It may have caught you by surprised, but Halloween is amongst us. It’s that time again with random haunted houses popping up all over Los Angeles and haunted attractions taking over many Southern California theme parks. Universal Studios Hollywood has already kicked off its season with their annual frightening Halloween Horror Nights with several new mazes and upgrades to popular repeats from recent years. Halloween Horror Nights is known for its quality and superior scare scenarios in its mazes. This year is no different with elaborate set pieces, well-known movie scenes brought to life, and more monsters than ever before.
Halloween Horror Nights 2015 features a slew of new attractions including: a new terrifying and ornate maze by visionary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro in “Crimson Peak: Maze of Madness”; an improved and longest maze to date to be based off the Emmy-Award winning series “The Walking Dead”; “This is the End 3D,” the first-ever 3D horror-comedy maze; “Insidious: Return to the Further”; the return of Michael Myers to Horror Nights in “Halloween: Michael Myers Comes Home”; a new Terror Tram experience based off the popular “The Purge” franchise; an all-new show from the popular hip hop dance group, Jabbawockeez, and of course fantastic new Scare Zones scattered throughout.
This years event is by far an improvement to last year, but fans of the successful haunted event may still find it a little lackluster and perhaps a little chaotic. Universal Studios Hollywood has been challenged with constant construction over the past couple years with the construction of Springfield from The Simpsons last year and the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter land set to open next spring along with the loss of former maze locations like the former queue of Terminator 2: 3D, now Minion Mayhem.
To facilitate a good compromise has been made by having 2 mazes featured in the world famous Universal Studios Backlot. While it’s incredibly cool to be on location of many movies and a working studio, it can be quite the trek to get to these mazes. Last year guests had to hike out down a hill and through an underground passage just to wait in another healthy line, but thankfully this year Universal Studios has added a tram pickup to take you down to “Crimson Peak: Maze of Madness” and “AVP: Alien vs. Predator” with a little added surprise waiting for you when you’re dropped off.
I will share my thoughts on each maze, but for those of you that have not had the pleasure of visiting Halloween Horror Nights I did want to mention that many of their popular everyday attractions are open for the event with sometimes shorter than normal waits. Opening night saw Transformers hovering around 10 minutes and many other attractions around the 30 minute mark. However, it is worth mentioning most mazes tend to have an hour or longer wait times. I HIGHLY recommend the front of line option, which is an additional fee and bring your total ticket cost over $150, but it’s well worth it and ensures you will get to see everything. Believe me when I say you do no not want to spend two hours waiting in these un-themed temporary queues for an event only 6-7 hours long.
Guillermo del Toro Presents Crimson Peak: Maze of Madness
Crimson Peak is inspired by the visionary filmmaker who directed, co-wrote and produced the upcoming October 16 Legendary and Universal Pictures feature film. The three-dimensional living replica of the film is designed to send guests spiraling through the chilling world and into the footsteps of Crimson Peak’s lead character, Edith Cushing, first as they venture from her home in America, then to the decaying and haunted Allerdale Hall mansion in a remote English countryside.
This is probably the most impressive maze with incredible sets and detail that will surely wow you. With plenty of actors and scares, this one had me in awe when I walked out. This hits the mark and it’s about a story we don’t even know yet. It’s basically a walk-thru trailer.
Insidious: Return to the Further
This year the Insidious maze takes snippets from all three films, which investigates unexplained phenomena in the Lambert family’s eerie Victorian home as guests find themselves at a séance that unleashes chaos and horror. They’ll journey into “The Further” – a supernatural realm that houses tormented spirits – and face deadly ghosts and demons like the Woman in Black and Oxygen Mask Demon, that will stop at nothing to infiltrate the world of the living.
Sounds impressive, but while some great scenery and interior decorating was had, Insidious wont be your must do if your rush. Still definitely enjoyable and I find myself really liking these mazes with realistic home interiors, which leads us to Halloween…
Halloween: Michael Myers Comes Home
Michael has returned, and in a big way! Inspired around Michael’s first kill on that fateful Halloween night in 1963 where he brutally stabbed his sister to death. The scene is relived from the outside with a great moving silhouette in the window. After entering the detailed house facade, you are entered into Michael’s world with countless details spread through every room.
This is the first maze you’ll come across and only one on the upper lot this. It gets a line quick, but this is one I would love to do multiple times. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but there are a hell of a lot of actors in this one.
The Walking Dead: Wolves Not Far
The Walking Dead has returned, yet again, but Universal Studios has upped the ante. This years maze isn’t just the longest haunted house ever based off AMC’s critically-acclaimed, Emmy Award®-winning television series, but also the longest ever built by at Universal Studios Hollywood. This all-new maze will feature twice as many walkers and is based around the 5th season. Fans of the show will absolutely love some very memorable scenes recreated for this maze.
This is the End 3D
While the concept seemed perfect, it unfortunately failed to impress. This is the End 3D is the first ever maze based off a true comedy-horror film, and while some scenes were comical, the concept fell short. The rooms seemed a little small and unimpressive. Part of this was due to the paint that’s need to create the 3D effect, which always makes these mazes seem cheaper and a sense that they were made on a whim. I still like the idea and how some scenes from the movie are actually played out for you, but as we left the consensus from others was “that was awful”. For those of you that hate the smells they use in the mazes, this is by far the worst. I swear I was smelling B.O. for the rest of the night, and it wasn’t me, I think.
AVP: Alien vs. Predator
The impressive and terrifying AVP: Alien vs. Predator maze is back by popular demand. It is almost a repeat from last year but has made some improvements. I always enjoy when they make inside feel like outside, especially being it’s a temporary haunted house. This maze features excellent detail and superior props along with great costumes and monstrous sized scares. Definitely worth a return visit, plus this is built within a true soundstage. Maybe take a moment and think of all the shows that have filmed there too.
Terror Tram: Survive the Purge
The all-new Terror Tram experience, inspired by Universal Pictures’ blockbuster film series The Purge, invites guests to a disturbing “Purge Party”. That tram lures guests into this Purge viewing party for those that do not wish to take part in The Purge, but are quickly informed of our tour guides trickery and that there is indeed no party. It’s a trap!
Well, I am glad it wasn’t The Walking Dead again, but it’s basically the same thing from every year past. They attempted to build some new sets and walk-thru areas, but ultimately it is the same old, same old. It’s always cool to walk through The War of the Worlds set, but at this point they need to do something drastically different for the future. If you have never done it though, then it’s still a must-do.
The most disappointing part however is the tram routes around King Kong 360 3D and Fast and Furious Supercharged. I guess it would be a challenge to have the 3D glasses handed out, but they could still do this after The Purge and before you re-board your tram.
Bill & Ted are no where to be found again, but the award-winning hip hop dance group the Jabbawockeez have landed at the Halloween Horror Nights. It’s a fun high-energy show that really appeals to the younger audience with a vague storyline that is set to popular music of today. While it starts off with them wearing familiar masks from Horror Nights, it quickly becomes just a long synchronize dance number. There is some comedy and good audience participation, but ultimately it’s not a show for everyone. For a dance group with so much critical acclaim, I wasn’t that impressed though I still enjoyed myself.
The scare zones are well decorative and actually have a ton of detail. Most will go unseen though as everyone will be running through to avoid the cleverly created monsters and be fanning the fog out of their faces. However, I was impressed with the number of scarers in each zone. Sadly, due to the construction in the front of possibly a smaller walkway, the entry was missing the master of ceremonies we have seen in years past. I’m guessing he will return in the future.
• “The Purge: Urban Nightmare,” inspired by Universal Pictures’ disturbing blockbuster films, will greet guests with pure unadulterated fear, bringing to life the turmoil and pandemonium that awaits those vulnerable to masked vigilantes in search of new victims during the government’s annually sanctioned killing spree.
• “Exterminatorz” introduces hideous hybrid creatures—part pests, part human—spawned from years of dangerous chemicals recklessly dumped down the drains by irresponsible humans. These now persecuted pests arise from the cesspools to turn the tables and retaliate on their human oppressors.
• “Corpz” features an army of decaying World War I soldiers known as “The Lost Generation,” who have risen from their dank, muddy graves to haunt the streets of old Paris.
• Krampus, the demonic Christmas Devil, returns in “Dark Christmas,” a Pagan-themed scare zone where demonic creatures hunt disobedient children and drag them to hell.
Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights is still your most elaborate and impressive haunt event, but it comes at a cost. If done right, it can be worth it, but expect to shell out over $150 for a pass with Front of Line attached to it otherwise admission will run $60-$80 online. It’s a better event than last year and the mazes are still strong with some breakout stars, but there is a park down the 5 that just might get you a better bang for your buck.
Halloween Horror Nights run until November 1st.