Haunt Review: Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood 2012

 

There’s no question that over the past 6 years, Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) at Universal Studios Hollywood has become one of the premiere haunts in Southern California and some would argue the U.S. Now, in 2012, it’s obvious that this popular haunt has definitely found its groove, with guests returning in chaotic masses to experience the elaborate mazes based on Hollywood’s top movie franchises and names in horror. Being located in a movie studio, Universal’s advantage over the others has always been its direct access to top-level production sets, state-of-the-art effects, and (scare)actors.

Previously, the mazes at HHN were tied only to movies, but now there’s a broader showcase of “Hollywood Horrors,” with mazes based on TV shows, video games turned movies, and classic horror rockers. Last year, one of our favorite mazes ended up being the non–movie-based ones such as La Llorona and Alice Cooper: Welcome to My Nightmare.  This year, we were looking forward to experiencing new and terrifying mazes; however, going in, we couldn’t help but feel that there was a certain lack of authenticity with the announced maze themes that proactively featured “tune-in” messages and promoted “premiere dates.” Nonetheless, we were still excited to go and went with high hopes to once again have HHN surprise and scare the crap out of us.

Usually we wait for the second or third weekend to attend HHN to allow them some time to work out all their scares, but since we have a very full haunt-stalking agenda this season (including a trip to HHN Orlando), we went opening weekend — which we don’t really recommend. Fortunately, we know what to expect and how to navigate the insane crowds, which perhaps this year should be called “The Walking Alive.” Of course, to survive the night, we had Front of the Line (FOL) passes (we can’t say enough how much they’re worth it), and we followed our own Terror Tips, starting with the new mazes in the front of the park first. This worked well as we were able to get through the first three mazes without using our passes, guaranteeing a few repeat visits later in the night.

We hit the new upper lot mazes first, The Walking Dead and Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, before descending to the lower lot to experience Silent Hill and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We then took some time to ride the new Transformers ride (awesome), Jurassic Park in the Dark, and Revenge of the Mummy. After a second trip through Silent Hill, we went back to the upper lot to experience The Terror Tram, La Llorona, and repeat visits of The Walking Dead and Alice Cooper. We then wandered through the scare zones and finished the night with Universal Monsters Remix.

Now, here’s our full review of HHN Hollywood. 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 from our own experiences in the mazes. Also, having been to HHN multiple times over the past few years, we are aware that we may have some very high expectations. Therefore, to maintain a fresh perspective, we invited some “HHN virgins” to join us and help rate the mazes. For our reviews, we’ll also include a special rating from our HHN Virgins (*note that the “Overall Rating” excludes the HHN Virgin rating).

Check our ratings guide for further details.

MAZES

The Walking Dead: Dead Inside

We think “Season Premiere, Sunday, Oct 14th on AMC” is also a part of the title. This is one of the mazes that blatantly promotes the property it’s based on with tune-in messaging plastered all over the maps, signage, and just about everywhere else. We’re surprised they didn’t have a room with “OCT 14th” painted all over the walls. The maze is set up to take victims through the post-apocalyptic world of the The Walking Dead television series, where we follow in the footsteps of the show’s human survivors, making our way from the devastated suburban hospital, through the streets of Atlanta, to the remote countryside, where we then make the bad decision to seek refuge in the barn. For fans of the series, there were some recognizable scenes and characters, including the “bicycle lady” and the “God forgive us” victims. The makeup on the scareactors was impeccable, and given how hot it was this night, we really give credit to the scareactors who kept their energy up in this maze. Some of the set pieces were cool but not specifically unique, and of course we noticed that a few set pieces were redressed from previous mazes such as The Thing and Friday the 13th, but we can’t hold that against them.  There were a few good scares in this maze, which used Universal’s signature “strobe-and-sound startle” scare effect. The effect did seem to be overused in this maze, and after the third scare, the effect started to become redundant and predictable. It seemed as if they were relying on it too heavily, with most of the scares in this maze really being the typical monster popping out of a dark corner. The finale scene of the maze wasn’t necessarily scary but still one of the most climactic of all the mazes and a nice showcase of HHN’s makeup and scareactor talent.

 

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 3.5 skulls
  • Theming: 4 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 2.5 skulls
  • HHN Virgin Rating: 5 skulls

Overall Rating*: 3.5 skulls  

Alice Cooper Goes to Hell 3D

Last year’s Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare maze was a surprise hit for us. This year, Alice takes us through the mythical levels of Hell themed to the 7 deadly sins. We found Alice’s nightmares to be far scarier than his Hell. As we expected, this maze really was a combination of Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses and last year’s Alice Cooper maze. To us, this maze suffered from having too many scenes with scareactors acting out the deadly sins and too few actual surprise scares. There were also a lot of rooms where nothing happens at all. We went through the maze two times, and both times there were a lot of “dead spots” in the maze, such as a room with some dead twigs…yes, a room with dead twigs. Conversely, this maze did have one of the most fantastic 3D sets we’ve seen at a haunt, and it seems HHN has perfected the art of the 3D haunt maze. From a visual perspective, this maze is worth seeing, but you most likely won’t get very scared, which for us is always a disappointment. We also feel bad for those who end up waiting over an hour to get inside.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 3.5 skulls
  • Theming: 2.5 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 1 skulls
  • HHN Virgin Rating: 4 skulls

Overall Rating*: 2 skulls 

Welcome to Silent Hill

 

Being fans of the games, we went in with very high expectations for this maze as the story, settings, and characters lend themselves well to a terrifying maze. In fact, a few years ago, we went through a very frightening Silent Hill maze at Sinister Pointe. The HHN version was a solid maze, but we probably went in with even higher expectations than it delivered (I know, we’re hard to please). The maze begins by crossing through the portal of pain from Fog World to Otherworld, into the forsaken town of Silent Hill. There were some very elaborate effects featured in the maze, such as see-through walls with disappearing figures. We also were attacked by colossal Pyramid Head executioners and the disfigured nurses who were superbly acted out. One scene perfectly re-creates navigating past the blind but sound-seeking nurses who are aimlessly swiping their knives at you. There is also an appearance by the Bogeyman, who threateningly appears smashing his murderous hammer at us, and of course Robbie the Rabbit. There were some interesting special effects used, such as the flashlight effect, and it seems they got carried away using the sh!t smell effect. Our biggest criticism of this maze was the fact that it felt as if they just repeated a few scenes over and over. Almost as if we were stuck on the same level in the game. With that said, Silent Hill did deliver with some very surprising and nerve-wracking scares.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 3 skulls
  • Theming: 3.5 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 4 skulls
  • HHN Virgin Rating: 5 skulls

Overall Rating*: 3.5 skulls 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Saw is the Law

Now leave it to an old horror icon to really bring the terror! This maze was one the best HHN offerings this year. There’s been a few years of silence on the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot, but now the buzz is back. Many of you will remember in ’07 and ’08, HHN featured a Texas Chainsaw Massacre maze based on the 2003 remake. This version takes us back to the original 1974 Tobe Hopper classic. Inside you’ll find the entire Sawyer family, including Leatherface, Old Man, The Hitchhiker, and Grandpa. We also get to see Leatherface wearing his different grotesque human masks. This maze keeps up a frenetic pace, with scareactors attacking nonstop. Not only do they appear, they chase you as well!  The scenes fall in sequence with the movie, and overall, the maze was a very fitting tribute to the movie. One scene we didn’t see, or maybe missed, was the girl being placed on the meat hook. Nonetheless, we all left this maze out of breath and delighted to have experienced and survived it! Now that we have a maze based on an original Tobe Hooper movie, we can only hope that 2013 will bring us a maze based on his other horror classic movie, The Funhouse.

Ratings: 

  • Haunt Design: 4.5 skulls
  • Theming: 4.5 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 4.5 skulls
  • HHN Virgin Rating: 4 skulls

Overall Rating*: 4.5 skulls 

La Llorona: La Cazadora de los Niños (The Child Hunter)

Last year, the La Llorona maze was terrifying. It tells a haunting, dark story of the Mexican woman who drowns her children to be with a rich man, who then rejects her. While it isn’t based on a movie, it’s like being in one. Just as it was last year, 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. Given that it’s the second year of this maze, we somewhat knew what to expect with the scares, but we were still caught off guard with some scareactors hiding in unpredictable locations and props that surprisingly lunged to life.  There were also a few updates with giant La Llorona animatronics and slightly more grotesque scenery. It seems this year La Llorona was angrier and consistently scary.

Ratings:

  • Haunt Design: 5 skulls
  • Theming: 5 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 4 skulls
  • HHN Virgin Rating: 4 skulls

Overall Rating*: 4.5 skulls 

Universal Monsters Remix

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 really hated the idea of this theme when we first heard about it, but it turned out not to be as bad as we anticipated (but it still wasn’t great). The maze is still nothing more than an overlay of the House of Horrors, which this year meant dubstep versions of the classic horror theme music being played throughout the maze (the mix of the Psycho theme was pretty cool). Inside you’ll still find the usual Phantom of the Opera, Wolfman, vampires, and Chucky scareactors. The maze’s main Frankenstein laboratory room featured what looked like dancing Lily Munsters moving under colorful strobe lights and a DJ Frankenstein. Due to the “club” lighting, it’s very hard for the scareactors to hide, and the scares in this maze are also predictable with monster’s popping out of a corner. Our HHN virgins weren’t particularly impressed or scared by this maze, but they still gave it 3 skulls for the music – lol.

Ratings:  

  • Haunt Design: 2 skulls
  • Theming: 1.5 skulls
  • Scare Factor: 1.5 skulls
  • HHN Virgin Rating: 3 skulls 

Overall Rating*: 1.5 skulls  

Terror Tram: Invaded by The Walking Dead

The Zombie Apocalypse that started in Atlanta, Georgia, has spread to the West Coast, and now the famous Universal backlot is teeming with hordes of “Walkers.” However, the real “Walkers” are us, as we stumble through a giant crowd of people and climb up the dark and very dusty “terror trail,” which really just feels like you’re in line to get back on the tram. One of our HHN Virgins asked if this were the Jenny Craig Workout maze!

Over the years, for repeat haunt stalkers like us, the Terror Tram has become a flatlined attraction. The one exception may have been in 2009, when they first expanded the layout with the Halloween (Michael Myers) and My Bloody Valentine overlays. Despite having different themes, the Terror Tram always ends up being the exact same experience year after year. Instead of Chucky or Ghostface, this year we have zombies roaming around the Bates Motel, the backlot hillside, and the War of the Worlds set.  They did add the novelty of being able to take a photo with Norman Bates in front of the Psycho House, but it is just another 10+ minute line to stand in, and in previous years we found it easy to take a quick picture without this formal setup.

On the actual tram, we also “get to” watch commercials for the new season of show, premiering on Sunday Oct. 14th (in case you’ve forgotten) as you ride to and from the backlot. We recommend saving the Terror Tram for one of the last things you do aside from Universal’s Monster Remix, but do keep in mind it closes earlier on Thursday and Sunday nights. And if you’re running out of time, this could be one attraction to skip altogether.

Ratings:   

  • Haunt Design: 1 skull
  • Theming: 1 skull
  • Scare Factor: 1 skulls
  • HHN Virgin Rating: 4 skulls

 Overall Rating*: 1 skull  

SCARE ZONES

It kind of seems as if the HHN Scare Zones were an afterthought this year, as none of them were particularly memorable or scary. The Klownz scare zone always kicks things off during the opening “scare-amonies” and concludes the night with the traditional “chainsaw chase out.” The Toyz scare zone was the scariest as it was filled with dense fog, dim lighting, and a horde of monsters lurking about.  The Witches were not scary at all, as the scareactors spent more time doing curtseys and posing, but some of the costuming was interesting. Finally, Silent Hill was barely a scare zone as it only consisted of Pyramid Head and a few nurses wandering at the bottom of the escalator going into the lower lot.

Klownz: Murder and mayhem reign as an ultra-violent gang of killer Klownz take over “The Big Apple.” Watch as blood spills throughout the city streets while this psychotic freakshow butchers everyone in their path! These circus rejects are armed to the teeth and hell bent on  destruction…yours! Now that the Klownz have come to town, the city will never be the same! 3 Skulls

Silent Hill: Before you enter the world of Silent Hill, come face to face with the town’s most feared residents. Cower in fear as The Bogeyman towers over you, preparing to smash you to pieces. Feel every cut sink deep beneath your skin as hideously disfigured Nurses scar you for life. Pray for mercy as you confront Pyramid Head, the merciless executioner of The Otherworld, and hope that his great knife doesn’t find its mark! Remember, in Silent Hill, nothing is as it seems! 1.5 skulls

Toyz: Hidden away on the foggy streets of London is a quaint little toy shop. The place looks innocent enough from the outside but don’t be fooled, unspeakable horrors are taking place inside the Toy Maker’s workshop! For decades, The Toy Maker delighted the children of London with his handmade teddy bears and dolls but times change and toys go out of fashion. Faced with ruin, The Toy Maker snapped and decided to take revenge on the people who turned their backs on him by using his skills to serve a darker calling. Now, anyone who ventures too close to the Toy Shop at night is in danger of being abducted by the Evil Toy Maker and turned into one of his monstrous new creations…human toys! 4 skulls

Witches: Enter a European fishing village that is haunted by an ancient evil — a coven of blood-thirsty witches hell-bent on revenge! For centuries, this sleepy seaport was home to witches who practiced their black art under the cover of darkness. One terrible night, the villagers hunted down the witches and burned them at the stake to cleanse the town once and for all of their pagan influence. It is said that some of the condemned swore revenge on the town, right before the flames consumed their flesh. Now, on autumn nights when the fog rolls in, the coven of witches reassembles on the streets of the village to burn the living! Be warned, for if you look into their charred faces, it’s already too late! 1.5 skulls 

REPASS

This was another fun year for HHN, but not the best one in our opinion. HHN Hollywood still offers high-quality maze designs and theming, with top-notch lighting, music, props, and special effects. It kind of feels as if they placed new names on some of the old mazes (some they actually did—Terror Tram and Monsters Remix), but it’s probably noticeable only to the die-hard HHN fans. Our main concern is that as the years go on, HHN will become more and more of the same with recurring themes, scenery, and scares. We hope that in the coming years they begin to create even more innovative scare tactics and add more mazes to accommodate the large crowds they draw.

It was also noted by the HHN Virgins that when compared with Knott’s Scary Farm, HHN doesn’t seem to create a complete atmosphere of haunt across the park. That is a valid observation, as the scare zones are isolated to certain parts of the parks and they don’t even put any effort into dressing up and adding extra features to some of the rides (we think it would be very cool if they did a Treehouse of  Horror version of  The Simpson’s ride). Overall, they found HHN’s mazes to be impressive and felt as if they made them feel they were in the movies, shows, and video games.

We know in the coming weeks, others may have different experiences as the scareactors will begin to click and get their scare timing down. It also can’t be expressed enough that this haunt is extremely popular, and you must really plan ahead to fully enjoy the experience. We hope you consider following our terror tipsand we look forward to hearing from your experiences at HHN this year.

HHN Hollywood Fright Value: 4 Skulls

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Overall Rating of HHN Hollywood 2012: 3.5 Skulls

3 Comments

  1. Wow, you missed the girl on the meathook? You don’t see her being placed on the meathook, but you do see her hanging there – not an actress but a spastically twitching mannequin.

    • Matt E. Horn

      September 28, 2012 at 10:19 pm

      They were chasing us throughout so we missed it but glad it was in there. They should of dramatized that scene with a real actress, that would of been really intense.

  2. Totally agree about the Zones this year.. They all seemed to just walk right by guests with no interest in scaring.

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