September 25, 2015 – As most of you know, the new season of Halloween Horror Nights is officially upon us! The team over at Universal Studios Hollywood was gracious enough to invite us to attend opening night of their most anticipated event and here’s what we experienced.
For the 2015 season, Early Entry access has been extended to everyone, not just season passholders. It was apparent that everyone got the memo because when we arrived at security at 5:00 PM, there were already hundreds of people crowded around. Immediately, confusion started to set in. With no definite lines formed, it was a mess of confusion and rising tempers. Once security opened and started letting guests through, the crowd seemed to become more organized and excitement began to grow.
A few important things to note:
1. There is no “Front of Line” security line. Everyone waits in the same lines to get through security. “Front of Line” access happens once you get past security.
2. Be aware of what Security may take away. TSA rules do not apply. If you have any liquid of any sort, they will take it away (including my pocket hand sanitizer from Bath and Body Works). To my surprise, they also took away my travel bottle of Advil and attempted to take away my emergency inhaler. In defense of the security guard, I think this was a training issue.
3. Once you get past security, you have the option of going through early access to the right of Will Call or waiting at the turnstiles.
My group decided to take advantage of early entry mainly because of what the announcer had promised us: access to the entire park. The word “entire” is used loosely, however. We were blocked from going down to Despicable Me and the stores and food locations were all closed. When I asked where they were going to let us watch the opening “scare-a-mony,” I was told to wait by the Universal tower.
When they started setting up the gates, my group and I decided to move towards the center assuming that’s where they wanted us, only to be shooed away by a man in a suit saying, “You signed up to go downstairs when you did early entry,” which was exactly the opposite of what the man outside was announcing. This created a very large group of at least 100 angry people who were then stuffed into a very narrow walkway only to be given a couple feet of space to move over and watch the show. Needless to say, this did not give me high hopes for the rest of the night.
Thankfully my initial assumptions were incorrect, for when the event finally began, everything seemed to go smoothly. We first headed down the StarWay to the lower lot to check out Insidious: Return to the Further, The Walking Dead: Wolves Not Far, and This is the End: 3D. Of course, there was a very large crowd, however movement was very manageable. After searching and finding the Gate A entrance to Insidious (located by the Despicable Me Character Shop), we practically walked right into the maze. This was true for the majority of the night. The longest we ever waited was around 10 minutes, usually just to allow enough space between groups. Overall, I thought this maze was done very well. I will go into a more detailed review in future articles about each maze, however, I will say that it is mazes like this one that make me really miss the VIP pass, exclusively for the unlimited front of line access. There is so much detail in this maze and others that make it impossible to really appreciate it all in one walk through.
The same went for The Walking Dead: Wolves Not Far; very detailed maze with some sets that looked like they came straight from the sets of AMC’s The Walking Dead. If you remember, this maze is the largest maze ever created at Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights. With that said, I don’t feel like I noticed much of a difference in terms of length. If anything, it just allowed for more space for larger rooms to work with. Our last stop on the Lower Lot before moving on to the back lot was This is the End: 3D. Of all the mazes this year, I was the most skeptical about this one. The movie definitely created to be more of a comedy, and not a horror movie. I went into this maze expecting little more than just a “fun” maze, however I was completely blown away by what I experienced. The scare-actors were on their A-game, the 3D effects totally disoriented me, and I even lost my voice as a result of screaming in this maze. Again, I’ll have a more detailed review in the future, but this one was definitely one of my favorites.
After we exited This is the End: 3D, my group and I headed over to the tram loading area for the back lot attractions. This walkway is located by the Transformers exit and leads to the loading area that was used two years ago. The tram system was very efficient this night. The moment we got there we loaded in and were off in less than 5 minutes. When we got to the New York Street sets, we were dropped off to become prey for the Purge. I liked the idea of this scare zone, however, I think it still needs some fine tuning to make it more effective. With that said, I really enjoyed the direct pulls this scare zone took from The Purge: Anarchy (DeMonaco, 2014). Surprisingly, the back lot was not very crowded at all.
The first maze we went through was Crimson Peak: Maze of Madness. While there was not much I could recognize, considering the movie hasn’t come out yet, I appreciated the narration that explained the story as we walked through. Unlike last year’s maze for Dracula Untold, this maze served as a great advertisement for the upcoming release and I am very interested in seeing it in theatres. And then there’s Alien vs. Predator. While it is still as impressive as the year prior, I still am having a hard time accepting this maze as is. I understand that the entire intent was for this maze to be done two years in a row, but I wish there was at least a little something new to look forward to. For the AVP fan out there, you will be in heaven. If you’re like me and like to be surprised, you’ll be less than pleased. However, the puppeteers in this maze did a really great job and creating an element of surprise, even though I knew it was coming.
From the back lot, we made our way back upstairs to check out the Purge Party going on for the Terror Tram. Keep in mind, Creative Director of Horror Nights enlisted help for this year’s terror tram, which is something he has never done before. Gone are the days of zombie invasion, now we have sociopathic humans out for blood and destruction. The storyline for the entire experience was very well put together. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say I was very impressed. The scares were not executed perfectly, but it is a difficult area to work with considering the amount of people going through, but the acting was great. I found moments where I actually felt sorry for some of the victims.
After surviving the Purge Party, I was ready to sit for a minute. I knew I needed to check out the Jabbawockeez show, despite my initial reservations, so I decided this was the best time to do it. Like This is the End: 3D, I wasn’t exactly sure how this was going to work for this event. But again, I was pleasantly surprised. Much like Bill and Ted, this show was packed with comedy, dancing, and even a story line. The show itself lasted 30 minutes, but time flew by. With multiple recognizable songs, great audience interaction, and entertaining routines, I was very happy with the choice enlist the Jabbawockeez for this year’s show. I know there are still a few skeptics out there, but I seriously encourage you to give it a chance. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Once the show ended, I wanted to check out the three scare zones: Corpz, Dark Christmas, and Exterminatorz. I enjoyed all three, but I wasn’t particularly overjoyed about any of them. The fog effects with both Dark Christmas and Corpz were so overwhelming that I couldn’t see much of anything, and I don’t think the scareactors could either. Exterminatorz was great because it was different from years prior, but again, I didn’t get overly excited about it. I’m hoping my opinion will change when I go again later this season.
And finally, Halloween: Michael Myers Comes Home. Of course, I had to save the best and my most anticipated maze for last. It was honestly quite embarrassing. I was like a kid waiting for the ice cream truck waiting in line for this maze. In fact, I was so excited going through that I forgot I was supposed to be taking pictures for the website! It’s hard not to be biased when talking about this maze, but I honestly think this was the best executed maze of this season. The story was great, the scares were terrifying, and the acting went above and beyond. Even if you aren’t a Halloween fan, it’ll be hard to not be impressed by this maze. A great end to my night!
I know most of you who are reading this are seasoned professionals at Halloween Horror Nights, however I still get questions about what’s the best strategy so here it is. Get there early! Honestly, despite the hiccups I witnessed during early entry on opening night, I would seriously recommend taking advantage of this, especially if you purchased General Admission. If you purchased Front of Line, still take advantage! That way you can get through mazes while the GA lines are short and you don’t have to waste your front of line access.
For those who follow John Murdy on Twitter, you know that he usually recommends starting downstairs first and moving your way up. However, this rule is completely changed due to the popularity of Halloween: Michael Myers Comes Home. My recommendation is to do your favorite mazes first when lines are short and then do the rest. If you stay late enough, the crowd usually dies down and you can go on your favorite mazes again without having to wait so long.
Finally, buy your tickets early! Tickets almost always sell out so be sure to buy online soon. If you’re a passholder, you can save up to $30 on General Admission tickets. Also, if you’re crazy like me, you can purchase two front of line tickets and they will work for the same night! This means you can access your favorite mazes twice instead of just the one time. It’s not cheap, but when you compare it to how much you could have spent on a VIP ticket, it makes a little more sense.
That does it for my opening night review! I want to extend a huge thank you to the team over at Universal Studios Hollywood and Halloween Horror Nights for inviting us to experience their event. If you couldn’t tell, I had an amazing time. The event runs through November 1st so don’t miss out! You won’t regret it.
As always, thanks for making Inside Universal your number one source for all things Universal Studios Hollywood and Halloween Horror Nights. Be sure to stay tuned as we continue our coverage of Halloween Horror Nights 2015.
Kaley Cyrino is the managing editor of Inside Universal.
Kaley is a Southern California native who grew up within miles of all the greatest theme parks. As a nursing student, Kaley finds her peace and sanity by visiting Universal Studios whenever she gets the chance. Her dream is to be able to visit Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Studios Japan, and Universal Studios Singapore.
Kaley currently resides in Orange, California. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.