Halloween at the Parks II


This year, as every year, southern California theme parks are pulling out all the stops for their Halloween promotions. Disneyland has brought back its Halloweentime Celebration for both parks at the resort. Universal Studios Hollywood is inviting guests into the worlds created on screen by its horror films, and Knott’s and Six Flags are reviving their scare zones and haunted mazes. But for the sake of the article, we will focus on the first two in depth.

Reporter Charly Shelton is caught in a maze by JIGsaW at Universal. Photo by Charly Shelton
Reporter Charly Shelton is caught in a maze by JIGsaW at Universal. Photo by Charly Shelton

•Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights

Scare level: Crying in a ball in the corner

Appropriate ages: 18 and up for some attractions like Rocky Horror, others just based on how easily scared one is, but probably no younger than 16 or 17 as a recommendation.

Cost: $59 under 48” and $69 over 48”, $104 with front of line pass.

Fun rating: 3 stars out of 5

What to expect: Nightmares, fear, possible vomiting, long lines, fear, light headedness, crying, nausea, fear and being afraid.

Once more, let me paint you a picture: Universal Studios Hollywood is the birthplace of the classic horror film. Lon Chaney Sr. in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” 1923 and the “Phantom of the Opera,” 1925.  Bela Lugosi in “Dracula,” and Boris Karloff in “Frankenstein,” both in 1931. Ten years later, in 1941, Lon Chaney Jr. follows in his father’s footsteps as a horror giant with “The Wolf Man.” All of these movies were made on the Universal lot. So when they throw a Halloween party, you know they know their stuff.

Guests walk the fog-filled upper and lower lots surrounded by hideous monsters. They take refuge inside an abandoned maintenance tunnel only to be attacked by Harry Warden, the pick ax wielding killer.  After they narrowly escape that gruesome dilemma, they hide in the Universal House of Horrors, usually home to the classic monsters, but now overrun by Chuckie, the living serial killer doll.  But Chuckie has doll legs, and they are too short to keep up so the guests get away.

Fearing for their lives, the guests board the tram, hoping to be taken out of the park. But the tram that normally takes guests on a tour of the back lot instead makes an unscheduled stop at the behest of the JIGsaW KILLeR who threatens the lives of everyone on board. The guests are ordered off the tram and are made to flee for their lives through the sets of horror films of the past, now haunted by every manner of beastie imaginable. Guests tear through Who-ville from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” around the corner of the Bates Motel and up the stairs to visit Norman Bates and his mother at the house on the hill from “Psycho,” and finally through a post-apocalyptic, zombie-ridden plane crash set from “War of the Worlds” before being hunted by some classic horror villains like Norman’s mother and Michael Myers (not Mike Myers from “Shrek,” Michael Myers from the “Halloween” movies). JIGsaW’s challenge, “Lose one, Lose all,” is met and the guests aRe Set FRee.

Terminator 2: 3D seems like a nice place to hide – 3D video can’t scare them. Wrong. That auditorium is home to “Rocky Horror Picture Show: A Tribute.” Guests may think this isn’t too scary, so they stay for the half hour rendition of the cult classic musical movie, now performed on screen and on stage by actors. Our guests leave that building scared in a whole different way.

Then, seeing a quaint little house that seems relatively safe, the guests stop in to rest, only to find that they have found Michael Myers’ house and have a run in with him all over again. And finally, making their escape down to the lower lot in hopes of making it out of the park alive, they encounter the worst, most disturbing challenge of all. They have found the JIGsaW KILLeR WaREhoUse with his top 10 best traps including the bathroom scene from “SaW,” the frozen girl from “SaW III,” and the needle pit from “SaW II,” complete with all the sights, sounds and smells of the traps that JIGsaW has made. Though the guests may escape this experience, they will carry the scars – both mentally and physically for those who fall behind – for a long time to come.

This is not a Halloween experience for the weak willed. At one point, I was so scared I literally fell down.

The Terror Tram is pretty cool.  For any fans of the old school horror flicks like “Halloween,” “Psycho,” or traditional monster movies, this would be the theme park for you. Getting to walk past the “Psycho” house was a particular treat because Norman was out front being very creepy. The “Saw” maze was the most disturbing thing, though. Having seen many of the movies, one may think they know what to expect. Not only are they faced with the horrible situations we see in the movies, but it’s the conditions that are really brought to life in this walk-through. The “Saw” scene from the first movie when the doctor has to make a sacrifice to gain his freedom is one that is depicted in the maze. The heat and humidity in the room is sickening and, along with the smell of a backed up public restroom, this gruesome show becomes even more unbearable when experienced  in first person. It seems like a small detail, but the olfactory difference counts.

“Rocky Horror” is terrifying, but not in the same way. It’s a fun scary.

Overall, this park is terrifying. The scariest thing of all, even more than the mazes, attractions, transvestites, and horrible smells, is the lines. Waiting up to an hour for a four minute walk-through maze is ridiculous. The difference of about $35 for the front of the line pass is totally worth it. Most times, the Gate A pass lets guests walk right on. Definitely worth it if you want to see all of the offerings.

I gave this a 3 out of 5 stars because there wasn’t a lot of variety. There were a couple shows, and a bunch of walk- throughs. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun or worth the trip, but there wasn’t much else to do that’s Halloween-themed at the park except walk-throughs. Still lots of fun, though. For fear junkies, look no further than Universal Studios Hollywood.

And very briefly…

•Knott’s Scary Farm

Scare level: Laughing teenagers with friends

Appropriate ages: Depending on how easily one scares, anywhere from 13 to adults.

Cost: $34 to $50 depending on the date chosen.

Fun rating: 3 Stars out of 5

What to expect: Mediocre mazes, cool rides, great food, relatively short or fast-moving lines, fun atmosphere, but nothing to write home about. More of a cool get together for teens and friends to hang out than to get really scared.

•Six Flags Magic Mountain Fright Fest

Scare Level: Laughing teenagers with friends

Appropriate Ages: Probably similar to the others, 13 and up, depending on how easily one is scared.

Cost: $27.50 under 48” and $55 over 48”

Fun rating: 5 Stars out of 5

What to expect: Lots of fun, scary, unique mazes, rides in the dark or with Halloween overlay, long lines, real scares along with fun scares. Not only good for teens, but for those of us who appreciate the art of a good, creative, well made haunted house. A must see for those who want to be scared, but don’t want to need therapy after visiting.

To see video of the two parks in depth and see me go through some mazes and attractions, visit the website cvweekly.com.

Happy Halloween!

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