It’s that time of year again, and thousands of horror fans lined up to be among the first to experience Halloween Horror Nights 2015 at Universal Studios Hollywood during its opening night on Friday. As always, the event is a fun mixture of the scary and silly, with a large variety of entertainment for guests to enjoy.
Visitors to Halloween Horror Nights are of given access to five of Universal’s existing rides during their visit, but why spend time doing things that are available year-round when there are so many unique and frightful seasonal offerings? For the uninitiated, Horror Nights’ main activities are divided up into categories, and we will review them as follows: Mazes (themed walk-throughs filled with cool scenery and monsters aplenty), The Terror Tram (exclusive every year to the Hollywood Park), Scare Zones (areas of the park itself that contain creepy characters and usually a lot of fog), and Shows (of which there is actually only one this year).
The selection of mazes at this year’s Horror Nights in Hollywood includes two brand-new mazes, three returning mazes from prior years that have been revamped and revitalized with new designs, and one maze that is “back by popular demand” and remains basically unchanged from last year’s haunt. Let’s go through them in that order:
The first brand-spanking-new maze on our list is based on the new movie by auteur horror filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, which will be released in theaters in mid-October. Del Toro is a director known for his obsession with detail and attention to visual design, and the maze inspired by his movie is no exception to that rule. It’s pure Gothic-horror done right, and every room of this maze is a treat for the eyes.
This Is The End 3D
Next up is “This is the End”, based on the 2013 Seth Rogan horror-comedy of the same name. This maze feels unique in that I haven’t really seen a whole lot of horror-comedies being adapted into mazes. It’s also a 3D maze, so you’ll be handed glasses as you enter and the rooms are brightly painted in day-glo colors. Everything inside is well-designed and it’s definitely neat to be able to re-live the movie in this way, but probably the least “scary” of all the mazes this year.
The Walking Dead: Wolves Not Far
“The Walking Dead” is the first returning maze of this year’s haunt, but it’s really only returning in name only, as it’s been almost completely overhauled from the previous version. Gone is the prison motif and in its place you will find a tribute to the fifth season of the TV series. This maze is really impressive, and might be one of the longest this year. The “revolving-door” scene is particularly memorable.
Halloween: Michael Myers Comes Home
Michael Myers makes his return to the Hollywood version of Horror Nights for the first time since 2009, and this time the focus shifts to the prologue of the very first John Carpenter “Halloween” movie, in which a young Michael Myers kills his sister. The back half of the maze pays homage the the rest of the movies in the franchise, of course, and fans looking to catch a glimpse of that famous mask will not be disappointed.
Insidious: Return to the Further
The “Insidious” series returns to Halloween Horror Nights after a one-year absence. This year the maze’s designers have incorporated elements from all three movies. There’s a lot of really nifty-looking stuff to see in here, but you can probably leave this maze for last if you’re pressed for time. Nothing about it makes it must-see unless you happen to love “Insidious” as a concept.
AVP: Alien vs. Predator
This is the maze that is essentially a holdover from last year’s Horror Nights, but it’s really really cool and worth a second look. So much detail and effort went into the design of all the costumes and props in this one that it seemed destined to come back for at least one more year. My favorite part of this maze is the predator’s trophy room, straight out of the movie “Predator 2”. And that Alien Queen at the end never fails to impress.
Terror Tram: Survive the Purge
After three years of being themed to the incredibly-popular zombie TV series “The Walking Dead”, the world-famous Universal Studios Hollywood Backlot Tram Tour has been altered this year to ape the movie series “The Purge”, in which there is one day every year in America that nothing is illegal. It’s always cool to get the opportunity to walk around the Universal backlot, where so many iconic movies have been filmed, so it almost doesn’t matter what the theme of “Terror Tram” is. The tram drops you off near the “Psycho” house and Bates Motel and you get to wander through a hyper-militarized area of murder and torture, until you pass through the huge suburban airplane-crash scene left over on the backlot from Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” and come out the other side. It’s pretty cool.
This year there are four Scare Zones: “Exterminatorz” (a small area located near the park entrance featuring oversized bugs of all shapes and sizes), “Dark Christmas” (returning from last year, but probably the coolest), “Corpz” (military zombies, not much more to it than that), and “The Purge” (yes, The Purge shows up again to help get you in the mood for the two mazes that occupy the backlot area of the park). Scare Zones are almost incidental to the overall haunt experience, but if done right they can accentuate an effective evening.
As I mentioned, there is only one show at this year’s Horror Nights in Hollywood: the San Diego-based dance troupe Jabbawockees. At the beginning of their half-hour performance I thought their dances might all be themed to the mazes or at the very least the horror genre (because they opened with a cool tribute to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video, and then one dancer goes through the “Red Door” from Insidious) but the rest of the show was pretty much just dudes in masks doing choreographed moves to pop music. If you’re not into that, I’d say skip it. Your time is better off spent in the mazes.
Overall, Universal Hollywood’s 2015 Horror Nights offering is a satisfying smorgasbord of all sorts of spooky fun. You could easily run out of time in the park before you run out of things to do, so plan your evening carefully. Make a list of priorities and stick to it, and you should have a blast.