Halloween Horror Nights 2017 has kicked off at Universal Studios Hollywood. Universal graciously invited us to attend the event and experience all that they have in store for guests during this year’s Halloween season. This year’s line-up boasted some of the most popular names in horror – including films from Blumhouse, The Shining, Saw and the original “Titans of Terror”, Freddy, Jason and Leatherface.
Since the event’s resurgence in 2006, Creative Director, John Murdy, and creative partner, Chris Williams, have turn Universal Studios Hollywood’s event into the leading haunt experience in Southern California. As each year passes, the event has evolved to become bigger than the year before – so the challenge of creating new ideas for the event increases. Murdy’s challenge this year was to try and match the incredible year 2016 brought to Halloween Horror Nights. After Opening Weekend, let’s take a look at a maze-by-maze review of this year’s line-up. (Some Spoilers)
Titans of Terror (**** ¼)
Last year, Horror Nights brought us two mazes in Freddy Vs. Jason and Texas Chainsaw. This year, all three come together in one maze. Knowing that the films have been used frequently at the event over the years, Universal knew they needed to bring new life into these characters.
Instead of recreating scenes from their respected films, the concept of the maze was that a fan created a home haunt featuring these three iconic characters. Each crazed killer received their own section of the maze, and each section separated by a dark room with a narration from each franchise.
First, you enter Freddy’s nightmarish world of dreams. If you’ve experienced any of the Nightmare on Elm Street mazes in years’ past, you’ll recognize almost all of the scenes. However, the scares felt like they had more of an impact than previous iterations. Fans of the “Freddy snake” will not be disappointed, as the use has been re-imagined – and while it’s not a scary scene, it definitely created a sense of uneasiness, which is perfect for the maze.
The second section of the maze brings us back to Camp Crystal Lake and into in the path of Jason Voorhees. While the section seems short, scares were plenty, and the actors were on point with their timing – but what really helped was the sadistic tone used by Mrs. Voorhees during the area’s narration.
The finale of the maze, you encounter the demented Sawyer family and come face-to-face with Leatherface himself. This section had the best use of misdirection of any of the mazes at Halloween Horror Nights.
Overall, this was pound for pound the strongest overall maze. The name recognition, scares and fun aspect all combined for a thrill of a maze.
The Horrors of Blumhouse (***)
Jason Blum and Blumhouse Productions brings to life two franchises and one yet-to-be-released film in a maze that was more fun than expected.
Like Titans of Terror, the maze was split into three sections: The Purge, Happy Death Day and Sinister. The Purge section was located inside Universal Plaza and resembled the “Purge Gauntlet” they had last year. While there wasn’t a ton of scares in this section, it was a lot of fun. The use of props and characters walking about created the feeling that the city was under siege from those partaking in the Purge.
As you leave the gauntlet, you come across a closed theater due to the events of the annual Purge. As you enter, you’re thwarted into the film, Happy Death Day. Since the film hasn’t come out, there’s no emotional attachment to the killer, so to a certain extent it almost feels like an original concept for a maze. However, there are a scare or two that was unexpected and fun.
The last section of the maze was the best of the three. Based on the two films of Sinister, the evil character Baghuul, a.k.a. Mr. Boogie, terrorizes each scene as if he’s following you and is where I got most scared.
While a couple of scenes during the maze felt odd, and the transitions between each film was awkward, the maze held up well and was exciting. The scares in acts 2 and 3 helped carry the maze and will make it a fun maze to go through with friends.
Insidious: Beyond the Further (***)
Back for its third year, Insidious: Beyond the Further brings all four films to fruition as a love letter to fans of the franchise. The beginning of the maze is dedicated to the fourth film, which comes out in theaters January 2018.
The main villain in this film, and this section of the maze, is new demon, The Key Face Demon, which is perhaps one of the best make-up jobs and costumes in the entire event.
The middle section of the maze brought back elements from the first three Insidious films. However, the highlight of the maze was the finale. The finale presented every demon character from all four films in a rapid-fire scare. Every corner you turn, you’ll come upon a new scare that truly was the highlight of the event.
The Shining (*** ¾)
One of the most anticipated mazes of the event was Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. One of the most beloved horror films ever made finally made its way to Horror Nights. It was evident that The Shining was a passion project for Murdy and his team. The detail in this maze is what made fans love Halloween Horror Nights from the beginning. From the recreation to some of the iconic locations, all the way to the details of the font of the digits on the room doors, the maze was a blast to go through.
As you enter the Overlook Hotel, you encounter all of the famous scenes from the film – including the bloody elevator. It seemed the maze didn’t have the most scares though. Perhaps it was timing as to why we missed them?
The best scene was the recreation of the “Here’s Johnny” scene. The actors were spot on and is one of the best-acted scenes at the event. One thing is for certain though, the maze is heavy on projections, so make sure to do this maze when it is dark outside so the light does not ruin the effects.
Ash Vs. Evil Dead (**)
Henrietta lives! The Bruce Campbell show, Ash Vs. Evil Dead, was an interesting maze where fans may come away with mixed feelings. The beginning of the maze where you enter Ash Williams’s trailer provides a great amount of detail, and almost a sense of claustrophobia with tight spaces. The details from the show is well represented, however, midway through the maze you enter what seems like a long section of black walls where nothing much happens.
The highlight of the maze was the puppet Henrietta. While not necessarily scary, it was more impressive to see the demon come to life in puppet form – featuring an elongated neck just close enough from attacking the guests.
American Horror Story: Roanoke (*** ½)
By far, the most stunning maze at Halloween Horror Nights this year was American Horror Story: Roanoke. Chris Williams should be extremely proud of the work he and his team put in. Based off of the sixth season of the hit FX show, the maze brings together beautiful sets and solid scares. You’ll come across Pig Man and the Polk colony as they try to stop you from leaving.
Unlike last year’s American Horror Story maze that featured three seasons (Murder House, Freak Show and Hotel) – this year solely focused on season 6’s Roanoke. As we made our way into the maze, you could really feel the vibe from the actors that they were really into the portrayal of their characters.
Saw: The Games of Jigsaw (**½)
Back for its second time at Horror Nights, Saw is back with traps that will bring fans back to the beginning where it all started. Even though the new film comes out in October, this maze was dedicated to the previous films.
The maze seemed more like to walk through museum than necessarily a haunt. One of the things that stuck out most was that you were watching the traps take place instead of being a part of Jigsaw’s diabolical game. Only one time during the maze did it feel like you were trapped, as blades would come out from the walls, trying to slice and dice you as you made your way through.
Universal really struck it rich with the talent this year, as the actors in the traps were convincing and gave it their all. At the end of the maze on opening night, Tobin Bell, who plays Jigsaw in the franchise, was on hand to greet guests and take photos with them.
Titans of Terror Tram starring Chucky (*)
The Terror Tram is back with a new theme but a familiar experience. The Terror Tram has been around since event came back to Hollywood in 2006 and nothing much has changed with the exception of the theme. Enough said.
The Scare zones – Hell-O-Ween (**), Toxic Tunnel (**) and Urban Inferno (****)
This year, Horror Nights went back to the multi themed environments. The Upper Lot scare zone, Hell-O-Ween, was located between Universal Boulevard and Production Central – and featured demented and creepy costumes traditionally used during Halloween. Not much themeing was used in the zone, and those famous flamethrowers were noticeably missing.
The second zone was Toxic Tunnel, which basically was a “themed transition” walk from the Lower Lot to the Backlot. The loud music and strobe effects, combined with the fantastic character mask designs, made the walk more fun and sometimes a bit unnerving, but didn’t feature a lot of horror eye-candy.
Urban Inferno was far and away the best scare zone offered at the event. This was more along the lines of The Purge Gauntlet from last year, as guests were sent into the fog trying to navigate through the deadly creatures that await guests. The demons left their prey to cry for help as a trap to take more unsuspecting guests into their tormented world.
Jabbawockeez (**** ½)
The lone show of the event, Jabbawockeez are back for their third year at Hollywood’s event. Each year, the dance troupe has brought a new show and storyline, and this year was fantastic. While guests are waiting in the queue for the show, the story is set with televisions playing “NBC News” coverage of Jaliens (Jabbawockeez and aliens combined) coming to earth. The video shows the Jaliens hitting all of the major locations around the world, until they “suddenly” crash-landed here at Universal Studios Hollywood.
This year’s show is much more energetic than years past, and had a nice flow, which was helped by having less video content. Last year, the group added their first female member of the troupe; this year they highlighted her performance – and honestly, that was the best part.
For fans of Laser-man at ElecTRONica, that routine was added to Jabbawockeez. While it may not be anything new, it’s a fun routine that helps break up the dancing sets.
With an all-new lighting package and pyrotechnics, this year is their best version yet.
Food and Beverage
For the first time in several years, Hollywood has brought alcohol back to the event. Guests 21 and over are able to queue up just outside the Duff Brewery to purchase from a selection of beers and wines; each costing $12.00.
When it comes to food items, limited selections of Voodoo Doughnuts were available for purchase inside Studio Café in the Lower Lot. Once you’ve made your way to the Metropolitan sets, food trucks serve up a few items that aren’t normally served in the park are featured – including French Toast Philly Cheesesteak and Deep-Fried Oreos.
Halloween Horror Nights will run through November 4. Be sure to check out all that the event has to offer and join the discussion on our forums. Write your own review of the event, as well as tips you might have for those wanting the best way to navigate the event.
Be sure to follow Inside Universal for continuing coverage of Halloween Horror Nights and Universal Parks and Resorts.
Thanks to Bernard Mesa for helping us with these great photos on Opening Night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Bernardmesa