UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOLLYWOOD
Universal Studios Theme Parks
Halloween Horror Nights 2015
at Universal Studios Hollywood
- Review by Steve Rowin
Universal Studios in Hollywood has put together some seriously scary Haunts for 2015
It’s time to get the inside scoop on the Universal Studio Halloween Horror Nights. This year at the Hollywood park there are 6 haunted mazes, one show, several scare zones and the tram tour. We decided to head straight down to the lower lot and tackle everything down there then make our way up to the top lot. As it turns out 5 out of the 6 haunts were on the lower level this year leaving only 1 on top with the tram tour and scare zones.
If you've never been to this event, in brief summary, Universal puts together haunted attractions based on a celebrity, TV / movie franchises or in some cases their own concepts. This year all the haunts were based on movies. The unique strength that Universal has over other Haunted attractions is and always has been scenic design. I don't know for sure but I suspect that the workers union on the lot produces all the lighting, sound and scenic. These are the same people that create the actual sets for the movies that these mazes are based on. What you end up with is stunning detail. From a pure visual design aspect these haunts are epic! That being said, some of the best and scariest haunts don't usually achieve such scenic detail.
This year we had some new and returning themed haunts. Surprisingly one of my favorites, Insidious, was a returning maze that previously failed to impress me. For the past few years there have been a lot of Zombies from the Walking Dead and while there was a Walking Dead haunt this year, everyone was definitely ready for the Purge. In this case they Purged the Walking Dead from the tram tour!
The Purge was featured in two spots, as the Terror Tram tour and also at the lower lot secondary tram drop point. At first I thought the secondary drop point was the “Purge” but it turns out the main Purge experience was near the Bates Motel. If you haven't seen the movie, the Purge is a few years in the future and it is one day when anyone can kill without being charged or punished. The less intelligent people get killed off and as a result crime is down to nearly zero. Some of the fun details of The Purge experience included taking a tram to a party on Purge night. Upon arriving there isn’t so much of a party as there are people Purging! We walk up along the Bates motel and through the War of the worlds set which worked great for the Purge. There were bodies hanging in front of houses, red lights and the warning siren blasting across the area. Several houses had the flowers in front of them showing support for Purge night. Sadly, had this really been purge night we wouldn't have been bound to not fight back. We were shuffled through like lame ducks when in reality I would have taken almost all of these jokers out with their own weapons! (Editor’s Note: Down Steve! Down!)
This is the End 3D - I had high hopes for this one being a fan of the movie.
The front entrance was spectacularly done. I did enjoy some recognizable visuals in this attraction, like Jonah Hill in his demon state tied to the bed. When we enter the house all hell has already been unleashed. I would have like to have entered the house in it's normal party scene then progressed into darkness for a little more immersiveness. This house was a 3D based haunt but the 3D effects were really disappointing. I’ll say most 3D haunts are disappointing, however the Slash 3D clown maze last year blew the roof off. So with that fresh in my mind from last year, “This is the End” 3D effects just weren't up to par. Almost as if 3D was an afterthought to keep production cost down. The demon jumping out at various points was the main scare tactic in this one. He was a little demon though not a big one like at the end of the film. I was bigger than him so… yeah. It would have been great to include the funny part about the demon as a final room! With a few other memorable scenes from the movie included in the maze I think this could have been better with some stronger actors and better 3D effects.
Crimson Peak - I didn’t really get scared in Crimson Peak.
I expected it to be a lot spookier based on the trailer. Since the movie hasn't been released we didn't have a reference to any characters or the visuals. What I can say about this particular haunt is that the details were spectacular! I got a few pics showing this room with wood work that was spot on with reality. Hopefully Crimson Peak will return in the future and knock it out of the park like Insidious did this year! More Actors!
Insidious - One of my top three this year.
Wow action packed with cool stuff! The old lady character is really creepy and the setup for her being presented in various parts of the haunt are great! I love a section of the haunt that consisted of being in a hallway that disappears around you revealing a larger space full of scary stuff! Some family photos in the house were shocking to say the least. And over all the detail and amount of stuff was over the top. It felt thick with actors, scares and effects. I always get a sense that two of the attractions each year seem to have larger budgets. Insidious clearly was one of the two this year that was executed from A to Z with perfection. The second I walked out of the haunt I said “I want to do that again!” A+ to the actors, creative and design teams on this one.
Alien vs. Predator - Again.
This was a redo from previous years and honestly I had trouble picking out the new stuff. I recognized all the elements from the big spaceship crash to the aliens in tall glass jars. While I confess I’m not really an uber fan of either of the movies, I suppose if you are this is a cool thing. Like last time the best element of this one is the Alien vs. Predator encounters. Although last time they seemed more intense for some reason. the big finale was the finale and my favorite part, a massive alien scene.
The Walking Dead - Totally different.
One of my top 3, This year we’ve gotten out of the prison that was used in the previous two versions of this haunt and on to new things. In step with the television show we experience the Terminus compound. What I liked about this year's version was it felt big. We went through several recognizable areas as seen in the show. The zombies were spot on as always and the scares were more organic in the spacious warehouse environment. Standing out was some seriously nasty smells, walkers stink! The energy level was good and it was my 3rd place winner.
Halloween - Murdy was excited at ScareLA and he delivered!
Located on the upper lot, just looking at Mike Myers house was a treat. As seen the use of video screens to animate the a scene in the window was a new twist. Inside it only got better! This my friends was a great haunt! I’m conflicted about calling it my #2 because in all honesty it was just as EPIC as Insidious. I had to give Insidious #1 because I actually got scared and jumped at one point and the vanishing hallway was over the top design work. That said, Halloween was awesome! This again smelled like a big budget haunt, great detail, big full sets, lots of actors, special effects, the whole 9 yards! In this one there are two characters dressed as trick or treaters in a spot that is the front porch of a house. They are wearing the masks from Halloween 3 which was awesome but even more so one of them was no taller than 3 ½ feet. I presume that it was an adult in the costume at the height of my 4 year old. Bravo! Loved that. Just past those two is a tv with the silver shamrock logo flickering on and off, another reference to the third movie. We get Michael wearing the sheet with the glasses on, we get him with the mask in between the blowing sheets that we must pass through, which was great because you know he’s in there but you don’t know when or where! The finale for the maze was the very best final room in all the haunts. Mike and Mirrors.
Overall I have to say this opening night seemed less intense than last year with regard to the actors. Last year I gave Universal high regard for really bringing it on the actor intensity but this year they all could use a few energy shots! Easy fix and I presume they’ll crank it up as they get into the prime of the season. This very well could have been a result of using the light and sound scare system in fewer haunts. For those who don’t know what that is; at various points actors can trigger a very loud scream through a speaker with a bright light as they jump out. Last year it was used a lot and really worked great because there is no way a person can scream and jump for hours on end. As a matter of fact some other attractions outside of Universal really suffered from actor fatigue. It worked well to keep every scare at 11 intensity all night, every day, for every guest. It should be noted it wasn’t used in my top 3 picks this year but could have helped the others.
I’ll leave the scare zones to experience for yourself this time around! I also missed the Jabbawockeez hip hop dance troupe. Overall, get out to Halloween Horror Nights and get a Front of Line Pass if you can it's a blast!