a 3D journey that includes finding yourself in the middle of a nuclear blast. It never ceases to amaze us how revolutionary the 3D effects are at Halloween Horror Nights. The depth created simply with paint and lightning is outstanding and in itself works as a great distraction. You can get so caught up admiring the effects that you don’t see that scareactor coming until they’re in your face making you scream. Add to this the classic music of what has been called the original heavy metal band, Black Sabbath and you have a great combination that doesn’t fall flat.
The Evil Dead:Book of the Dead (LOWER LOT)
A visceral thrill to be sure, this maze is based off of the recent re-imagining of the horror classic Evil Dead. Creating a solid scare pattern and faithful reenactments of scenes from the movie is what really pulls this experience together.
Entering through a tiny hole into a meandering forest path, the terror begins with Mia attacked by trees. We then see the evil unleashed as one of the characters reads from the book of the dead and lets all hell break loose.
Smells are used to great effect in this maze as we wander from inside the cabin and through the bathroom and into the basement filled with rotting carcasses. Pleasant, we know. But it is also the brilliant use of lighting that sets this maze in a class of its own. We get everything from low-light, pitch black, hallways, to LED black lighting and strobes. All of it used at the appropriate times and for the right reason.
Another aspect of this maze that stands out is the subtle to outlandish make up effects. Let’s face it, just about everyone who saw the scene where the girl splits her tongue in half cringed horribly and so to see it graphically and accurately reinacted was both exciting and disturbing.
The maze does an excellent job of making you forget how safe you are and how grisly Evil Dead really is when you see it in real life. The final room is a sight to behold and pulled off very well to coincide with the last scene of the Evil Dead movie.
Insidious: Into the Further (LOWER LOT)
If spine tingling is more your style then Insidious: Into the Further is definitely the maze for you. The Insidious movies were written as traditional haunted house stories with a slow burn. The maze brings that feeling to life right in front of your eyes as you go into the seemingly normal facade and into a haunted home filled with terror.
A haunted house would be enough of a scare. But you are then taken into the ever creepy Further. The Further is the realm just beyond ours where the ghosts of the living wander aimlessly. It is here that we come in contact with the most terrifying entities of the movies.
This maze was extremely true to the property both in portrayal and in feel which can be the hardest thing to capture. The actors playing the Lipstick Demon were putting their all into their roles and never failed to command the attention of those going through the maze. Definitely a favorite maze with so many recognizable sets from the movies and solid scares, this is a maze we could go through over and over and not find ourselves bored. Insidious: Into the Further has all the makings of being THE maze of the year at HHN 2013.
Universal Monsters Remix: Resurrection
Universal Monsters Remix: Resurrection, featuring the music of Figure, is located in Universal’s year round attraction “House of Horrors.” As with last years maze, again this year the attraction features some solid dubstep music and a surprisingly good amount of scares. Featured in the maze were Frankenstein’s Monster and Bride as well as the fan-designed Invisible Man delivering the music from turntables.
The Remix theme really seems to work wonderfully for this space and keeps the House of Horrors fresh and lively, perfectly amping up the scares for the folks that pay for it during Horror Nights. We hope that this maze continues to evolve into a sort of showcase for new dubstep and makeup artists as well as armchair haunt designers. This could be a brilliant testing ground for their talents.
El Cucuy: The Boogeyman
The most original maze of the night is tied into Hispanic folklore rather than a movie or music property. El Cucuy is a take on the Hispanic boogieman narrated by Mr. Machete himself, actor Dany Trejo. Beginning in an old, Mexico movie theater, we wander in to see that all of the patrons have disappeared. It is our task, to walk home, alone, keeping ever vigilant for the shape-shifting boogeyman, El Cucuy.
Certainly the smallest of the mazes, Cucuy treats visitors to a series of horrific scenes in which the Mexican boogeyman has attacked his unsuspecting prey, the aforementioned movie theater, a child’s birthday party, the creepy grandma, the monster under the bed, all of which could be, in the legend’s telling, potential dangers.
The all rookie cast in this maze really sells the scare. Though a little bit off, not having their rhythm down perfectly just yet, they know that what they are doing is terrifying and they have fun with it. We have faith that by mid-run, this maze will be as good as Evil Dead downstairs. It’s a cultural lesson that can give you nightmares and make you wonder how children who grew up hearing the story of El Cucuy managed to close their eyes at night.
Terror Tram: Invaded by the Walking Dead
Ahhh the Terror Tram. This year we have a repeat of The Walking Dead theme for this experience. Have you had enough of zombies yet? We thought we had too. It winds the usual course alongside the Bates Motel, up the trail in the hills, and through the War of the Worlds set. However, we were pleasantly surprised this year as they managed to make the trail feel refreshed and not as old hat as before.
Departing the tram at Whoville, guests wander past the Bates motel as walkers have taken over. Walking along the path seems less a chore as they have added a few set pieces along the trail to break things up. The Walking Dead inspired sets were quite good and surprisingly scary. The talent also seemed very active and aggressive.
The only real downside to the Terror Tram experience this year was the lack of enveloping story. As the tram brings visitors to the drop-off location we are treated, not to a set-up story, but more of a commercial for season three of the Walking Dead series. This is in contrast to previous years in which Saw was playing a survival game with somebody on the tram or Chucky was taking his revenge out on Universal Studios for letting his career flounder. A small qualm considering that they accomplished the monumental feat of livening this old experience up once more.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure
Why is Universal doing a show based on a somewhat popular 80’s film that had nothing to do with Halloween? If you are asking that question you are thinking too hard. The Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure stage show is essentially Universal’s version of Knott’s The Hanging. It is a wild, irreverent show of rapid-fire pop-culture references and pop music. It is designed to do nothing more than to entertain.
This year the titular characters land their time traveling phone booth in the land of Oz where Kim Jong Un, and the Wicked Witch of the West have taken over. Threatened with certain doom, the boys team with other notables from the past year to save Oz from evil forces.
The show is raunchy, silly and a heck of a lot of fun. The comedy is shallow, but the jokes fly at such a fast pace that something is bound to stick. The choreography and staging were yet another highlight as complicated cues were hit with expert precision and inventive effects.
Thankfully there really isn’t a bad seat in the house for this show and there are a number of showings a night. Be sure to check this show out when you go. It’s a hoot this year.
With all of that said, the question is, “Is this event worth the money?”. When comparing apples to oranges the value seems considerably skewed. At Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights you will pay a minimum of $54 to get in the gate and have all of the above mentioned mazes, scare zones, one show and the 4 major attractions at your disposal. However, if you want to make certain that you are going to be able to experience every maze, scare zone and attraction we recommend getting the front of the line pass for $119 (prices vary by night). While expensive, it does help since many of the popular mazes top 90 minute wait times and this can seriously limit your experience. Compare this price to Knott’s Scary Farm which offers 10 mazes, 6 stage shows, 5 scare zones, one up-charge maze, and a haunted attraction on top of all of the existing attractions and Uni may seem on the expensive side to you.
Yes, we could say that we are comparing apples to oranges here, and to an extent, that is true. But there is a difference. The Universal mazes simply have more money put into them. They are a different level of experience, a more fine-tuned and intense haunt. With the premium product they are offering and the limited space that they have, Universal is in a position to command this price. It is expensive, but for the seasoned haunt goer, it’s worth your time and money in our opinion.
So have you gone? What were your thoughts on any of the mazes? Does the price match the thrills?
Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights is definitly an event to experience during the Halloween season and this year is no exception. Tickets are now available online at http://www.
Happy hauntings everyone!