Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) has always set the bar high when it comes to creating mazes. Being considered one of the top haunts in Southern California, each year the pressure is on for the team to deliver top-notch entertainment for rabid fans who are all in for the Halloween Horror Nights experience. Full disclosure, it has been approximately 4 years since I had attended Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights, so I did relish the chance to go in with fresh eyes. And, with this being my first haunt of the season and my first haunt in over a year and a half, the excitement has been high leading up to this. Needless to say, the team has done it again, providing plenty for fans to enjoy for that high sticker price. While the general set-up of the maze patterns is standard Halloween Horror Nights, the team managed to create memorable scares with top-notch maze designs, smart Covid-19 protocol-friendly scares via videos, projections, and animatronics, and the like. For the purpose of this review, I will be breaking down the mazes from my favorite to the least favorite (though, with the least favorite, it’s still not that bad).
HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS MAZES
Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives
Synopsis: The Bride of Frankenstein is back, stepping out of the shadows and taking her fate into her own bloody hands. Recoil in horror as the late doctor’s experiment becomes the experimenter. She’ll find a way to bring her mate back to life, and no monster alive or dead can stop her.
Thoughts: Immediately at the top of our maze list is Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives and for good reason. The set-up of the scares is as such that it not only sets up pivotal moments of the Bride’s storyline but also aimed to spook incoming guests. The layout and production design of the maze is top-notch and, as an obsessed fangirl of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein novel, the transitional pages that guests will get to glimpse help provide the necessary clarity to where we’re at in the Bride’s journey. For fans of Universal’s Classic Horror monsters, this will be a treat. Heck, for Universal Studios Hollywood fans that remember Van Helsing: Fortress Dracula and Universal’s House of Horrors, this will take you back to those walk-throughs. What brings the entire maze together is the soundtrack created by Slash, which gives the energy in the maze a punchy vibe. All in all, very much enjoyed it and def think the maze is a must-see.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Synopsis: You’ve seen the 1974 horror classic. Now It’s your turn to experience it for yourself. Enter the dilapidated Sawyer house and meet Leatherface and his demented family of merciless butchers. Will you make it out in one piece? Or in pieces?
Thoughts: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre maze was a lot of fun. The set design perfectly encapsulated the Sawyer house that we recall from the horror classic, so it was like a mini-adventure through the cannibalistic den of ick. If anyone was wondering which maze this year was going to get the immersive smell element, well, this maze won that lotto. Be warned. There is a mixture of flesh smell, cat urine, and something unexplained when you walk through the second half of the maze. The sound design helped provide further immersion and, at times, I’d argue that you didn’t really feel entirely like you were in a maze because the house element was so strong. A very solid maze.
Synopsis: The film that fueled your worst nightmares has returned to Halloween Horror Nights. Enter the most haunting scenes from the film as 12-year-old Regan is possessed by a demon, possibly the devil himself. It’s a battle of the wills between good and evil.
Thoughts: So, this maze and I have a bit of a beef. I remember when it debuted back in 2017 and feeling incredibly let down by the end result. Going into this maze this time, my expectations were restructured to cushion myself from disappointment. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The overall set-up is similar, with long black hallways guiding us to each progression of Regan’s possession and subsequent exorcism. This time, though, the production design team made sure to provide plenty of pop-out scares, projections, and the like to break apart that darkness. Because, when the maze first debuted, this was not the case. There were just long hallways that seemed to merely exist to get attendees from Point A and Point B. With all of that said, I applaud the team for using the space better this time around and, while I’m sure COVID-19 protocols greatly reduced what could be done with the actors, the utilization of props, projections, etc., masked a lot of that impact and made the maze work well.
Terror Tram: The Ultimate Purge
Synopsis: The Terror Tram is back. Unfortunately for you, some of the most iconic Purgers from each of the terrifying Purge films have taken over and are running rampant. It’s every man and woman for themselves as masked and costumed marauders are out to ambush anyone outside during Purge hours. So climb aboard the Terror Tram at your own risk. Because once you get off the tram it’s no rules. No laws. No escape.
Thoughts: The Terror Tram is one of those sections of Halloween Horror Nights that has been mixed over the years. Some years, it’s ace. Other years, the scares fail to keep you distracted and you’re just left focusing on how long until you reach the tram again. Drawing inspiration from The Purge franchise, with the most recent The Forever Purge joining the ranks, there’s plenty of vivid imagery for the team to pull from. Relying on Universal Studio Tour’s backlot setpieces like the huge War of the Worlds setpiece and more, finding ways to merge those various properties together to still scream The Purge was a devil’s task. But I do think the team succeeded. A minor note, but there was a spatial awareness issue with a couple of the actors in the second portion of the overall Terror Tram experience, but I’m going to dismiss it as an opening night issue. With a couple more nights to get that all situated, I’m sure it won’t be an issue moving forward. There is a little photo op separating the two major sections, so you can get a little breather after you crest that hill. Overall, a great bunch of fun. And a special shout out to the forgiving bunbun character that let me take photos of its dumpster.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
Synopsis: Evil has returned. Michael Myers has escaped, and he’s on his way back to Haddonfield spreading blood and mayhem in his wake. Your only hope is Dr. Loomis – Myers’ fire-scarred former psychiatrist. But will he get there before it’s too late? It’s clear that this time, Michael Myers is unstoppable.
Thoughts: I’m going to put myself on blast so you don’t have to. I have not seen this particular installment of the Halloween franchise. We can tar and feather me later though because, viewing this maze from the perspective of someone who hasn’t seen the film, the narrative still holds strong enough to let even the most clueless person understand what’s going on. The scares themselves are predictable, with Myers’ appearance forever looming at opportune moments. While predictable, the scares are still solid. The maze itself wraps up with a mindfuck-y mirror room sequence with multiple Myers and, all I can say is, it’s going to get you. One way or another, it’s def going to get you. A minor note, again, for the actors in that room is that a tight leash needs to be kept on that spatial awareness. There’s not a lot of space, so you can accidentally run into someone if you aren’t too careful. But again, opening night acclimation is a whole thing, so I can imagine that this particular note will be addressed super quickly.
Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House
Synopsis: Step right into Netflix’s supernatural masterpiece, The Haunting of Hill House. The nerve-fraying tension builds as the long-dead (and more recently dead) inhabitants lunge from the shadows. Prepare to come face to face with The Tall Man, The Bent-Neck Lady, The Ghost in the Basement and more.
Thoughts: I’ll be honest. I waffled between whether or not The Haunting of Hill House maze was my least favorite or not. Part of the issue is that the expectations are high for this particular property. And, whether or not due to its own detriment, the series itself is so evocative that I did have a concern about whether or not the series and the standard Universal Halloween Horror Nights maze set-up would mesh well together. Unfortunately, for myself, I don’t think it did. Especially since the maze itself didn’t have that essence, for me anyway, of entering Hill House like attendees get to experience going into THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE maze. That was missing for me. The recorded visual effects that many have seen in each maze this season are featured in this maze as well, with a primary focus on The Bent-Neck Lady but, these repeated pop-ups hinder rather than enhance the scare experience. My wrap-up thought is if you go into the maze with the re-framed idea that it’s more a tableau of the spoopies, then the maze experience may work better.
The Curse of Pandora’s Box
Synopsis: An ancient horror has returned to prey on those foolish enough to tempt the Fates with their curiosity and greed. Enter Pandora’s Curiosity Shop, where her infamous box lies. Once it’s opened, all manner of evil will be unleashed. Greek mythology is about to become your monstrous reality.
Thoughts: Original IP mazes, when done right, can make a strong impact on the attendee. And, for Halloween Horror Nights, there is a promise of something exciting. But, there’s the other side of the sword that can lead to failure if ambitions get a little carried away. Unfortunately, for The Curse of Pandora’s Box, it did feel like a chaotic mess, and not in the best way. Without knowing the title of the maze, the transition between Pandora’s Curiosity Shop and the evil that is lying in wait could have been handled a lot more smoothly. It did seem like we were a frog hopping suddenly into an already boiling pot. From there, the story structure sort of seemed to fall apart as we started to take in all the various forms of evil. Don’t get me wrong. The creature designs were nice. Lots of various moments of visual overload for the attendees to take in when they weren’t being scared. But, when taking into account the more linear narratives from the other mazes
HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS SCARE ZONES
In heavy traffic areas of Universal Studios Hollywood, there is always a need to either keep attendees entertained or to keep them moving so they don’t cause a major traffic jam. One of the ways that the team gets the crowd moving is through its Scare Zones. This year’s Halloween Horror Nights features three scare zones on the upper lot – Universal Monsters: Silver Screen Queenz, Chainsaw Rangers, and Demon City.
Starting with the Silver Screen Queenz, this scare zone immediately starts right at the exit of Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives, where a stretch of that area turns into a hub of female Classic monsters from Universal Horror of yore. Aside from the design of The Bride of Frankenstein, it was a bit difficult to pinpoint which character was who unless you really go in there. However, the old-school movie set-up lining the path and highlighting particular monsters was lovely. My only nitpick would be the design of the characters being more generic monsters and not necessarily matching with what the audience might visualize from the classics. It’s a minor nitpick, though. It is a major bummer that, for as much as female monsters were being promoted this year, that this particular Scare Zone seemed more tucked out of the way in comparison to the other two.
Moving onto Demon City and Chainsaw Rangers. To be frank, I actually did not know that these were supposed to be separate scare zones while we were walking through so I had lumped the batch of characters together. The scare actors roaming around both Demon City and Chainsaw Rangers were, by the time we got up to the upper lot, more high-energy in comparison to the Silver Screen Queenz. But, in comparison to Silver Screen Queenz, there was more space and, I’m sorry to say it, more care seemed to have been taken into the design of their costumes and masks. While a minor note, that does go a long way in inspiring the individual actor to exert themselves. I do want to give a particular shout-out to one of the actors in the Chainsaw Rangers section for coming over to check in on us, but still maintaining character in the process. That blend of care, yet commitment to character goes a long way in maintaining that immersion required.
Another way that Universal is helping with crowd control is by utilizing their Grand Pavilion Plaza, which they’ve themed up for Día de Muertos. If you’re looking for some banging alcohol options, this Pavilion is for you. There are cocktails served in skulls that will tickle many a fancy. There’s also a stand-up comedy section between some skeletons that will be sure to generate a chuckle. So, if you need a break from scares on the Upper Lot, check out the Grand Pavilion. You really can’t miss it.
Overall, based on everything, I do believe Halloween Horror Nights is worth a visit if you feel comfortable attending. There are precautions taken with plexiglass in the mazes to keep both actors and attendees safe, though, it is to be noted that there are plenty of open portions of mazes that do not have that feature. In those, the actors wear masks. Taking into account the pricing, I do think if those who purchased General Admission tickets create a solid strategy to tackle everything first, then the price would be worth it. Last night, with multiple breaks, with our equivalent of a RIP/Express pass, we were able to knock out all the mazes by 11:30 PM. For those who require handicap transport, I do recommend going to Guest Relations and acquiring a pass. They do have transport options available, but there is an emphasis on those passes when you go to use that transport. With all of that said, the Halloween season has officially begun here in Southern California. Be safe and have fun!
Tickets are available at Hollywood.HalloweenHorrorNights.com. All tickets purchased online provide guests early admission with entry beginning at 6:00 p.m. each night of “Halloween Horror Nights.”
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