Universal Studios Hollywood: Goodbye House of Horrors

In all our combined years of attendance at Universal Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights, neither myself, nor Mr. Horror had gone to the very last night of the event. Sure, in one of our last posts about HHN, we had one of the best nights we thought we could ever have and wrote our experiences with these mazes finished for this haunt year. So, on a dreamy whim, we attended the event packed into the already busy Halloween weekend to have a night that was even better than our previous write up.

Of course, we planned our route well ahead of time and took advantage of the First Stab entrance on the lower lot near Transformers just as we had before. We knew very well that this would be key in getting to go through our favorite mazes multiple times.

The night started off as any other HHN event with the wait in line to wait in line, that long walk from the lower lot to the metro sets, and waiting for Aliens vs. Predator to actually open. Once we were allowed in, we had been pushed through one of the largest, quickest moving horror-maze-conga-lines we had ever been in at USH. The endless line of patrons is something that folks over in Orlando are pretty used to because of their much larger attendance and USH can afford a little more leeway with allowing smaller groups through so that the scare actors have a few more seconds to prepare.

Experiencing mazes in this way cuts out a little bit of the effectiveness of all maze components. While rushing through, you may miss some details, the scare, or other effects that are a part of the show. No single experience will be like the last because all of all the variables, but that is the value in experiencing mazes a second time. Expecting to be blown away like we had been before, our last walk through AVP was a little bit of a let-down. Of course all the actors hit their marks, startled me a few times, and we even saw a few newer things (new rotting smells) that we hadn’t before, but surrounding company (a couple people were too afraid to let their guard down and got defensive) and the speedy walk deprived us of that last great impression. Looking back on it now, there is a necessity for running the mazes in this way, especially for the last night. Some attendees may be there for the first time in the season, or perhaps they had missed out on a maze from a previous visit. Getting as many people through the mazes was essential to ensuring that all attendees saw what they wanted, which gave us the comfort of seeing several twice. Although we would have liked to have gone through AVP twice in a row, we opted for From Dusk Till Dawn instead.

Now, among myself and Mr. Horror,  From Dusk Till Dawn wasn’t our most favored of all the properties this year and you can see our review on it here with our write-up on the big three parks. Even though we felt indifferent about it and our experience opening night was not the greatest first impression, the facade and the talent outside of this maze was rather fun and a short wait meant that we should go and not regret it later.

If you are not familiar with HHN and some of the secret stuff that happens during the event, then you wouldn’t understand what the “nightly password” meant. Every night that HHN operates, there is a secret password tweeted out for a selected maze that year and if you speak this password, you usually get a prize until they run out. My first time getting one of these little “gifts” was a few years ago in one of the Hostel iterations. I very embarrassedly told two scantily clad women that I had the password and they handed me an “Elite Hunting” card.

The Spectral Sightings card I got from last year's Insidious VIP experience and on the back you can see the UV sensitive ink that says, BURN
The Spectral Sightings card I got from last year’s Insidious VIP experience and on the back you can see the UV sensitive ink that says, BURN

Usually the cool gift is a business card because they are easy to hand out and pretty collectible among hardcore fans. There is also talk of folks getting cool stuff like props, but we have not yet been so lucky.

The last night, however, no password had been tweeted out and in all the years it had been happening, that has maybe happened once, which just further iterated the stress of closing night. Luckily, the doorman was really, really cool about giving us the password after I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone else (which I didn’t). Of course it was the most logical word, “adios,” and I felt a little silly for not guessing that.

Unfortunately, this line turned into a massive conga as well, and Santánico did not have her snake during the dance at either end, which was sort of a bummer. If you’re not familiar with the “snake dance,” you get a pretty good idea from this video*. Nevertheless, we hurried upstairs afterwards to get in line for An American Werewolf in London.

Werewolf was one of those favorites that we just didn’t want to end. Even after I face-planted into the concrete after tripping over one of the large metal line markers, I limped with excitement into the maze. This maze was one of our favorites, not just for the detail and the way the story moved, but the actors were fantastic, hit all of their marks, and the gigantic wolf puppets were nightmarish, scaring the absolute life of me every single time.

Every. Single. Time.

After quickly hitting Clowns: 3D, we saw Werewolf again and those darn puppets made me jump. Especially the last one just before we exited. Over and over, they would scare the people ahead of us and even if we were right behind them, too close for a second scare, they jumped out, loud and growling with the glossy, bloody teeth looking threatening. We hear that each of these beasts cost roughly one third of the entire event’s budget to make, which isn’t a whole lot when you consider that the hairs are individually laid, but for an event that hardly runs for a month and a half, these wolves were an investment. (Originally an investment for HHN Orlando, but we don’t really care, we were very happy to be the recipient of these hand-me-downs.) Hopefully an investment that we will see for years to come in other mazes because it was an absolute delight to be worried that I may have been eaten by a puppet.

When we ventured topside we decided to take it easy and people-watch, which if you do not get frightened easily, can be extremely rewarding. Both scare zones that are a stone’s throw apart were the best scare zones HHN has ever had. Mask-A-Raid and Dark Christmas were full of terrifying characters and absolutely brilliant costumes. Although full masks are sometimes not as effective for a scare, these designs were top-notch and a joy to observe.


In Dark Christmas, the stilted Krampuses (or Krampi?) had taken to using their long tongues to lick terrified attendees and did so by crouching from dazzling heights.

This was my favorite Krampus by far, but that was before he started licking me.
This was my favorite Krampus by far, but that was before he started licking me.

In Mask-A-Raid, the scare actors somehow had convinced us all to sit down with them in a circle. We did, but only after a large number of us in the scare zone sat down the actors all took off into the fog. The experience felt really special and made it even more worthwhile to attend on the last night. Though we didn’t get any footage of it, we did get some pretty good footage here.

We hurried to sit. They hurried to leave.
We hurried to sit. They hurried to leave.

After taking off to Dracula: Reign of Blood for one last time, we arrived at our old friend, House of Horrors. (Face Off: In the Flesh)

Jokingly, we both discussed how cool it would be to go through the maze as many times as we could until they forced us to leave. We went through once, got something to munch on, did more people watching, and then went on a second time. Then a third.

By the sixth time through we had started to tweet out progress and had the employees at the front asking which number it was. Before our seventh venture in, I picked up some popcorn, watched some awesome Purgers chase humans with chainsaws, warmed up underneath the shipping crate fires and prepared to push through the maze three more times before we would stop again.

Now, no matter how tough you think you are, when you have had little sleep, been on your feet all day, and have subjected yourself to bright lights and loud music several times in a row, you start to get a little loopy and a lot jumpy. (Or maybe that’s just me?) The seventh, eight, and ninth time through the maze were all in a row. Each time through we held our fingers up to let the beetle-human hybrid from the first season of Face Off know. Each time, he gave a double high-five and we went on our way through.

Although some may think that going through a maze this many times in one night would desensitize you, but in reality, you start to get jumpy. Some of the scare actors did the same exact thing to me every time and I was startled, but others got a little creative when they caught on to what was happening and got me good. However, it all had to end eventually. Determined to be the last two non-employees to walk through the maze, Mr. Horror and I waited. We watched the famous Chainsaw Chaseout pass us by with their famous conductor and his Wolfman cane, but we had little time to follow the commotion. We went in with a few employees behind us, all agreeing that this was the time for tears. (And yes, I did bring tissues.)

Creative Director John Murdy conducts his chainsaws forth with Wolfman cane in hand.
Creative Director John Murdy conducts his chainsaws forth with Wolfman cane in hand.

Words fail to describe how wonderful it was to experience what we did. As we came through, three bug-men approached and I held up all my fingers to demonstrate that this would be our tenth and final time that night. We got high-fives and hugs, and as we continued on, the whole maze became the greatest party you never knew about.

About half way through, I almost lost my mind. Behind us there were bugs, undead statues, creepy clowns, and other twisted creations that only come out in full force once a year, but we were also leaving behind a legacy of scares, a history of maze overlays, and a building that had been so many things before, but had finally become harbor of horror that did not let park patrons forget Universal’s monster legacy. The moment was very emotional as I dabbed my eyes and shuffled forward trying not to break out into sobs, the three bug-men behind me grabbed my hand and started jumping up and down. We all jumped and yelled and cheered. For a few moments we were one horror-loving family of misfits who wanted to do nothing but send the horror season off with a giant bang.

Unfortunately we only got this last clip of the huge party that was going on, but the tenth time through was a memory that will last.

Sore, dehydrated, and exhausted, we headed to the exit to take our habitual survey of the night and were rewarded with one last sound.

Although this year wasn’t as promising with the removal of that which must not be named and some other bumps here and there, it was pretty much the best year we had experienced because of brilliant design, planning, and execution of the elements that are the core of haunt and horror experiences. The team who is responsible for all these things have more than just one name on their list and we, too, as attendees have a certain responsibility to them. While they put hard work into this whole show and spend countless hours tweaking lights, sound, and coordination, we have to give back to them by not being afraid to show a little fear.

There are still wild emotions and animated discussions about how cool those last moments of the event were, but when the dust settles, we thank you, Horror Nights, for giving us a fan-freaking-tastic haunting year.

Stay scary.

*In this video, you can see what I am talking about at the 1:19 mark, NSFW.


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