It’s September in Southern California, which means one of a handful of things. Our actual summer is beginning, so make sure to stay hydrated and cool. But more importantly, the haunt season is upon us. The sweet approaching embrace of Halloween is right around the corner. And, per our haunting ritual here in SoCal, Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood has officially opened to make sure to scare the sweat out of its attendees.
Opening weekend for the haunt itself was a doozy for both guests and scare actors, with an unrelenting heat wave opening night, and then the pouring rain from a tropical storm, everyone had a lot working against them. For the most part, the actors put forth strong efforts. That said, the mazes were a bit of a mixed bag.
For the purpose of this review, I am breaking down each maze by the order in which we went through them rather than best to worst.
Halloween Horror Nights Mazes
The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare
Synopsis: You love his music, but can you survive his mind? The Weeknd is about to stalk your squad through this haunted house, a surreal living nightmare from his After Hours videos. His nightmare is now yours.
Thoughts: I was not the target audience for this maze and, for this being the one to start off the night, it was a bit underwhelming conceptually. I’m likely to get attacked for this comment, so let me explain. The downside to constructing a maze around an artist’s music videos is that it is reliant on the audience wandering through the maze to have prior knowledge going into it.
My only experience of The Weeknd is the one Blinding Lights video and his Superbowl halftime performance. So, going through the maze without the knowledge ahead of time made it difficult to follow the storyline being presented. It wasn’t until I got home and spent time going through all the videos from the After Hours album that I could piecemeal it together. Then the maze’s storyline clicked – ironically – after hours. Not everyone is going to be doing that, though.
With that said, the costuming was great. The scares were on point when we hit the right time. This note will be repeated throughout the review, but kudos to all the actors for working in the abysmal heat with what costuming and makeup entailed. You guys rocked it.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space
Synopsis: There’s nothing funny about these Killer Klowns who’re back to make gooey, out-of-this-world snacks out of you and your scream squad. If ever there’s a reason people are afraid of clowns, this is it.
Thoughts: This lovely little maze has returned once more and, for the most part, not much has changed. Located on the opposite end of the Transformers ride from the After Hours maze, maze attendees will go through this dementedly delightful affair. The silliest maze by far, it’s hard not to go through it and end it smiling. With that said, though, the maze does feel a bit lighter in the scare department this year. Aesthetically, though, it is still a vibe.
Universal Monsters: Legends Collide
Synopsis: If you thought one Universal Monster was scary, how about three? Summon your scream squad, ‘cause you’re about to get caught between The Wolf Man, Dracula and The Mummy, together for the first time
Thoughts: So, this maze clearly taps into the classic Universal monster scenarios of yore where you had them fight it out amongst each other. With a heavy Egyptian influence, maze attendees will be introduced to The Wolf Man, Dracula, and The Mummy (not the Arnold Vosloo version, but the classic Boris Karloff one to which we stan.) Supposedly, the ending for this maze changes depending on when you go during the night, but we cannot confirm.
The maze itself is quite immersive. The team utilized props from The Mummy remake movies (not the Tom Cruise one), which added an extra layer of authenticity to the overall storyline of The Mummy being shipped to London to e displayed. A nitpick would be the not-so-great bat projection that we see later on in the maze. It stood out and not in a good way compared to how the rest of the maze was designed. Special shout out to the scene in which we meet The Wolf Man for the first time. The way that room and that sequence were structured really hit a lovely sweet spot. Again, props to the actors for working in that awful humidity.
If we’re continuing down the classic Monster terrain again next year, can we bring back the badass Bride of Frankenstein again? Cause the way Universal did that last year was cool and we didn’t realize how much we missed her until we finished the maze. The entrance to this maze is right behind the escalators on the lower lot. Just take a left and go around.
La Llorona: The Weeping Woman
Synopsis: You and your scream squad remember the tale of the woman who drowned her children and then herself. Once a childhood fable, she’s back to terrify once again. This is no nightmare. This is La Llorona.
Thoughts: Growing up in Los Angeles, you’d be hard-pressed not to know about the legend of La Llorona. This year the legend returns to Halloween Horror Nights and serves up maximum scares. This maze was arguably one of our favorites this year.
The theming was on-point, building up the slow creeping intensity of La Llorona’s horror until the climactic ending. There are shocking images, like children floating in dark waters that will linger in the mind for days. Definitely one of the better mazes of the night. You can find La Llorona: The Weeping Woman located right across from where the old “The Walking Dead” maze used to be.
If I were to nitpick, it’d be on the Universal team re-using the scare of the gigantic creature eating small children. It does work. Don’t get me wrong, but it’s a schtick that has been re-used a bit. For Halloween Horror Nights regulars, this tactic may be growing stale as a scare.
Universal Horror Hotel
Synopsis: A 1920s Hollywood hotel, once the hunting ground of its infamous serial killer owner, has been turned into a modern-day haunted hotel. Now he’s back from the dead. Your ﬁrst stay will be your last
Thoughts: While not technically a part of the Halloween Horror Nights line-up, this maze has replaced the long-running “The Walking Dead” maze that wore itself into the ground. Some people may not vibe with the Universal Horror Hotel, but it was one of the welcome surprises of the night. The lack of line made it much easier to get perfectly timed scares, and the scare actors did well with what they were tasked with. Conceptually, from beginning to end, the storyline was pretty clear.
Scarecrow: The Reaping
Synopsis: At an abandoned Depression-era farm, vengeance takes root. The scarecrows are avenging the ravaged land. In this all-new haunted house, the only harvest that will be reaped is your scream squad.
Thoughts: A brand-new maze this year at Halloween Horror Nights, this features some pretty gruesome murder scenes. It aims to be immersive with its usage of smells to remind you that you’re on a farm. However, due to timing, it was pretty difficult for the scares to land when we did our walkthrough. And, outside of some pretty gruesome tableaus (I recall a poor victim with corn sticking out of its mouth), the maze itself upon reflection was pretty forgettable. Don’t take my word for it, though. I know others who vibed with this maze.
Synopsis: Silent. Merciless. Relentless. There’s nobody like Michael Myers. And if your scream squad is ready, this year, you can gather together and face the terror of Halloween from the very beginning.
Thoughts: It’s not Halloween Horror Nights without the return of Michael Myers. With the upcoming Halloween Ends sneaking up on horror fans, it makes sense that the Halloween franchise maze would focus on the movie that started it all. We have Laurie Strode finally making an appearance. It’s not necessarily the scariest maze, with Myers’ infamous silent stare popping out every now and again. But it’s a classic for a reason. Ideally, the team will retire Myers for a little bit after this year to give some breathing space.
The Horrors of Blumhouse:
Synopsis: Get ready for a bloodcurdling new double feature of Blumhouse horror as your scream squad faces a ruthless serial killer in Freaky and an evil kidnapper in the relentlessly terrifying The Black Phone.
Thoughts: Arguably, this might have been the weakest maze for me on opening night, and it comes down to the concept. This maze didn’t need the two properties. I can only assume conceptually it was trying to feed off the hype via the recent release of The Black Phone. But if we were to break down how much time was spent with each property, I’d say it was 70% Freaky and 30% The Black Phone, with a subpar transition between the two films. It would have been a better decision if the creative team had stuck with Freaky since it appears they had more to work with in that department. What scares are available work, but I’d argue the team over on the Freaky end of the maze had the more fun scare set-up.
Halloween Horror Nights Scare Zones
There are three scare zones featured this year at Halloween Horror Nights all located up on the upper lot. As has been a bit of an issue in previous years, there is no clear indicator as to where two of the scare zones begin and/or end. In this case, it would be Clownsawz and the Sideshow Slaughterhouse. Both seem to converge together, which made it all the more difficult to gauge what was what.
With the third scare zone, El Pueblo del Terror, however, the link was pretty clear. Exiting out of the La Llorona: The Weeping Woman maze, you enter the El Pueblo del Terror scare zone in French Street. This scare zone features a wide array of different folkloric creatures from Hispanic culture, and it was fun to see the costume designs in this zone.
Overall, the scare actors in their respective areas did a good job. Just wish there was a better transition between those first two scare zones.
The Terror Tram featured the return of an all-too-familiar clown, but that wasn’t necessarily the highlight. This year, with the arrival of Jupiter’s Claim to the Backlot Tour, the team decided to do something with Jordan Peele’s US and NOPE films. What they were able to come up with was pretty nifty, and the choreography timed to the music cues really helped heighten the creepiness factor.
Taking breaks to grab food and drinks with fast passes, we made it through all of the mazes with approximately 30 minutes or so to spare. Knowing that not everyone can afford fast passes and taking into account that the prices for Halloween Horror Nights continue to increase, is the price of the experience still worth it?
With some lines being hours long sans fast passes and with no guarantee that you’ll hit the right timing with the scares in the mazes, if I had the choice, I’d say either pass on the experience this year or try to plan accordingly. Without the pass, you’re likely not to get through everything. If you can afford the fast passes, that does make things a lot easier. But again, it’s a pretty hefty ticket cost-wise.
Halloween Horror Nights began on Thursday, September 8 at Universal Studios Hollywood with eight frightening haunted houses. It will run select nights through Monday, October 31.
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