Last Friday night marked the opening of Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights, one of the highest-attended haunt events of the year in Southern California. As horror-fan patrons lined up at the gates, horror celebrities, directors and creators graced the red carpet, putting faces to some of the creepy inspirations that were brought to life not too far from where they stood.
Every year, Horror Nights in the Hollywood park sees some significant change. The steps towards the greater evolution are sometimes small, but it felt as if this year’s iteration took a major shift closer to the whole-picture identity has been so desperately in need of.
Universal Orlando’s event, now in its 26th year, has had their own brand of iconic characters, something that has provided it with an identity fans have so longed for. In Hollywood, Horror Nights took a pause for a few years, and returned to the park in 2006, bringing with it maze line-ups that ranged from popular movies, musicians, and creative pieces to send fans screaming into the night. Yet, there have been many shifts in those years, stemming from the larger emphasis on IP (intellectual property) mazes, less (what one would call) “creative” mazes, and shows that grabbed the attention of a wider audience. This transition, although for many “hardcore” Horror Nights fans have been a loss, has provided Hollywood’s yearly event with a solid identity.
Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood went, well…Hollywood and for all the right reasons. There wasn’t a single attraction that didn’t have some sort of mainstream recognition, which attendees seemed to respond to even better than before. Every scarezone in the park was themed with this last year’s Universal film, Purge: Election Year, loaded with purgers that were ready to chase down with bats, chainsaws, axes and other implements of mayhem and torture.
Every maze was an experience of iconic scenes from big-screen horror entertainment that horror fans know and love. Here is our breakdown of what you can expect this year, and the highlights (not in ranking order):
The Titans of Horror Mazes
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Blood Brothers
What has been described as a story just a few years after the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) film, begins in the Sawyer BBQ and takes you through a violent, gory journey. I have to say, I was a little worried when this maze was announced. TCM has been done a few times and of course with the addition of other “Titans of Horror” appearing in other park mazes, the return of Leatherface made sense.
While you do experience a few scenes that have appeared in the previous TCM rendition, this maze seems to pack a much more violent and bloody punch, especially since it looks like many of the victims were punched with chainsaw hands. Fans, of course, will get to see the character, Choptop, and although the maze feels face-paced, there is definitely a story that you’ll be able to follow.
Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield
While we’re on the subject of sequel mazes, I do have to admit, I let out a great big groan when I heard Michael Myers would be making another appearance at HHN this year. I know that the great tall brute is a huge fan favorite, and no doubt will go down as being one of the highest-rated mazes of this year, but I do have to say, this maze turned me into a fan. Even though I don’t find Michael Myers scary—the mask is creepy when you think about the fact that the first rendition was based on William Shatner’s face and know that millions have been screaming in terror from a murderous Captain Kirk—lots of other people clamor to him, thinking he’s the scariest thing to happen on screen.
Of course, each scare is pretty predictable when you know the story, but this really felt like a genuine, immediate continuation of the previous story, and if you remember last year’s maze (and even if you don’t, that’s okay too), the end of the maze with the hall of mirrors was topped. Yes, topped. One of the coolest things I’ve seen in a maze in a while happens in the end of the Halloween. I’m sure others have already spoiled it, but I’m not going to (not explicitly). The journey was a wondrous, fantastical stroll into something that HHN Hollywood fans will find not only nostalgic from past mazes, but impressive and delightful.
Freddy vs. Jason
The rivalry to end them all. Horror Nights Orlando accomplished a successful FvJ house last year as a part of its 25th Anniversary lineup, so it generated a lot of excitement from Hollywood fans who could not make it across the country for that rendition. Although it is hard to compare one coast to another, I was glad to see that it wasn’t a cookie-cutter repeat from before. Of course, there were many scenes that were similar, but presented in a way that created a horrifyingly harmonious banter between nightmare fuel giants.
Walking between their worlds culminates into a face-off that you will want to try to see a couple of times as each ending (who wins and who dies) changes. Despite it being a repeat from a different park, it was not simply placed an ignored. The façade was totally different (and of course a gorgeous homage to the late Nightmare on Elm Street director, Wes Craven), and dynamic, launching you into a frightful, nightmarish experience right off the bat and sustained those emotions through to the end.
The Purge: Scarezones and the Gauntlet
Usually, Hollywood has several vastly different scarezones for guests to creep through, theming each of them with something new or a favorite each year. However, all the scarezones took on The Purge: Election Year, featuring many frightening Purgers from the newest in what is fast becoming the Purge franchise. Of course, what would an actual election year be without each of the founding fathers looking as if they’re trying to disembowel you?
On the upper-lot there was a large amalgamation between a maze and a scarezone called, The Gauntlet, where you are accosted by Purgers from across the three Purge films. Luckily, the experience is large enough that there wasn’t really a wait, but there wasn’t a whole lot to see either. It was confusing whether it was okay to kind of admire the large set pieces, or watch other guests scream in terror. The best choice was to keep moving, even if at a slower pace, but in the end, there wasn’t a whole lot to see other than a few good scares.
The metro sets down past the lower-lot and the tunnel were better than before, although the tunnel is not for those who might be easily induced into seizures (not joking). You’ll come across the famous Christmas light-covered car, and a tree of the dead, as well as recognizable characters Purge fans will be expecting to see.
Eli Roth’s Terror Tram: Klowntasm
After taking a walk through the Terror Tram, I realized one thing: I’m not as afraid of clowns as everyone else seems to be.
The Terror Tram itself has been going through an identity crisis. After years of being held to Walking Dead, and last year’s Purge (despite having been a little more exciting than zombies), Eli Roth’s help to construct what actually feels like an experience that tells a story, might have been one of the best choices for the TT in years. From the blood-thirsty murderers near the Bates Motel, to the firefighting clown brigade, I found myself laughing every turn. Clowns are funny. Clowns covered in blood are even funnier. Watching people freak out from clowns covered in blood is one of my new favorite things.
I have to admit, there were a few times that the clowns were being so amusing that it allowed them to give me a good scare or two. Each of the characters you could see along the way were interesting and it made you want to explore more of this funny, yet terrifying circus of torture.
Long-awaited, fans have been crossing their fingers that HHN Creative Director, John Murdy, would get to do this dream maze. Based on the original film (not the upcoming TV show), you travel through the possession and exorcism of Regan MacNeil.
From here, I have to preface a few things. First, I was seriously disappointed after walking out of this maze. The maze does a fantastic job of portraying each classic moment of Regan’s possession, and adds on a bit towards the end, but in the transitions to each room, I felt were seriously lacking, almost pedestrian. However, my second remark about this maze is that the scenes that were there, were great in detail and had effects that fans have only been dreaming of experiencing until now.
Possibly too dark, too short, and too little connecting each of the larger pieces, it’s still a long-awaited piece that love it or hate it, finally happened.
American Horror Story (Murder House, Freakshow, Hotel)
Exorcist wasn’t the only fan-awaited maze that graced this year’s lineup. American Horror Story was probably the most fan-requested maze of all, and now, is one of the longest mazes ever done for the event. You are able to walk through bone-chilling scenes from three seasons and some of the most fantastic and impressive screen-to-maze renditions we’ve seen in ages. I think it might be a little difficult to know what is happening, or why things are there if you haven’t watched the series, so that can be extremely detrimental to the overall experience. For fans, however—and there are a lot of them—it is a real treat to be able to walk through the mouth of the tent from Freakshow, or down the hallways of Hotel.
AHS was fun, but it was still a huge fan service and may have given up a few scares in the process. However, I do have to admit, one of the latter rooms during Hotel, I was holding my nose and trying not to squeal as frightening creatures seemed to come out of everywhere. Regardless of what it may be, the maze was gorgeous in its entirety.
Based on Mike Dougherty‘s film released last year, I didn’t want this to be my favorite maze. I was a little disappointed with the film, and although previous years’ scarezone, Dark Christmas (full of Krampuses and Christmas jeer) was a big favorite of mine, I was worried this would just be purely for the fact. The opportunity was just too perfect, but so was this maze.
The facade was incredible, and I didn’t realize that Krampus was up on the roof until I had stared for a good few minutes. Inside, the journey was a nonstop cacophony of scenes from the film, darkly twisted up and crafted to deliver scare after scare. The maze kept you guessing throughout since the fantastical elements of the film lent itself to a sort of “anything goes” reality. Monster toys eating people? Check. Psychotic baked goods? Check. Gigantic scary goat-santa-man trying to get you? Check. Snowmen? Check. The maze never stopped until I exited, and that was thrilling. Sometimes there are a few moments in a maze where the crowd backs up, you get stuck in a lull, or there isn’t much to look at, but that never happened and it was exhilarating.
Overall, I think HHN is the strongest it has ever been. There was no maze, I repeat, no maze that I would say, “nah, I’ll pass for the sake of saving time,” this year. In fact, I would gladly do each of them over and over again as many times as I can, sucking in glorious submersion into some of my favorite horror movies and shows. Of course, there are still all the rides and other features of the park. Fans of hip-hop dance crews will want to check out Jabbawockeez and those pining for their Walking Dead fix have the new, permanent attraction at their fingertips.
Yet, returning to the idea of identity, the opportunity to give fans what they wanted from screens big and small sparked the total Hollywood takeover of the event, which left little room for me to compare why something can’t be done here, yet can be done there. I was excited to see and experience things I recognized, knowing that I didn’t just get to watch it happen on a two-dimensional space—I got to experience the screams for myself and it was glorious.
One thing this year is clear–Horror Nights in Hollywood is once again proving their roots.
Crowds were huge this year, so get your tickets fast and keep an eye out on the @HorrorNights Twitter to stay updated with Early Entry times, which have reached an all-new early of 5pm, on September 23rd (and could change day-to-day).
Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights runs select nights until November 5th, 2016.