Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights Review

Written by Norman Gidney. Posted in Features, Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood, In the Parks, Universal Hollywood, Universal Studios

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Published on September 21, 2014 at 3:05 am with 6 Comments

Universal Studios Hollywood has kicked off Halloween Horror Nights, beginning a reign of terror that will span a record 22 nights from now until November 2nd. Unique to Hollywood’s incarnation of Horror Nights is the awards event known at The Eyegore Awards.  The Eyegore’s honor special achievements in horror in an awards ceremony.  For the first time ever guests were allowed to be a part of the star-studded event for a relatively inexpensive $50 upgrade to their admission.

While the Eyegore experience is a one night event, the rest is happening every night of the run.

The Eyegore Awards

The Eyegore Awards were held in the special effects stage. Decorated in a creepy motif, party goers milled about while the VIP crowd sat in front of the stage. McKenzie Westmore, host of Syfy’s hit TV series, “Face Off,”  served as the event’s emcee, joining Universal Studios Hollywood in celebrating the “Eyegore Awards” for a third consecutive year.

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The 2014 Eyegore Award recipients were…

Greg Nicotero

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Greg Nicotero (Center, right) with The Walking Dead Graphic Novel Creator, Robert Kirkman (Right) and Brighton Sharbino from The Walking Dead TV series (Center, left)

Multiple Emmy® Award-winning filmmaker and Special Effects Make-Up Supervisor  (“The Walking Dead,” “Galyntine,” “Sin City:  A Dame to Kill For,” “Breaking Bad,” “Pain & Gain,” “Django Unchained,” “Predators,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Piranha 3D”), with the award presented by Chris Hardwick, comedian and host of AMC’s “Talking Dead” and Robert Kirkman, Creator and Executive Producer of “The Walking Dead” and “Outcast.”

Robert Rodriguez

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Writer, Director, Robert Rodriguez (Left) with star of
From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, Wilmer Valderrama

Versatile, award-winning filmmaker and Founder & Chairman of El Rey Network (“Sin City,” “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” “From Dusk Till Dawn,” “Machete,” “Grindhouse”), will accept the award, presented by prolific actor, producer and last year’s “Eyegore Award” recipient, Danny Trejo (“From Dusk ‘Till Dawn,” “Heat,” “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” “Machete,” “Machete Kills”).

John Landis

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Star of An American Werewolf in London, David Naughton (left) and legendary filmmaker John Landis

Renowned filmmaker , (“An American Werewolf in London,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” “The Blues Brothers,” “Animal House”) will accept the award, presented by seven-time Academy Award®-winning Special Effects Make-Up Artist and previous “Eyegore Award” recipient, Rick Baker (“An American Werewolf in London,” “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Men in Black,” “The Nutty Professor,” “The Wolfman”).

SLASH

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Myles Kennedy (Left) and master guitar player, Slash

Celebrated Grammy® Award-winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist will also accept the “Eyegore Award.” Hailed as one of the 10 best electric guitar players of all time by Time magazine SLASH will also release his new album  World on Fire — with his band featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators—on September 16.

There was a constellation of stars on the carpet this year.

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D.J. Cotrona (Left) and Zane Holtz (Right) who portray the Gecko Brothers on From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series

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Horror staple and Rob Zombie collaborator, Sid Haig.

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Ex-con turned cult film legend, Danny Trejo.

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The inimitable Creative Director of Universal Hollywood and Halloween Horror Nights, John Murdy

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Tara Reid, and Danny Trejo

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The wildly funny Chris Hardwick

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Madison Davinport, of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series.

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Judges from Syfy’s Face Off, Lois Burwell (Left), Glenn Hetrick (Center), and Ve Neill (Right)

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Eiza Gonzalez, Satanico of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series

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Jesse Garcia, of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series

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Make up legend Rick Baker (Center) with his family.

The audience, including guests to the MiceChat Universal Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights Event, and others sat in the large, Special FX stage awaiting the ceremony.

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McKenzie Westmore presided over the event and welcomed presenters to the stage.

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Rick Baker took to the podium and recognized John Landis as the first recipient of an award for the evening.

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Landis thanked the crowd and his peers for recognition in horror.

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Next, Greg Nicotero received an Eyegore for his work on The Walking Dead and From Dusk Till Dawn.

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Robert Rodriguez was the third recipient for his work on Plane Terror and From Dusk Till Dawn

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Myles Kennedy and Slash then performed a song entitled, Nothing Left to Fear from the film of the same name.

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It was amazing to watch Slash effortlessly play so perfectly.

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Slash thanked his peers for recognition.

This was the first time that Universal has ever invited the public in to see what this award ceremony is all about. The show is sweet and to the point and filled with film and horror legends.

The Eyegores is only about a half hour long and required a special $50 upgrade ticket to attend for regular guests. For die-hard horror fans who would kill to see their favorite writer, director, or make up artist, there is no question it was worth the money.

Mazes

Clowns 3D Music by Slash

One Sentence Review: Holy moley what a surprisingly fun maze!

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Click for larger view.

Infused with the rocker’s hell-raising electric guitar riffs, the ominous new “Clowns 3D Music by SLASH” haunted attraction is no laughing matter as it unmasks the psychological disorder known as Coulrophobia, a disturbing condition affecting those with an extreme and irrational fear of clowns.

The psychedelic 3D maze will horrify guests, taunting and tempting them with terror and treats as they parade through “Sweet Licks Frozen Clown Pops Family Amusement Center,” a dilapidated roadside attraction and one-time thriving ice cream factory run by deranged siblings and their mad clown father, Sweet Licks. As this demented trio schemes to restore the family business by luring visitors with free ice cream, guests will soon find themselves on the menu as the key ingredient of a sick new high-protein ice cream concoction.

Our expectations were low for this maze going in.  With what is arguably the worst name for a maze in years, Clownz 3D Music by Slash, jettisons the convention set by the clunky title and delivers an awful lot of fun.  Approaching the maze guests are handed a pair of 3D glasses. You are Immediately assaulted by the eye-poppiong Chromadepth 3D colors and the ominous guitar centric score composed by legendary guitarist Slash.

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The maze begins a little bit claustrophobically, with sets of psychedelic hallways setting the tone.  It is here that another sense, smell, is used as the smell of cherry popsicles permeates the area.  Further along clownz begin to pop out from behind mirrors, curtains and other obstacles.

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Halfway through the maze things really become unhinged and this is where the previous smells set up a lovely joke.  The Klownz become aggressive and ultraviolet.

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From a treatment written by John Murdy with music by Slash, this maze simply blew us away with how much fun it was.  They assault nearly every sense; Sight, hearing, smell, and touch with a little bit of humor thrown in too.  This was our second favorite maze of the event as it was simply over the top.  Don’t miss this one.

The Walking Dead: The End of the Line

One Sentence Review: A better version of last years maze.

“The Walking Dead: The End of the Line,” inspired by Season 4 of AMC’s Golden Globe®-nominated and Emmy® Award-winning TV series. The bone-chilling maze will place guests at the heart of a harrowing journey to seek sanctuary at Terminus, an elusive destination that promises community for all.  Mirroring the terror that befell the residents of the West Georgia Correctional Facility, now overrun by savage walkers, the experience will send guests fleeing from the fallen prison into unknown territory as they stage a desperate battle for survival against flesh-eating walkers and ruthless humans.

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This year, the phenomenon known as The Walking Dead returns in three separate forms; A maze, a scare zone, and the theme for the Terror Tram.  The maze, The Walking Dead: End of the Line, was a solid, if not exactly terrifying, incarnation of the franchise.  We begin the walkthrough in the prison that began last years maze.  A nearly identical beginning from 2013 complete with the two-story set piece of the interior of the jail.

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Where this maze veers into new territory is also where it actually becomes interesting.  Mirroring the events in season 4 we get to explore a variety of new environments and more open spaces.  This leads to more inventive opportunities to scare aside from walkers lunging around a corner.

While We thought this was a solid effort, The Walking Dead is becoming a victim of its own success and familiarity.  After so many “walkers” as the zombies are called in the show, one becomes desensitized.  The new environments help, and the actors in the maze this year were quite good.  But in the end, we’ve seen this before, even if half of it is new.

Terror Tram:  Invaded by the Walking Dead

One Sentence Review:  I see too many dead people.

The engrossing television series will seep into other parts of Universal’s backlot with predatory walkers prowling the secluded wooded areas of the movie studio. “Terror Tram:  Invaded by the Walking Dead” will take guests down the daunting path to Terminus, interspersed with landmarks and walkers from Season 4, including the “burned moonshine cabin,” “charred walkers” and “mud walkers.”

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Guests board the Studio Tour Trams and are once again dropped off at the same route.  While en route to the Whoville sets drop-off area, a video plays, setting up the light storyline draped over the terror tram this year.  Basically there isn’t a story that involves the tram.  Instead you are simply dropped off to recreate the journey on the road to Terminus, a supposed safe haven from the zombies.

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Here we are at the prison again, but this time at the Whoville sets. Now, get out.

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Prison guards flank the entrance to the path.

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Armless walkers nudge against chain link fences.

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We round the corner at the Bates Motel and surprise, more walkers.

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After the motel we take the all too familiar trip up the path through the hills, interspersed with minor walk through set pieces.

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Walkers lunge from the dark recesses of the wilderness.  They blend in to the heard of guests trudging up the path and turn to strike. All of these are effective scares, but familiar ones.  Things simply seem tired and phoned in.  The wonderful photo op at the Psycho house is even treated as an after thought.

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The Terror Tram needs a full on refreshing. The Walking Dead is a popular franchise.  What’s more, it is insanely easy to apply this theme to the Terror Tram and the route it takes.  It’s a no brainer really, but that is the problem.  While easy, there is no real element of surprise.

For those who have never been to Halloween Horror Nights, The Terror Tram is a must.  No where else will you get a chance to set foot on the planks of the Bates Motel, climb the steps of the Bates Mansion, or even wander the epic plane crash set of War of the Worlds.  Those are must do’s. If it’s your first time to HHN, Don’t miss the Terror Tram for those reasons alone.  If you have been to the event before, there really isn’t much there to reward the repeat visitor.

From Dusk Til Dawn

One Sentence Review: Sultry, sexy, scary fun.

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This all-new maze, inspired by the critically acclaimed television series, will thrust guests into the deviant world of “From Dusk Till Dawn,” where they will encounter sordid mythological creatures known as “Culebras,” serpent-like vampires who have tormented the earth for centuries.  Residing within the elusive and sinister nightclub, “The Twister,” located just over the Mexican border and above cursed ancient ruins, the “Culebras” prove to be a band of immoral and depraved beasts with a deadly agenda. As guests navigate the maze and venture deep within the bowels of “The Twister,” they will find themselves face to face with a cast of perverse characters, including exotic dancer, Santanico Pandemonium, a mysterious and irresistible “Culebras” femme fatale and Queen Vampire.

 

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Approaching the façade of From Dusk Till Dawn, we are immediately confronted by the Gecko brothers.  This neatly dressed pair of felons warns guests of the dangers that lie within the Twister Bar and interact with the crowd.  The actors we saw portraying the duo were exceptional and fully in character.  Richy, the character with the glasses holds a notebook that he will only share with guests that give him a secret password.  If you dig around on the internet you can find it.

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This maze excels in creating a  variety of environments and setting very specific tones.  The bar in the beginning reeks of cheap perfume, the inner corridors of the temple are textured, the air heavy with the scent of earth.  It is a testament to the creative powers of Art Director, Chris Williams and Creative Director John Murdy that these environments are pulled off with such sure-footed craftsmanship.

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The scares themselves mainly involve reptilian dancers lunging from corners along the path.  There are however a few unique and interesting monsters that come at you as well.  We are impressed with this maze simply from the standpoint that it was an idea that was highly anticipated, yet difficult to execute properly.  Being able to pull from the television show offered far more material than did the movie and the experience is better for it.  Fans of the franchise should be very very happy.

Dracula Untold:  Reign of Blood

One Sentence Review: This vampire has no teeth.

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Dracula Untold: Reign of Blood” will introduce guests to the sadistic Transylvanian ruler Vlad Tepes, known as “Vlad the Impaler,” who infamously tortured his enemies by impaling them alive with a wooden stake and suspending their bodies. The foreboding maze will also shed an ominous light on the one-time hero, turned blood-thirsty-tyrant, who chose to embrace unholy powers in order to defeat his enemies.  “Dracula Untold: Reign of Blood” will spiral guests through Dracula’s eternal damnation, where the thirst for blood is never-ending.

Where do we begin?  This maze is a disappointment on so many levels.  The storyline claims to tell the story of how Vlad the Impaler fell from grace and earned his moniker by torturing his victims and impaling them on a stake.  Throughout the maze we hear repetitive voiceovers that attempt to convey the devolution of our hero. Heady stuff to be sure, but how does that translate into scares? It doesn’t.

After wandering a cave in which bodies are hanging, enclaves are strewn with random skulls, we make it to  a village under siege. Following this, we are inside a turkish tent where boorish turks jump out to get us.  then we are out. In the Dracula maze you would think Dracula would make an appearance. Not so here folks. The maze should be called Dracula Unseen.

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This is one of my least favorite mazes produced at Halloween Horror Nights in years. This maze feel like an afterthought to the roster. Universal can, and usually does, do better than this.

AVP: Alien vs. Predator

One Sentence Review: The best maze at Universal Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights.

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AVP: Alien vs. Predator is a sci-fi horror franchise that brings together the two iconic species spawned from two blockbuster films, Alien and Predator, to create a terrifying crossover of eponymous monsters in a raging battle against mankind struggling to survive amid the chaos that ensues from these two vengeful creatures.  To mark the 35th anniversary celebration of Alien, and the 10th anniversary of AVP: Alien vs. Predator, “Halloween Horror Nights” guests and fans of these celebrated films will have a chance to live the horror of these diabolical beasts as they come face to face with the terror of Aliens and Predators.

The terrifying new “AVP:  Alien vs Predator” maze at Universal Studios Hollywood will answer the proverbial question asked by mankind since the beginning of time:  Are we alone in this dark, vast universe?  “AVP:  Alien vs. Predator” will once and for all shed light on the answer when it brings to life the violent creatures cohabitating our world as it pits two rival alien species in a fight to the death with Earth as their battleground.  This menacing maze will uncover a dangerous alien spaceship carrying a race of hunter aliens known as Predators and a threatening new alien life form that uses human hosts to propagate its species.  After crash landing in a remote section of America and escaping to the countryside, the alien and predator become hunter and prey with guests caught in the crossfire.”

In stark contrast to Dracula Untold, comes Alien Vs Predator. By far the very best maze at the event, and one of the best mazes in years. We enter the maze in a forest, wandering into a crashed spaceship. Inside, the intricate detail and set designs are overwhelmingly detailed and substantial.

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As we wander through the attraction, human victims scream and beg for help, becoming collateral damage in a fight to the death between two malevolent creatures. At certain points you are literally in the center of the fight. It is a spectacular feat that they pull off several times throughout the maze.

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The special effects in this maze are simply incredible and up the ante expected from Universal. Puppetry and live actors mix seamlessly in the dark environments to create a perilous atmosphere. The maze also has a story that you can follow that leads to a spectacular jaw-dropping finale.

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You simply can not miss Alien Vs. Predator.  It is what defines Universal Halloween Horror Nights.  A cinematic franchise, impeccable design and detail, and story.

An American Werewolf in London

One Sentence Review:  Good sound design and puppetry make this maze a must do.

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Guests will begin their horrifying journey as they enter “The Slaughtered Lamb,” the English countryside pub movie fans will instantly recognize, and experience first-hand what the tavern patrons in the film meant when they cautioned, “Stay on the road, keep clear of the Moors and beware the moon.” After stumbling upon the overgrown wasteland known as the “Moors,” maze-goers will be forced to traverse through dense fog amidst sounds of savage growls and unknown peril ahead.

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An American Werewolf in London brings one of horror’s most remarkable and ground breaking films to life in this beautifully done walk through attraction. We begin at the Slaughtered Lamb and are warned to stay on the road. Of course our path takes us through the Moors and that fateful attack that turns David into a werewolf.

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The maze is totally different from the version that was featured at last years event in Orlando. As different as it can be anyway, as both were based on the exact same iconic film. We see of course, the Slaughtered Lamb, the Cinema, and the groundbreaking transformation scene all recreated here with painstaking detail. Each scene is punctuated with a sudden attack by a werewolf.

The only real misstep here is how the scenes don’t seem to flow as well into one another as they did in Orlando.  It becomes a little jarring at certain points to be in a fully realized set then into a sudden dark hallway, then on to another stunning set.  This is a very minor quibble, because the maze does work and is certainly a lot of fun.  What they did get right here they got very right.  The nightmare sequence is a marvel of synchronized sound and acting.

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This is another solid walk through that is worth a visit. It is certainly different from the previous Orlando version and may not have as much polish, but it certainly has more bite and savage terror. Lots of fun.

Face Off: In The Flesh

One Sentence Review: Monsters Remixed: Resurrected redone.

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Universal Studios Hollywood’s all-new “Halloween Horror Nights” maze, “Face Off:  In the Flesh,” will recreate the morbidly disturbing inventions masterminded by visionary make-up special effects artists over the course of the show’s past six seasons.  Twenty-two original “Face Off” designs – from human-insect hybrids to horror villains, ancient mummies and zombies – will cascade throughout the dark corridors of the terrifying new maze bringing to life multiple incarnations of these select characters and adding to the cast of characters designed to scare the life out of every guest.  “Face Off:  In the Flesh” will also feature new sounds from acclaimed electro house artist “Figure,” who returns to Universal Studios Hollywood’s “Halloween Horror Nights” with a haunting mix of electronica-inspired dance music.

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The past two years have seen Universal finally figure out a solution to the problem that was House of Horrors.  A year round haunted walk through attraction, the maze always suffered from the familiarity of the existing experience as it was attempted to transform the experience for night time guests.  Finally they realized that by amping up the music, the sound, and the lighting, it changed the energy in the maze significantly.  Unfortunately, after Halloween Horror Nights ends its run, the structure will be handed over to demolition and become shopping and retail.

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Featuring the make up designs from the contestants of the reality competition show Face Off, Monsters dance and cavort around the dazzling sets creating an atmosphere of gregarious scares.  Since this is the end of the line for the original House of Horrors attraction, Universal has gone ahead and made more permanent additions and changes to the existing sets.  The effect is nice, but hardly earth shattering.

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A nice send off to one of our favorite attractions.  This is a fun maze when the line is low.

Scare Zones
A series of unnerving scare zones will also infiltrate “Halloween Horror Nights,” terrorizing guests as they navigate the darkness from one maze to another.

The Purge: Anarchy

One Sentence Review: It’s 2013 all over again.

Inspired by Universal Pictures’ disturbing thriller about ordained anarchy, frightening freaks wander the streets below a fire blasting tower threatening all that pass their way. We’ve seen this before.  It’s an easy theme to throw together and one simple in concept. But, it really isn’t much different from when it debuted.

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The Walking Dead: Welcome to Terminus

Seven Second Review: Familiar but impressive walk through the backlot filled with zombies.

As you walk your way to the New York Backlot, you see signs that things aren’t all that good up ahead. Regardless you trudge onward. The scare zone begins as you enter the New York Street area. Walkers come towards you and chaotic lighting and projections surround you in mayhem. This is still a very effective scare zone, surprisingly, simply due to the scale and spectacle.

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Mask A Raid

Seven Second Review: A nasty bit of blood-soaked bourgeon is fun.

Hordes of blood thirsty cannibals masquerading as French aristocrats.

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After Dracula Untold, you will be deposited into the center of a gruesome, cannibalistic cotillion. Creepy and fun, doused in absurdly colorful lighting, this scare zone has bite. The actors in particular seem to relish their roles and have fun salivating over the wandering guests.

Dark Christmas

Seven Second Review: Best scare zone ever created for Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights.

Pagan-themed area where demonic creatures hunt disobedient children and drag them to hell.

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Can we just go on record and ask that this scare zone be expanded into a maze next year? This inspired scare zone puts a dark spin on the origins of Christmas by introducing the Krampus, an evil companion to St. Nick. Warped Christmas carols play as feisty elves and an axe wielding St. Nicholas wander the streets in search of bad children.

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Simply put, this is the best scare zone that we have seen Universal Studios Hollywood do in years. It’s an irreverent take on the beloved holiday that creates just the right balance of yule tide and scares. So much fun.

Skullz

One Sentence Review: Stilts do not a scare zone make.

Based on the Native American legend of Wendigo, a malevolent supernatural half-beast monster with an insatiable appetite for human flesh.

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The area at the bottom of the Starway escalators is a difficult place to theme into a scare zone. We understand that. Hence, the go to gimmick every year has simply been to project the title of the scare zone on every flat surface and have actors dressed in particular theme. This year we have stilt walkers with large skulls, or rather “skullz” prancing around and startling visitors. To their credit, the actors accomplish what they set out to do with shrieks, screams and laughter.

This is a better than average year for Halloween Horror Nights.  It is definitely worth the trip out.  If you want to avoid lines it is always best to arrive early and head straight down to the lower lot.  That is where the lion’s share of the mazes are and most can be seen with anywhere from a 10-20 minute wait in the first hour.  If you do decide to take your time getting there, it is still a much better idea to purchase the front of the line access to the mazes.

Tickets to Halloween Horror Nights are available here and the dates are as follows

Halloween Horror Nights dates are as follows: September 19, 20, 26, 27, October 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 23, 24, 25, 26, 30, 31, and November 1, 2, 2014.

 

About Norman Gidney

Norman Gidney, also known as Fishbulb, has produced and edited many of the articles on MiceChat over the years.

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  • JesterMn

    I think I pretty much agree with this review! I’ve been to nearly all the recent HHN’s, and I had very low expectations for this one. But even mazes I weren’t particularly excited about going in surprised me in a good way.

  • Jeff Heimbuch

    Great review, Norm. I felt pretty much exactly the same for all of the mazes. Clownz was a fantastic surprise, From Dusk Til Dawn captured the feel of the show perfectly, and the Dark Christmas scare zone was fantastic. I want to go again!

  • unclemike

    I mostly agree with your review, Norm, except for the Walking Dead maze. Our group thought the whole thing was a shorter, less-detailed and very tired carbon copy of last year’s much better WD maze. The fact that the first half of the maze was almost beat-for-beat, scare-for-scare the same as 2013 really bummed us out.

    But the rest of your review was spot-on, sir!

  • bpespiri

    Great review Norm! Not a huge clown fan but really enjoyed the maze, but nothing could top AVP this year. Looking forward to next years event!!!!!!

  • Now We Lustre

    Spot on review. AvP was incredible, Dusk and Werewolf were excellent, but the rest were alright. We actually got to USH before 5pm, and being a annual passholder you were allowed into the lower lot mazes around 6:20 pm as part of a “first stab” promotion. We also had front of the line passes, but wound up not needing them….we were back to the upper lot by 8:00 pm and done with every thing by 9:00 pm…..
    Hoping they can offer a little more for 2015. Had a fun time but wouldn’t spend the extra money on front of line pass if I knew bow quickly the mazes could be done earlier in the evening.

  • jcruise86

    Thanks, Norm!
    It’d be great if Micechat hosted outings to this and the Queen Mary’s Halloween event every other (alternating) year. Is that the plan?
    See you Saturday!

    P.S. An angry punk rock version of “Send in the Clowns” might have been fun in the clown maze. Was this better than Knott’s old clown maze?

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