Halloween Horror Nights 2016

I’m a huge horror fan, and love theme parks, but had never merged the two interests together in an official “haunt” event. I hate “jump” moments and even try to avoid seeing scary movies in theaters because I know I’ll fall for every one of them. Experiencing an onslaught of “jump” moments in person was an ordeal I had long stayed away from, but finally decided to give it a try this year.

My Halloween season is a loaded lineup, including Knott’s Scary Farm, Haunted Hayride, Dark Harbor, and more on the way, and it all kicked off last night during Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood.

I’m sure it varies night to night, but for my visit (Saturday Sep 24, 2016) the event officially began at 7 pm. Early Entry is also offered – on Universal’s official site, they recommend arriving by 5 pm to access select mazes at 5:15 pm. Early Entry made all the difference for us. We completed everything by 9 pm, including all the mazes and Terror Tram.

Across the board, I had heard how bad lines were and guests weren’t able to do everything they wanted (and, to be fair, lines got pretty crazy as the evening progressed). But during that Early Entry period, lines were in the 10-30 minute range, and we hit everything on the Backlot and Lower Lot before the event officially started at 7 pm. (Long story short: take advantage of Early Entry. It will make or break your night.)

So we lined up at the gates around 4:15 pm (a small line had already formed) and were able to enter the park around 4:45 pm, where we bolted down to the Backlot where the Early Entry-accessible mazes were. We hit:

  • img_2687The Exorcist (~10 minute wait) – This maze was interesting for how the Exorcist story was retold within a maze format. If you’ve seen the movie, you know most of it takes place in one room. The maze had us walking through the front door, where a Regan robot was spiderwalking down the stairs. This effect was a bit slow and clunky, not at all a match for the unnerving speed of that moment in the film. From there, we followed a pattern of Regan’s bedroom, then black “transition” room, then another bedroom, another transition room, etc. The bedroom scenes were pretty great recreations of moments from the film, including the rocking furniture, levitating Regan, even her infamous green vomit. The transition rooms were more abstract dark spaces, with images of Regan, the demon Pazuzu, and random “real” Pazuzus and Regans popping out at you. It all ended with exiting by a statue of Pazuzu, who came after some guests but left us alone. Phew!
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Less spooky at 5 pm in the afternoon
  • American Horror Story (~10 minute wait) – This maze took you through seasons 1, 4, and 5 of the series (Murder House, Freak Show, and Hotel, respectively). I don’t particularly care for the TV series so the maze didn’t click much with me. The Murder House section probably had the most meat to it, going through dark hallways, the bathroom (complete with Piggy Man!), and the basement. Freak Show had us going through the forest then the main tent. Hotel (a season I haven’t seen yet) had us going through more hallways and eventually a nursery.  This maze had standard doors opening and characters coming after you, but no special effects or moments particularly stood out. For most (if not all) of the night this maze had the longest wait, so if you aren’t a particularly big AHS fan and are short on time, I would recommend skipping this one altogether.
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    You better watch out…

    Krampus (~10 minute wait) – The home terrorized by Krampus and his krew was probably my favorite facade of all throughout the night. The snow-covered house, with Krampus perched overhead, was a great “weenie” in the backlot and looked terrific at night too. This maze through the house brought us face-to-face with the evil elves, man-eating toys, and back outside to a convincing “indoor-outdoor” scene of ominous snowmen and Krampus’s portal to the underworld. I actually just saw this film days ago so it’s fresh on my mind, but this maze impressed me for how well it told a linear story through three-dimensional space. The sets and effects were all very good, and felt like a real environment rather than actors popping out at you.

  • Freddy vs. Jason (~10 minute wait) – Linear storylines and believable environments are meaningless in the dream world ruled by Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Like any good horror buff of course I’ve seen the films that made these icons famous, but I haven’t yet witnessed their face-off in the titular “Vs” film. It may not matter though, because the real victim here is you. This maze was a non-stop assault of trick windows and pop-up Freddys and Jasons all around you, a perfect fit for the irrational, illogical nature of nightmares. I gave my one genuine scream during this maze: Freddy was stepping away after scaring guests on the left, then Jason came at us with a knife from the right. The 1-2 punch of this maze kept you on your toes and made the scares even more unpredictable. This one also had great smells, especially the smell of fire & smoke (in retelling Freddy’s death) and nature & dirt (for Camp Crystal Lake). Look out for the always-welcome appearance of Jason’s mom, who still has it going on.

After the Backlot, we hiked back to the Lower Lot for the next maze. (At this point, it’s still before 7 pm and HHN has not yet officially started!)

  • Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield (~15 minute wait) – Michael Myers is back and causing trouble at Haddonfield Hospital. We walked past a dead receptionist, through quiet hallways, into patient rooms, all as Michael popped in and out with his trademark knife. At one point we walked through a giant pumpkin (?) and this great dark room with glowing faces, some of which were “alive” and came at you.

It was nearing 7 pm and HHN was about to officially start. We headed back up to the main entrance area and were routed through the French section, as we watched Purgers get ready for the “opening scaremony.” The Purge had taken over the park, with multiple scare zones and walkways with patriotic-themed killers eager to come after you. We had a nice side view of the scaremony: the Purge alarm sounding, and Purgers running through the guests as they tried to escape (and probably get down to the Backlot). Through all this hustle and bustle we fought our way to get to the next maze.

  • img_2700The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Blood Brothers (~20 minute wait) – Definitely one of my favorite mazes of the night. Had all the right sights, sounds, and smells you would want from a maze celebrating this classic horror film. Leatherface and his clan terrorized us as we walked through their home, the surrounding woods, and even this great earthy-smelling underground layer. Lots of clunking hanging bodies to walk through and the smell of sizzling (human) barbecue made this maze a sensory overload. Similar to the Freddy Krueger and Nightmare on Elm Street saga, this story has such a demented sense of humor that it’s more fun than frightful.

We had put off Terror Tram (since online reviews weren’t that positive) but since we’d finished everything else, we opted to give it a go:

  • Eli Roth Presents Terror Tram (~30 minute wait) – After our longest wait of the night (which frankly wasn’t that long), we boarded the tram and the videos overhead recounted the story of Koodles the Clown, a former TV star turned serial killer who apparently stalks the backlot of Universal Studios. Around Whoville, we were let out of the tram to fend for ourselves in a couple of circus-themed scare zones, with clowns and freak show performers coming at us with knives, chainsaws, the whole shebang. It wasn’t as intense of an experience as I expected (feared), but was a nice break after being terrorized for the last couple hours. It was pretty clear where we were supposed to go, Universal cast were directing us to one tent or the other, and once it was done we boarded a tram back to the station right away. Smooth sailing!

We encountered several throughout the night, and have to give high praise to The Purge scare zones. The concept behind The Purge (an annual 12-hour event where murder is decriminalized) has a lot of potential for an event like this, and making it park-wide rather than one specific maze was a great move. The Purge: Gauntlet of Fear felt like an outdoor maze (with a set path) but still felt like a scare zone in terms of its openness and more casual nature. (It was not the enclosed, dark space like the traditional indoor mazes.) Later in the night, the Purge took over the tunnel space between the Lower Lot and the Backlot, with strobe lights hiding performers as they’d suddenly appear, with weapons and noisemakers at the ready. The best for last though, was the Purge zone at the very front entrance/exit of the park, themed to Election Year with patriotic Purgers running amuck. A highlight was a demented Statue of Liberty stilt walker with a neon glowing mask.

So in summary —

  • The good: Most of the mazes, particularly KrampusFreddy vs. Jason, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Also The Purge Scare Zones.
  • The bad: American Horror Story, and long lines as the night progressed.
  • Tips: Do Early Entry. Do it!

Are you going to HHN? Or did you survive, and what did you think? Reply below in the comments!

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