Halloween Horror Nights has returned to Universal Studios Hollywood, and this year truly feels like Hollywood is going all in.
“This year, we’re just kind of going mad.”
John Murdy, Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights Creative Director, made this comment during our behind-the-scenes previews a couple of weeks ago. Murdy explained, “In 2020, we had a whole event. Some of it was built, and then it was canceled”, and there was a lot of uncertainty going into 2021.
2022’s event is a bit out of character for Hollywood. While there are some familiar franchises returning, like Halloween and the Killer Klowns from Outer Space – there is also a good amount of original content being featured this year, which is the strongest aspect of this year’s event.
Coming in as an Orlando regular, this is now my 3rd Hollywood Horror Nights event – so while some Hollywood regulars may think one way, I’m coming in with a set of fresh eyes.
So, what were our first impressions of this year’s event? The first weekend tends to have that “new car smell” when it comes to rankings, and hyperbole finds its way into the discussion. Another thing to keep in mind is that unless outright stated, none of these issues fall on the actors and are not a reflection of their performances. They are the heartbeat of the event and give their all night in and night out.
It’s very possible, and very much likely, this could change; but after opening weekend, here’s where we stand: (Some Spoilers. Video links to each house and zone are included in the title.)
Scarecrow: The Reaping (∗∗∗∗∗)
Hollywood has taken a crack at the popular Orlando original from 2017’s event – and puts their own stamp to make it this year’s #1 house. Whereas Orlando was tight and claustrophobic, this was more gory and in-your-face intense. From a design and theme standpoint, it’s some of Hollywood’s best. It was big shoes to fill, and Hollywood filled them perfectly.
La Llorona: The Weeping Woman (∗∗∗∗½)
A great 1-2 punch of original content. Originally featured in 2011 and 2012, La Llorona returns and is as scary as ever. The wail of the Weeping Woman is truly haunting. If it wasn’t for the great sets in Scarecrow, this could easily be #1. Bonus points for exiting into the great El Pueblo del Terror zone.
I know Michael has been around for a few events now, but this is my first go-around with Halloween at Hollywood, and I loved it! An awesome love letter to the 1978 film. With that said, I hope this is their swan song and we go Myers-free for a little while.
Echoing my Orlando review of the house – I was skeptical of the execution. Even though I’m a fan of the Weeknd’s music, I was wondering how his visuals would translate into a haunt. The good news is it was all for naught as the house brings some trippy, gory scenes to life – where you really feel the descent into madness all while listening to the awesome distorted music of After Hours.
Another house that features some of Hollywood’s best set designs. This would’ve ranked higher if not for the black wall break in the middle of the house. Other than that, the cast is already on it after opening weekend. It’s clear that Murdy loves his Monsters, as we’re now 4 for 4 with Monster houses.
Universal Horror Hotel (∗∗∗½)
A solid house with an interesting premise and solid scares. In the grand scheme of things, there’s nothing remarkable about the sets – but the actors bring their A-game. The queue also does a good job of trying to set up the storyline. I wouldn’t mind a return to Hotel DeVille in the future.
I first did the Terror Tram in 2012’s Walking Dead version, and I did not care for it. This year, we see the return of Hollywood Harry celebrating Halloween and the new Jupiter’s Claim set which mashes up NOPE, US, and even a little GET OUT. The Hollywood Harry portion is fine, but NOPE/US section is the standout – as the Tethered chase you and the employees of Jupiter’s Claim. There’s a nice, small effect that sees “Jean Jacket” knock out all the lights and sound, to which all the Tethered look up in unison. Surrealy creepy!
The Horrors of Blumhouse (∗∗∗)
The combo house of Freaky and Black Phone. Both were enjoyable films, but Freaky seems to get the love here; including an awesome prop with the table saw kill. The Black Phone portion is fine, but very short – which is due to the limited locations the movie offers up to translate.
A repeat of the 2019 house, faults and all. I love the Klowns, but in a year which features a damn strong line-up – it’s shortcomings are more evident. It’s still a fun house, especially as it’s obvious that the actors are having fun with it – but with the bar being raised for Hollywood now, it misses the mark.
El Pueblo del Terror (∗∗∗∗)
The zone features some moody lighting accompanied by an pulsating, intimidating soundtrack. Of course, there are some awesome character designs and interpretations of the supernatural legends of Latin America. The actors also bring an intensity that help elevate the zone.
Sideshow Slaughterhouse (∗∗∗½)
The zone that sets the stage for the event. Sure, circus sideshows have been done before – but the actors’ tenacity and relentlessness make this zone work; and I do mean RELENTLESS. Special shoutout to the one actor that spent close to 10 minutes with one guest who wouldn’t leave the safety of Starbucks.
Clowns and chainsaws… what could go wrong? While nothing memorable character or zone-wise, once again – the zone comes to life due to the intensity of the actors. The Chainsaw Chaseout is a nice little close-out for the event.
While not official zones, there were “experiences” found throughout the park; including the “Haunted Forest” which was fine – but the Death Eaters are definitely worth some praise. They were relentless, and Hogsmeade felt eerie. We’re hoping Universal expands more on the Death Eaters next year and gives them some of the interactions that other Death Eater experiences have.
Returning for their 7th year, the Jabbawockeez continues to entertain. The show was surprisingly short but packed quite a punch, and had a few fun moments of crowd participation. As long as they continue to make the show fresh and enjoyable, they can keep returning for however long they wish.
Hollywood brought the heat this year. As a “newbie”, I had a blast in my 3 visits – and I’ve heard regulars already mention this event may be an all-timer. As an Orlando regular, the one thing that stood out to me in comparison was how scareactor energy in Hollywood was palpable, keeping the intensity up throughout the night. When they get in your face, they GET IN YOUR face.
Yes, while we spend time ranking houses and discuss the minutiae of which scare is best, or what sets look incredible – it ultimately doesn’t matter unless you’re having fun and that’s why we keep coming back every year.
Halloween Horror Nights 2022 takes place on select nights from Sept 8 thru October 31, 2022 at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Until then, we’ll see you all in the fog!