Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) at Universal Studios Hollywood continues to put out the scares and pack in the crowds.

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This year’s buzz about HHN has reached an all new high with a lineup of mazes featuring some of the most popular movie and TV franchises in horror history. It’s slashers gone wild in mazes featuring Michael Myers, Leatherface, Jason, and Freddy. Demonic destruction in “The Exorcist”  and “Krampus” mazes. You will also experience terror vision in mazes based on TV’s top rated horror series “American Horror Story” and “The Walking Dead”. Plus murderous clowns roam the backlot and Purgers have taken over the rest of the park. With all of this horror greatness we have to agree that Universal Studios Hollywood’s HHN is a blockbuster Theme Park Halloween event.

Freddy, Jason, Michael, and Walkers are probably some of the biggest draws that keeps people coming back year after year (along with all their friends and family). People truly love being able to see their favorite horror icons and experience their terrifying worlds. On the other hand, for us, there is also the desire to have new experiences. While Universal has created new story lines for some of the repeat horror franchises they’re presenting  we have to  wonder where can HHN go from here and how can they continue to raise the bar if they remain locked into producing mazes solely tied to movie and TV franchises?

Listen, to their credit, unlike Knott’s and other parks that usually run the exact same mazes for three to six years straight, Universal seems to operate under a plan where they rotate the themes in and out over the years; freshening them up with new layouts, sets and effects when they come back. This makes every year somewhat different (expect for Terror Tram) and also allows for horror fans to have ongoing experiences with their favorite horror movies. It’s not a coincidence that sequels and remakes are popular in the horror genre as the fans can never get enough. Nonetheless, as frequent haunt stalkers who have experienced HHN at Universal Orlando where they also have a few unique mazes every year, we think if Hollywood included more original concepts into their mix then they would have the perfect collection of mazes in one park.

img_6824Overall, HHN continues to reign as the scariest Theme Park haunt in Southern California. In comparison to Scary Farm and Dark Harbor, we still rank the mazes at HHN highest in overall design, theming, and scare factor. The other parks may just have an edge when it comes to the park wide experiences and value.

We think that park operations have also improved slightly this year with early maze openings and easier security and entrance procedures but it still gets uncomfortably crowded as the park has small walkways and its over a mile to walk from the front gate down to the back lot where most of the mazes are.  We also believe that it will be nearly impossible to experience everything without paying the absorbent cost for a front of the line (FOL) pass. The sad reality is you are more likely to NOT have a have a good time if you don’t have a FOL but we also know that paying over $200 bucks for a haunt isn’t  the reality for most people either. We think if they opened up the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter and maybe even incorporated the Death Eater attack, like in Japan, then that would help further disperse the crowds. Of course we also would prefer if they would add at least two to three more mazes.

With a FOL we were able to see all the mazes and get on a few rides in just under 4 hours. We didn’t bother seeing the JabbaWockeez show as we still don’t get their connection to Halloween aside from wearing white masks and aren’t fans of watching shows when we can be going through mazes instead.

Now as Dr. Loomis said “It’s time, Michael” so let’s get to business and review all the mazes, Terror Tram, and Purge scare zone at HHN 2016 featuring videos from our friends at ThemeParkHD.

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 Reviews

The Exorcist

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Based on the “scariest film of all time” this maze takes guests inside the MacNeil house, where we get to witness firsthand the violent battle of a demon trying to take the soul of a little girl.  There are some cool animatronic and special effects used in this maze.  The settings are redundant as the path just goes back and forth between dark corridors  filled with demonic creatures to various recreations of the movie’s bedroom scene where we see lil Regan evolve into a demonic monster.

There are some pretty intense and startling scares in the maze but they pretty much stick to one scare tactic that gets used over and over again, though ever so effectively. We easily caught on to the rhythm of the maze a few rooms in. There was a  noticeable similarities  between this maze and last year’s “This is the End” maze that was in the same location and featured a demonic invasion using similar scare tactics.

The recreation of this movie is no easy feat and what they managed to do with The Exorcist was pretty impressive. We think that this is a not to be missed maze and is a good one to start with to get your heart pumping for the rest of the night at HHN.

Haunt Design: 4-skulls
Theming: 4-skulls
Scare Factor: 4-5-skulls
Overall Rating: 4-skulls

Krampus

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As a movie Krampus may not be one of the scariest. It’s fun but not scary. However, as a maze, Krampus offers a real treat of elaborate set designs and unique scares. It’s an early Christmas present to haunt fans. This maze has the best looking facade at HHN and as soon as you step into this holiday house of horrors the sweet scents of spice, pine, and gingerbread cookies fills the air.

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As guest make their way further into the home it doesn’t take too long for Krampus and his nasty little helpers to get into action attacking from every corner and angle imaginable. There are non-stop scares with the creatures coming out of the most unexpected places, above and below.  This maze does a great job recreating the best scenes from the movie and it truly stands out as one of the best designed mazes in recent HHN history.

Haunt Design: 5-skulls
Theming: 5-skulls
Scare Factor: 4-skulls
Overall Rating: 4-5-skulls

Freddy Vs. Jason

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In 2015 we experienced the Freddy vs Jason maze at HHN Orlando, which was our favorite maze of the night. It was scary and imaginatively captured the essence of the modern-classic horror movie. Hollywood’s version is cool but it’s not on par with Orlando’s version.

img_6820This maze features a lot of Jasons and Freddys popping our all over the place  but the story line is only loosely based on the movie. It really looks like they took the best scenes from the previous Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street mazes, freshened them up and strung them together.

By no means is this a bad maze as it has some decent scares but we had higher expectations for the collaboration of these two horror titans. There is one very cool scene that features an effect where the room you’re in transforms from a plain hallway into Freddy’s boiler room where both slashers are waiting for you. It’s also fun to see who will win as they mix up the “winner” at the end so depending when you go through you’ll either see Freddy or Jason holding the other’s head in victory. Of course we know that none of of them can ever really stay dead for long.

If you’re a big fan of either one of these guys or both you shouldn’t be disappointed but if you’re running out of time and have seen their respective  HHN mazes before we suggest that you save this one for later in the night.

 

Haunt Design: 2-5-skulls
Theming: 3-skulls
Scare Factor: 3-5-skulls
Overall Rating: 3-skulls

American Horror Story

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This maze is dedicated to the fans of AHS featuring three different seasons from the series. If you’re a fan you’ll love it. If not, you’ll find it interesting but may not fully appreciate everything in it.  It’s almost like 3 mini mazes in one.

Murder House is the first segment, which  we didn’t find to be very interesting or scary as it was somewhat void of scareactors and effects.  There were a few empty rooms and others had actors just acting out a scene versus producing any real scares.

From Murder House the maze transitions to Freak Show. This is the shortest segment of the maze but there were some good scares and visually exciting scenes. The makeup and costumes of Freak Show’s human oddities is great to look at and the lurking clown is especially menacing.  In one scene the clown was getting dangerously close to our faces with his scissors in hand, which had us genuinely concerned.

Finally, in the third segment of the maze we check in to the Hotel. This is the most exciting part of the maze with some unique variations on traditional scare tactics such has people blended into the wallpaper and a few good distraction scares.  The hotel settings are reminiscent of last year’s Crimson Peak maze with haunted hallways filled with  some fiendish  supernatural characters. AHS is a great addition to this year’s HHN and one of the more original mazes.  We could see them bringing it back in the coming years using some of the other themes like Asylum, Coven, and this year’s intensely nasty Roanoke.

Haunt Design: 4-5-skulls
Theming: 5-skulls
Scare Factor: 3-skulls
Overall Rating: 3-5-skulls

Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield

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cutm6uovyaad_vaIt’s more of the night he comes home as this maze, based on Halloween II, picks up directly after the events of last year’s highly rated Halloween maze. Of all the mazes this one most perfectly captures the source material and really feels like you’re in the movie Halloween II. It was cool see how they recreated the movie’s scariest kills like the nurse getting lifted by a scalpel, the hot tub drowning, and the blood drained nurse.

There is non-stop action with Michael Myers appearing from nearly every corner. It does get a little  predictable after a while but it’s still a treat seeing Michael carry out his usually tricks. We’re a little disappointed that they didn’t fully recreate Michael’s demise in the movie at the end of the maze but they did come up with one of the most creative maze finales we’ve seen yet, which we think tops last year’s Halloween maze finale, using the Halloween II opening sequence through the insides of a pumpkin as inspiration. Overall, last year’s Halloween maze was a little scarier but Michael Myers is still stabbing full blood stream ahead in this great maze.

Haunt Design: 4-skulls
Theming: 5-skulls
Scare Factor: 3-skulls
Overall Rating: 4-skulls

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Blood Brothers

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Leatherface and the Sawyer family welcome you back to Texas and want to give you a behind the scenes tour of their new restaurant venture before they add you to the menu. Somehow we doubt that the Shark Tank would invest in this business. As expected, this maze is the goriest of them all featuring all kinds of chopped up and hanging body parts. If you get caught up in a crowd going though this maze, like we did, then the impact of the scares will probably be minimal as it’s hard to hide a guy holding a chainsaw.

This is one of the longest mazes with some cool sets and intricate prop details but we’ve seen it all before in the previous TCM mazes and overall this is maze isn’t nearly as scary as the past versions. We went through it with a “first timer”  who also thought that this was one of the weaker mazes.  We admit that there was one big scare early in the maze but after that the impact of seeing Leatherface became minimal. We also noticed that as we went through the maze Leatherface became skinnier and skinnier – it was kind of funny to see. The very last one we saw was a tall lanky guy which made it seem like Leatherface wasn’t getting nearly enough to eat and had given up in trying to apprehend us. Sorry  Leatherface fans, but we think that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a theme that Universal can put to rest for the indefinite future.

Haunt Design: 3-skulls
Theming: 2-skulls
Scare Factor: 2-skulls
Overall Rating: 2-5-skulls

The Walking Dead

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The Walking Dead will never die at HHN. After being part of the Horror Nights lineup for many years The Walking Dead now walk on and on as part of the park’s permanent attraction list. Compared to the seasonal mazes this new attraction is bigger and more elaborate as now they have the advantage of utilizing a dedicated space for the attraction. This is a well designed attraction that truly captures the spirit of the show.

Unlike Universal’s previous year-round haunts that seemed to be cheapened by HHN overlays (looking at you Universal Monster Remix) this one is worth seeing. Especially if HHN is your only chance to visit Universal. If you come during other time of the year, aside from a few extra zombies, there is nothing new added and we suggest you skip it until you’ve seen all the other mazes.

Haunt Design: 5-skulls
Theming: 5-skulls
Scare Factor: 2-skulls
Overall Rating: 3-5-skulls

The Purge: Gauntlet of Fear

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This year HHN did away with the individual scare zones and created a park wide experience themed to The Purge movies. HHN may not have the typical Halloween-esque decorations with witches and ghost but the Purge is one of the best representations of murder and mayhem with it’s different characters from the various films running all over the place.  For us The Purge isn’t overly scary but it does create a fun atmosphere throughout Universal, which doesn’t have as strong of a “celebrating Halloween” feeling like the other parks do.


From the beginning of the night, the Purge opening ceremony really gets the crowds fully pumped up and excited for a night of HHN madness. It’s almost like being at a concert just before the headliner takes the stage.

Going further into the park we really liked how they’ve connected a corner of the upper lot and created a large scare zone called The Purge: Gauntlet of Fear, which follows a designated path through thick fog, dark streets, and alley ways filled with some of the most sinister Purgers. It really was like going through a bonus maze. We liked it a lot as it was both fun and scary. It will be cool if Universal can expand on this concept and create more of these expanded scare zone experiences to give guests some more good scares without having to stand in a 2 hour+ line.

Haunt Design: 4-skulls
Theming: 4-skulls
Scare Factor: 4-skulls
Overall Rating: 4-skulls

Terror Tram Presented by Eli Roth

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img_6844Last, there’s Terror Tram. This attraction always seems to struggle to create a new experience. The main challenge is that it’s locked into using the same section of backlot year after year so even with different themes it’s pretty much the same experience.

First you get on the the tram, they show you a video that sets up the story about something or someone terrorizing  the backlot, this year its clowns. Then the tram stops at the Whoville set where guests disembark the tram and an awaiting  army of chainsaw ghouls chases the crowd into the Bates Motel. This year’s twist is they added a lot of clown props and created a more winding path around the Bates Motel that gives the clowns some more hiding spaces. We actually appreciated this upgrade to to the layout.

After the climb up the hill to Psycho house you can get in line to get a picture with Norman Bates in front of the iconic house, which we admit is a very cool thing to do (once) or take one of two paths through the clowns’ lair. They made the effort to create more tunnels and walk through spaces in this section of the Terror Tram path going through the War of the Worlds sets. By dividing the path into two they’ve increased the likelihood and frequency of getting scared.

We’re giving up on bashing the Terror Tram. This year’s clown theme worked well especially with the real-life scary clown epidemic that was swept the country. It’s good for keeping the crowds moving and dispersed though the park. It also provides access the some of the best horror movie sets in Hollywood. Due to the open layout we doubt that  it will never be a terrifying experience (for us). Nonetheless, it has become one of HHN Hollywood’s signature attractions and we’ll now just accept it for what it is.

Haunt Design: 2-skulls
Theming: 2-5-skulls
Scare Factor: 1-5-skulls
Overall Rating: 2-25-skulls

HHN Hollywood Overall Fright Value:

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Overall Rating of HHN Hollywood 2016:

4-5-skulls

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