REVIEW: Universal Studios Hollywood HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS delivers familiar thrills, screams, and terrors
Universal Studios Hollywood is back once again this year bringing their trademark thrills with the return of Halloween Horror Nights. We were invited to check out the opening day festivities and had more than our share of scares and screams.
The overall tone felt perhaps a tiny bit formulaic from previous with no true stand out mazes this year although that doesn’t mean there weren’t any highlights. Universal provides top-notch quality with their mazes making for some of the most immersive scares you can possibly imagine. The detail in costumes and sets is astounding.
This pictorial will take a full look at the event starting with the main course… the eight mazes!
Ash vs. Evil Dead
Perhaps my favorite maze of the evening was from a property of which I had no familiarity.
30 years after battling the Evil Dead it’s clear that evil doesn’t sleep forever after poor Ash screwed up and recited passages from the magical book and evil has found him again!
Ash reclaims his chainsaw to save the world again from an evil worse than anything he has confronted before and it made for a really fun maze through a world I had never heard of. It just worked really well with a mix non-scary of story scenes (not super common in a lot of the mazes) with good scares and surprises mixed in throughout.
The Shining Maze was probably not the most scare-packed maze but the commitment to re-creating visuals from the film makes this a really fun experience befitting of Universal’s motto of letting you LIVE THE MOVIES. The carpets, the fabrics, wallpaper, and even the hotel room numbers are faithfully recreated to make you feel like you’re on the set.
There’s A LOT of Jack Nicholson masks and axes to endure plus a ton of great references that fans of the film will pick up on. The details you’re expecting are there the creepy party, the bathroom scene, the maze, and of course the bloody elevator and twins in the hallway.
While certainly not the most thrilling experience, it is definitely the geekiest, bringing to life a unique and creepy cinematic world.
Insidious: Beyond the Further
Oddly, this started off as one of the most unimpressive mazes and ended as a big highlight of the night only for its finale.
The maze seemed uncharacteristically sparse. Lots of dark hallways and spare sets but the sets that did exist surprisingly did NOT feel like a rehash from previous years that the property was used as the basis for a maze.
So what was the saving grace here? The finale is perhaps one of the more memorable in recent years perhaps not in spite of its simplicity but because of it. After you pass the final show scenes you find yourself venturing through the pitch black Further represented here as a surprisingly long series of hallways winding and turning through blackness with several surprise scares hidden along the way.
What happens with a lot of these mazes is you can start to anticipate the scares and find the hidden nooks and crannies that will be used for scares and the uniqueness of the all black hallway finale is that you could never anticipate where the scares would be coming. In front of you? To the left, to the right? From above?
A thrilling ending to another-wise mediocre maze.
Titans of Terror Maze
Relive the horrors from the worlds of Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th), and Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street) with a maze cleverly pulled together as the dreams of one little boy’s bad dreams.
We start off in the boy’s room and it’s clear that he’s a BIG fan of horror movies. His bedroom is chock-full of toys, memorabilia and goodies celebrating the three baddies. We quickly fall into his dream world which is clearly broken up into three separate dreams reliving horrible scenes from each of their movies.
This was a fun concept around which to bring the three titans of terror together and it worked really well.
…become a real nightmare; from Elm Street…
…to Camp Crystal Lake…
…and to the horrors in Texas.
SAW: The Games of Jigsaw
There was certainly nothing wrong with this maze but there was nothing truly spectacular or standout either.
You walk through several of the scare-games of the serial murderer Jigsaw. The creativity of the lunatic’s setups to murder his victims is certainly intriguing in a sadistic sort of way but the maze is not really built around a whole lot of scares as much as it is exposition in each room.
American Horror Story: Roanoke
I love the FX show but as with last yearm the maze just doesn’t do much to really conjure up much in the way of memorable scares. For fans of the show there’s several memorable scenes re-created but similar to the SAW maze, it’s all a little forgettable due to the hodge podge of scenes that don’t deliver much in the way of MUST-SEE visuals. Lots and lots of shirtless guys in pig heads.
To its credit the number of things from the visual packed season that are re-created is impressive. The charred body in the woods to the creepy Chen daughter, and of course The Butcher. There’s a lot of “Oh, I remember that” moments throughout.
The Horrors of Blumhouse
Unfortunately, this trio of franchises brought together for this maze didn’t really leave much of a lasting impact. Surprisingly, the elements I enjoyed the were for a film that at that point I had no idea about; the upcoming HAPPY DEATH DAY. The creepy baby masked killer sequences were truly terrifying. THE PURGE franchise has been expanded on several times over the year which did little to inspire scares, and SINISTER delivered some solid scares.
Despite it’s its clever mix of outside and inside scares, the maze just didn’t really assemble into a favorite for me.
Titans of Terror Tram: Hosted by Chucky
This is always a fun experience due to the uniqueness of being able to WALK through actual sets that you can normally only see from the Studio Tour Tram. For repeat visitors though, the charm may be a little lost as the experience has become a little copy and paste.
You start off near the WhoVille set which has been covered up for the event, wind your way though the front of the Bates Motel and bend past the Psycho house, and then into the War of the Worlds set before re-boarding your tram. Those three zones this year are haunted by Chucky, Jason, and Freddy Kruger this year.
The classic baddies in this space just kinda feel right at Universal Studios. My favorite part was definitely Freddy Kruger in various forms walking through the War of the Worlds set in various incarnations including airline pilot, EMT, and even just his classic self. His claw gloves clanging on the metal barricades was chillingly perfect.
Bates Motel pulling double-duty as the Crystal Lake Motel that Jason is terrorizing works well but poor Chucky is relegated to chain-saw wielding welcoming committee and not much else. We do see him in video segments on the tram before and after but he really deserves a full experience to himself one year.
It would be a welcome change to see some innovation come to this experience other than just swapping out monsters each year. Last year’s Klowntasm
No standouts this year. The Toxic Tunnel remains one of my least favorite experiences due to the excessive use of strobes forced upon an otherwise simple but fun concept. Hell-O-Ween was mostly a setup of decorations and Urban Inferno was a good mix of props and scare actors. No stand outs this year. Just solid scares.
Happy Hell-O-ween / Entrance
After showing some promise last year, the dance show this year does very little for me. Aside from the fact that it feels so completely foreign and disconnected from Halloween Horror Nights, it just falls a little flat every time.
The crowds really seemed to eat this up once again this year but it continues to do nothing for me. The Lazer Girl was cool. That’s about it.
Points for air conditioning and getting to sit for a bit.
WALKING DEAD: THE ATTRACTION
As with last year, it the permanent attraction is available to all guests. As far as we could tell, there was no difference in the attraction from its regular incarnation during the day.
Bonus points for short lines.
Liquid refreshments in IV Bag or injectables. Fun!
Voodoo Donuts. No lines.
Around Halloween Horror Nights
Front of Line passes are strongly suggested to avoid excessive waits. Utilizing Early Entry on your tickets is also a fantastic way to minimize the time in line.
See it for Yourself
Universal Studios Hollywood for Halloween Horror Nights take place now through November 4, 2017.
Tickets are still available but they DO sell out each night so be sure to buy early to secure your spot. Keep in mind, it’s also cheaper to buy early. The earlier in the month you go, the cheaper the tickets.
More Horror in Orlando
Universal Studios sister park in Orlando launched its own Halloween Horror Nights on the same evening offering up some of the same scares with a unique roster of its own:
- Feel the wrath of the disturbing “Raspers” and infamous serial killer Bloody Face from Asylum, fearsome Salem witches and their bloody rivalry within Coven, and the ghosts of the blood moon in Roanoke from FX’s groundbreaking anthology “American Horror Story”
- Succumb to the overwhelming “shine” and the murderous ghosts inhabiting the eerie Overlook Hotel from “Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining”
- Fight to survive “Jigsaw’s” scariest game yet, featuring infamous traps from the legendary film series and the upcoming eighth installment JIGSAW, inside “SAW: The Games of Jigsaw”
- Fend off demonic Deadites alongside Ash Williams and his trusty chainsaw from the STARZ Original Series “Ash vs Evil Dead”
- Attempt to escape the clutches of the menacing demon Bughuul from the Sinister franchise; a gang of bloodthirsty home invaders from the inaugural installment of The Purge; and Insidious’ paralyzing Lipstick-Face Demon along with the hauntings from Dr. Rainier’s nightmarish childhood in “The Horrors of Blumhouse”
- Step inside the twisted minds behind the nation’s premier Halloween event in four haunted houses based on spine-chilling original stories
- Explore five unique “scare zones,” two of which are based on two celebrated horror films –Trick ‘r Treat and The Purge – as well as three haunting original concepts.
- Two live shows: This year, Academy of Villains returns for a second consecutive year with an all-new show, ACADEMY OF VILLAINS: AFTERLIFE – incorporating fearsome elements from this year’s Festival of the Deadliest “scare zone.” Plus, after 26 years of Excellent Halloween Adventures, Bill and Ted are bringing their Farewell Tour to Halloween Horror Nights to review this year’s most outrageous moments.
Find out more at HalloweenHorrorNights.com/