Halloween Horror Nights 2014 house-by-house review as Universal Studios Hollywood barely squeezes scares in

in Entertainment, Events, Theme Parks, Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood is changing. From Shrek to the tram tour, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and “The Simpsons” Springfield construction zones have taken over the park, leaving Halloween Horror Nights 2014 to scramble for space. Add to that a 2013 controversy that left a fan favorite show dark for 2014 and this year’s event feels neutered.

Sure, the scares are there. Plenty of ’em. And there are many new mazes to appreciate. When those are combined with at least one really inventive new scare zone, then the event works – just on a smaller scale.

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

The Rules

Below you will find each haunted house, scare zone, and show (or lack thereof) summarized and ranked into one or more categories: Screamer (scare-filled), Gut Buster (comedy-packed), Eye Popper (visually-stunning), and/or Mind Blower (overall best in show). And in the case of a complete dud, I refer to it as a Grave Digger. Use my thoughts as a guide to help you plan your attack when you visit Universal Studios Hollywood’s event and see if you agree.

Being an Orlando local and frequent visitor to the east coast’s version of Horror Nights, I will offer some comparisons of the duplicate experiences from both coasts.

Read on for my Halloween Horror Nights 2014 review from Universal Studios Hollywood.

Halloween Horror Nights 2014 Haunted Houses

Due to the construction in the park, Halloween Horror Nights is spread all throughout Universal Studios Hollywood this year, really making guests work to get to the mazes. There’s an excessively long walk to get to the three most popular mazes situated way out on the backlot. It’s a great place to wander around, but takes some work to get there. It also leaves the upper lot feeling rather empty of Halloween content.

There’s also a tremendous amount of overlap between Hollywood and Orlando this year, both in mazes and scare zones. Largely, it seems, Orlando does it better. But Hollywood’s mazes definitely capture attention in some unique ways that Orlando simply can’t and likely never will.

It’s an odd year for sure – one that’s really difficult to rank.

Unlike Orlando, Hollywood allows video recording in their mazes, so each one below includes a full POV walkthrough.

1. AvP: Alien vs Predator

RANKING: Mind Blower, Eye Popper, Screamer

REVIEW: Easily the best of the best at the event this year, Alien vs Predator is a completely different take on the franchise than Orlando’s version – which also tops my list. So it’s no surprise that I absolutely loved the Hollywood maze too. While Orlando’s is more Alien than Predator, Hollywood’s definitely plays up the “versus” aspect with full bodied creatures attacking guests from both sides simultaneously. The costumes look fantastic and make for big scare moments. It’s great to see the Predators with and without their masks. But the real showstopper is the ending scene featuring a massive queen Alien towering over guests, fully animated. It’s a stunning moment that Alien fans will go crazy for.

2. An American Werewolf in London

RANKING: Eye Popper, Screamer

REVIEW: While this maze was unbelievably perfect last year in Orlando, the Hollywood version takes some liberties that don’t quite hold up as well. With that said, it’s still a really solid experience that does best the prior Orlando house in some scenes. Fans of the film will certainly enjoy its recognizable moments. The Slaughtered Lamb is staffed, giving it a little life. The transformation scene is split into two, extending that moment from Orlando’s version. The nightmare living room scene has more intense effects. But unfortunately the wolves aren’t nearly as realistic as Orlando’s puppets, which take this maze down several notches. There’s a full size animatronic wolf that is more of a statue plus jerky movements. And the individual wolves turn their heads in an unnatural way. Ultimately, it’s still a great Halloween experience.

3. From Dusk Till Dawn

RANKING: Eye Popper

REVIEW: If there was ever a maze that screams Hollywood, this is it. The girls of From Dusk Till Dawn certainly come close to that “strip club” look that The Twister should have, wearing even smaller clothing than in Orlando. And it begins in the very first scene, with a dancer front and center. They are truly the ultimate distraction from the scares. Unfortunately, most of the rooms are practically empty and quite boxy, with actors popping out from behind curtains in scene after scene. Add in a recycled chainsaw gag from Evil Dead last year and there really isn’t much to this maze. But appearances by the Gecko brothers outside and all the eye candy – along with one or two horrid smells – make it worthwhile.

4. Dracula Untold: Reign of Blood

RANKING: Screamer

REVIEW: Far better than its Orlando counterpart, this maze actually tells the story of the recent Universal movie through dialogue and character repetition that works. It makes sense. It has some good startles and surprises. It’s not a great haunted house by any means, but definitely serves its purpose at promoting the movie. After walking through Orlando’s haunted house, I never wanted to see the film. After stepping foot inside Hollywood’s, I’d consider it.

5. Face Off: In the Flesh

RANKING: Eye Popper

REVIEW: In the final year of House of Horrors, dubstep music returns along with the addition of characters from the Syfy hit TV show “Face Off.” While Orlando’s “Face Off” scare zone is essentially a glorified photo op, this maze aims to scare using those characters and does a halfway decent job at it. But mostly the familiar makeups are fun to look at. Unfortunately, many of them don’t look like makeups at all, but instead clunky masks and costumes. Some are great, some not so much. As always, the best scene is Frankenstein’s lab, this time set in the world of “Alice in Wonderland” as depicted on the show. The Alice go go dancer, Mad Hatter DJ, and roaming White Rabbit make it fun. The triple hit of Axe Girlfriend at the end, including one with a chainsaw, would be better if her makeup looked better. It’s a rare moment where Orlando’s makeup actually trumps Hollywood’s.

6. Clowns 3D: Music by Slash

RANKING: Grave Digger

REVIEW: I’ll preface this review by noting that I dislike 3D mazes. The bright lights simply take away all potential of being scary for me. There have been successful 3D mazes at Horror Nights, like House of 1,000 Corpses a few years ago, but Clowns 3D is not one. Slash’s musical contribution is fun to listen to while walking through – more entertaining than the house itself. There is a series of excellent scenes in the middle of the maze that show the potential of what could have been. An electric shock effect is one to watch for. But between the fun house mirrors and static figures, most of the house is left rather lifeless.

7. The Walking Dead: End of the Line

RANKING: Grave Digger

REVIEW: This year’s maze based on The Walking Dead would have been great – if not for it feeling like a giant repeat of last year… AND if it wasn’t totally overshadowed by Orlando’s impressive endeavor. Hollywood’s facade is incredible and those who didn’t see it last year will be blown away, stepping up to the prison on the backlot. But half the maze felt all to familiar and the other half way too small. Universal Orlando filled a whole soundstage for the first time with their haunted house based on The Walking Dead this year, twice the size as any of their houses before. It leaves the Hollywood version to pale in comparison. Their Big Spot is a tiny convenience store rather than a whole supermarket like in Orlando. Their Terminus barely exists. And all the other scenes follow in the small footsteps, leaving everyone wanting more – and not in a good way.


Halloween Horror Nights 2014 Scare Zones / Street Experiences

1. Dark Christmas

RANKING: Mind Blower, Eye Popper, Screamer

REVIEW: One of Universal Studios Hollywood’s best scare zones in years, Dark Christmas is simply fun. The characters are lively and both scary and hilarious at the same time. Being attacked by tiny elves, evil Santa, and crazy Krampus on stilts set amidst detuned holiday tunes is a joy to the world. This scare zone should become a maze of its own.

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

2. The Purge: Anarchy

RANKING: Screamer

REVIEW: Despite being around for a few years, The Purge is still going strong at Hollywood. It’s a great theme to take over the front of the park with total chaos. Adding in “Anarchy” elements makes the zone feel somewhat new too.

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

3. The Walking Dead: Welcome to Terminus

RANKING: Screamer

REVIEW: The area leading up to The Walking Dead maze is arguably better than the maze itself. Set amidst shipping crates with lots of fog and strobe lights, this area brings a ton of screams as walkers appear out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly. Then as guests step out of the fog, the grandeur of the backlot streets is revealed, still teeming with walkers.

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

4. Mask-a-Raid

RANKING: Screamer

REVIEW: If there was ever a scare zone that screams Universal Studios Hollywood’s design aesthetic, it’s this one. The baked-in expressions on the actors’ masks perfectly match the zone’s artwork, for better or for worse. It would be nice if the actors could emote more, instead of relying on their weapons and movements to scare. Likewise, there are far too many static figures in this area, making it feel like a wax museum.

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

5. Terror Tram

RANKING: Screamer

REVIEW: Of the three Terror Tram experiences based on The Walking Dead, this year’s is the best. It’s not great, but it’s the best. The small walk through areas are loaded with startles and the actors portraying walkers are doing a great job blending in with the static figures to surprise guests. It needs about a hundred more actors to truly feel like The Walking Dead though. And it’s always nice to be able to walk through the Bates Motel set, even if it’s overrun by zombies.

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

6. Skullz

RANKING: Grave Digger

REVIEW: The large landing at the bottom of the escalators leading to the lower lot is notoriously a terrible scare zone – and this year is no different. Stilt walkers to little to actually scare anyone. They’re mildly entertaining to watch walk around for a minute or two, but ultimately just get in the way. This area would be better filled with fog and crazy lighting than trying to populate with a handful of actors.

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

7. VIP Scare Zone

RANKING: Grave Digger

REVIEW: An add-on scare zone near Mask-a-Raid can only be walked through for those who buy into the VIP package. But it’s tiny with very few scares taking place. There’s a lot of fog, a few statues, and three or four actors doing very little.

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood


Halloween Horror Nights 2014 Live Shows

Opening Scaremony

The Purge comes out in full force for those who show up early to Halloween Horror Nights 2014. It’s appropriately chaotic as the countdown ends, commencing “12 hours when all crime is legal, even murder.”

Go Go Dancers

There are twice the Go Go Dancers this year, but half are hidden away on the backlot. The two up front are not as scantily clad as usual, embodying The Purge theme without revealing too much. It’s the backlot dancers that are barely clothed, performing near From Dusk Till Dawn. Makes sense. Sadly, the video below only shows the ones in the front of the park.

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Halloween Horror Nights 2014, Universal Studios Hollywood

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure

Due to last year’s unnecessary controversy, Universal Studios Hollywood has cancelled Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure. No show replaces it, leaving the park to whole event to feel rather incomplete. It’s odd that a new show wasn’t developed to replace it.

VIP Backlot Experience

Likewise, there is no added VIP experience this year. While last year’s “Insidious” house was a really fun visual moment, this year guests who buy the VIP package get the “perk” of not having to walk 10 minutes back and forth between the backlot mazes, instead taking a private tram.


Halloween Horror Nights 2014 Tips and Tricks

  • Arrive before the scheduled event start time to take advantage of early entry to some of the mazes. It’s worth it.
  • Even on sold out nights, lines during the first couple hours are not too bad. Use this time wisely to conquer the most popular mazes as many times as possible. By 9pm, the wait times are well over an hour.
  • Visiting the backlot mazes first is a good move, as no one wants to make the tremendously long walk over there at the end of the night.
  • If time is a concern, skip the Terror Tram – unless you’ve never done it before. First timers will love everything about it. Repeat visitors will find more of the same, mostly.

  • Halloween Horror Nights 2014 continues on select nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. You can buy tickets now and find more information at HalloweenHorrorNights.com/Hollywood.


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