Hollywood – Universal Studios Hollywood kicked off its annual Halloween Horror Nights season last Friday with a star-studded red carpet and brand new themes, filling the warm Southern California night with screams aplenty.
New to this year’s event are mazes featuring Insidious, Crimson Peak, Halloween and This is the End. Naturally, there is a maze based on The Walking Dead, but this time, the maze uses last season’s stories and settings. Also returning is a maze dedicated to Alien vs. Predator.
This years’ HHN also presents a change in theme for the Terror Tram back lot tour. The back lot walking tour in prior years was based on The Walking Dead. This year, the attraction is based on the horror film franchise, The Purge.
In addition, there are new scare zones, and a new live stage show featuring Jabbawockeez, replacing Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure.
The Walking Dead’s maze this year is better than it has ever been. During the TV show’s last season, the survivors found themselves facing threats from both the undead and the living, as they continued their journey for survival. The maze’s use of the varied settings from the show worked extraordinarily well, with superb set designs. And although the zombie scare actors were just as effective as ever, having additional scare actors playing maniac cannibals added a great level of depth to the immersion. Fans of the TV series will definitely enjoy this year’s maze.
This is the End (2013) was a comedy horror film directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen. The movie had a huge cast of A-list actors, and resonated well with both the critics and audiences. Incorporating the film into a maze sounds like a no-brainer, but unfortunately, the park decided to implement 3D effects into this maze, making it more of a neon-filled, psychedelic trip, more than a house of horrors.
Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming horror film, Crimson Peak, serves as the theme for a new maze this year. Del Toro’s past films have served as the basis for prior HHN mazes, and as usual, no expense was spared in creating highly detailed rooms for Crimson Peak. Ultimately, there aren’t many scares in this maze, but there is a great deal of detail and story to appreciate as you go through it.
The Alien vs. Predator maze, much like the Crimson Peak maze is designed extraordinarily well, with far more detail to enjoy than you have time for. Unfortunately, this maze is also lackluster in terms of the scare factor. That being said, Alien and Predator fans should consider this maze to be a must-see, simply because of how outstandingly detailed the rooms’ designs and props are.
Insidious is a great horror film franchise that serves as the premise for a new maze at HHN. What was most enjoyable about the Insidious maze was the progression of the story from beginning to end. There are decent scares in this maze, especially since the story-telling is so engrossing. Park guests will definitely have a better time with this maze after watching the first Insidious movie before venturing into this maze.
Michael Myers is an icon in the horror film genre, and it was extremely exciting to see a maze dedicated to the Halloween film franchise this year. The maze tells Michael’s origin story in gruesome detail, and attendees are thrust into key moments of his life as he became the notorious and unstoppable murderer. The rooms in this maze serve as individual set pieces, and there are supporting actors that play alongside Michael as guests walk through each scene. In terms of production and storytelling, the Halloween maze was one of the best experiences I had at HHN.
Terror Tram: Survive the Purge
One of the cornerstones of HHN is the Terror Tram attraction. Guests take the famed Tram to the Hollywood Back Lot, and then proceed on foot through a route that is transformed into one gigantic scare zone. In years’ past, the Terror Tram was based on The Walking Dead and filled with zombies, but this year, Universal Studios decided to shake things up with a theme based on The Purge.
The walking tour remains the same – guests walk through decommissioned television and movie sets, while scare actors appear at every turn. However, instead of the undead lurking around, there are crazed, homicidal maniacs that menace the attendees. The theme works marvelously for the Terror Tram tour. Scare actors either wore those creepy masks (or make-up) featured in the film series and were armed with a bat or machete. Other threats included actors costumed as black ops military, with assault rifles. The scare actors were joined by other actors posing as victims, who pleaded for help along the route. This added a tremendous deal of immersion to the walk.
It was clear by the end of the tour that although zombies will always be great for scares, living, intelligent human beings with weapons (and creepy masks) add a dimension of fright that mindless zombies cannot deliver.
A live show performed by worldwide phenomenal dance group, Jabbawockeez takes the place of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure this year. Despite the absence of the comedy of Bill and Ted’s, there is no shortage of impressive entertainment on display. Seeing Jabbawockeez perform carefully choreographed dances with such precision was mesmerizing. The dance group does tell a story through their performance, and they interact with the audience, so the show should not be missed.
This year’s Halloween Horror Nights brings some fresh changes to mix things up, and as a whole, remains one of the greatest events to attend this time of the year. Not all of the mazes are memorable, but there are some truly magnificent ones that deliver premium visuals and scares.
I highly recommend purchasing Front of the Line tickets to avoid lines that could take upwards of 80 minutes to get through. Since Front of the Line tickets are limited, they will sell out quickly, so purchase them in advance.
Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights events are held September 18, 19, 25, 26, 27, October 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24, 25, 29, 30, 31, and November 1, 2015. Head over to the official website for tickets and additional information.
This story is based on an admission pass provided by Universal Studios for the media.