Although we’re still a few days shy of fall, Universal Studios Hollywood is already well into the upcoming season with the return of the Halloween Horror Nights event. The separately-priced ticketed event brings with it a myriad or horrors each year and after a few years of treading the same path for a mostly predictable event, the tides have changed and updates all around have helped to reinvigorate the terror.
Ironically, the positive changes came about by relying almost completely on mazes this year with themes that have already been explored several times over the years. The EXORCIST, Mike Myers’ Halloween, Freddy vs. Jason, and Texas Chainsaw Masacre were among the retreads that some how found a way to refresh the terror without feeling de ja vu. Even the Jabawockeez show, which we did not enjoy at all last year seemed to have found a way to reinvent itself into an enjoyable offering.
Ironically, one of the most disappointing elements at this year’s event is also one of our most highly-anticipated with the first-ever American Horror Story maze. More on that below but other wonderfully fresh blood with this year included a much-needed revamp to the Terror Tram experience–taken over by a nightmarish Klowntasm. Plus, Krampus found itself as a maze for the first time this year and it brought an expectedly awesome dark twist to the Christmas season.
Without much adieu, check out some more thoughts on the event…
Eli Roth presents TERROR TRAM
Having disappointingly been executed with THE PURGE and then exhausted into mediocrity year after year with WALKING DEAD layovers, the Terror Tram this year has finally received an update that makes the haunt a worthwhile endeavor.
Created in partnership by horror auteur Eli Roth and his digital network Crypt TV, the fabled legacy of serial killer clown “Hollywood Harry” was brought to life with a sordid crew of killer clown compatriots in a similar but different Terror Tram experience. Building on a similar conceit from THE PURGE of taking guests to one event and then finding a fresh batch of “unexpected” horror, the kill clowns for the event have taken over the backlot for a really awesome and sadistic squad of miscreants.
The walking path for the event was mostly similar to years prior although the painfully tedious uphill dirt segment was mercifully removed. We still walk past a covered Grinchmas set, through the Bates Motel, up to the Psycho House, and end with a new path through the War of the Worlds set.
QUICK REVIEW: A much needed update featuring twisted visuals and creepy clowns. What’s not to love?
Our favorite maze this year was on the lower lot with THE EXORCIST bringing its special brand of terror. Amazingly realistic with fantastic attention to detail, it was a truly dizzying experience. From the familiar brick facade exterior to the deceptively innocent interiors it’s like stepping into the movie.
The whole thing starts off with a creepy re-creation of little Regan MacNeil crawling down the stiars and that’s when the true horror begins to unfold. As you walk through the house, you quickly discover that you’re stuck in some sort of vicious cycle of deja vu. We find the possessed girl in the bedroom with the priest attempting to release devil’s grasp. As we escape the room through the darkness–with demons terrorizing us along the way–we find ourselves over and over again back in the same bedroom with new horrors being unleashed on the poor girl.
All the expected moments from the film are realized including vomitous pea soup, levitation, moving furniture, demonic takeovers and more creating a truly satisfying experience. This was probably our favorite maze this year.
QUICK REVIEW: Dizzying and terrifying, the maze is quick-paced and with horrors literally around every single corner.
American Horror Story
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we also found the most disappointing maze this year on the lower lot with the first-time romp into American Horror Story. As big fans of this show, we were super excited to jump into the twisted visualizations by Ryan Murphy and crew.
The exterior for the maze was a bit unassuming and you might even say a little underwhelming. Unfortunately, that trend seemed to continue inside of the maze too. The ambitious romp seemed to really fail for the most part on delivering an impactful punch. The whole thing starts off with a venture into MURDER HOUSE and despite iconic recreations of familiar moments from that season (pig in the bathroom in particular gets a shout-out as does the Black Dhalia’s dismemberment in the basement) this segment felt somehow lacking.
After making our way out of the abode, we found ourselves in creepy backwater town of Jupiter, Florida at the FREAK SHOW. This whole section was a saving grace for the maze recreating the fantastically creepy cabinet of curiosities with fantastical terrors found under the big top. Plus, it also afforded us the opportunity to come face to face with fan-favorite Twisty the Clown. The iconic segment unfortunately is also the shortest before we go into the final segment and we find ourselves in…
The HOTEL Cortez… our final check-in. The 10 Commandment Killer’s lair is an iconic visual as is the creep in the mattress but otherwise this entire segment also seemed somewhat lacking. Walking down the creepy hotel cooridor somehow felt unsatisfying and our encounter with Lady Gaga’s Countess was confusing at first as I didn’t even realize who she was at first based on the white outfit in which she’s represented. That same unremarkable look is duplicated again for the finale room which delivers absolutely no final big bang punch.
QUICK REVIEW: Extremely disappointing. Unremarkable and almost completely forgettable.
The good news is that our disappointment for the evening was short lived and relegated almost completely to just the American Horror Story maze. We were worried after last year that Jabawockeez would once again be a boring tangent from the evening but thankfully a lot of the problems we had with the fan-favorite dance crew were addressed for this year’s show.
The show integrated a much better array of songs, added humor, and incorporated a storyline that tied a little more closely to the Halloween Horror Nights theme. Overall, we were delightfully surprised to find a really good time to be had here and it served more purpose than just being a place to sit after standing in line for mazes all evening.
QUICK REVIEW: A great distraction for an escape from the chaos outside.
The remaining offerings for the evening delightfully ranged from good to great. KRAMPUS was another haunt we were looking forward to and it delivered a wonderfully twisted spin on the legend of Saint Nicholas. From gingerbread miscreants to demonic toys and several appearances by Krampus himself, the maze is a whimsically wonderful adaptation of last year’s film.
QUICK REVIEW: Jack Skellington, eat your heart out.
Mike Myers and Halloween have personally never been a favorite theme but Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield this year does well to invite new terrors to a familiar concept. The finale worked as a dream sequence was a clever spin on an otherwise very familiar concept.
QUICK REVIEW: Mike Myers madness manages to make maze still manageable.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Blood Brothers
As the only official maze on the upper lot this year (other than the permanent Walking Dead attraction) we find ourselves revisiting the horrible backwoods part of Texas where a deranged family continues to wreak havoc. The conceit this time is a roadside BBQ stop where the special of the day is… you!
The maze does well to incorporate really fantastic and realistic scenes that themselves are not entirely horrific but with special scareactors and well placed scares create at truly CREEPTASTIC experience. It all starts off ChopTop greeting guests into the restaurant and continues from there with the entire sordid Sawyer family.
QUICK REVIEW: This is one family barbecue you don’t want to miss.
Freddy vs. Jason
Although possibly the most familiar concept to be reborn for Halloween Horror Nights, a good scare is still a good scare and the maze this year does well to re-create the terrifying worlds of both iconic villains. Several face-off moments between the two are to be found and your only way out is to pass straight through their crosshairs.
QUICK REVIEW: Classic baddies, can’t miss!
THE PURGE Scare Zones
Last year we thought we were finished with THE PURGE and a seemingly over-use of the theme. This year however we found the theme perhaps used to its most effective degree on the upper lot with THE PURGE: GAUNTLET OF FEAR which was, in essence, a mini-maze with untold horror inside. On the lower lot, there’s a familiar setup on the metropolitan set with more PURGE terrors in tow.
As the only theme for the scare zones this year we were worried about Purge fatigue and were delighted to find fresh new horror instead.
The one downfall was a concept that sounds great on paper but didn’t at all for us and it was the PURGE TUNNEL that you are forced to walk through to get to the backlot mazes. A narrow walkway slows down the traffic and scare actors in the tunnel caused frequent stops to the flow of traffic making it a little frustrating for those trying to just get through to the mazes. The inescapable sequence strobe lights that went on just a little longer than I would have hoped were also a little irritating. All minor annoyances but still not pleasant.
QUICK REVIEW: A great way to spend some time without a line.
Walking Dead The Attraction
Not much to comment here. The permanent attraction is available here to all guests. As far as we could tell there was no difference in the attraction from it’s regular incarnation during the day.
Around Halloween Horror Nights
Want to see it for yourself?
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.