Last year, Scare Zone attended Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) in Hollywood on opening night. But because of excessive crowds and a poorly designed system of processing frequent fear passes that delayed us more than an hour, we could not get through all the mazes in one night. We vowed not to attend HHN again on opening night, and as hard as it was to wait, we kept that vow. We attended on a Sunday evening on the third weekend of operation, and we’re happy to say that it was worth the wait.
As we approached the entrance to Universal Studios, a big sign outside let us know that the event was SOLD OUT and that only people with pre-purchased tickets would be let in. This was probably because Monday was Columbus Day, a holiday for schools and some employees. However, based on our experience last year, we know that HHN really brings in the crowds, so we do recommend pre-purchasing tickets no matter what night you plan to attend. We braced for the crowds, but we arrived early and had our front-of-the-line (FOL) passes already purchased.
Those with FOL passes go through a shorter security line and are also allowed to wait inside the park before opening. Those with regular tickets are held behind the gates. There’s a sequence of ropes along the main street inside the park, and they gradually let us progress down the street, keeping control of the crowds. Right before 7 pm, a couple of girls walked out in front of the crowd, and there was a little sketch with Ghostface calling the girls on the phone and asking them about their favorite scary movie and then–of course–killing them. As soon as the rope drops, hordes of chainsaw maniacs surge through the crowd. It’s a pretty impressive opening. Unfortunately, only FOL pass holders will really be able to see this spectacle, since regular ticket holders must wait behind.
We hit the new mazes first, tackling The Thing and La Llorona (upper lot) right away, followed by Alice Cooper and Hostel (lower lot) immediately after. We got through four mazes in about 40 minutes, and there were no lines. If there is one single tip we can give to our fellow haunt stalkers, it’s this: Arrive before the park opens to get in line, and hit as many mazes as possible before the park fills up. Of course, the FOL pass helps, but we didn’t even use our pass until later in the evening.
By about 9 pm, the park was filled with people, the streets were packed, and the lines were long. We used our FOL passes to revisit some of the mazes, and we found ourselves in a huge conga line once inside. In fact, in The Thing, we were completely stopped in a single room for more than 3 minutes, just standing there. Although the line operators were making attempts to stop the lines outside to break up the groups, it just didn’t work. There are simply too many people in the park, and everything becomes extremely crowded. Unfortunately, this can really ruin the experience and prevent anyone from getting scared, so again, we recommend you arrive early to beat these crowds.
One our ‘Terror-spondents” wore a heart rate monitor to measure how scary the mazes really were by seeing how much their pulse increased. We’ll include these new pulse ratings along with our traditional 1-5 skull rating system. We do our best not to spoil the mazes for those who’ve yet to experience them, so we won’t provide scare-by-scare reviews, but we will share highlights and our overall opinions on the effectiveness of the mazes.
Wow! We were thoroughly impressed with this maze. Our first journey through this maze had us terrified! The sets and especially the alien scareactors were really great. We feel as if we’ve already seen the new movie because we had to live through it. The maze takes you through the rooms in the outpost in Antarctica, including the laboratories, kennels, and even outdoors. Aliens and infected Norwegian researchers come at you from all sides. The alien costumes were incredibly detailed. This maze had non-stop scares and a lot of big surprises. While going through The Thing, we were reminded of how well Universal crafts the sets and establishes suspense in their mazes.
- Haunt Design: 4.5 skulls
- Scare Factor: 4.5 skulls
- Pulse Rating: +44
La Llorona: Villa de Almas Perdidas
Last year, La Llorona fell flat as a scare zone, but as a full-fledged maze, La Llorona was terrifying and told a haunting, dark story of the Mexican woman who drowns her children to be with a rich man, who then rejects her. While it wasn’t based on a movie, it was like being in one. The set design of this maze was really beautiful. It really transports you to another place and time. The maze takes you through a church and into the village, where you enter Maria’s home and even see the lake where the children lay drowned.The scareactors are in many unpredictable hiding locations, often scaring us unexpectedly and there are also many props that surprisingly lunge to life to scare you to death. Creepy stilt walkers with goat skull masks were some of the most eerie creatures we’ve ever seen at a haunt. La Llorona is ever present as well, appearing and disappearing in ghost-like fashion through the scenes. After it was over, we wanted to live in the Villa de Almas Perdidas.
- Haunt Design: 5 skulls
- Scare Factor: 4 skulls
- Pulse Rating: +32
This is a repeat from 2010, and it seems to be exactly the same as last year. The 3D effects are not from the usual black light but rather rely on flickering red and blue lights. The effect is disorienting and distracting. The sets are good, but we didn’t find too many scares in here. Many of the scenes revolve around actors re-creating scenes from the movie, and they are usually too busy dismembering people and laughing about it to really scare you. This maze had the longest lines last year (about 2 hours long), but the lines didn’t seem to be too bad on the night we attended (about a 50-minute wait at the high point) but it’s one of the slowest moving lines at HHN .
- Haunt Design: 3.5 skulls
- Scare Factor: 3 skulls
- Pulse Rating: +26
Hostel takes over the same location and torture-porn niche left after the retirement of the Saw maze. For the most part, Hostel has the same layout as Saw and uses a lot of the same props and sets, and it even seems to use the same “dirty bathroom” scent in one scene. Our expectations weren’t high but this maze managed to be scarier than the previous Saw version. There also was a more thorough story element with the outside facade featuring shadows of victims getting mutilated in the windows and two young girls, with Eastern European accents, greeting you at the door to say “Goodbye, Americans,” before you’re ushered into the Hostel (if you follow HHN on Twitter, you can get a nightly code word to tell the girls who will then give you a special “hunters” card). Although the maze is mostly what you’d expect–scenes of people being tortured, body parts and blood splatters–we were impressed with the menacing nature of the scareactors. They really assumed an aggressive demeanor in this maze, which helped increase the suspense. A lot of the actors had seemingly sharp torture instruments that they liked to bring dangerously close to our faces. Although we’re sure (or hope) that these props were made of rubber or another innocuous material, it was still a little too close for comfort, and more annoying than scary.
- Haunt Design: 3 skulls
- Scare Factor: 3.5 skulls
- Pulse Rating: +20
We’re not really fans of Alice Cooper and we didn’t know what to expect, but this maze surprised and scared the hell out of us! It starts out a little slow as you enter Alice’s childhood bedroom, and although it seemed set up for some scares, nothing really happened in this room. Our timing might have been off. The maze quickly picks up as you progress through a series of nightmarish scenes, including creepy dolls with glowing eyes hanging from the ceiling, a crazy cemetery scene, giant snakes, a demented classroom full of spiders, and even an insane asylum with a “shocking” surprise. There are quite a few stilt-walker versions of Alice in this maze, including the Uncle Sam and Medusa versions, who were particularly aggressive and frighting. The scares in this maze were well timed and effective. There’s a few scenes were the scareactors are positioned so that they’re able to get at you more than once so after you recover from their initial scare, they jump around and give you second scare, for good measure. Similar to The Thing, the strobe-and-sound startle was used heavily and provided some of the best heart pounding scares, as evidenced by our post maze pulse rating!
- Haunt Design: 4 skulls
- Scare Factor: 4.5 skulls
- Pulse Rating: +60
Once again, the maze that is nothing more than an overlay of the House of Horrors is a disappointment. Terror Tip: Walk right past this maze when you get in the gates and find something better to start off with. This maze will have no line later on in the evening.
We’re not convinced that any theme will ever actually work that well in the House of Horrors: its overall layout as a year round theme park attraction is just not set up for a very scary maze. However, of all the overlays that have been done for HHN, the Wolfman is probably the most effective and seems to be the most natural fit especially given that the original maze already has a couple Wolfman scenes. They tried a little harder to cover up some of the non-Wolfman scenery in the sets. But they still left the lights on the case full of Chucky dolls inside the Chucky room. I guess the Wolfman is a collector of Chucky memorabilia. Who knew? Anyway, in addition to the full-fledged Wolfmen stalking about, there are scareactors in various stages of Wolfman transformation which were more elaborate than the usual House of Horrors Wolfman costumes.
- Haunt Design: 2 skulls
- Scare Factor: 1.5 skulls
- Pulse Rating: +13
This year’s terror tram takes you backstage to see the filming of “Stab 8,” but of course, a real killer is lurking out there, waiting for you to foolishly disembark from the tram. The path of the tram is the same as in previous years. You go to Whoville and get chased by chainsaws, you walk past the Bates Motel and house, you go through the War of the Worlds set, etc.
This year, they seemed to be pacing the trams so that the area around the Bates Motel was extremely packed with people. On Sundays and Thursday nights, the Terror Tram closes at 9 pm, due to noise complaints from the people living in the houses on the hill the overlooks the Terror Tram stops. The sheet maze is also gone because of these complaints. Anyway, we shuffled along slowly with the crowd, seeing every scare that was coming our way. There are a couple of Ghostfaces at the Bates Motel and a scene with some Ghostfaces on a broken tram, but for the most part, the tram felt exactly like previous years. The biggest scare was the Ghostface hiding behind a trashcan in the queue.
While we were originally intrigued by this layover, it ended up feeling as if the Scream franchise was shortchanged with this presentation. Instead of being a genuine movie inspired maze, this came across as a desperate way to sell Scream 4 DVDs. Made obvious by our guide who before we disembarked the tram, shared a clip and said that it’s her favorite scary movie (guess she’s never seen any other horror movies or even any of the previous, and better, Scream movies). HHN should consider taking the tram to a different part of the lot, or eliminating it altogether and just making another maze. The line for the tram was beyond packed and once on the actual terror trail it feels like you’re in line all over again. We recommend saving the Terror Tram for last, after you’ve done everything else, or skipping the tram altogether.
- Haunt Design: BURIED SKULL
- Scare Factor: BURIED SKULL
- Pulse Rating: FLAT LINE
This is the entrance gate “scare zone,” with Ghostface lurking about with slashed up, scantily clad, dancers to promote Scream 4 “now available on DVD and Blu-Ray”. The pre-opening show for HHN is fun but nothing to scream about here.
This was a fun and scary area of the park inside their English village set, which is ravaged by the walking dead. The zombies were fun to interact with, and run from, as they attacked out of the fog-filled streets. We liked the look of the corpses with butchers, barbers, and—yes—even senior citizens.
The Grim Reaper and his evil minions of death await victims coming off the escalator into the lower studio lot. But don’t fear unless you’re a young screaming girl as these seemed to be the laziest and most uninteresting scareactors in the park.
Murder and mayhem reign as an ultra-violent gang of clowns take over “The Big Apple.” These psycho circus rejects are armed to the teeth and hell bent on destruction…yours! There are some nice set pieces, and the chainsaw clowns were relentless. The fire crates in the center of this zone have become iconic with HHN Hollywood, but we’re ready for new types of stalkers in this area for 2012.
This zone was similar to Zombieville 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.
Along with ’07, ’08, and ’09 this was another great year for HHN. After visiting many other haunts across the country throughout the year, this trip reminded us how HHN Hollywood is in an unique class of its own. The quality of the maze designs is unmatched, with top-notch lighting, music, props, and special effects. Every detail is thought of and well crafted from top to bottom, inside and out. When you’re fortunate to be inside the mazes before the crowds hit, you also get to experience the high-caliber talent of the scareactors who make you feel as if you’re really inside the horrifying world of the respective maze. We believe Universal made some necessary operating adjustments and fortunately cut some shows in exchange for an additional maze. Now we hope for a 7th maze and a completely revamped terror tram experience (there are other places to go on the studio lot) in 2012.
Overall Rating of HHN Hollywood 2011: 4.5 Skulls