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Universal Studios has long been a fixture in the haunted attraction industry with its Halloween Horror Nights. Each year, the designers and artists of the event work hard to bring guests new and frightening experiences and the 2015 incarnation is no different. Featuring six haunted houses, a stage show, and the backlot “Terror Tram” tour, we were very excited when we got our media badges and went into the gates.

Usually, our night starts off at Universal’s Eyegore Awards but the park opted not to have the annual awards show, which celebrates horror throughout the year, this time. Instead, we went onto the red carpet for a smaller, yet equally-enthusiastic, cavalcade of celebrities. Highlights on the red carpet included David Arquette (Scream), Barry Bostwick (Rocky Horror Picture Show), and Brighton Sharbino (The Walking Dead).

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After we finished up on the red carpet, it was time to enter the event actual, coming through the street zone called “Dark Christmas”. This area was incredible with plenty of Krampuses, monstrous elves, and other creatures. The mix of Halloween and Christmas season decor was great, as was the twisted Christmas music playing throughout the zone. Of the park’s street scare zones, Dark Christmas is easily my favorite. I giggled out loud when I saw the heads and arms of children sticking out of the sacks hung over the backs of the Krampuses. Apparently. I have a problem inside my brain.

We knew that the Terror Tram would be one of the first things to get busy as it the line closes around 11pm. So, that would be our first attraction of the night. We walked past a very nice hostess, speaking into a microphone to welcome guests. According to the hostess, the Terror Tram would provide a family-friendly haven for people not wanting to participate in “The Purge” (as in the film from Blumhouse Productions and Universal Pictures). As you can imagine, things end up going bad and guests are hunted by mask-wearing followers of the “New Founding Fathers” wanting to purge. I thought the whole Terror Tram experience worked well this year – although I always wish they would change the layout of the walkways – it is the same every year. The best part about the experience were the victims walking around screaming and asking for help – in some cases, before being butchered.

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After the Terror Tram, we went upstairs to the main park area and got some souvenirs, then it was on to “Halloween: Michael Myers Comes Home”. This was, by far, my favorite haunted house of the night. The impressive exterior of the iconic Myers’ house was actually nothing compared to the incredible set design and construction work on the inside of the house. The whole flow of the maze was smooth and there was plenty of room for characters to work their scares. There were iconic scenes from the film Halloween reconstructed right before our eyes that we got to walk through and I loved the references to Halloween III: Season of the Witch peppered throughout.

We went in search of food after this haunted house, and found it in the form of the park’s French Street Bistro. We each had a Cinnabon cinnamon roll as well as some soda from their light-up collector cups. I also partook in their Cobb salad which had a good amount of chicken in it. Overall, the food was decent – although I am always remiss to find out that the park has no sit-down, full-service restaurants during the event. There are some out in the Universal City Walk but Halloween Horror Nights does not allow for re-admittance should you decide to leave.

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We also got the chance to look around the park’s Springfield area, including the inside of Moe’s Tavern and the Krusty Burger. As a huge fan of The Simpsons, this whole thing was simply fun and incredible. Universal Studios did a great job on recreating the cartoon locations in real life. I also recommend that you pick up a Lard Lad Doughnut while you are visiting. Mmm… Forbidden doughnut…

After we toured Springfield, it was off to the park’s Lower Lot area to go through the five remaining mazes. Yes – ALL five of the mazes are in the lower lot. I wish more of them would have been in the main theme park area as the Lower Lot became quite the traffic jam as the night wore on.

Here’s our rundown of the five remaining haunted houses:

Insidious: Return to the Further

This comes in as my #2 pick of the park’s haunted houses. Insidious: Return to the Further, takes you through various plot points from all three films and has some great design and makeup effects work. The limbo-like dimension known as “The Further” is well-represented and I loved the jump scares throughout this walkthrough experience. They also made use of one very creepy looking actor as one of the sinister specters scaring guests and he does an incredible job of staying in character.

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The Walking Dead: Wolves Not Far

AMC’s The Walking Dead continues on television as does its spin-off series, Fear the Walking Dead. As the show and Halloween Horror Nights have had a symbiotic relationship for years now, it was only natural that they would have yet another maze in this year’s event. The Walking Dead: Wolves Not Far takes guests through various set pieces from this last season of the show – from Terminus to Alexandria. The zombies look great and I give a lot of credit to Boneyard FX for their makeup work this year. While Halloween Horror Nights prosthetic and creature sculpts have always been amazing, the application has sometimes faltered in comparison. Not this year – the makeup crew is on point and giving it their A game.

This is the End 3D

This is my least favorite of the bunch in this year’s Halloween Horror Nights line-up. It feels like an afterthought – as if park designers felt they needed to have a 3D maze and couldn’t figure out a better IP to use. The 3D effect is simply muddy with red and blue paint splattered all over the place with very little artistic sensibility. They are extremely tame in dealing with the film’s overt subject matter (they should have gone big with the raunchy imagery here) and the movie just isn’t relevant anymore. The movie is two years old and not exactly a cult classic. I can think of several choices that would have made for a better maze in this one’s place – 3D not needed: Ash vs Evil Dead, Krampus, Poltergeist, It Follows, etc.

Crimson Peak: Maze of Madness

While Crimson Peak: Maze of Madness is one of the most beautifully-designed haunted houses I have ever seen, with set pieces that seem straight from the trailer for Guillermo Del Toro’s upcoming Crimson Peak film, I was simply lost throughout this experience. I, like most people, have yet to see the movie, which comes out on October 16, 2015. Unfortunately, it also gave me an idea about the movie which might not be correct and could color my view on seeing it at all. Kudos to the set designers and builders on this one though – it really looks amazing.

Alien Vs Predator

I am a big fan of both Alien and Aliens – not so much of the movie Alien vs Predator or its sequel. That being the case, I am also a big fan of practical effects and ADI, the studio behind the alien creature design post-Aliens. It should be noted that Tom Woodruff jr, one of the founders of ADI, worked on Aliens in the creature design and effects department. These guys know practical creature effects. The folks at Universal Studios were given access to the original molds of the creatures for the film. The result is an exceptional array of Alien and Predator puppets that are terrifying in their scale. To actually be next to the “Star Beast” is humbling – as is being up-close to a queen alien puppet! Loved this maze.

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Also appearing at Halloween Horror Nights this year are the Jabbawockeez, an all-male dance crew that won the first season of America’s Best Dance Crew. They have performed at a ton of venues over the years – including an amazing show in Las Vegas. The “Exterminatorz” scare zone shows off humans being eradicated by insects and other things we would consider to be vermin, and has a ton of grotesque props lining the streets. The “Corpz” scare zone is more high concept, with the corpses of fallen World War I soldiers returning home to Paris, and The Purge even has a scare zone. The only thing I really missed was a good Bill & Ted show like the event has had in years past.

Overall, Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights is a terrific, scare-filled time. Your ticket options are a little more limited this year, with the park doing away with the “RIP Tour” package they used to offer. Now you can buy general tickets or front of the line passes (which are worth it, despite being up to $180 dollars). These upgraded tickets will save you A TON of time you would normally spend waiting in line. If a maze has a 90 minute wait, you will get in within 15 minutes – in most cases a lot sooner.

Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights

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Jerry Paxton

A long-time fan and reveler of all things Geek, I am also the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of GamingShogun.com