Halloween Horror Nights is now in full swing at Universal Studios Hollywood! This year’s event sports a lineup featuring a mixture of horror properties both classic and new, offering something for attendees of all ages to enjoy.
With the 1980s becoming increasingly popular in the media, it is not much of a surprise that a number of this year’s mazes – including Ghostbusters, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and Stranger Things – are based on properties either released or centered around the 1980s. Likewise, much of the advertising and merchandise for Halloween Horror Nights 2019 emulates the vibrant, unique styles of the decade, tying together many different intellectual properties that would have nearly nothing in common otherwise.
While the quality of last year’s event was certainly a step-up from the year past, Halloween Horror Nights 2019 surpasses its predecessor with an astoundingly strong lineup of ten mazes, including The Walking Dead Attraction, breaking a new record for the highest number of mazes ever featured at a Halloween Horror Nights event.
After being graciously invited by Universal to attend the inaugural Fan Preview Night, in addition to making multiple return visits, we’ll take a look at and give a brief review of the mazes, scare zones, and show featured at this year’s event. We’ll also provide a brief look at the special offerings at Fan Preview Night alone for those who were unable to attend. There may be spoilers ahead.
As mentioned earlier, this year’s Halloween Horror Nights features ten mazes, with three walk-throughs in the Upper Lot, two near the Studio Tour loading area, two in the Lower Lot, and three in the metro sets of the Universal backlot. There is no Terror Tram this year; instead, it has been replaced by the two mazes located just outside of the Studio Tour tram garage.
House of 1000 Corpses
“The bogeyman is real and you found him.” Based off of Rob Zombie’s 2003 film of the same name, House of 1000 Corpses takes guests through the terrifying, gruesome events surrounding the psychotic Firefly family, beginning at the offbeat roadside attraction called “Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen”.
House of 1000 Corpses has a particularly interesting history at Halloween Horror Nights. Being Rob Zombie’s directorial debut, the film was packed to the brim with graphic depictions of blood, gore, and other controversial themes that prevented its release for years to come. However, when Zombie was invited to design a maze for Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights in 2000, he brought elements of the film to life to create an intense experience widely acclaimed by fans of the event. Seven years after the film’s eventual release, an additional 3D iteration of the maze returned to Halloween Horror Nights in 2010.
This iteration of the maze glosses over the 2010 3D maze in returning to the style of the original, though is no less disturbing.
Guests are met with the sound of chirping crickets as they approach the entrance to the Museum of Monsters and Madmen, advertisements for the “Murder Ride” – said to bring visitors through a history of some of the most horrifying serial killers of all time – posted adjacent to the giant skull marking the ride’s faux starting point. Just inside of the museum with various odd exhibits on display, the owner of the establishment himself – Captain Spaulding – makes his first appearance as he welcomes all to his business. Turning the corner brings guests straight into a walkthrough of the Murder Ride itself, and soon, an encounter with the infamous Dr. Satan.
Gruesome in content and heavy in scares, House of 1000 Corpses is once again a hit among guests as the sole representative of the slasher genre at this year’s event. Whether you have seen the cult-classic film or not, the maze easily entertains on its own with its nightmarish images.
The Walking Dead Attraction
Persevering through its fourth consecutive Halloween Horror Nights, The Walking Dead Attraction remains mostly unchanged, though has unfortunately lost the additional scareactors throughout the maze that would normally make an appearance during the event.
Holidayz in Hell
Following the success of the highly-rated scare zone featured at last year’s event, Holidayz in Hell has been transformed into its own original maze at this year’s Halloween Horror Nights. Whisking guests on a tour through twisted renditions of a number of prominent holidays, the maze creates a lively yet eerie atmosphere perfect for the tone of the event.
Prominent in setting the upbeat aura of Holidayz in Hell is the original score by electronic music artist Figure, which echoes in the background as guests venture through the maze. Each holiday sports its own musical theme – and occasionally some witty limericks – highlighting the disturbing twists taken on their respective icons.
In choosing to progress through a year of holidays in chronological order, the maze fittingly begins with a New Year’s celebration, where guests enter a giant, creepy vintage postcard. Synced strobe lights, audio cues, and smoke bubbles work together to form the illusion of fireworks going off as the haunted clock at the center of the postcard repeatedly strikes midnight and simultaneously becomes engulfed in dripping phantom blood. A flashy party in honor of New Year’s greets guests just inside, though not without a twist, as all of the celebrants are long dead.
Concluding the maze is the Christmas in Hell scare zone – loosely based on the fan-favorite Dark Christmas scare zone featured at both Halloween Horror Nights 2014 and 2015. We’ll take a closer look at Christmas in Hell later on in the article.
Though many set pieces, props, and costumes are reused from the scare zone and other holiday-themed predecessors, the theming of Holidayz in Hell is surprisingly thorough and cohesive to the point in which the creative team designed their own horror-themed Sweethearts for the Valentine’s Day portion of the maze, and advertisements for faux fireworks brands as decor in the Fourth of July scene. While the inevitable cheesiness of the maze may initially dismay hardcore fans of the horror genre, Holidayz in Hell nevertheless achieves a perfect balance of terror and exuberance, sure to provide an enjoyable walkthrough.
Studio Tour Tram Garage
Jordan Peele’s Us
After a successful run in the box office, celebrated director Jordan Peele’s 2019 film, Us, has made its way to this year’s Halloween Horror Nights. Closely following the events of the film, the maze centers around Adelaide Wilson and her family’s journey as they attempt to survive an uprising by the revenge-hungry doppelgängers of every living person on the planet, referred to as “The Tethered”.
Just like in the film, the maze begins by transporting guests to the very beginning of the story at a mirror funhouse on a Santa Cruz boardwalk in 1986, where a young Adelaide has her first traumatic encounter with her tethered. Serving as the maze’s facade, the well-lit funhouse looks equally as encompassing and elaborate in person as it does on screen. The ominous score of the film, complete with chorus and additional narration by Red – Adelaide’s tethered – only further immerses guests in the terrifying plot, building an unsettling atmosphere before even stepping foot inside.
Upon entering the maze, dimly lit corridors paired with an abundance of mirrors, painted forests, and a consistent whistle to the tune of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” place guests in the perspective of young Adelaide themselves, fearful of what could be around the next insidious bend.
Without giving too much else away, prominent scenes and locations from the film – including the family in the driveway, the Tyler family’s home, and the underground bunker where The Tethered have suffered for decades – are featured in the maze chilling guests to the core. Whether it be the inclusion of the film’s haunting score, the disturbing concept of The Tethered, or the creative scares themselves, Us is an incredibly strong competitor among this year’s lineup, and easily one of the most well-done Halloween Horror Nights mazes of all time.
The Curse of Pandora’s Box
“Come inside,” beckons a faint, chilling whisper drawing guests into the facade of an antique shop by the name of “Pandora’s Cabinet of Curiosities”.
As one of the two original mazes featured in this year’s lineup, The Curse of Pandora’s Box reels maze-goers from the mundane world into the demonic horrors within the infamous Pandora’s Box, said in Greek mythology to unleash unstoppable evil upon its opening.
After passing through the chaotic storefront of Pandora’s Cabinet of Curiosities, guests are welcomed to look around at the various artifacts as the voice returns, uttering the ambiguous phrase, “Anything can be acquired, anything our hearts desire,” before a silent cloaked figure suddenly opens the door to Pandora’s Box itself. Inside, various scenes filled with monsters and occasional allusions to Greek mythology are illuminated by black light like in a 3D maze, though the lights constantly flicker, leaving guests in pure darkness for moments at a time.
Although The Curse of Pandora’s Box immerses guests in a mostly unexplained story, the bright neon colors of both the creatures and sets captivate the eye in a fitting way for the maze’s broad subject of Pandora’s Box, offering a unique take on the classic tale. While it would have been interesting for the maze to have delved deeper into the genre of Greek mythology, the original concept easily does enough to satisfy both casual guests and fans alike, rendering it a must-do for all.
Halloween Horror Nights returns to the realm of the Upside Down in the second installment of Stranger Things at the event. Rather than bringing most of the prominent scenes from the show to life as last year’s maze did, this year takes guests through the darker aspects of Season 2 of the show, though also with a brief inclusion of Season 3 towards the end with a visit to Jim Hopper’s cabin in the woods.
The maze begins with an exploration of the psychological horror Will Byers experiences as he is tormented by flashbacks to his past trauma and visions of a creature more powerful than any he and his friends have faced up to this point. From then on, the sets gradually shift to a focus on the eerie underground tunnels the show’s protagonists navigate during the second season before transitioning into a preview of sorts of Season 3.
While last year’s maze was not without faults of its own, unfortunately, this year’s undoubtedly falls flat among its significantly stronger counterparts in the lineup. Scares are rather scarce – particularly during the first half of the maze – and set design is not nearly as elaborate as that of its predecessor. Though the walkthrough has an insidious, thrilling vibe to it knowing that the events portrayed take place in the aftermath of the chaos of Season 1, at times the maze comes off as desolate above all else, which is not necessarily what most Halloween Horror Nights attendees expect in a maze, take it as you will.
Though we truly wanted to enjoy this maze as we did last year’s, it was difficult to not feel underwhelmed by its presentation, whether that be because of skewed expectations or the quality of the experience itself. While we do not suggest prioritizing this maze over others on a visit to the event, we still recommend checking out Stranger Things to form an opinion for yourself after experiencing the rest of what Halloween Horror Nights 2019 has to offer.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space
The Killer Klowns have invaded Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood! Following the wide success of the scare zone at Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 28, the horror-comedy, cult classic film has now been translated into a maze.
Loaded with vibrant colors, goofy show scenes, and, of course, the Klowns themselves, Killer Klowns from Outer Space brings guests along for the terror as predatorial aliens – who take the appearance of circus clowns – invade the small town of Crescent Cove to hunt for the next victims of their disturbing schemes in a spaceship reminiscent of a circus tent. The maze closely follows the film in bringing to life many of its prominent scenes, including the home of protagonist Debbie Stone, which has been invaded by multiple Killer Klowns seeking to capture her in continuation of their maniacal hunt.
The Klowns’ Big Top spaceship itself fittingly serves as the entrance to the maze, where Crescent Cove farmer Gene Greene calls out angrily at the tent for his abducted dog, Pooh Bear. A realm of overwhelming neon, cotton candy cocoons, and bloodthirsty Klowns awaits guests just inside as they make their way through the spaceship before transitioning back to the mundane town of Crescent Cove, where the Klowns continue to add to their victim count.
Although the concept of the Killer Klowns with their popcorn guns, cotton candy cocoons, and blood-sipping silly straws is undoubtedly silly just as the film can be downright ridiculous at times, the maze nevertheless achieves a solid balance between comical absurdity and elements of horror in a way that makes guests both laugh and scream, invariably leaving wide smiles on their faces as they exit the maze to the upbeat theme from the film.
Between its detailed sets, clever scares, and overall animated atmosphere, Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a definite win in all ways at this year’s event.
Inspired by the 1982 horror anthology film as well as Shudder’s upcoming television series, the disturbing tales of Creepshow are now creeping up on you in this year’s maze following three of the stories from the original film in relative chronological order – “Father’s Day”, “The Crate”, and “They’re Creeping Up on You” – in addition to two stories from the television series – “Grey Matter” and “Bad Wolf Down”.
Similarly to the film, Creepshow takes after the style of a comic book both inside and out, with guests initially entering a facade designed to look like a giant version of the Creepshow comic book itself. Inside, eerie, enigmatic music repeats on a loop as guests find themselves walking among a series of panels and covers from the disturbing stories ahead before their first encounter with the host of the comics himself: the Creepshow Creep. Inching forward gradually leads to the maze’s first show scene featuring the graveyard where Nathan Grantham is accidentally reanimated by his daughter – and murderer – Bedelia.
The rest of the maze sports this layout, with each story introduced by its title page and followed by one or more intricate show scenes rich with detail. From the flashing projections and prop models of hundreds of cockroaches in Upson Pratt’s apartment from “They’re Creeping Up on You”, to the revolting smells of rotten filth in “Grey Matter”, the dedication to detail and overall authenticity to the franchise is outstanding. Additionally paired with a number of excellent scares that frightened guests around us on our walkthrough, Creepshow undoubtedly makes for another solid addition to this year’s event.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman
The monsters who started it all are back following the widely successful Universal Monsters maze at last year’s event. Focusing on two of the most widely known icons of the classic horror genre – Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolfman – the sequel to last year’s maze borrows from the 1943 film, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, in addition to constructing a story of its own.
Last year’s Universal Monsters ended with a bang, literally, as Frankenstein’s monster pulled the switch that blew Frankenstein’s castle and nearly all of its inhabitants to bits. Directly following the explosive finale, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman follows the survivors of the chaos – namely Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolfman – into a nearby gypsy encampment as they desperately search for shelter. Haunting Gypsy music taints the otherwise tranquil atmosphere as a whiff of incense overwhelms the senses, nearly distracting from the massacre of slaughtered corpses around. At the center of it all sits a mid-transformation Larry Talbot – the Wolfman – struggling on a chair as he writhes in pain and sorrow at his curse under the night’s full moon.
Without giving away too many specifics, venturing much further through the maze draws all into the charred remains of Frankenstein’s castle, where Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolfman lay strapped onto tilted operating tables as Ygor panics at the pained screeches of the scorched Bride of Frankenstein nearby.
Rich with a comparable amount of detail to its predecessor and loaded with a vast variety of scares, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman once again resurrects the captivating tales of the classic monsters in a new light, this time drifting away from last year’s neon colors and anthology of introductions to the numerous monsters, into a brand-new, cleverly-crafted love letter to the genre that started it all.
Who ya gonna call? Vengeful spirits have invaded the Universal backlot, and it’s up to the Ghostbusters to save the day.
Though a surprising choice for the Halloween Horror Nights lineup due to the film’s heavy emphasis on comedy, Ghostbusters provides a breath of fresh air at the event with its contagious energy already building up the moment you’re within earshot of its upbeat theme song. The maze loosely follows the plot of the original 1984 film, though also includes references to Ghostbusters 2, the 2016 reboot, and occasionally even the video game.
The Ghostbusters’ iconic firehouse serves as the entrance to the maze, where guests can interact with the possessed accountant Louis Tully as part of the “Twitter password game”, in which fans following Hollywood’s official Halloween Horror Nights Twitter (@HorrorNights) can obtain a password each night to deliver to him in exchange for a keepsake. Passing under the lit-up Ghostbusters signage on the firehouse offers all a glimpse at the Ghostbusters’ signature ride: the Ecto-1 car.
Taking directly from the film, receptionist Janine Melnitz sits by the phone at her desk just inside, quickly going from deathly bored of her initially uneventful job to ecstatic upon receiving a phone call from the business’s first client. As mentioned in our behind-the-scenes article on the maze, guests’ experiences may vary in this first scene, for the actress portraying Janine can choose from multiple lines at the click of a button, depending on what is going on in the room around her.
From then on, guests walk through authentic recreations of major settings in the film, frequently coming face to face with a number of memorable ghosts from the franchise, including – but not limited to – the library ghost, the terror dogs, Slimer, and, of course, a massive in scale Stay Puft.
While not all that scary in comparison to most mazes at the event, it was evident from its conception that Ghostbusters was not intended to frighten so much as to inspire laughter among guests, given the film’s comedic elements. However, those disinterested in the lighthearted tone of Ghostbusters have no need to fear, as the maze still features numerous quality scares in addition to a detailed set design sure to amaze. Overall, whether a fan of the film or not, Ghostbusters offers something for everyone to enjoy.
This year’s event also features five scare zones – three in the Upper Lot, and two on the way to the metro sets on the Universal backlot. In addition, a group of scareactors referred to as the “roaming horde” travel throughout the park in packs, primarily lingering in the zone between the Lower Lot escalators and the entrance to Transformers: The Ride-3D.
Beginning just at the start of Universal Boulevard, the fierce ghouls and angry skeletons of the Fallen Angelz scare zone creep about the disorienting, fog-engulfed street as guests enter the park. All throughout the zone, actors disguised as aged statues subtly inch toward their next victims, while chainsaw-wielding skeletons aggressively chase after the most faint-hearted of attendees. As the scare zone is mostly barren in decorations, the performers’ dedication to becoming their respective characters is what truly brings the area to life for all.
Building off of the adjacent Fallen Angelz scare zone is Spirits & Demons of the East. Multiple piles of sacred antiquities supposedly stolen from ancient temples in the Far East lay along New York Street, while the furious spirits who came along with them seek to take revenge on those who disrespected such precious relics. Geishas, twisted demons, and even seemingly innocent schoolchildren angrily lunge out at guests, led by a skilled team of two-legged stilt walkers, and one ridiculously impressive, four-legged stilt performer. While the loss of the fire towers is felt, the beautifully-themed scare zone and strong actor performances do well to distract.
Christmas in Hell, the final scare zone on the Upper Lot, once again brings the theme of “Dark Christmas” back to the event as a continuation of the Holidayz in Hell maze, with theming stretching throughout most of French Street. Sporting an all-new, haunting rendition of traditional Christmas music to compliment perturbing characters such as the new Satan Claus and Winter Witch, Christmas in Hell utilizes the limited space of its location to maximum capability with the numerous scares coming one after the next. Concluding the scare zone is a brief segment centered around New Year’s, where Father Time, the New Year’s Baby, and other celebrants of the holiday catch guests off-guard one last time.
Returning for its third consecutive year, the ToXXXic Tunnel guests must get through to reach the metro sets has been invaded by the cartoonish, warped members of a custom car club determined to prevent guests from making it too far on foot. Although the scare zone still contains no props due to its restricted location, it has received a change in music drifting away from the dubstep of years past.
All Hallow’s Evil on the Universal backlot reminds all that Halloween is not the only haunted holiday that occurs at this time of the year. The scare zone guides guests through the Celtic festival of Hop-tu-Naa, in addition to All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, and Dia de Muertos, which all occur during the season of the traditional Gaelic festival of Samhain. Although it seemed difficult to follow last year’s acclaimed Holidayz in Hell scare zone found in the same location, All Hallow’s Evil once again does the location justice in providing a surprisingly long walkthrough giving off just the right vibe of creepiness for the event.
Back for a fifth year at Halloween Horror Nights, the Jabbawockeez dance crew has returned with another all-new performance. This year’s show drifts away from a comprehensive storyline, instead transporting guests to a night club hosted by a Jabbawockee who refers to himself as DJ DJ.
Never a show to disappoint, the Jabbawockeez once again captures the attention of all audience members with rapid, unbelievable choreography, vibrant light displays, and even a brief use of pyrotechnics in the finale. Again, we recommend that you try to find time in your night to stop by and catch a show.
Fan Preview Night
For the first time at Hollywood’s event, Halloween Horror Nights opened on a Thursday with the first-ever Fan Preview Night. Without going into too much detail, Fan Preview Night entailed early access to the event as a whole, in addition to a handful of exclusive opportunities for that night only, including themed photo-ops with scareactors, live performances by Figure, and a panel presentation hosted by Halloween Horror Nights Creators John Murdy and Chris Williams, plus special guests Greg Nicotero, Eli Roth, Slash, and the creator of the Universal Monsters mural on the backlot, Tristan Eaton.
Without a doubt, despite some minor faults, this year’s Halloween Horror Nights is one of the strongest, and we cannot recommend enough that you find the time to make a visit.
Halloween Horror Nights runs now through November 3 on select nights.
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