As our Halloween Horror Nights coverage concludes, we thought we would wrap things up with a general article that takes a macro look at the event as a whole.
Here’s our take on Halloween Horror Nights 2013 at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Positives: Excellent attention to detail. Fans of Evil Dead will appreciate the amount of references and recreations of scenes from the film. A copious amount of gore.
Negatives: Too many water effects.
Consensus: Simply put, Evil Dead: Book of the Dead is a strong recreation of the gruesome film (and when we say gruesome, we’re talking hardcore stuff – including the infamous tree rape and tongue cutting scenes from the series). One of the more gory mazes on this year’s roster, Evil Dead promises solid thrills and scares all around. There are also a few spitting animatronics tossed around for good measure – so be warned if you’re afraid of water.
» Full coverage (photos and commentary): Evil Dead: Book of the Dead (2013)
Positives: Need a break from all the tongue cutting Mias from Evil Dead? Black Sabbath might be for you! But seriously, Black Sabbath is just plain fun and the 3D effects plastered throughout the maze continue to remain surprisingly effective after all these years (more on that in a bit). Head on over to soundstage 747 if you’re looking for a good change of pace from all the blood and gore.
Negatives: Alice Cooper, is that you?
Consensus: Like its predecessor, Black Sabbath: 13 3D is a fun, immersive and vivid maze that brings the lyrics of Black Sabbath to life. Neon-colored scare actors are located throughout the maze as colorful walls surround you in a dizzying effect that’s sure to give your head a spin. It’s just a fun maze all around.
However, in the midst of our fun (yay, no more cutting Mias!), we couldn’t help but notice a few scenes from Alice Cooper mixed here and there. We’re guessing there’s only so much you can do with the 3D concept before it gets somewhat old, but regardless, Black Sabbath is a solid, enjoyable addition to this year’s roster.
One other pet peeve: be mindful of the enormous traffic that builds up on Universal’s metropolitan sets. Hit this and Walking Dead: No Safe Haven first.
» Full coverage (photos and commentary): Black Sabbath 13 3D (2013)
Positives: Great plot and smooth transition from the first Insidious film into Insidious: Chapter 2.
Negatives: None, really. Solid experience all around.
Consensus: Insidious: Into the Further manages to combine the first and second Insidious films into one seamless experience. Haunting music paints the scene as guests head further and further into the…uhm, Further.
» Full coverage (photos and commentary): Insidious: Into the Further (2013)
Positives: Expansive environments (the queue expands into Universal’s metropolitan sets), excellent set decoration and striking visuals make Walking Dead the highlight of this year’s event.
Negatives: Just when you thought Los Angeles traffic couldn’t get any worse…
Consensus: The most elaborate maze at this year’s event, Walking Dead: No Safe Haven is the embodiment of Halloween Horror Nights’ strengths…and weaknesses.
Make no doubt about it: The Walking Dead: No Safe Haven continues to push the bar. Wonderfully recreated scenes from the television series coupled with new, innovative scare techniques (gang of walkers – we’re looking at you!) make this maze a strong experience – with one exception.
But before we get into that, let’s focus more on the good: No Safe Haven’s environment is spectacular, no question. Walking about on Universal’s metropolitan sets at night is a haunting – if not surreal – experience that should surprise even the most seasoned haunt veterans. It’s a great atmosphere and I hope Universal continues to use these sets in the future. Having said that, crowd control in this entire area suffered. Badly. No Safe Haven had a crowd backup within the maze itself – leaving guests (and myself included) standing in the same two-story prison scene for about ten minutes. While I personally loved having the opportunity to take everything in, guests around me were not pleased and audibly noted their dissatisfaction (and when you look at the price of the event, I don’t blame them). This year’s unique setup seemed to have hit the operations of the event especially hard, with reports of maze backups scattered repeatedly throughout the night.
Either way, Walking Dead: No Safe Haven appears to be especially prone to this effect, so be mindful on your next visit. Great maze, but bad crowd management.
» Full coverage (photos and commentary): The Walking Dead: No Safe Haven (2013)
Positives: Danny Trejo’s distinct voice narrates the maze as a few new effects are tossed in here and there. We also found this experience surprisingly long given its location in the cramped Parisian courtyard.
Negatives: No tent or ceiling, so the daylight may ruin some of the effects.
Consensus: A decent successor to last year’s wildly popular La Llorona, El Cucuy manages to raise the bar – albeit slightly.
It’s a solid experience, don’t get us wrong, but El Cucuy isn’t the monumental leap that many were looking for. In the end, there’s nothing particularly memorable from this maze that we could mention. Take that for what it’s worth.
» Full coverage (photos and commentary): El Cucuy: The Boogeyman (2013)
Positives: It’s the Terror Tram!
Negatives: It’s the Terror Tram.
Consensus: It’s great seeing the Terror Tram receive some new effects, but the entire experience is pretty much the same from last year’s event…and the year before.
The Terror Tram formula is solid, but it wouldn’t hurt to change this experience in a more dramatic fashion.
» Full coverage (photos and commentary): Terror Tram: Invaded by The Walking Dead (2013)
Positives: WUB WUB music.
Negatives: Everything. The entire maze felt tiresome.
Consensus: While the new music is nice, the overall concept remains the same. I’m not sure how much effort was really put into retheming Monsters Remix (after all, it’s an overlay), but it wouldn’t hurt to do something new.
Different music isn’t cutting it and this entire maze was a dud.
» Full coverage (photos and commentary): Universal Monsters Remix: Resurrection (2013)
Making its return for 2013, this year’s Bill & Ted draws in slightly more controversy than in year’s past. Though this year’s plot may not be as strong as 2012’s, audience reactions have been positive and the show’s cast and crew remain as strong as ever. If you wanted my anecdotal account, both I and the audience were thoroughly entertained. Either way, if you’re a fan of the format, I do recommend you check this show out.
» Photos and review: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure (2013)
In many respects, Halloween Horror Nights 2013 is a mixed bag. The ongoing redevelopment of Universal Studios Hollywood has eliminated many of the maze locations we’ve come to know and expect which has forced the Horror Nights crew to seek creative means of maintaining last year’s maze count into the 2013 season.
Thinking back, we’ve seen the elimination of the former Wild West arena and the extended queues for Shrek and the now defunct Terminator show. So while the Horror Nights crew should be commended for using what limited space space they have creatively (most notably, Universal’s metropolitan sets and the clever setup between Black Sabbath/No Safe Haven and the Lower Lot), many of the problems from this year’s event stem from a sense of crowd-mismanagement.
While I didn’t experience the same stop-and-go lines as Brady MacDonald did in his piece for the L.A. Times, I did hear enough continued reports to know that this is a very real problem. Simply put, the experience on Universal’s metropolitan sets – while enjoyable in theory – turned out to be a chaotic jam. During opening night, maps of the metropolitan sets were not provided as guests waited in line after line for one maze – not knowing that initial queue actually led to the Walking Dead scare zone. Restrooms were also difficult to find as guests wandered around aimlessly without any real sort of navigational tool (signs were provided, but they were located in one central location). While I was shielded from the bulk of the lines (having bought a Front of Line pass), I also couldn’t help but suffer from confusion from this year’s unusual layout. I’m sure this has changed since opening night, but wait times for Black Sabbath and No Safe Haven continue to be higher than their counterparts on the Upper and Lower Lots on subsequent nights.
With regards to the mazes themselves, this year’s roster continues to be strong – as you would expect from Universal. The Walking Dead: No Safe Haven proved to be the most elaborate and effective maze of the night, with Evil Dead: Book of the Dead and Insidious: Into the Further following close behind as potential second-place contenders. Black Sabbath proved to be a fun, yet slightly quirky experience with its use of vivid 3D imagery – mimicking many of the successful elements seen from last year’s Alice Cooper maze – while El Cucuy turned out to be a decent successor to the wildly successful La Llorona experience. Finally, Terror Tram and Universal Monsters Remix: Resurrection – differing little from 2012 – rounded off the bottom of this year’s list.
In the end, this has been a unique year for Halloween Horror Nights. While we’ve seen the introduction of new, spectacular experiences (The Walking Dead: Dead on Arrival scare zone, for instance), we’ve also seen the introduction of awkward queues and impacted mazes. Given this year’s severe constraints, we can’t help but commend Universal for keeping things together in a somewhat coherent fashion.
However, for the paying guest that doesn’t have (nor should they need) the context needed to piece Horror Nights 2013 together, this year’s event might be a bit too cumbersome to bear.
Jon Fu is the editor-in-chief of Inside Universal.
Jon originally founded InsideUniversal.net in 2006 as a summer hobby aimed at providing families and fans a resource for all things “Universal Studios Hollywood.” Since then, the website has taken him throughout the United States and around the world – including to places like Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Studios Japan and Universal Studios Singapore.
Jon currently resides in Santa Cruz, California with his bamboo plant. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.