Halloween Horror Nights is back at Universal Studios Hollywood and it’s a very welcome homecoming. After a long hiatus due to the pandemic, was a tingle-inspiring sight to behold when we went through the turnstiles and saw Universal Studios with crowds excitedly hurrying towards various mazes and scare zones. Below are our thoughts of the event this year and whether or not it’s worth shelling out your hard-earned cash to attend.
There are seven haunted houses or “mazes” at Halloween Horror Nights this year and, without a doubt, the best in the bunch this year is Universal Monsters The Bride of Frankenstein Lives. In this maze, we find the Bride of Frankenstein attempting to resurrect the Frankenstein monster after tragedy has struck. She fights vampires, learns the secrets of the “good” doctor himself and, eventually, resurrects the monster. It tells a fantastic story all while still being scary with plenty of jump scares and theatrical cues. In fact, this is one of the best pseudo-theatrical presentations I have ever seen in a haunted house. Not since Knott’s Scary Farm’s “Lore of the Vampire” maze many years ago has such a thing been attempted – but, this time, it is accomplished in spades. Universal has set a very high bar in this maze! My second favorite mazea of the night (it’s a tie) were Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. These haunted houses each had sets that were masterfully decorated, the monsters/talent were totally in their characters. They even used the scented fog to great effect in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre by pumping out barbeque smell when the scenes depicting the roasting of human victims came around – brilliant. Strangely, The Walking Dead Attraction is open again after being closed early last year. The park is playing it off like it is a full haunted maze but, if you went through it while it was open, it’s basically the same thing. So, it seems like they are sort of phoning it in here. That’s not saying The Walking Dead Attraction isn’t fun or scary at times – it’s just not what I would consider part of the Horror Nights maze lineup. The worst maze of our experience at Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights was The Exorcist. They basically recycled the previous The Exorcist maze from a couple years ago and, while there are a few good scenes replicating some moments from the film, it’s mostly “dead” (no pun intended) space with nothing interesting to look at. I would have rather seen the park recycle the outstanding Ghostbusters maze they had a couple of years ago – but, I digress.
This year, we noticed a reduction of in-your-face monsters in all the mazes, with a reliance on more distanced scares. They are also making sure that all of the monsters within the mazes are wearing face masks. They attempt when possible to work the mask into the character but sometimes it’s obvious. Horror Nights is starting to utilize theatrical scrims to present visions of gruesom terror. These scrims were used in GREAT effect within both the Halloween 4 and The Haunting of Hill House mazes and work by having a perforated sheet painted to look like the scene around it. Behind the scrim is monster or scene in darkness. When that scene is illuminated, the painted area of the scrim sort of fades away, revealing the horror behind it. It’s super cool and a welcome change from the reliance on “Boo Boxes” which has plagued Horror Nights mazes in more recent years.
The very long walk to the mazes on the backlot is gone this year – as are the backlot mazes. All of the mazes take place on the upper and lower lots – with the exception of The Haunting of Hill House and the Curse of Pandora’s Box being backlot adjacent. The walk to those mazes takes guests through the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (which was a welcome thing to have open for Horror Nights) and back behind some of the buildings. It’s a far better walk than the third of a mile walk to the backlot was – especially without the headache inducing “scare zone” with all the dubstep music and strobe lights to contend with. I would love to see Universal Studios keep this layout for next year’s Horror Nights event as well.
The Terror Tram was back this year and themed out in the guise of The Forever Purge. While I love the concept of the Terror Tram, I hope that one year they change their thinking about what the experience is at its core – it’s time for a paradigm shift. There are several other ways that the studio can take this attraction rather than just a hike through the back lot. Aside from this, the Terror Tram is adequate this year, and you could tell that all of the monsters in the back lot were having a great time. It’s a lot of fun to see the backlot from on foot – it’s just that they don’t really change a lot of it from year to year. So, if you’ve been on the Terror Tram once in the past, you have sort of already done it this year.
There are three scare zones at this year’s Halloween Horror Nights: Demon City, Chainsaw Rangers, and Silver Scream Queenz. Demon City utilizes the fire-spouting cargo containers that usually grace the scare zone located in the New York City facade area of the upper lot, and all of the demonic monsters were working the area with gusto. The Chainsaw Rangers are all clearly having fun with their chainsaws but these were never that effective for me. After a while, guests sort of become desensitized to the noise and smell of the chainsaws. However, the talent was still working hard on their scares. The best of the scare zones this year was the Silver Scream Queenz area located outside the exit of The Bride of Frankenstein Lives. This scare zone featured all manner of femal Universal Monsters and they were bringing their A game this year. Not only are the characters varied and all feature great costumes, makeup, and masks but they all have their own “gigs” to make use of.
The food and merchandise options were incredible this year – with all kinds of items being sold. At the park’s lower lot, you could find a BBQ stand themed like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre while in Hogsmeade you could take a seat at the Three Broomsticks for a tasty dinner to regroup and enjoy some butterbeer. At the various shops, you could find Horror Nights branded shirts, masks, magnets, pins, and a whole lot more. I was hard-pressed to walk out of any of the stores without buying something.
Overall, Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights is back for 2021 and provides guests with an outstanding, scary time. Between The Bride of Frankenstein Lives, Silver Scream Queenz scare zone, and the increased themed food and merchandise opportunities – not to mention all the other good mazes and scare zones – you and yours will have a blast. Tickets for Halloween Horror Nights are available now and retail between $69 and $99 dollars – however, they offer an experess pass which allows you to go to the front of the line for each attraction once for $209 to $299 depending on the evening you go. With the lines I saw waiting in the general queues, this option might not be a bad idea – despite its increased ticket price. The park has also begun running its R.I.P. Tours again and those tickets go from $299 to $499 a person depending on the evening. You can check out the park’s official event website for more details.