Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights 2017: Mazes Review

Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal City, CA

Brace yourselves, folks.  Haunted maze photos are coming.  Today, we take a look at the mazes of this year's Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood.  This year, the total line-up tallied eight mazes in all--the most Horror Nights has ever featured.  With old and new IP's featured, plus the inclusion of the year-round Walking Dead Attraction, there were plenty of choices available.  An extra maze also helped with event capacity, helping absorb crowds that might have otherwise added to the waits of the rest.  Lets check out what this year's line-up was like!

DISCLAIMER: As usual with these haunted event reviews, the photos below do contain simulated gore and may not be suitable for more sensitive viewers.  This update is definitely NSFW because of that, so discretion should be executed.

Titans of Terror

I'll admit it.  When this maze was announced, I pretty much rolled my eyes, disappointed that they were recycling Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface into yet another maze, especially so soon after they had recently headlined Horror Nights events with their own distinct mazes.  Sure, Universal had never had these three horror legends within the same attraction, but the whole thing felt kind of lazy and uninspired.

Boy was I wrong.  Although the maze did feature familiar roles and scenes, the execution and storytelling was the surprise of the night for me.  Guests were ushered into the home of a villain super fan who collected memorabilia from his favorite horror icons.  It seemed that this kid dreamed of becoming a titan of terror, as evidenced by his idolatry.  Conveniently, the bad guys seemed to appreciate this fervor, as his dreams slip into the realities of Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface, culminating in an intense conflict involving all three legends.  Come to think of it, this feels very much like the storyline of the Decayed Brigade slider shows at Midsummer Scream and Scare. L.A.  Hmmm...

Joking aside, the details and theming of this upper lot maze really were adorable.  Just the house facade and first room sold me, and the maze ended up a sort of loving tribute to the characters who have built such reputations on the silver screen over the years.  It didn't hurt that the talent was energetic and dedicated to their positions as well.  And thus, this ended up being one of my favorite mazes of the night!

The Walking Dead Attraction

High praise could not be said for The Walking Dead, unfortunately.  Last year, during Halloween season, Universal reportedly doubled the talent pool of this attraction from its daytime numbers, and though the maze certainly didn't approach the quality startles of the seasonal, specialty mazes, it wasn't as terrible as the traditional year-round mazes in the House of Horrors had performed.

This year, however, things seemed to take a step backward, as the talent was relatively scarce, leaving guests to walk through a set they had already seen previously, without much payoff or thrills.  I would venture that the addition of an eighth maze for the event meant the overall scareactor pool was diluted, and The Walking Dead seemed to be a logical place to cut back, so that the new mazes could benefit.

The Horrors of Blumhouse

Another maze that seemed to be a recycled job, this upper lot maze was likewise a surprise, as the energy and interactions of the talent made The Horrors of Blumhouse far more enjoyable than I expected.  Story-wise, it was pretty much a repackaging of all of Horror Nights' previous Blumhouse attractions, from an opening third that emulated last year's Purge Gauntlet scare zone Sinister.  The use of an upcoming film with which audiences were unlikely to be familiar seemed to be purely a marketing move, but given the way Horror Nights does maze scares, it didn't really impact the experience.  Misdirection-startle scares were still executed in the same manner.  And the killer Teletubbies (I defy you to tell me otherwise) provided an adorably entertaining series of scares.  The talent timing was on point when I went through, which certainly helped elevate its standing.

Insidious: Into the Further

Scares-wise, Insidious performed the best out of all the mazes I observed on opening night.  It also proved to be unexpected the most popular maze of the night, frequently building up queues 25-50% longer than other mazes.  This seems like a trend with the mazes located by the Jurassic Park area.  They typically end up being the popular mazes of the event.  But I'd like to think that the scareactors and theming had to do with things too.

The maze itself elicited plenty of screams both in front of and behind me throughout its course.  The dark setting meant photos were rather difficult to come by, but it also provided misdirection and further uncertainty, enhancing the unease of the maze.  Once again, a "recycled" maze not only exceeded my expectations but performed well enough to be one of my favorites.

The Shining

Of all the mazes at Halloween Horror Nights, this was the one I was looking forward to the most.  Occupying the same location behind the Mummy roller coaster that The Exorcist held last year (also my most anticipated last year), this longtime sought-after IP was heavily discussed at Midsummer Scream.  Creative Director, John Murdy and Art Director, Chris Williams eagerly shared the lengths to which they would be bringing the story and The Overlook to life in this maze.

Perhaps this starts to establish a trend of expectations versus results, but The Shining ended up being slightly disappointing for me--at least the first time through.  Though the early timing could have played a factor (I went through during the 5:00 hour to take advantage of the early entry perks), the maze seemed a little sluggish and devoid of action compared to others.  The scares didn't seem as frequent, and the maze mimicked the slow build of the famous movie.

A second trip through later at night improved my perception, though, as the activity and pace seemed to have picked up.  I was also able to soak in some of the detailing, which upped my appreciation.  From the carpeting to the portraits to the props, there was a lot of nods to the legendary Stanley Kubrick film and its art design.

If there was a bit of a letdown for me, however, it was the repeated use of projection effects through more of the maze than normal.  I understand that this was the easiest way to accomplish many of the effects, but I've always believed that projections should be used sparing to enhance physical theming, not substitute it.  For me, the impacts of some of the film's iconic scenes were lessened by the fact that they were video-based rather than something more tangible.

Nevertheless, The Shining was not by any means a poor maze.  I just had high hopes that were met in some ways but slightly undercut in others.  (Also, warning: this maze does contain use of foul odors.)

American Horror Story: Roanoke

Last year, in the same site on the Metro Lots, Universal crammed three American Horror Stories into once maze.  This year, they let things breathe, focusing on the Roanoke season of the popular hit show.  The maze thus provided a faithful recreation of notable moments from the plot, and a soundtrack pretty much explained the happenings as guests went through (if they noticed it).  With the repetitive nature of the scares, however, this maze ended up being middling--solid to be sure, but not particularly memorable. 

Saw: The Games of Jigsaw

If there was a maze that rehashed previous versions of itself, it was definitely Saw: The Games of Jigsaw.  Universal has done Saw at Halloween Horror Nights numerous times, and they pretty much put the most eye-popping scenes of each into one maze here.  And still, despite the repeat nature of the maze, it was one of the most popular of opening weekend, at least in terms of wait times.  Perhaps its location at the back of the Metro lots area was conducive to this, or perhaps there are just that many Saw fans out there.  In any case, I thought this maze provided a beautiful set of scenes to photograph or observe.  Scare-wise, it was unfortunately a little sub-par.

Ash vs Evil Dead

Finally, the third of the three Metro Lot mazes was a nifty delight.  Taking on the sarcastic nature of the franchise, Ash vs Evil Dead provided a fun, sardonic experience that brought some fresh air to the usual "all intensity all the time" feel of the vast majority of Horror Nights mazes.  There were moments of humor, and the maze and actors certainly didn't take themselves too seriously, which resulted in good, old-fashioned enjoyability.  Even if someone wasn't scared, he or she could be entertained by the dubbed dialogue and banter.  Plus, visits to Ash's teenage years home and the climactic confrontation with Henrietta provided some pretty great moments for fans of the show.

Overall, the mazes seemed pretty competitive in quality.  There wasn't really a number one "can't miss" maze this year.  Depending on who you spoke to, it might be Titans of Terror, or The Shining, or Ash vs Evil Dead, or Blumhouse.  If wait times were any indication, Insidious and Saw would be king.  Certainly, there were noticeable flaws, as I've pointed out.  But on the whole, the mazes this year felt balanced, with no obvious weak links except for The Walking Dead.

I've beaten the issue of repetitive maze scares enough already, so I won't cover that again.  It ultimately comes down to what you value when it comes to a haunted house maze.  For many, the scare reigns supreme, but for others, the theming and storytelling and recreation of iconic scenes holds weight.  Universal is most definitely tops when it comes to immersing guests into the world of horror, and aesthetically, these mazes were top notch.  In the ones where I had the luxury of passing through twice, I noticed more detail and nuances that seemed designed as a nod to the hardcore fans of the maze's franchise--easter eggs of sorts for guests to find and enjoy.  So even if I never really received any scares in the mazes, I certainly appreciated the effort and craftsmanship that went into them.

We'll wrap up our Horror Nights coverage this week with a look at the scare zones and Terror Tram.  In other haunted attraction news, Halloween season continues this weekend with the start of Knott's Scary Farm and The 17th Door.  Check them out if you can, and see other activities for the season at our SoCal Haunted Attractions Guide for this year!  There are plenty of fun, spooky events to sate your Halloween fix, and it's a blessing to live in a part of the country where the selection is so vast!


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