Halloween Horror Nights returns for the 2019 season at Universal Studios Hollywood. This year’s scare mazes and merchandise has been heavily influenced and inspired by 1980s horror while the scare zones tap into the origins and surrounding traditional celebrations that revolve around the fall season. A welcome nostalgic tie-in to a uniform theme for the evening. Our maze review is ranked from most favorite to our least favorite.
This may not be the scariest maze, but it’s definitely the most fun. During the evening, this and Stranger Things commanded the highest wait times. The firehouse facade is set appropriately amongst the metropolitan sets of the backlot. Louis Tully amusingly wonders the queue looking for the gatekeeper. The maze begins with Jean answering phone calls and exclaiming “we got one!”. We felt like one of the team members ready to answer the call. But all is not well as the containment unit breaches releasing all sorts of specters into the city. Long-time fans will recognize many of the sets and characters. It was a joy to walk through with a smile reached across our faces. With that in mind, there are a few nitpicks to point out. Dana Barrett does not appear in her Zuul costume. And Gozer is a jump scare in a black hallway. This ancient deity deserves its own room to taunt guests. Nevertheless, this is a spiritual crowd-pleaser.
Killer Klownz From Outer Space
Certainly, the most colorful design of the maze line up belongs to this 1980s horror sci-fi film. The facade is themed as the spaceship disguised as a circus tent complete with the old man searching for his dog just outside. The corridors guide us further down the loony spacecraft and back in the small town of Crescent Cove. All the great moments from the film are lovingly captured in three dimensions here to be enjoyed. A very welcome addition to Horror Nights.
Holidayz in Hell
Designed after vintage postcards, this maze sends guests on a journey through the seasons throughout the year starting from New Years to Christmas. But of course, they all have their evil demented views of the holidays. Cupid uses his arrows to kill and pumpkins spring to life in Halloween. This somehow brings a somewhat classier vibe with the vintage look. It’s exciting to reminiensce with anticipation remembering which holiday would come to life in the next room.
Based on the 1982 cult classic from horror icons Georgge Romero and Stephen King, this anthology series comes to life besides its Shudder revival counterpart. Guests are invited to step inside the horror comic book series of “Creepshow” lead by our host, The Creep. Five stories unfold; three from the original movie and two from the new series. Those tales include “Father’s Day”, “The Crate”, “They’re Creeping Up on You”, “Gray Matter”, and “Bad Wolf Down”. Having based a maze on an anthology series before with “Trick ‘r’ Treat”, Creepshow borrows the same previous format of dividing each story with a comic book style cover. The Creep popping out from the comic book page is a surefire shocker. Each room squeezed as much of the available space with as much recognizable detail as they can for each scene. Even the comic book style backgrounds from the movie are cleverly mimicked in the blackout areas of the maze. A descent nostalgia-fueled stroll.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman
Practically a follow-up to the Universal Monsters maze from last year, the focus now spotlights Frankenstein’s monster meeting the Wolfman. Seeing the two creatures scaring from on either side of you calls back to when Horror Nights had an Alien vs Predator maze. The outdoor facade sees guests enter a gypsy camp and encounter the transformation and hunt for the wolfman. After traversing the eerie woods, we find ourselves in the midst of Castle Frankenstein. Here, a disfigured laboratory assistant conducts experiments with the two foes strapped to a pair of slabs. The finale is a welcome end that borrows an effective scare element from the previous year.
It may not seem like it at first, but those who have seen Jordan Peele’s film that features an underground labyrinth of mystery began in the 1980s, which continues to connect with the 1980s theme for the season. Beginning in the mirror funhouse on the Santa Cruz boardwalk, guests find themselves face to face with their doppelgängers and must survive the invasion. The settings were respectfully well selected and suited the needs of this maze. The film itself is very well done as well as the maze, but leaves fans split with its ending. Nevertheless, the music theme really sets the mood just right that even people who haven’t seen the movie will get chills.
The Curse of Pandora’s Box
“Pandora’s Cabinet of Curiosities” is an oddities storefront for the twisted Greek mythology contained inside. Opening the box brings out evil as they rain upon our souls. The majority of the maze is a backlit neon color fest. Universal could have easily had this be a 3D maze. We’re glad that’s not the case.
House of 1000 Corpses
A returning horror movie franchise returns after appearing in 2010 and 2011. Rob Zombie’s cult classic seems to be more fondly remembered for its past inception. For a maze with “corpse” in its title, this offering feels soul-less.
If you were disappointed with last year’s Season 1 offering, then we’re sorry to say, folks, it didn’t get any better. Based mostly on Season 2, somehow the Hollywood creative team managed to make this the least appealing maze of the evening. The first half relied on wide-open spaces and projections to create some nifty effects. But it keeps going downhill from there. You get glimpses of scenes fans would remember from the show. But it somehow feels unfocused and relied on darkness a lot. There are not as many live actors as you’d hope as Hollywood seems to favor using mannequins wherever the can. And then to add insult to injury, Season 3 was tagged on as the finale to the experience. But you just walked through a messy cabin. With no question, hands down, Orlando did justice.
The Walking Dead
This is a year-round maze with supposedly more scare actors during Halloween Horror Nights. There’s not much of a difference from daytime park operations. And most fans seem to stay clear of this maze in favor of the other seasonal offerings. We would rather repeat a temporary maze than to return here.
2019 is, for the most part, a huge improvement over 2018. Last year was bombarded with endless black hallways in every maze. The black hallways are broken up enough that it’s not as noticeable. Strangers Things, unfortunately, did not improve. The absence of the Terror Tram from previous years does not seem to hinder anyone as we did get not one but two mazes from cleverly reusing the Studio Tram Tour queue as the queues for the two mazes, Us and The Curse of Pandora’s Box. House of 1000 Corpses is not the only element that returned from past Horror Nights. Many mazes including Stranger Things and Killer Klownz featured an abundance of water effects that pours the steaming liquid on guests. We’re here to be scared, not get soaked throughout the cold evening chill.