Universal Halloween Horror Nights

This past weekend, we finally got a second chance to use our Killer Deal pass and returned to HHN at Universal Studios Hollywood. We decided to dismiss the bad feelings we had after the disastrous opening night and act as if this were our first time going this season. This time, we didn’t bother with trying to eat at one of the City Walk restaurants and were in line before the gates opened. We also didn’t have to waste time getting our passes processed, so it was a much less stressful event getting in, which kept us in better spirits. This time around, we wanted to first see all the mazes we missed on opening night and then go through the Friday the 13th and House of 1000 Corpses mazes again (yes, we got in only three mazes in five hours on opening night). This time, we actually made it through all the mazes in less than three hours (sans Vampyre, which we intentionally skipped). We also took some time to slowly wander through the scare zones. Now we feel that we can provide our haunt stalkers with a thorough and complete review of HHN 2010.

Mazes

A Nightmare on Elm Street: Never Sleep Again

Universal Halloween Horror Nights

This time around, we enter the reincarnated world of Freddy Kruguer based on the 2010 version of the movie. Once again, the Freddy theme was on point. The detailed sets accomplished the illusion of being in a constant nightmare state. There was the use of black light effects, fog, music, and animatronic props, which amplified the terrors we all dreamed off. The maze actually works backwards in reference to the movie timeline, with the opening scene being the Badham preschool, where Freddy allegedly began his sinister deeds, and concluding in his boiler room. Universal does a great job of building suspense in the first room with scratching sounds, Freddy chuckles, and shadows, letting us know that he’s lurking about but uncertain as to when he’s going to strike. From this point, the scares quickly get cranked up, and we were assaulted by Freddy from every direction throughout the rest of the maze. The scareactors had high energy (it was early in the night), and even if we saw the people in front of us get scared, they still were able to startle us. They also had many rooms with more than one scareactor, which allowed for them to ambush both the front and back of the group. The highlight in this maze was the stretching walls (which really surprised us) and the live body in the room of hanging body bags. Usually the hanging body bags are always dummies…not this time. While there is some familiarity between this maze and the 2007/08 versions, the maze was effective at finding new ways to use Freddy to scare us!

Our rating: 4 skulls

House of 1,000 Corpses

Dr. Satan's lair

This was our second time through this maze, and we waited only 25 minutes (the sign said 10 minutes) as opposed to the 80 minutes we waited the last time. We still didn’t see any special effects from the 3D. We did notice that they switched back and forth between red and blue lighting, which accents those colors in each scene, but it seems that the glasses are just good for blocking our peripheral vision so it’s easier for the scareactors to “get us.” The first quarter of the maze still lacked enough scareactors, making the first few rooms though “Dr. Satan’s murder ride” fairly dull. The maze feels as if it really gets going once you enter the house itself. Instead of sudden scares, this maze mainly relies on the sets and the scareactors acting out various scenes to create the horror. For the sudden scares, they rely a lot on a loud noise effects, in which a scareactor triggers a loud sound and flash of light when they suddenly enter the scene. This is effective the first couple of times but gets predictable by the end of the maze. The underground tunnels in the end offer the best scares. This maze does a great job at telling a story that is easy to follow, even if you haven’t seen the movie. It also has great talent that is able to accurately portray the full essence of the movie’s characters.

It’s also fun to note that this is actually the second time they’ve done a version of this maze. In 2000, they also had a version of HOTC, which we remember as being more terrifying. At that time, Rob Zombie was working to get his movie distributed by Universal.

Our rating: 3.5 Skulls

Friday the 13th: Kill, Jason, Kill

Universal Halloween Horror Nights

This was our favorite from opening night, and it still is a winner. This time around, we were split from the crowd in front of us, allowing us get scared in almost every scene. This maze is the most suspenseful with its open and longer spaces, in which we know Jason is coming but we just didn’t know from where and what he’s going to do. The Jason scareactors are all big guys with detailed costuming (bald heads with hair patches) who get up and personal when they appear. There were times during the maze when we forgot that we were just in a maze, and it felt like Jason really wanted to kill us!  It also seems that they’ve perfected their timing, and the pace of the maze has the same energy of the movie, with Jason’s rampage getting faster and more violent was we ventured through. We also stopped and looked the detail of the face-grinding scene, which is hands down one of the goriest and most disturbing scenes we’ve encountered in a haunt.

Our rating: 4 Skulls

Saw: Game On

Universal Halloween Horror Nights

Jigsaw is back in this obvious promotional vehicle for the upcoming Saw 3D. This maze has some very graphic scenes taken from the previous 6 Saw movies. We didn’t find ourselves getting really scared in this maze, nor did we see many people around us getting scared either. Instead, we were just fighting sensory overload as this maze packs a combo punch of sounds, smells, sprays, and other visceral effects. The noticeable changes from last year include the people competing to cut off their arms to fill a scale with their flesh and the guy who gets amputated by a contraption that twists off all of his appendages. The terror of this maze is created by the disturbing sets, and if you have a weak stomach, we suggest you sit this one out. Nonetheless, as last year’s name stated, it should be “Game Over” for this maze.

Our Rating: 2 Skulls

Chucky’s Terror Tram

Universal Halloween Horror Nights

Someone at Universal has a crush on Chucky, as he keeps coming back to HHN, even though he’s no longer scary or relevant. The story goes that Chucky wants revenge for his mistreatment in Hollyweird, so he hijacks our tram and drops us off on the studio lot, where his army of evil dolls is waiting for us. From here, we go through the familiar Psycho set with Norman’s “mother” running around. Then La Llorona  haunts the path on the hill up from the Bates Motel to the Psycho house. Due to “budget cuts” or “consideration for the neighbors,” the sheet maze was removed, but they still had it partially set up, which is a big tease. We still don’t understand how noisy or expensive a sheet maze is. Especially when it’s followed by the World of the Worlds set, which is lined with pipes shooting flames into the sky. Isn’t that more costly and disruptive? They also managed to shoot an annoying amount of water at us during the Terror Tram maze, which just seemed unnecessary (it was already drizzling that night). At the end of he trail, the tram was waiting to take us back to the studio, but first Chucky takes one more stab at trying to kill us in the spinning tunnel.

Universal Halloween Horror Nights

Universal Halloween Horror Nights

Universal Halloween Horror Nights

Universal Halloween Horror Nights

Universal Halloween Horror Nights

We understand that there is only so much they can change each year with the Terror Tram, and it is a great people eater as they manage to get nearly 200 people on each tram and the whole experience lasts 25 minutes. The scareactors do work well at trying to scare a very large crowd every 5 minutes. We just would like to see some changes to the route. Maybe drop us off at a different location on the lot and have a maze through some of the other back lot sets. There are a few scares, but it doesn’t come close to being terrifying.

Our rating: 1.5 Skulls

Scare Zones

La Llorona

Universal Halloween Horror Nights

This Scare Zone appears to have been made for the simple purpose of  marketing this year’s event to the local Latino community. The settings weren’t overly impressive, and this is a very short scare zone spanning only a few hundred feet. We also saw only three scareactors in this set, and they weren’t scary; but how scary can La Llorona, “The Weeping Woman,” be? Maybe they should have had her drowned children lurking about.

Our rating: 1 Skull

Nightmarez

This is the entrance gate “scare zone,” but we really couldn’t decipher the nightmare theme tied to Freddy, as we were just assaulted by chainsaw-wielding clowns, so we though this was the Klownz scare zone (?)

Our rating: 0.5 Skull

Klownz

Universal Halloween Horror Nights

An ultra-violent gang of killer clowns take over “The Big Apple.” These psycho circus rejects were on the attack and going after everyone they could. There are some nice set pieces, and the chainsaw clowns were relentless. The scariest part was walking by the clown barker, who was spewing out insults to guests who dared to walk in his line of sight.

Our rating: 3 Skulls

Lunaticz

Universal Halloween Horror Nights

This is a very dark and foggy scare zone featuring escaped loonies from an English asylum.The costumes and makeup were first class, and they make very good use of the park’s London street setting.  We were scared many times walking through this section of the park by the energetic and somewhat crazy scareactors. These “crazies” were even jumping out at people (including us) coming out of the bathroom, making guests turn right back around to go back inside.

Our rating: 3.5 Skulls

Freakz

Universal Halloween Horror Nights

This zone was similar to Lunaticz and Klownz, set up as a camp for cannibalistic sideshow performers rampaging through Paris. There were some scares here, but the energy wasn’t as high as the other two aforementioned scare zones.

Our rating: 2.5 Skulls

Pigz

What’s with all the “Z” at the end of the names (corny)? This is the lower lot scare zone featuring Jigsaw’s pig-faced disciples lurking with chainsaws. The scareactors are good at terrorizing some folks as they get off Universal’s Starway (the giant escalator) in the lower lot, but there wasn’t enough of them and they mainly went after young girls only.

Our rating: 1 Skull

Overview

Universal Hollywood deliveres an above-average haunt experience with top-notch productions, strong talent, and high levels of terror. They’ve come a long way from offering the event in only random years in the 1990s and early 2000s. They also have significantly improved their haunt offering since their relaunch in 2006.  2007-2009 were notably accomplished years for them. In fact, in 2007, Hollywood and Orlando had similarly themed mazes, and Hollywood’s were by far much better. This year, Universal seems to have fumbled with its ability to manage its growing popularity. The park’s infrastructure is now operating above capacity, which means big bucks for them but a diminished quality experience for guests. They haven’t increased their offerings to match the demand, which translates into longer lines and rowdy crowds. The mazes also suffer, as they become full, and after waiting 80 minutes, there is no way they can provide any full satisfaction in comparison with the time the guest spent waiting to get in. In order to truly get the best experience, guests have to pull many tricks (e.g., front-of-the-line passes, getting to the park at least a half-hour early, running to the back of the park first, etc.) and really plan ahead, which takes away from the joy of just going to experience the event.

If they want to stay in the game and give Knott’s more competition, which they are doing already, they need to get more mazes and think about branching out from their “movie only” concept, which seems to be limiting in the long run as the pains of securing the rights to different horror franchises isn’t a constant guarantee. They’ve already had to bring back Jason, Freddy, Chucky, and Saw for repeats. We think a combination of a few movie-based mazes with the addition of original terrors, like Orlando has, would help them grow the event. They have started in that direction with this year’s Castle Vampyre maze, and we hope they expand in that direction. One final thought, the La Llorona concept was an obvious marketing ploy and did not come across as genuine. She was featured on all the marketing materials, but many people were disappointed to find out she is featured only in a small scare zone and on a short portion of the terror tram. A maze devoted to her might have been more exciting.

We now know Universal can make some of the best mazes around, but they need to improve their overall operation in order to make this the premiere event it sets out to be.

Our overall event rating: 4 Skulls

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