By Charly SHELTON
Halloween season starts earlier every year and for the local theme parks, it can’t come a moment too soon. Halloweentime at the Disneyland Resort started September 9, Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood started September 16, Knott’s Scary Farm opens this Friday and Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor starts September 29. Over the next three weeks, we will be covering the big ones- HHN, Knott’s and Dark Harbor, with an honorable mention of the goings on elsewhere to come later in October. Let’s start off this week with Halloween Horror Nights.
Universal Studios is in a massive upswing as a theme park right now with the opening of Springfield, Universal Plaza, Transformers the Ride and new attractions on the Tram tour in the last few years, and then the addition of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and The Walking Dead walkthrough attraction earlier this year. While the park is improving, the annual Halloween Horror Nights has sustained the same level of awesomeness that it has had at every event year after year. Now in their 19th year at Universal Studios Hollywood, this event always has awesome mazes and scare zones based on horror film and TV properties such as The Walking Dead, A Nightmare on Elm Street, House of 1000 Corpses, My Bloody Valentine and Saw, just to name a few. This year, they have brought Freddy vs. Jason, The Exorcist, Halloween II, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Krampus and American Horror Story to life throughout the park, in addition to the aforementioned Walking Dead permanent attraction, spoofed up with more zombies for the HHN event. They have also brought back the Terror Tram, this time imagined by filmmaker Eli Roth.
I am always torn between Universal and Knott’s Scary Farm as to the best haunt of the year, and this year is no exception. Having not seen what Knott’s has to offer yet, I can only say that Universal has set the bar really high. The production values on these sets and props are akin to what they make for their films, and hold up to in-person scrutiny really well.
That being said, having a maze based on a film property is a little less scary, I think, because if you have seen the film, you know all the monsters and what is going to happen. But that could also work against you as you dread the darkness, allowing you to see what may not be there… yet.
Film properties also present a limiting factor in that the maze must reflect the film and in the case of The Exorcist, where most of the action takes place in a single room, we just walk through the room over and over again, spaced by dark hallways. But the flipside of that coin is that the amazing monsters and scenes you expect from films like Krampus are lurking around every corner, giving ample space to play throughout a whole house and plenty of story to go through, whereas if a maze about evil Santa was pitched on its own, the reaction may not be so warm. Pun intended.
I think the best maze in the whole event is the Terror Tram, presented by Eli Roth. The social media campaign that Universal has been running over the last few weeks tiea into the plot of the maze and if you missed it online, the full preshow video explains the history of Hollywood Harry, the disenfranchised clown who has had enough of Universal and Hollywood altogether, so he lets the serial killer side of himself take over, leaving a path of destruction in his wake as he runs across the backlot. The inventive storyline that is not based on anything else took a chance amongst the well-known properties and succeeded.
I have to mention the lines. They are insane on most nights, almost prohibitively long. Wait times range from around 45 minutes to 140 minutes for each maze throughout the night. With seven mazes, the Terror Tram, rides of the park and the Jabbawockeez break dance show, there is no way to see everything in one weekend evening. Average those times out to 90 minutes for each maze, and that’s 10 ½ hours, not counting the Terror Tram, rides, dance show or even time spent walking from maze to maze. The event only runs for five hours each night, from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. If you want to see all the mazes, the only way to go is with the Gate A Front of Line ticket. This gets you into each maze, attraction and show once without much of a wait. The longest I waited for a maze on opening night was 5 minutes. I saw all the mazes by 10 p.m. and had time for a leisurely dinner and shopping. It is a bit more expensive, but it’s the only way to travel if you want to see the whole event.
I give this event 4 out of 5 stars. For more information and pictures, visit CVWeekly.com.