Universal Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) is regarded as one of the most elaborate and highly produced haunts in all of Southern California. Despite being a big fan of haunted attractions, I have never made it to Universal, but 2019 is my year. Overall, I was very impressed by the maze design and overall feel of the haunts. HHN sets itself apart from other Southern California haunted attractions with its incorporation of IP content, exceptional set pieces, animations, and high use of water in their mazes. Although this formula is repeated in many of their haunts, the signature techniques HHN uses provides an engaging and memorable experience for their guests. For the purpose of this review, I ordered the mazes from my most to least favorite to provide a first timers look at HHN.
KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE
Synopsis: Killer Klowns from Outer Space have landed and there’s nothing funny about these strange creatures who use side-splitting antics and weird alien technology to devour their victims. Don’t let them encase you in one of their pink cotton candy cocoons or you could end up as a gooey snack. One gag is gahstlier than the next as they have you shrieking from clown to clown like some twisted three-ring circus. These Killer Klowns won’t make you scream with laughter – just scream.
Thoughts: I can confidently say that Killer Klowns from Outer Space was the most fun and most interactive maze at HHN. This haunt has no shortage of neon or creepy clown characters lurking behind corners. Unlike other mazes at HHN, Killer Klowns strikes a balance between the use of traditional actor driven jump scares and animatronics. The intensity is heightened by animatronic characters simulating threatening gestures at you (i.e. being shot at or run over by a car) as opposed to merely popping out. Walking through hanging objects, pulling away neon drapes, and being shot with water makes this maze highly interactive. Although I have not seen the film, I highly enjoyed this maze in its own right.
Synopsis: Jordan Peele’s new original nightmare comes to life when you follow in the footsteps of the Wilson Family as they face the ultimate opponent: themselves. You’ll freeze in terror and disbelief as you are hunted at every frightening turn by murderous doppelgangers – terrifying doubles of every American known as the “Tethered.” Having languished for generations throughout thousands of miles of abandoned underground tunnels, these human “copies” have organized, surfaced, and staged an uprising. You can run and you can hide, but you cannot escape the Tethered version of yourself.
Thoughts: I think it is fair to say that the Us maze is phenomenal in set design, amount of actors, and transitions. Although guests who haven’t seen the movie will likely enjoy this maze, your experience will only be heightened if you are a fan of the film. This maze is incredibly on point and true to the movie. Guests will travel through the Vision Quest fun house, meet the shadow versions of the Wilson family and explore different sets of the film. The incredibly creepy and unnerving masks of the scare actors coupled with whispering underneath a sea of redwood trees makes this haunt an attraction you won’t want to miss.
Synopsis: Ain’t afraid of ghosts, you say? That is, until you’ve experienced the all-new rift between worlds, releasing apparitions of all shapes and sizes. Enter with caution as you navigate through a deserted and dimly-lit New York after paranormal activity has engulfed the city. From the voracious Slimer to ghosts encapsulating the minds of the innocent, you’ll catch yourself thinking twice if you become their next victim. While the Ghostbusters have continuously saved the day with the help of their proton pack, this time, those who enter may not be so lucky.
Thoughts: Step into a neon nightmare with the new Ghostbusters maze. Travel through buildings in New York and encounter ghastly appartitions. High wait times are probable for this maze likely due to popularity and tight spaces creating conga-lines. Although conga-lines can ruin some of the scares, the set design is worthy for a visit. Particularly, the giant Stay Puft marshmallow man is a major highlight. There are plenty of jump scares from ghouls behind black boxes and animatronics throughout the maze and even opportunities for water to squirt at you.
HOLIDAYZ IN HELL
Synopsis: What is supposed to be a time with friends, family and loved ones, the holidays have quite literally…gone to Hell! The terrors are far from limited to just Halloween. Prepare yourself for a sadistic experience involving a trip through a series of psychotic seasonal celebrations. Your creepy crawl through the year’s calendar is a true 365 day nightmare. After all, in our world…the scarier, the merrier!
Thoughts: An original maze from HHN invites you to see the darker side of the holidays and scream all year long. Overall, this maze if fun and lighthearted!! Dubstep from DJ Figure playing in the background coupled with outlandish parodies of holiday mascots, make this maze a lot of fun! It is actor heavy with no animatronics; however; it puts its HHN touch by drawing on sensory experience by incorporating smells and water.
THE CURSE OF PANDORA’S BOX
Synopsis: Some things are never meant to be opened…sadly for you, someone already has, unleashing unimaginable evil. Welcome to The Curse of Pandora’s Box – the living nightmare netherworld of Hades, populated by the most fearsome monsters in Greek Mythology. Prepare for a trip through Hell where the demonic temptress Pandora serves as your guide. Once the box is opened and evil has been released…it can never be closed again!
Thoughts: Another original maze from Universal brings to life Greek Mythology in a whole new terrifying way. The entrance to get into the maze is a major highlight and is arguably the best entrance of any maze in the park. While you are waiting to enter, you can look at the many beautiful and creepy artifacts. With a screeching laugh from Pandora and the opening of the box, you are able to come face to face with what you set loose. There are many thing hanging from the ceiling which heightens interactivity. Neon skeletons, devoured corpses hanging from spider webs, and monsters from Greek Mythology make this maze delightfully creepy.
FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN
Synopsis: Despite what your parents told you at bed time…monsters are real…and they never die! Frankenstein. The Wolf Man. The two most iconic Universal Monsters of all time are back and ready to deliver an unforgettable and horrifying new live experience. With Frankenstein on the loose, he wanders into the woods where he finds himself face to face with Wolf Man in unwelcome territory. In the middle of a cemetery, the two monsters go neck in neck in a bloodbath battle. The monsters are back and terrifying as ever.
Thoughts: It was hard for me to put this maze as number 6 on my list because it really is very impressive and pulls at the heart strings of Universal’s classic horror monster fans. The set design in this maze is extremely well done and attendees are taken through different areas where Frankenstein and Wolf Man dwell including spider infested crypts, laboratories, and frozen spaces. Having not seen Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, it was difficult to make out any type of story arc or narrative in this maze. I would have like to have know more about the relationship between the two monsters; however, having gone through the maze I am now energized to see the film to get more information. Nostalgic references to monsters and movie posters were also a highlight. There is limited interactivity and jump-scares compared to other mazes which allows you to focus more on set design.
Synopsis: Experience a horror comic book come to life! Your host for this horrifying journey is The Creep, the skeletal namesake of the Creepshow comic book, who will lead you through five jolting tales of terror inspired by the classic 1982 horror anthology and the upcoming Shudder series from horror legend Greg Nicotero. It’s the most fun you’ll ever have being scared!
Thoughts: Creepshow is by far the grossest maze I’ve ever been through in terms of content and one of the most viscerally evocative at HHN. Cockroaches, dirty dishes, toilets and mutilated bodies make this maze particularly creepy. However, the most stomach turning moment for me was a revolting smell I encounter in one of the rooms where there is a toilet gurgling. I am uncertain if the smell was intended to be there however it intensified the experience for me. Although I have not seen the movie or previewed the upcoming Shudder series, I was expecting more nostalgic 80s or comic-bookesque design. Nevertheless, I can appreciate this maze and it did make me excited to see the 80s classic and watch the new series on Shudder.
HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES
Synopsis: From the Ruggsville, Texas roadside oddity “Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters & Madmen” to the home of the psychotic Firefly family, Rob Zombie’s epic horror masterpiece comes to life. Scream all you want, but you won’t find any mercy from the Fireflys as each family member is more sadistic than the next. It’s a never-ending nightmare of blood and gore as they lunge at you from every filthy corner of their decrepit house with rusty implements of horror. Nobody’s coming to save you. After all, what’s one more corpse when there are a thousand others inside?
Thoughts: Come face to face with Dr. Satan in HHN’s House of 1000 Corpses maze. Grotesque imagery, hard rock music, and involuntary medical procedures create the theme of this maze. Having not seen the film, I was able to enjoy this maze in it’s own right. However, having knowledge of the movie may have elevated the experience for me. There is use of water, plenty of jump scares and uncomfortable disturbing imagery. Its a worthwhile maze but didn’t hook me in quite like the others at HHN.
Synopsis: Prepare to go even further into the chilling world of the Upside Down as Netflix’s Stranger Things returns to Halloween Horror Nights in an all-new maze. Back in Hawkins, Indiana, a shadowy new evil threatens to envelop the entire town. Experience the most terrifying moments of Season 2 & 3 as you come face to face with the shadowy Mind Flayer and its army of creatures that wreak havoc in Hawkins. Brace yourself again for the goose bump-inducing world that awaits.
Thoughts: As a big fan of Stranger Things, I was highly disappointed by this maze. It showcases themes and characters from Season 2 primarily with very little reference to Season 3. There are many areas that completely lack jump scares. Overall, it is scare-actor light with a higher focus on animatronic scares. The demogorgon animatronics were impressive but perhaps a little overused. There is an area where you are walking through many tendrils hanging from the ceiling which is rather creepy especially when it oozes on you. In this maze, you will likely get wet more than any other at HHN particularly if there is a conga-line as you can find yourself getting squirted on multiple times. Overall, with extremely high wait times due to popularity of the IP, my recommendation would be to skip this maze if you are pushed for time.
Scare zones are treated differently at HHN than other Southern California theme park haunts. There are characters playing tricks on attendees through highly impacted areas of the park such as in Christmas in Hell and Fallen Angelz. However, this is also a scare zone area, All Hallows Evil, which plays on themes of a Satanic graveyard. There may be a short line to get into the scare zones in order to heighten the probability of jump scares. The set design and monster design is a highlight of these areas and there are many hauntingly creepy set pieces in all the walk throughs that make it worth a visit. Video, music, and sculptures set these scare zones apart from others.
Final thoughts: HHN is one of the premiere haunts in all of Southern California and is definitely worth a visit. Even for attendees that are not horror enthusiasts, HHN also has rides open with extremely low wait times which provides a wide range of experiences for guests. We were lucky enough to attend the Fan Appreciation Night which had special celebrity guests, performances by DJ Figure, a panel which featured HHN Creators John Murdy and Chris Williams as well as Greg Nicotero, Slash, and Eli Roth, If you hope to experience all the mazes at HHN, I would recommend seriously considering getting an express pass if you can swing it. Along with all the scare zones and haunted mazes, you can also attend an exclusive, live show from the Jabbawockeez as well as visit the permanent The Walking Dead attraction. You can purchase tickets to Universal Halloween Horror Nights at https://hollywood.
halloweenhorrornights.com/ for $64-97 General Admission and $149-249 for Universal Express.