By Steve Rowin – Co-published on www.Screamscape.com
Universal did a great job this year with the Horror Nights event. Each haunt was unique and had its very own “special” effect. Production quality was outstanding! The only complaint I have and I hope Universal is listening, is Bill and Ted’s show being cut. Boo. Bring it back the people chanted all night long between mazes. Anyway, this year brings some new effects and scare tactics not seen in years past that were notable. As always, if you can do the front of line pass, do it. By 10pm the waits got up to 95 minutes on the primary houses and breezing past that line will make your night a whole lot better.
Scare Zones –
This year we got two brand new themes in the upper lot alleyways. Mask-a-Raid which had a victorian theme, think tall powdered wigs, large ornate dresses, top hats and the haunting drowns of music based on the familiar harpsichord. Pre-Revolutionary France theming, Ballroom dances and gruesome characters really made this stand out as something new. I liked this theme as you don’t see it used in Halloween that often, if ever, until now. The second area on the upper lot was Dark Christmas. In this area we hear all those classic Christmas songs in a very dark, warped rendition. The creatures of Halloween devastate Christmas and I loved the idea. Maybe I’m burned out on my kids watching Nightmare Before Christmas. In addition to these very themed areas the park was crawling with other creepers, notable were the 12 foot tall creatures on the lower lot resembling pagan beasts with horns and horse like faces.
Dusk Till Dawn –
I’ll admit it, I’ve always wanted to go to the Titty Twister. They left that first word off the sign but standing in front of the haunt I could here Cheech rambling off the goods in my head and I’m sure others did too! So this haunt was true to Universals approach to haunted houses based on film franchises. We enter the house at the bar scene, Danny Trejo’s character is behind the bar, and there is a stage graced with the hotness of Selma Heyak’s character dancing on stage, snake and all! The build out of this scene was spectacular and the detail was something to marvel at. If you’ve seen the movie you also know the song that was playing. Some twists and turns and you probably can guess what happens! We enter the same bar scene but this time our beauty on stage has fangs! The vampires in this house were extremely aggressive and their costumes were very very good. We were fortunate that the line pacing was good, meaning as we entered each room nobody else was in there. And for that reason two mature, adult men traded off entering each room. A++++ On the technical side, a technique of amplified screams as actors jumped out with flashing lights made each jump scare more intense and reliable than relying on actors to use their own voice all night. This was my favorite haunt.
Walking Dead –
If you’re a fan of the show you’ll enjoy the details of the sets in this one. The whole maze takes place in the Prison, which I add had real iron doors inside, wow! Unfortunately the pacing on this one was not good on my visit. It was hard for the zombies to scare you with a solid trail of people not really moving through fast enough. Basically not one zombie surprised me. The zombies make up was by all accounts just like the TV show. That’s really Universal’s strength, production quality make up and sets, after all they make movies here. My favorite zombie experience of the night wasn’t in the Walking Dead Maze but rather when we entered the lower lot maze area which is located deep down on the lot in the cityscape sets used for filming. Upon arriving in the area we walk through the dark foggy city and zombies are roaming in the darkness. It was very realistic and what you would imagine a real life “Walking Dead” encounter to be like. The behavior, look and sounds of these zombies was spot on and an impressive experience. Aside from actually being bitten, walking through the tall looming city scape in the dark and fog was frightening and again only possible in this unique space.
Alien vs. Predator –
Good! We enter a crashed spaceship and it’s not long before Aliens are everywhere. One of my favorite effects was the little stingray looking aliens slapping against windows as you walked by them at high velocity. It was loud when they hit the window and they looked aggressive. One of the new elements compared to previous years was the gauntlet effect, that being Alien and Predator each coming at you from both sides at the same time. Pacing was good and the effects over came crowding issues. The finale on this one was a 15 foot tall robotic Alien at the end. And what a high quality animatronic it was in it’s movements and finishes, Awesome!
Slash’s Clowns 3D –
Oh what fun it is to run through a 3D haunted maze. Well we didn’t run but the vibrant fluorescent color and the 3D chromatic spectrum glasses offer a very fun experience. If you’ve never done a 3D maze, the 3D is better than you can imagine. This maze had some gruesome scenes. One notable effect beyond the 3D was the assault on our sense of smell. So you run into the demented clowns hacking people up. But if you’re paying attention you’d notice the smell of peppermint candy canes and the fact that shortly thereafter you see several obese 400 pound people laying in their own throw up, belly’s slashed open with clowns eating pieces of candy out of their vomit. Yuck! It’s about this time that you are overwhelmed with the smell of vomit which was hard to handle. John Murdy (creative director of Horror Nights) you’re a sick bastard and that’s why we love you for this one! Clowns 3D is a journey into a sick and twisted place where we stuff our faces with candy and evil clowns hack us up in a disorientating 3D world!
American Werewolf in London –
The good and the bad. First the bad, I was a bit confused by a few of the characters in this one who looked like Hellraiser characters? Maybe they got lost! Anyway, once deeper into the woods it got bad ass! The wolves are big, much bigger than real wolves. The clever and creative use of puppetry may have gone unnoticed in method to most. As we came across these great big wolves on top of people eating them, the wolves would actually stop eating the person screaming under them, look up at us and follow us with their eyes! This was an awesome effect that we got to see many times. Another great element in this one was the huge animatronic wolves that would jump out. I mean 500 pound wolves popping straight out of the darkness at massive speed! I was truly surprised how far out these things moved out at us, if we didn’t move it would have knocked us down. One of the great scenes was seeing the man transforming into werewolf. It just looked downright real. American Werewolf in London was a real thrill and heart stopping experience!
Dracula Untold Reign of Blood –
They can’t all be great. This haunted house was as close to your neighborhood haunt as it gets at Universal. It was lower budget which isn’t always bad but what disappointed me was the look of the of the vampires. They just didn’t look that great. This maze also lacked the amplified jump scare sound and lights. To put it best, it was old school and just really fell short amongst so many other incredible mazes. La Lorena had far higher production value comparatively, I won’t miss this one.
Face Off –
Located in the now closed “House of Horrors” attraction building, was way better than years past under different names such as “Monsters Remixed” where I once saw a chewbacca jump out at me! Same idea, loud dubstep music, a monster DJ, various monsters. What really stood out was the effort put into creating chilling scenes and environments. Production of props and the quality really brought this maze space up several notches. Unlike Dracula Untold, you could tell this one had a good budget. My favorite standout scene in the Face Off maze was the classic walk through the theater of sitting ghouls, some real, some not, all intimidating!
No Bill and Ted – I really missed ending my night with Bill and Ted. The edgy show just hit you so perfect after a long night a fear and fright. A little delirious, very tired, the awesome production, humor, raunchiness, pop culture just left you feeling so good and happy that we can make fun of pop stars, laugh at things that are funny even if not politically correct and sensitive to everyone’s FEELINGS. So sad it wasn’t a part of Hollywood Horror Nights 2014.
Terror tram – I missed the tram so you’ll have to take in the surprises for yourself!
In summary, Hollywood Horror Nights delivers an insane amount of terror and is a great way to celebrate the halloween season in a way that is uniquely Universal Studios.