Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights takes the prize for the scariest, most gruesome annual Halloween theme park experience in Southern California. It also out-creeps pretty much all of the the diverse Halloween events in Los Angeles. Famous slasher movies are reenacted by dozens and in some case hundreds of replicate villains. They don't have the largest number of mazes, but they are definitely the most gruesome. Some, but not all, of the park rides remain open. This is a separate ticket from the daytime ticket.
For 2016, some old themes are revisited in new ways and some completely new concepts have been added. Instead of multiple scare zones, The Purge: Election Year has taken over the entire park. New mazes include:
- The Exorcist: The Possession of Regan MacNeil is an all-new maze based on the classic head-spinning horror film.
- Krampus takes you into the movie, based on the dark German Christmas fairytale, to meet the horned half-goat, half-demon that terrorizes anyone who doesn't get with the holiday program.
- The American Horror Story maze will interpret three different episodes of the gruesome FX TV series.
- Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield follows the homecoming of escaped mental patient Michael Myers as portrayed in the second film of the series.
- Freddy vs. Jason pairs the villains of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th for double the screams.
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Blood Brothers doubles the stench and gore amassed by brothers Leatherface and Chop Top on their slaughterous rampage. Beware the fumes!
- The Walking Dead permanent attraction will also be open to give you the sense of being part of the TV show as you're chased by zombies through familiar sets.
The Terror Tram will also be transporting unsuspecting victims into the hands of a serial killer clown roaming the movie and television studio in a story line created by horror filmmaker Eli Roth (Hostel). The Terror Tram closes a couple hours before the rest of the park, so be sure to check the schedule so you don't miss the last tram.
I sent our Halloween Correspondent, Luiggi Svagelj out on opening night to get the scoop. His report:
Review: Is Universal Studios Horror Nights the best LA has to offer when it comes to Halloween?
As I entered the park I was immediately pumped to know that tonight I was going to experience some of the best scares in the whole city. Just thinking about all of the different mazes I would be going through made me feel the adrenaline start to build inside of me. The real challenge came -, when I had to decide which maze to go into first. This being my first time at Universal Studios, I went into the attraction I knew the most about.
The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead is one of my favorite shows on Television. To see it come to life in a maze was truly awesome. The maze does a fantastic job of taking you through multiple seasons of the show. It also incorporates moments from the seasons into creative scares that a fan like me really appreciated; not to mention, the makeup and costumes are almost identical to the ones seen on TV. Although this maze is available all year, I would recommend fitting it in if you're not a regular visitor to Universal Studios and you have time.
I wish I would’ve had time to really enjoy the actual structural design and details incorporated on the walls and in the sets that were built, but because of the speed that we were moving through the maze, there wasn't enough time to take it all in.
When I heard that Krampus was a maze this year, I didn't expect it to be scary at all. Oh how wrong I was! Not only did Krampus have some of the most exciting scares, it also had the creepiest of vibes when walking through it. Yes, although the story behind Krampus is a strange one, the costumes make the actors look so believable that anyone unaware of the movie or the story will definitely jump up and scream when confronted with the many different monsters that lurk in the dark. There were even some moments where I could smell gingerbread inside the house, which was a nice touch to throw me off the scent of Krampus and make me not expect the next jump scare.
The only downside was some parts were a little too dark so you couldn’t see anything and there were empty hallways with no scares.
The Halloween Maze
The Halloween maze was one that I was really excited to walk through, but the jump scares felt limited and almost like they were repeatedly the same in every other room. The maze is based on the second Halloween movie and if you haven't seen it, it's really not as scary as the first. Obviously there were moments where I was hoping fear was imminent, but instead I felt like for the most part there were just easy scares that weren’t creatively thought out. However they saved the really scary stuff for the end of the maze where you enter a room full of white floating skulls and you can't tell which ones are actors and which ones are props.
I am not kidding when I say this, I was terrified because they created such an illusion that even after the actor scares you, you still can’t quite figure out which one is just a prop and which one is trying to give you a small heart attack. This was by far the best part of that whole maze. The rest of the maze after this picks up a little, but still doesn’t do the character of Michael Myers justice as far as really giving him a moment to capture the essence of who he is and why he is that way.
Freddy vs. Jason
The battle between Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees in the Freddy vs Jason maze was one of my favorite parts of this whole experience. It starts off really simple and establishes that there is clearly a history here between the two characters. However, this simplicity makes the beginning drag out for a while. I was only really afraid about once or twice, but still appreciated the story that was clearly being told. The maze really gets scary when both Jason and Freddy start to team up on trying to scare you.
They do this for a good while and the result is frightening to say the least. I think I might have yelled stop at some point. I actually remember ducking and moving faster towards the exit, because I was really afraid for my life. The actors really do an amazing job of pulling off these iconic characters and delivering on some of the best scares in the whole park. There were however some areas where you are walking and nothing is happening, but it's so minimal that it's not really a big deal, because before you can think about it you are being scared again.
American Horror Story
American Horror Story is one of the weirdest shows on TV today. This was clearly seen throughout the whole experience. However although it captures the essence and feel of the show perfectly, there was little to almost no scaring during the whole maze. As I walked through the murder house I found myself never actually feeling uncomfortable, but I felt as though I was just walking through a regular house. Nothing special aside from the detail put into the structure and design on the house. Then you enter into the Freak Show.
I thought this part was going to deliver some of the best scares in here, yet I found myself never actually screaming, just walking and going through the motions. The costumes were almost exactly identical to the ones from the TV show, but you're treated to a nice walk with little to really no excitement. The last part was the only part that actually scared me. I entered into the Hotel, and what I saw literally made my body squirm. It's a person coming out of a bed and the movement and acting was phenomenal and did a great job of creeping me out to the point where I almost froze and stopped moving.
This final act in this maze clearly had to make up for the two uneventful acts before it. This did a great job of adding to the reality and horror clearly already established throughout the whole night.
The Exorcist Maze
The Exorcist maze was the final maze I went through. If you are a fan of jump scares, then this is the maze for you. Every corner in this house has a new and unique jump scare. Although a story is clearly being told here, I found myself feeling detached at times because of the use of mannequins and props. Yet, as I walked through the maze, I saw a lot of iconic moments from the movie that were wasted and could have been used more effectively. However, when an actress was portraying Regan, the whole experience got ten times better.
Like I mentioned previously the jump scares at almost every corner make up for the fact that the story is so poorly executed. Nevertheless, the simplicity of certain rooms made for a great experience. The costumes and makeup really added to the story and made it feel real. I walked away from this maze with a relief that it was over, because I was genuinely scared and excited.
The Purge Scare Zones
The Purge Scare zones are fun little escapes that don't require any lines or knowledge of anything. I thought it was really cool to see how far they were willing to take the idea. There is a long walk where you go through a tunnel and it's filled with people wearing masks and holding prop weapons. It adds to the general atmosphere of the whole night.
Tips for Visiting
The only downside to most of these mazes was that a person going to Universal Studios on any night for Horror Nights will encounter lines and lines of people. I am talking about sometimes a wait ranging from an hour to maybe two or three hours for one maze. The problem is not just the lines, but the fact that even after waiting for so long, you feel like you are rushed through the maze and aren't even able to fully enjoy it. This was a problem that I experienced a lot throughout the night.
The Front of the Line pass is a significant time saver and definitely something to keep in mind when purchasing tickets.However, even with the Front of the Line pass, the wait was about 20 minutes for each maze.
It clearly is going to be a long wait, so bring things to keep yourself entertained. Also bring portable chargers, because your phone will run out of battery.
The last thing I would advise you to do is wear comfortable shoes. You will generally be waiting a lot and you don’t want your feet to ache. So with all of that in mind I would highly recommend you map out your experience before heading into the park or trying to get tickets on a day when it's not so busy.
Don't forget to tag #UniversalHHN and to have fun when you go and visit. A lot of hard work has been put into this event and the workers and actors clearly want you to have the best experience available, so enjoy every bit of it.
If your legs get tired from all the standing and running from monsters, there is a fun choreographed show with the hip-hop dance crew Jabbawockeez that you can check out at select times during the evening. There are also a number of other rides running, including Transformers: The Ride-3D, The Simpsons Ride, Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem and Jurassic Park in the Dark.
- Address: 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608
- Dates: Select dates, September 16 to Nov 5, 2016
- Hours: 7 pm to 1 or 2 am, depending on the day
- Prices: $89 at the gate, separate from daytime admission. Front of the Line, Day/Night combo and VIP Tickets are available. Online discounts of $5 to $30 off General Admission for certain days. If you want to visit during the day too, the combo ticket saves $25 off the least expensive day and $50 off the most expensive day but is only valid after 2 pm. You still have to leave and re-enter the park.
- Website: www.halloweenhorrornights.com/hollywood/
- Parking: $10 after 3 pm, preferred $20, Front gate $30
- Metro: Red Line to Universal City, free shuttle to Universal Studios Hollywood
- Discounts: Online advance discounts
- Note: Guests are not allowed to wear costumes
- Tip: If you don't want the monsters to chase you, don't run!
Buy your tickets in advance because the event does sell out. People start lining up around 5 pm for gates to open at 7. If it's in your budget, I highly recommend getting Front of the Line Passes to avoid waits of 45 minutes or more per maze. Since the Tram is one of the most popular attractions and the lines get really long, I would head there first. On Thursdays and Sundays, the Terror Tram closes the line at 11:15 pm, otherwise, the Terror Tram line closes at 11:45 pm.