By Charly SHELTON
As Halloween draws near, theme parks are preparing “spooktacular” events for visitors. This week, we venture over to Universal Studios Hollywood for their annual Halloween Horror Nights. We’ll see six terrifying mazes, four scare zones and a terror tram walk through the infested sets on the backlot. Let’s go.
The six mazes, unlike Knott’s Scary Farm, which we covered last week, are all based on films and television properties, stretching from the late 1970s with a maze based on “Halloween” to the future with a maze based on “Crimson Peak,” which has yet to be released. A returning favorite maze, “Alien Vs. Predator” was so amazing last year that it was brought back to amaze guests again this year. There are good and bad aspects in all mazes, but at Universal the good almost always outweigh the bad.
The best maze, in my opinion, is the one I was least looking forward to. “This Is The End” is based on a James Franco/Seth Rogan film from 2013 that, if you like the kind of films this crew usually makes, is their best work. Foul-mouthed and irreverent, it’s a great buddy-stoner-industry-apocalypse comedy, but not on anyone’s shortlist to be a haunted attraction, one would think. That being said, it didn’t provide a whole lot of real scares other than some nice costumes that look scary when you see them. So not being too scary, why is this the best? It is the use of 3D.
The 3D paint has been a mainstay in haunted attractions since at least the early 2000s. It is neon orange paint and pale blue paint that when viewed through the glasses handed out in line makes the orange pop toward you and the blue fall away. Each year, Universal has one maze with the 3D paint and their use of it gets better every year. The Alice Cooper maze from a few years back made it seem as though guests were walking on a rickety bridge through the use of red slats and blue space – spectacular. This year, “This Is The End” is the 3D maze and on a scale of one to 10 Universal turns the awesome paint to an 11. Used on costumes to make lava flow better, on the ground to show it crumbling, in the air with blue lights that lift guests up and out of the apocalypse … it was just amazing. I walked through with jaw agape the entire time. But one preface to this, and it really only applies to this maze and maybe “AVP”– watch the movie first. The other mazes rely on our recognizing the bad guys. “This Is The End” maze requires that guests have seen the film going in to understand a lot of the references as to what is happening in a room. That being said, watch the film and you will love the maze.
So far as shortcomings, I would like to see something new done on the Terror Tram. This year’s theme is “The Purge,” which is different from “The Walking Dead” of the last several years, but it just swaps out the zombies for guys in suits and does the exact same thing. Every year. With waits over an hour, I would like to see something new.
“The Walking Dead” maze is very similar year after year, but what are you going to do? They’re zombies. There are zombies in a walled city, then a walled prison, now a walled city with Terminus on the building, and this year there are zombies in a walled city with trucks full of zombies. This I am more understanding of because it follows what happens on the show, and they do stay true to that. But Terror Tram has a lot of real estate to work with and they just do the same thing every year.
All told, this is the best haunt around. Though there are fewer mazes than Knott’s and less creative in themes, the mazes themselves are better. If you want longer lines but better product, Universal is for you.
Next week, we look at our final haunt, Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor. Don’t hold your breath.