Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal City, CA
We are nearing the end of our 2016 Halloween season coverage, and we're going to return where we started off, with Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood. You may recall that our visit to this event on opening night wasn't exactly a smooth trip, and we didn't even get to see all of the mazes. But last Friday, we took another trip back, with the hope that after-Halloween crowds would be relatively low.
Well, they weren't. It was still pretty crowded, but fortunately, nowhere near opening weekend levels. The worst waits in the middle of the night broke an hour and a half, but nothing ever went to two hours, and the beginning and end of the night saw many lines shrink back down to the 15-20 minute range, which definitely made them much more enjoyable. What did we think about our mulligan trip? Read on to find out.
(Photos are by myself and Dan. Typical NSFW warning for simulated gore applies here.)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Blood Brothers
One of the two mazes we did not get to visit on our first visit, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre maze was actually an original idea packaged within a familiar intellectual property. A "lost sequel" set between the first and second movies, it featured an exploration into the cannibalistic lives of Leatherface, Chop Top, and the Sawyer family, inspired by the facade of their roadside BBQ restaurant.
We ended up visiting this maze twice last week, and it proved to be a nice, solid, typical Horror Nights maze with plenty of gore, the same boo hole scares, and actually instances of a non-boo hole scare--a pair scareactors doing statue scares in one of the rooms. A couple of water effects were a bit unwelcome but somewhat obvious to anticipate, and the smoky odor of the maze (mmmm, human barbecue!) was a welcome change of pace from the usual rancid smells.
The Walking Dead Attraction
I also missed The Walking Dead maze last time as well. This had been described to me as an amalgamation of previous seasonal Walking Dead mazes from past Halloween Horror Nights. And while there were segments that came from other Walking Dead mazes, there was also original content. In addition, the maze was staffed with additional actors beyond the daytime hours. That said, though, I thought that The Walking Dead was shorter than the average seasonal maze. While the quality and theming was pretty solid, the intensity also seemed lacking compared to past Walking Dead offerings. Overall, I'd call it a nice maze but not a must-do--especially for those who can experience this attractin during the daytime with not much difference.
Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield
One of two mazes were able to get substantial photos of at the beginning of the season, Halloween remained a great maze that immersed guests within the world of the movie sequel, but lacked the intensity of opening weekend. Whether by chance (due to breaks and such) or seasonal attrition, there were several spots that lacked actors and left us missing out on scares we had seen the first time. On the other hand, we hit up this maze earlier in the night, which mean the 20 minute wait made this maze infinitely much more enjoyable than opening night.
The maze is repetitive. It's limited in storytelling due to its setting. And it's not necessarily epic. But we still had a great time at The Exorcist this time, especially waiting 40 minutes instead of 2 hours 40 minutes. This was another maze that demonstrated the power of Halloween Horror Nights to sap enjoyment via its wait times, since on our first visit, our extended wait had completely drained any enthusiasm from an otherwise very well executed maze. This time around, our friends, Jenny and Josh, were in front of us and the continued recipients of startle "boo box" scare after startle scare. If you hit the maze at the right time, it can be incredibly jumpy. Besides that, the recreations of scenes remained impressive, with the first encounter with Regan in her bedroom the most immersive. A whirlwind of motion, it really brought the movie to life, even more than the spider walk scene, which was placed in a way where the actual effect was too far away to trigger a visceral reaction. Overall, The Exorcist proved to be a great experience, and its long lines most of the night were a testament to its continued popularity throughout the season.
American Horror Story
This was a tale of two sides to every Halloween maze: looks and talent. On the aesthetic side, American Horror Story remained gorgeous, with its combination of the Murder House, Freak Show, and Hotel seasons. However, the cast was very noticeably light during our walkthrough. Add to the fact that this ended up being our longest wait of the night at 105 minutes, plus our observed terrible line control (sending literally all 60-100 people in the Gate A line continuously in a row after a 45 second line hold pretty much defeats the purpose of attempting the earlier line control), and the overall experience was not as great as it could have been.
Still, AHS recreated its chosen three seasons beautifully. Murder House was unnerving and grueling, while Freak Show recreated numerous iconic scenes from the fourth season of the show. Hotel was thankfully devoid of the literal smell of decay present on opening weekend, and also featured a couple of visually memorable scenes, such as the faceless man crawling out of the bed. Visually, the maze represented what Halloween Horror Nights does best--immersing guests inside a horror movie (or in this case, television show).
Freddy vs Jason
Our first trip through Freddy vs Jason in September was an action packed thrill fest complete with startle scare after startle scare, sometimes in stereo, with plenty of action between two horror movie icons, with guests caught in between. Even though the scares did become repetitive and dulled (even the double team scares became expected, the maze itself was one of the more intense offerings, and the crowds certainly showed it.
On our visit on the last Friday of the season, whether through bad timing or (again) season attrition, the talent seemed more lacking than earlier in the run, which highlighted FvJ's major flaw: its bountiful empty interstitial rooms. Surprisingly for a HHN maze, Freddy vs Jason contained multiple transition spaces that featured pretty much no theming, other than lighting effects. This could be effective under full operation, providing areas of false alarm that made the actual scare that much more jarring and effective. But when they were followed by scenes with minimal talent, they simply exacerbated an already uneventful maze. Though Freddy vs Jason wasn't terrible (indeed, this year, once again, there is no "bad" maez), it was a significant dropoff from our opening night experience.
Fortunately, our favorite maze from opening night maintained its twisted, dark, sinister take on the holiday season. Krampus, patterned after last year's cult hit movie, was sardonically delightful and frightful, and it provided a lot of fun in both the set theming and the scares themselves. Though the "boo box" tactic dominated this maze like it did pretty much all others, the sadistic look at Christmas made Krampus wildly enjoyable. It didn't hurt that Krampus had the average shortest wait of the night, often beating its advertised wait time. There was just something about this maze that seemed more efficiently run than most others. With better grouping (less people between gaps) and lesser waits, Krampus remained our favorite maze of the event.
That does it for the mazes at Halloween Horror Nights. From an overall perspective, the event was well executed with many high profile intellectual properties brought to life in stunning and gorgeous ways. However, our criticisms on the wait times remained valid. Although last week's visit yielded far less wait than our first visit, lines did get long during the middle of the evening, which was a bit surprising considering the fact that it was after Halloween (but also not the surprising, considering the evening functioned as an effective "Haunter's night" for talent in those haunted attractions that had wrapped up by Halloween night.
Overall, our trip proved to be much more enjoyable. Arriving at 7pm, we were able to experience every maze once without Front of Line passes, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre twice. Although we skipped the Terror Tram and never ventured near Jabbawockeez (due to lack of interest), on this particular night, we could have been able to accomplish everything--if we had arrived earlier. Admittedly, though this was an improvement over opening night, it was still a little discouraging to think that within the normal seven hours of the official Horror Nights operating time, after Halloween, one still might not be able to experience all attractions of the event.
Still, we left on a high note, buoyed by the excellent scare zones (a supplemental post will follow this weekend or early next week with some additional photos we took) and happy to not have to wait multiple hours for multiple mazes. At the end of the day, my assessment of Halloween Horror Nights remains mostly the same:
- Thanks to its theming and immersive atmosphere, it's an incredible event for those who have never experienced it before or do not attend regularly.
- It does feature intense but repetitive scares, which can be effective if one is at the front of a pack and receiving the full brunt but not as exciting in the middle of a haunted line.
- The enjoyment of the event is directly proportional to one's wait time.
I'll still attend the event every year, because the quality certainly is tough to beat. But the stress of managing an evening's navigation of all the haunted attractions will always be on my mind--unless I happen to have Front of Line access for the night.
Nonetheless, Halloween Horror Nights was a great way to cap off the season at the same place where our 2016 Halloween season began. We definitely had a better time on the final Friday of the season versus the first. Though expensive, it is a premiere event. Just know that strategy is required to improve the enjoyability of a night.
That concludes our 2016 Halloween Season coverage. Well, almost. As alluded to earlier, we have some extra photos from Horror Night's scare zones that we'll throw into a gallery. Additionally, I might toss in some closing thoughts on the other biggest haunt in town, Knott's Scary Farm, next week, in the form of a love letter to the monsters and talent that bring the event to life. It's something I wrote on last year, but the database corruption and downtime pretty much wiped that content clean, so I feel okay in recycling an update inspiration.
Soon, Christmas will be upon us. In fact, commercially, it already is. But the fog will be here soon enough. So until then, happy hauntings.
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.