Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights 2016: Scare Zones and Closing Thoughts

Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal City, CA

So in our trips to Halloween Horror Nights after opening night, Dan and I (as usual) took more photos, and I figured that we'd be remiss here at Westcoaster, where theme park photography is perhaps out only standout feature, to just keep them locked up on our hard drives forever.  So here are a bunch of photos from the scare zones of Halloween Horror Nights 2016--which basically means Purge, Purge, and more Purge.

The Purge (Upper Lot)

By now, the main park entrance scare zone at Halloween Horror Nights is what you get every year, just with a different thematic overlay.  Fire towers, dancing girls, chainsaw brigades, a couple aggressive and talented stilt walkers, and street scareactors terrorizing guests with intimidation and intensity.  Like Knott's Scary Farm's Ghost Town, though, it has grown in to the place for the atmosphere most commonly associated with this "scare park."  It was great to just spend some time and observe the action and visuals.  Universal always does a great job with this area, and this year's Purge was no exception.

The Purge: Gauntlet of Fear

This area was actually a big hit with a lot of people, blending a maze and scare zone.  Dan and I still thought that the area was just thrown together almost at the last minute, and the fact that they changed the routing after the first weekend on the back end seems to attest to this.  But the scareactors were fun to witness and interact with.  They really brought the unnerving world of The Purge to life, conveying the horror of the faceless brutalizer motivated by crass, psychopathic human emotion (a threat that especially strikes home with a lot of people now, post-election).  I was tough on this "scare zone" on opening night, but the park definitely made some improvements and an experience that was more enjoyabble afterwards--even if the theming was a complete mishmash of things past Horror Nights!

The Purge (Lower Metro Lot)

The tunnel accessway to the Metro Lot doesn't count as a scare zone.  It just... doesn't.  It's really more akin to providing live entertainment in a line.  The actual Purge Scare Zone over by the entrance to the Krampus, Freddy vs Jason, and American Horror Story mazes, however, was its typical short but action packed self.  This was a real gauntlet that guests had to navigate, dodging Purgers coming out of shipping containers and urban ruin, only to encounter an armada of chainsaw-wielding fiends at the end.  And sure, Universal might overuse chainsaws a bit, but I'm biased and love chainsaws at haunted attractions in general, so I love watching the chainsaw gang work.  Although, admittedly on that overuse remark, it certainly seemed that less and less people were scattered by chainsaws this year compared to previous years.  So perhaps they are starting to lose their effect after all.

Overall, Halloween Horror Nights put forth another very strong and fantastic event for 2016.  Immersive environments, top notch theming, and high intensity were on full display.  In fact, the quality of the season probably contributed to its problems, as long and even more protracted lines were a recurring reality for the vast majority of nights at the event.  The park did extend early entry an hour to 5:00pm after the first weekend, effectively providing guests with nine hours of entertainment at the event.  But when you have that much time and still have to stress about being able to see all attractions at least once, there is still an inherent issue.  One that Universal will have to work out through alternate methods of expanding capacity (since lowering the ticket sales limit is highly unlikely to be approved by any money numbers guy at the parks).

One promising sign saw the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter on the final night of Horror Nights operations, "as a test."  Whether this will be a permanent action remains to be seen, but if it's an aspect of operations that can be executed without issues (and if guests also treat the land with respect), I highly encourage it, since it opens up a significant amount of capacity for the parks and provides that much more volume to eat up more lines and relieve maze line congestion.

Another issue we saw across multiple mazes was line control.  Because of its popularity, Halloween Horror Nights always sees its mazes devolve into "haunted conga lines" as guests are sent in one after another in an effort to keep lines going.  However, the park does try to implement some semblance of line control, holding the line at intervals rather than simply let people go in at any time there is an opening.  The method in which this seems to be done, though, seems very haphazard.  Frequently, we would see the regular line held, followed by the entire balance of the Gate A front-of-line entry pushed in.  That would be the order of several dozen people!  Likewise, even with the regular line, the holds might last 30-60 seconds, but then fifty to a hundred people in row would be sent in (we counted).  This effectively nullified the spacing between groups and meant that only the first group of the multi-dozen horde truly benefited from the element of surprise.  Not all mazes were guilty of this--Krampus seemed to always move quickly and still have lesser numbers enter at a time.  But many did seem to engage in this self-defeating style of line control.

Lastly, the method of scaring remains pretty one-dimensional.  I've gone into the issues of ONLY relying on the "boo box" method of scare in many past posts, so I won't delve into it again.  And I did find a couple of instances of maze scareactors using alternate methods of scaring.  But the majority method certainly grew stagnant pretty quickly.

And here is a Spoopy Dan.

So at the end of the day, Halloween Horror Nights is a great event that also requires a lot of patience and planning (unless you go on a Thursday night or some Sundays).  I suppose that is the price of success, but it dose also weigh on enjoyability.  Hopefully, we'll see some better management next year.  Because most everything else is pretty thrilling.

Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.