Review: Halloween Horror Nights 2010 at Universal Studios Hollywood through an Orlando resident’s eyes

in Entertainment, Movies, Theme Parks

Over the past twenty years, Halloween Horror Nights has grown become the biggest and most highly-anticipated event in Orlando, taking place each year at the Universal Orlando Resort. But the original Universal Studios in Hollywood, California also offers a younger version of the event by the same name. While I have attended the Orlando (and original) Halloween Horror Nights for many years, 2010 became my first trip into the haunts of Hollywood.

This was the perfect year to take on both coasts’ events. In Orlando, Halloween Horror Nights XX has brought us a 100% original event, basing none of their haunted houses, scare zones, or characters on outside intellectual property, instead opting to create them all in-house. In Hollywood, however, creative director John Murdy told me in a recent interview that he always intends to bring movies to life as part of the Horror Nights haunted houses. It is Hollywood, after all.

So while the Orlando and Hollywood versions of Halloween Horror Nights share the same name, have haunted houses and scare zones, and each feature the popular Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure show, the similarities end there. They are two entirely different events, under entirely different creative direction, and each have their own style of entertainment. As such, my goal with the following event review is not to compare and contrast Orlando versus Hollywood, but rather offer my opinion on how well the Hollywood event works for me, a seasoned regular of the Orlando event. Throughout the review below, I will make some references to how one event differs from the other, but I can’t say that one is necessarily better. I have been thoroughly entertained by both in 2010 – and largely for different reasons. With that out of the way, let’s get on with it…

The Rules

As with my review of Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 2010, I will be rating Hollywood’s haunted houses not using a numerical scale, but rather ranking them into one or more categories: Screamer (scare-filled), Gut Buster (comedy-packed), Eye Popper (visually-stunning), and/or Mind Blower (overall best in show). In the case of a complete dud, it’s a Grave Digger (as in, it has dug its own grave).

Halloween Horror Nights 2010 Haunted Houses

Orlando has a luxury of space. Universal Studios Hollywood, the theme park, is attached to the real Universal Studios movie studio, which has existed in the Hollywood hills for decades. As such, it is a challenge for their Halloween Horror Nights designers to find sufficient space to construct a great haunted house. They’ve mostly utilized existing attraction queues and have plans to expand further in the future, but since the park is smaller overall, space is rather tight within the haunted houses. The result is often a more personal experience with the “scareactors” that haunt the mazes. After initially bursting into scenes, I found actors lingering around guests flowing through the maze, sometimes even following them for a few steps. It is a welcome difference from the many quick startle-scares that seem to fill the houses of Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights this year. Both are effective at scaring, but my personal preference is the former.

A Nightmare on Elm Street: Never Sleep Again

A Nightmare on Elm Street - Never Sleep Again haunted house

RANKING: Screamer, Eye Popper, Mind Blower

REVIEW: Out of the 24 haunted mazes I have visited in 2010 (at Universal Orlando, Universal Hollywood, and Knott’s Scary Farm), this house is the only one that truly scared me. In fact, I believe it is the first haunted house that has really, truly scared me in years. While walking through the world of Freddy Krueger, based on the newest film in the Elm Street series, I experienced three solid scares, one of which actually caused me to audibly exclaim some sort of yelp. I am rarely even startled inside haunted houses and absolutely never scream or even make a sound. But somehow one of the many Freddy’s in this house induced me to involuntarily let out some sort of incoherent vocalization. I left this maze with my heart beating fast and reminded of how much I love Halloween events. Bravo.

A second trip through later in the night provided less scares, as I knew what to expect, but more time for me to enjoy the elements present in the maze. Like many of the mazes in Hollywood, this house features clever double misdirection, where guests’ attention is drawn to one actor or visual element, then to another that fools them into thinking the scare is over, only to find that the real scare is still on the way. One example: The famous A Nightmare on Elm Street tub scene is replicated in silhouette, with Freddy’s claw reaching up from underneath the water between Nancy’s legs. Suddenly Freddy appears from the shoulders up through a bathroom mirror, staring guests down. While that offers a slight startle, the big scare happens as guests approach the mirror and that Freddy vanishes, replaced by a full-bodied Freddy bursting through the bathroom wall to the right. It’s just one of many wonderful moments in this maze.

Universal Orlando created a house based on A Nightmare on Elm Street in 2007 that was a visually-memorable trip through classic scenes from the Elm Street series of films. This is where I noticed a key difference between the Halloween Horror Nights styles on both coasts that applies to the event overall. Orlando’s team creates completely believable environments that are rivaled by none, each scene filled with enough detail and atmosphere to truly place guests into the worlds they are creating. The focus of Hollywood’s event appeared to me to be the scares over the atmosphere. While the environments are quite detailed, I found my eyes drawn to the scares and actors more often than the props and scenes, whereas the opposite is often true in Orlando.

As such, I also found the masks worn by many of Hollywood’s actors to be of higher quality than those seen in Orlando. When the Freddy’s popped out in the Orlando 2007 house, I saw loose-fitting masks that always reminded me I was looking at an actor in a Freddy costume. But in Hollywood, I was seeing Freddy Krueger himself in every room – not actors. The form-fitting, highly-detailed masks are impressive and provide a consistent look for each actor. Throughout the event’s mazes and scare zones, I saw an abundance of high-quality masks used for scareactors in Hollywood, whereas many more of the actors in Orlando sport make-up and prosthetics rather than masks. In general, I’m not praising one over the other. Both are effective and each play up the strong points of the creative teams involved. But in the case of Freddy Krueger, it was easier for me to suspend disbelief in the Hollywood house than it was back in 2007 in Orlando.

(Didn’t I say I wasn’t going to compare/contrast Orlando and Hollywood? Whoops.)

Friday the 13th: Killl, Jason, Kill!

Friday the 13th - Kill, Jason Kill! haunted house

RANKING: Screamer

REVIEW: This house is based off of the most recent Friday the 13th film, which I did not care for. Fortunately, the maze is far better than the film itself. The highlight of this maze is the large machete that a variety of Jasons wield with deadly accuracy. I found myself genuinely concerned as Jason wildly swung the large knife all around him. The blade always seemed dangerously close – and I’m sure that was the point. While I did enjoy the Friday the 13th maze that Universal Orlando featured in 2007 more due to its highly-believeable environments, I once again found myself more scared in this house than I normally do in Orlando. The actors portraying Jason always made me forget that they were actors, often coming at me with great speed from across the room, one even brushing against my shoulder. While I knew I was perfectly safe, I didn’t always feel that way, which is exactly the way I should feel when wandering through a haunted house.

Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses in 3D ZombieVision!

Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses haunted house

RANKING: Eye Popper, Gut Buster

REVIEW: I am a fan of Rob Zombie’s film, House of 1,000 Corpses, which this maze is based on. In fact, this new house is one of the reasons I decided to head to California to experience the Hollywood version of Halloween Horror Nights. I found the experience to be fun, mostly light hearted, and occasionally disturbing. And that’s exactly how I would describe the film as well. I was disappointed that the house didn’t offer the same intensity toward the end as the film’s finals scenes do, but overall I did feel as if I had stepped into the insane world dreamed up by Zombie. The masks worn by the scareactors playing Captain Spaulding were often so believable that I felt like I was staring actor Sid Haig in the face. Moments featuring Tiny, Baby, and Otis really brought the film to life, with each character’s personalities shining through in the scareactors’ performances. And of course, the biggest scare I received in this house was courtesy of Dr. Satan, by way of misdirection. The house also effectively offers 3D, by using the common bright and vibrant 3D haunted house colors sparingly and only for specific moments. I’m not sure the 3D is necessary, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

Saw: Game On

Saw: Game On haunted house

RANKING: Eye Popper

REVIEW: When Universal Orlando offered a Saw-based haunted house last year, I had not seen any of the films in the series, so I was largely confused as I wandered through. Since then, I watched all six and am greatly looking forward to seeing the upcoming seventh film, Saw 3D. So I was excited to once again step into the world of Jigsaw, this time knowing what was going on around me. Saw: Game On doesn’t even try to offer a coherent experience. Instead, it provides a “best of” the Saw films, showing off many of the most memorable traps. Having now seen the films, I instantly recognized each scene I walked through and found it amusing, in a sick sort of way, to watch the torture unfold in front of me. It is also a nice touch to come across each trap in an increasingly later stage. In the beginning of the house, victims seem to be just beginning their struggle with their traps. By the final scenes, many are about to fail and lose their lives in gruesome fashion. And one last unexpected scare offers a fantastic exclamation point to the maze.

I didn’t find any of the scenes to be particularly scary, but I was shocked by what the Hollywood version of Halloween Horror Nights could get away with versus the Orlando event. I don’t remember any scenes in the Orlando event being particularly gory or revealing, whereas each scene of this maze in Hollywood puts guests up close and personal with the traps, their victims, and the nastiness that comes with them. In one scene straight out of a Saw film, a frozen fully-nude woman hangs, acting as a distraction for a shivering scareactor to come bursting through the opposite wall, all while guests are being sprayed with ice cold water. It’s a sensory overload that produces and effective haunted house scene that I don’t think could be replicated in the Orlando environment. Universal Studios Hollywood often seems to put on a more “adult” event than Orlando.

Vampyre: Castle of the Undead

House of Horrors - Vampyre, Castle of the Undead

RANKING: Grave Digger

REVIEW: This house is entirely unique, but not necessarily in a good way. The House of Horrors is a year-round haunted attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood. It gives day guests to the theme park a chance to sample an elaborate, multi-level haunted maze with some fun scenes and a few light scares. But it is a “day” version of a haunted house, directed at average guests. For Halloween Horror Nights, new characters/actors are added to the maze. This year, they are female vampires. But in the end, it’s still the same old House of Horrors. Don’t get me wrong. I would love to have the House of Horrors as an attraction in Orlando, giving me a Halloween fix for the rest of the year. It’s perfectly good for that. But when everything is ramped up during Halloween Horror Nights, this maze suffers as the weakest. It’s entertaining, but I’d rather make repeat visits to the other four.

Halloween Horror Nights 2010 Scare Zones and Street Entertainment

First, enjoy this video summary of all six scare zones, plus a look at the Halloween Horror Nights entrance entertainment that includes a unique Freddy statue and the popular Freddy’s Fly Girls:

Entrance / Freddy’s Fly Girls

Universal Studios Hollywood entrance area with Freddy's Fly Girls

RANKING: Eye Popper, Gut Buster

REVIEW: Immediately after entering the turnstiles into Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, guest are overwhelmed with entertainment. Unlike in Orlando, where the first scare zone is often located a few hundred feet down the road, Halloween begins immediately upon entering the park in Hollywood.

It all starts with the living statue at the front. This statue appears to be a large tribute to filmmakers, but actually hides a live actor who suddenly moves from time to time. The actor’s make-up, costume, and ability to stand completely still all add to its believability. The living statue is part of the daily entertainment at Universal Studios Hollywood, but during Halloween Horror Nights, he also dons a Freddy costume and does a great job at scaring unsuspecting guests nearby.

Freddy living statue

Just behind that often-hilarious moment resides the ultimate in Horror Nights sex appeal that goes far beyond what can be shown off in Orlando. Freddy’s Fly Girls are what you get if you cross Freddy Krueger with an exotic dancer. Short shorts and ripped shirts leave little, but just enough, to the imagination as these cage dancers show off just how flexible they are.

Freddy's Fly Girls

Freddy's Fly Girls

Of course, Universal photographers are on-hand to take pictures of anyone who wants a photo with the girls. How could I possibly say no?

But before you think I’m just a typical guy wanting a photo with a pretty girl (well, yeah), you should know that as many, if not more, girls wanted photos with Freddy’s Fly Girls as well:

Freddy's Fly Girls

“Nightmarez” scare zone

Nightmarez scare zone

RANKING: Screamer

REVIEW: Anyone lingering too close to Freddy’s Fly Girls might find themselves victims of the Nightmarez scare zone, which exists immediately past the girls. Guests feeling relaxed by the girls’ hypnotic dancing are in for a shock as they’re met with a troop of chainsaw-weilding fiends intent on scaring every person who enters the park. This is the only way into the event, so all who attend must pass through this zone and face the chainsaws. And those who manage to avoid the chainsaws are likely to be stalked by the sliding creatures, who use special kneepads and gloves to spark their way across the ground, stopping just short of collision with screaming guests. Unlike in Orlando, there are no safe zones in the streets here. Whether you’re walking on a sidewalk, browsing store windows, headed toward a bathroom, or buying food from a cart, you might be their next victim.

“Klownz” scare zone

Klownz scare zone

RANKING: Gut Buster, Screamer

REVIEW: Universal Studios Hollywood has managed to pull off what no other Halloween event I’ve attended has been able to: a scare zone filled with “evil” clowns that are NOT annoying! It’s entirely too common for a group of actors to be painted as clowns and let free to roam the streets, honking and laughing at guests to no end. It’s not scary. It’s not funny. It’s simply obnoxious. But at Universal Studios Hollywood, these “klownz” each have a unique personality. The ringleader pokes fun at guests who are watching him, all the while distracting them from the stilt-walking jester who sneaks up behind, leans down, and gets all up in everyone’s faces.

Klownz scare zone

It’s hilarious to watch, until you become the victim of his next practical joke – which I was. While shooting scare zone video above, the jester silently came up behind me, reached over my head, slapped the screen on my video camera shut, and walked by laughing at me. I then watched him lean over plenty of other guests, often female, and smother them by waving his floppy hat and arms in front of them, preventing them from getting away. It’s a slight violation of the “don’t touch the guests” scareactor rule, but it’s hilarious and completely fine by me.

Klownz scare zone

The scare zone also features a couple of eerily-lit vehicles with creepy creatures and clowns inside. You’re afraid to go near them, sure that someone, or something, is going to pop out and scare you – but it never happens. At least it didn’t when I was around. The rest of the clowns wandering the zone offer more scares than humor, hiding in the dense fog in search of on-edge guests.

“La Llorona” scare zone

La Llorona scare zone

RANKING: Grave Digger

REVIEW: Now’s a good spot to mention another difference between Orlando’s and Hollywood’s events. Scare zones are clearly marked by signs on each end in Hollywood (like the one above), whereas they seem to start and end at unknown points in Orlando.

Inside the La Llorona scare zone, Mexican folklore comes to life as the title character moans while gracefully stepping from guest to guest. Apparently “La Llorona” is part of an old tale that involves a woman who steals people’s children. In this zone, she is accompanied by a short, hispanic actor who I presume is supposed to be a child ghost(?). La Llorona was kind enough to pose for a photo for me. Unfortunately, my camera was not kind of enough to focus:

La Llorona scare zone

I’m obviously not familiar with the tale of “La Llorona” but given the large Mexican population present in Southern California, I bet many of Horror Nights’ visitors were more frightened by this area than I was. For me, not so scary.

“Lunaticz” scare zone

Lunaticz scare zone

RANKING: Screamer, Eye Popper

REVIEW: Continuing the trend of scare zones ending with “z” is Lunaticz, filled with, well, crazy people. (Strangely enough, “Scare Zones” isn’t spelled “Zonez” on the park map.) This area uses the combination of no light and bright strobe lights to disorient guests and create some unexpected scares. The actors all wear gruesome, grimacing masks and are nearly invisible to guests until the strobe lights flicker on and off periodically. The result is a flip on the usual feeling, where guests actually feel safer in the darkness than in the light, when the true nature of the people walking around them is revealed.

Here are two back-to-back frames that show how this scare zone goes from creepy to crazy in a brief flash of light:

“Freakz” scare zone

Freakz scare zone

RANKING: Screamer

REVIEW: The energy level found throughout the night in this (and every) zone made me think of another difference between the Orlando and Hollywood versions of Halloween Horror Nights. The scareactors in Hollywood’s zones are solely out to startle and/or scare. The scareactors in Orlando’s scare zones are there to equally scare and entertained. I have walked through many scare zones in Orlando to find guests smiling, laughing, standing, watching, and taking pictures with actors. But in Hollywood, I saw screaming, running, jumping, and laughing at others’ misfortune. The scares are bigger and more frequent in Hollywood, but often more entertaining in Orlando.

The Freakz scare zone, is filled with circus sideshow rejects, stumbling around and making sure that guests get an up-close view of their horribly disfigured faces. It’s more of a “you’re creepy, get away from me” scare than a startle-and-run scare, but it still works.

“Pigz” scare zone

Pigz "Saw" scare zone

RANKING: Screamer

REVIEW: The only movie-based scare zone at Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood features chainsaw wielding, robe and pig mask-wearing actors at the base of the seemingly endless set of escalators that take guests to the lower lot. Unlike Orlando, where everything is totally flat, Hollywood features big hills and mountains.

Lower Lot

Universal Studios Hollywood sits on the side of a large hill and an entire section of the park is located considerably lower than the rest. As such, it’s quite a chore to get to this scare zone (and the accompanying Saw maze). Fortunately, the placement of the chainsaws at the bottom of the escalators ensures that all guests who make the trek down will get a scare or a laugh (or both).

Halloween Horror Nights 2010 Shows and Attractions

Terror Tram

Terror Tram

Before the review, here’s a video of highlights from a trip on the Terror Tram:

RANKING: Eye Popper, Screamer

REVIEW: By far, the most enjoyable attraction for any movie fan at Universal Studios Hollywood is the famous backlot tram tour. It takes guests through decades of movie history, past classic sets and through fun theme park experiences. For Halloween Horror Nights, that experience is made even better by combining the scares of a Halloween event with the incredible visuals that only Hollywood can offer.

Honestly, I expected Terror Tram to be scarier than it was. I thought throughout the tram ride, we’d be assaulted by scareactors alongside the vehicle. But as it turns out, the tram ride is the safe part, completely free of scares. Instead, guests are taken down to the backlot and made to get off the tram – which never happens during the day. Upon leaving the tram, a large group of chainsaw fiends works its way through the crowd, scaring as many guests as possible. It’s a loud and amusing moment.

From there, the path winds past a set from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, this year enhanced by the addition of Chucky.

Terror Tram - Chucky on Grinch set

There’s even a tiny actor in a Chucky costume walking around. It’s the most believable Chucky character ever, as this actor can’t be any more than 2 feet tall. Only in Hollywood.

But the next experience is what makes the Terror Tram the highlight of the night. Guests step foot onto one of the world’s most famous film locations: the Bates Motel from Psycho. This alone is worth the price of admission to Halloween Horror Nights.

Terror Tram - Bates Motel from Psycho

Terror Tram - Bates Motel from Psycho

Terror Tram - Bates Motel from Psycho

The set is filled with scareactors dressed as Norman Bates (and his dead, decomposing mother), but I tried to ignore them, simply enjoying the fact that I was walking where Alfred Hitchcock once directed his groundbreaking film. Up close, it’s clear that the Bates Motel is just a film set, as most of its “rooms” are actually empty facades. But Universal dresses several of them up for Halloween, including lighting and silhouettes in the windows. Of course, beyond the Bates Motel is the famous Bates house, still standing on the lot after all these years. It’s an incredible sight to see, though I wish they would have lit it with straight white light instead of “spooky” blue.

Terror Tram - Psycho house

The rocking mother of Norman Bates in the upstairs window is a nice touch. I ended up going on the Terror Tram a second time just to walk this set once more.

Beyond the Psycho area, guests also walk the crashed airplane set of Spielberg’s recent War of the Worlds. It’s an incredible set, but not nearly as breathtaking as the Bates Motel. There are some scareactors to be found throughout the area, mostly disguised as dead passengers from the plane crash. But as a movie fan, I was far more interested in seeing the sets up close than worrying about being scared.

King Kong 360 3-D

Jurassic Park in the Dark

I’m not going to review this experience as part of Halloween Horror Nights because it’s not technically a Halloween attraction. King Kong 3-D opened in July as part of the daytime backlot tram tour. It’s a fun 3-D wrap-around trip to Skull Island from Peter Jackson’s King Kong film. Since the regular backlot tram tour does not run during Halloween Horror Nights, Universal offers a shorter trip out to Skull Island and back. I’m glad they do because it gave me a chance to see this new element of the tram tour in person and I enjoyed it.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure

Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure

RANKING: Gut Buster

REVIEW: Initially based off of the script written for Orlando’s version of this popular annual pop culture parody show, Universal Studios Hollywood takes the show in a new direction, spending more time with each character and even including additional references overlooked (or skipped) by the Orlando team. This year’s Bill & Ted show in Orlando is based off of the fact that 2010 has been a pretty terrible year for pop culture, leaving little to make fun of. But in Hollywood, that element is dropped completely, replaced by parodies absent from the Orlando version including poking fun at Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Prince of Persia, and Miley Cyrus. And I’m sure it’s no coincidence that all three are Disney-related. Ever since Universal Orlando received grief over their inclusion of Jack Sparrow in the Bill & Ted show a few years ago, they’ve been treading lightly on representations of Disney characters. But apparently that rule doesn’t follow the show to Hollywood, as these moments were quite prominent in the show.

In Hollywood, Bill & Ted takes place on an indoor stage that’s considerably smaller than the large outdoor amphitheater used in Orlando. The result is a more personal experience that almost promises that at least one of the show’s actor will come within a foot or two of you at some point during the show.

Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure

In addition, the Hollywood version showcases even more adult-oriented humor and visuals than the Orlando version, keeping with the trend of the rest of the event.

Unfortunately, Bill & Ted don’t have as much of a following in Hollywood yet, as the show is much younger on the west coast. As such, jokes and elaborate dance sequences that would be met with huge applause in Orlando often fall on a nearly silent crowd in Hollywood. And I’m sure the fact that no alcohol is served in Hollywood’s version of the event also has something to do with it.

In the end, I prefer Hollywood’s slower paced version of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure to Orlando’s hectic, new-character-every-60-seconds version.

And while Orlando’s show has heavily-enforced restrictions against photography of any kind during the Bill & Ted show, Hollywood allows any kind of recording, minus exterior lighting and flashes. So here are a few photos I took during the show (more in the slideshow at the bottom of this article):

Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure

Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure

Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure

Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure

Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure

Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure

Halloween Horror Nights 2010 Tips and Tricks

I learned a few things while attending Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights for the first time:

  • Get Preferred Parking – The preferred parking location is literally within footsteps of the park’s entrance. You’ll be happy to be able to leave quickly after the event is over and your feet hurt. It’s worth the extra money.
  • Buy the front-of-the-line pass – I ended up spending more than $100 on my ticket to Halloween Horror Nights and found it to be worth every penny. Without front-of-the-line access, I would not have been able to experience everything. With the pass, I was able to visit each haunted house as many times as I wished with no wait whatsoever. I also received priority seating for Bill & Ted and access to the Terror Tram with no wait. Again, it’s worth the extra money.
  • Don’t bother with the “Chainsaw Chase-out” – I was finished with the event by around 1am and my sore feet couldn’t take me to any more haunted houses. But I decided to stay until 2am to see the finale of the night – the “chainsaw chase-out.” A bunch of characters gather at the park’s entrance and wave their chainsaws at guests as they leave. It’s far less entertaining than it sounds. Honestly, just skip it, leave early, and get some extra sleep (or go party in CityWalk).
  • Universal Studios Hollywood is small! – I was standing at the front of the park chatting with Horror Nights creative director John Murdy and watching Freddy’s Fly Girls for a while. When we finished talking, I realized it was 10 minutes until the Bill & Ted show I wanted to catch, which is located in the back of the park. In Orlando, there is no possible way to walk from the front of the park to the back to see Bill & Ted in 10 minutes. I didn’t think I had a chance, but I tried anyway. As it turns out, a brisk walk from the front to the back of Universal Studios Hollywood only takes about 2-3 minutes. It’s smaller than you think when looking at the map.

  • There are only a few nights left for Halloween Horror Nights 2010 at Universal Studios Hollywood and it has been selling out regularly, so act now if you plan on going!

    You can buy tickets and find more information on

    More photos from Halloween Horror Nights 2010 at Universal Studios Hollywood:

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