The spooky season is upon us and it is time once again to review Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. Located in beautiful Hollywood, CA the Halloween Horror Nights event has long been lauded as a must-see haunted attraction in Southern California. How does 2019 stack up to previous years? Read on to find out more!
Universal Studios is, as the name suggests, a studio. So, it is no surprise that once again that the haunted houses (or “maze”) offerings at Halloween Horror Nights are based on a movie or television program. The top maze of 2019 is, hands-down, Ghostbusters. Based on the 1984 Ivan Reitman film of the same name, Ghostbusters takes guests through various scenes from the film. From the fire station all the way to Dana Barrett’s Central Park apartment building. This haunted house isn’t scary in the traditional sense but does an outstanding job of bringing the laughs and scares of the movie to life (or unlife). I especially loved the use of projection mapping to create proton pack beams along the walls of various scenes.
The next best haunted house in the bunch has to be Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Taking various scenes from the cult-classic film, Killer Klowns is scary and fun, with lots of carnival fog scents to go around. It was such a good maze that it made me want to rush home and watch the movie again – it’s been way too long since I got the chance to view it.
Unfortunately, instead of taking the Terror Tram in a new direction this year – or – just running evening studio tour trams, the event designers have opted for it to be entirely dark. I would have rather seen them utilize the tour trams as transport to take guests the quarter of a mile (one way) journey from the lower lot to the back lot. Speaking of the quarter mile walk to the backlot, the park needs to do something with The Toxic Tunnel. It’s like a psychedelic nightmare from which you can’t escape – and not in a good way. I walked out of the tunnel feeling overstimulated and not-scared at all. It’s simply headache-inducing and it needs to go.
Also, it seems like Halloween Horror Nights designers still just can’t get enough of empty black hallways, empty black switchbacks, and “boo boxes”. With the budget and design power of Horror Nights, I expect more creativity from them and this has become a trope of their own making. I fondly remember the days when these tropes were nowhere to be found at Halloween Horror Nights mazes and I hope they move away from them in 2020.
Over in the backlot, you can walk though All Hallow’s Evil, an outstanding maze/street zone hybrid (with no roof allowing ample air flow) with amazing characters and props. This was probably my second favorite thing to experience in my entire evening at Horror Nights. There is so much breathing room that I wish Universal would consider adding more of these maze/street zone hybrids.
My third favorite maze in the Horror Nights lineup is Creepshow. Taking scenes from the 1982 George A. Romero/Stephen King film, the maze integrated some elements from the upcoming Shudder streaming service TV series. Seeing Tom Savini’s “Fluffy” creature from Creepshow segment “The Crate” come to life before my eyes was an absolute treat.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man left me with an interesting mix of feelings. On one hand, I LOVE classic Universal Monsters and the 1943 film this maze is based on. However, the narrative of the Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man haunted house seems to go in different directions. The maze introduces Frankenstein very quickly while, in the film, he doesn’t present himself until chipped out of a frozen cellar by the Wolf Man. Also, because many guests have not seen this film, some of the people we spoke with outside the maze seemed ambivalent about the whole thing.
Jordan Peele’s Us does an outstanding job of taking guests through some of the scenes from the acclaimed film. It is creepy, visceral, and has some terrific music and audio cues. Also, the “Red” masks worn by some of the actors are super creepy with their bulging eyes.
House of 1000 Corpses has returned to Halloween Horror Nights and, in honor of the late Sid Haig, I wanted to be sure and mention it in this piece. Universal Studios has done a great job with the maze and fans of the franchise will be sure to notice a ton of easter eggs scattered throughout. The maze starts out with guests entering The Museum of Monsters & Madmen and then into the Firefly house (and eventually below it). The costumes are terrific and the masks featuring character’s faces from the film are very realistic. It’s also a real treat to hear Haig’s laugh throughout the maze. Rest in Peace, Sid.
Stranger Things is back, unfortunately, with an afterthought of a maze from event designers. The maze covers various scenes from both season 2 and 3 of the Netflix series. However, it doesn’t cover them very well, leaving me confused as to why they didn’t focus more on the kids or Eleven and her battle with the Mind Flayer or even the epic chase between the Mind Flayer and the kids or the Russian connection with Hopper and Joyce. The maze misses so many beats and feels like a rehash of last year’s maze without the cohesive narrative and most of the actors. Couple this with an over-reliance on the Horror Nights boo boxes and I would not recommend bending over backwards to wait a long time in line for this one.
Universal Studios is offering various ticket packages for Horror Nights – including their R.I.P. Tour package. We did not get to experience this high end ticket, but hear it features special dining and a private tour. As far as dining goes, the event does have numerous snack kiosks setup around the studio as well as the regular theme park food stops. I still think Universal Studios needs an in-park, full restaurant – perhaps one built on a second floor, allowing guests to overlook the scares below, but I digress…
Here’s part one of our Horror Nights vLog series (you can find the others on our YouTube channel):
Overall, Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights 2019 is a fun, energetic haunted attraction with average to very good haunted houses. Losing the studio tour tram (as a haunted attraction or evening tour) is a big loss to the event. However, there is still a lot of production value in most of the new mazes for 2019 and they are well worth the price of admission. The wait times can get pretty long if you don’t upgrade your ticket to the express/front of the line option, so just keep that in mind.