UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOLLYWOOD
Universal Studios Theme Parks
Review by: Steve Rowin
Halloween Horror Nights 2011
This years Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood was spectacular! As a haunted house enthusiast and once designer of some haunted attractions myself, I was looking forward to what the creators of this year’s event had in store.
Let us begin with the ticket options. You have 4 choices this year and all tickets and packages vary in price depending on the night you choose to go, so reference the website for pricing. Beyond the basic general admission ticket there are a limited amount of “front of line” passes and VIP passes. If you’re an impatient person and want to see everything I highly recommend the front of line pass, especially the closer it gets to Halloween. Because the operating hours of Halloween Horror Nights are limited and start in the evening, a large massive crowd gathers at the entrance for opening. The front of line pass begins to work it’s magic as you walk past the big crowd at the entrance and straight into the fun! This years wait times on opening night ranged from 20 minutes to 75 minutes. All of the celebrity haunts had a 75 minute wait time all night so as you can imagine the “front of the line” pass is a big plus if it’s available and in your budget. Beyond that there is a VIP ticket that gives you unlimited front of line to all the attractions in the park along with VIP lounge access and there is even a hotel package available.
Ok on to the fun! Upon entering you find yourself in the first scare zone. One thing I really liked throughout every attraction and scare zone was that the talent seemed to make a point of engaging you with some cleaver, witty dialog in character with the theme and their costume. That kind of casting is right in line with the quality of the Universal Halloween Horror Nights production. Compared to other Halloween events, it’s always been apparent that the budget, talent and creative artists Universal has access to make this production the best ever experienced. Creative Director John Murdy definitely takes this Halloween to new frightful places. (John if you need an extra hand next year I’ve made room in my schedule for 2012!)
After surviving the first scare zone you’re drawn to massive blasts of fire, carnival music and insane clowns! These scary clowns spent the night spilling out insulting jokes upon whoever would stick around and take the verbal torture! This freak show of sorts spread out and extended into more scare zones that lead to what we all came for, the haunted houses.
Keeping with Screamscape’s 1 through 5 rating system, 5 being the best, here are my opinions of this years haunts.
Rob Zombies House of 1000 Corpses in 3D -
Atmosfear - 5
Story - 5
Fear factor - 4
Rob Zombie has been a creative force at HHN for well over a decade. It was apparent that this Haunted house is the flag ship of the HHN experience and probably had the biggest budget. As you enter, the story begins as if you have been transported into the movie. Without going scene by scene through the movie I’ll just say that tension was building as we got closer and closer to meeting the infamous doctor Satan! The characters looked amazingly like the real people from “House of 1000 corpses” and the size of the sets were incredibly large compared to the narrow short ceiling mazes most associate with a haunted house. 3D added a fun dimension and with distorted depth perception allowed characters to get some unexpected screams out of people. I would say don’t miss this one. I did give it a 4 on fear factor only because other haunts did a better job at the element of surprise but that’s only one point away from triple 5 rating of madness. The strength of this maze was it’s ability to build upon the creepiness of the story in the movie. So see the movie before you go!
Alice Cooper - Welcome to my Nightmare -
Atmosfear - 5
Story - 2
Fear Factor - 5
I have to admit I’m not in the Alice Cooper fan club so I don’t know much of his music or the meaning behind the songs. Never the less word around the park was that it was a favorite amongst guests and I agree. Alice Cooper’s nightmare was creepy, twisted and scary. With a few appearances of Alice Cooper himself directing you on as if a conductor of a freak show this haunt had lots of great unexpected scares. I think what I liked about this house was that it wasn’t real bright and didn’t use bright colors. That gray scale feel is classic Horror in my mind and perfect for a haunted house not attempting to tie itself to a movie plot. What stood out in Alice Coopers nightmare was the violent, ravaging behavior of the characters attacking. There’s always something scary about someone with the look of determination to get you in their eye!
Eli Roth’s Hostel - Hunting Season -
Atmosfear - 5
Story - 1 or 5
Fear Factor - 3
Gory gory gory! In this haunt you find yourself inside the old industrial building where rich men pay big money to torture people for fun, but you’d only know that if you had seen the movie. Had I not seen Hostel I would have given this haunt a 1 for story but since I have seen Hostel I give it a 5. The creators did an incredible job at reproducing the gruesome rooms of terror. Room by room we were treated to live people getting drilled into their heads, blow torch burning flesh and toes being cut off! Almost every room had 2 live actors making it the most live performance intensive house of the night. What made this one special was the dialog the people doing the torturing had with you as you passed. Things like “I bet you’d like to give this a try” or “How about I do this to you next” created fear by way of story immersion vs. a classic jump scare. Overall, while not full of traditional jump scares I liked the fresh approach to fear based on how demented the Hostel story is.
The Wolfman - The Curse of Tablot Hall
Atmosfear - 3
Story - 2
Fear Factor - 3
While it’s hard to put an Atmosfear rating of 3 next to any Haunt at Universal, let me be clear it’s only in comparison to the other haunts at this park. We walked through some indoor forests, a wolf jumped out at us a few times and we came across what looked like the set from Frankenstein. I suspect this haunt is in a show building because it looked all too permanent. It felt like we were walking through a building with some fake trees in the corners. There was one wolf jump that was rigged on some sort of catapult device for extra speed and surprise.
The Thing - Assimilation
Atmosfear - 4
Story - 3
Fear Factor - 2
You are taken into a snow filled base station of sorts in The Thing: Assimilation. This haunt had very high quality props and rooms. For added realism the air-conditioning was cranked up high so not only did it look cold in this one, it was cold! This was a very prop driven haunt. More than once the “Thing” shot a stream of wet mist at me. One of the more gory scenes was the last human left at a control station of sorts cutting his own neck before the Thing got him! I think sci-fi fans will connect with this one on a different level than others. I rated fear factor so low on this one because the scares were so predictable! Every time you walked around a turn and saw a 3 foot hole in the ice the Thing would pop out. I think you either love sci-fi and Halloween or not.
La Llorena - Villa De Almas Perdidas (*Spoiler Alert*)
Atmosfear - 4
Story - 5
Fear Factor - 5
Clearly Llorena proves it doesn’t take the biggest budget to create a great haunted house. While La Llorena didn’t have the “Hollywood” energy of Rob Zombie or Alice Cooper’s haunts, what it did have was creepy classic Halloween cranked up to 11! While others impressed me with wow, I found the tricks and techniques used to scary me in this one impressive. Centered around the Mexican folklore of La Llorena, a women who drowns her own children to attract a man, the story is very prominent in the haunt. We see the floating children in the river and Llorena appears at the most unexpected times and when she appears she looks pissed off and scary. What made this one unique and deserving of a fear factor of 5 was that Llorena popped out of places that were hard to notice before hand. In other haunts, ever time you saw a black curtain someone jumped out, Llorena jumped out of hidden doors. My favorite effect was a hall of statues. For a few seconds in low light we could see what appeared to be stone faces only for them to melt into skulls. One of these skulls came to life and got a scream! The haunt’s exit was a long walk through the Shrek building cue hallway. Plenty of time to reflect on the greatness of La Llorena. Just as we turned a corner and were about to join the crowded pathways, BAM!! Ll Lorena jumped out one last time!
Terror Tram: Scream 4 your life!
Fear Factor: 4
This year we catch a ride down to the back lot and get dropped off in front of the Whoville sets. Before we even get off the tram 7 to 10 bizarre creates run out to the pathway we are about to walk up. This was a creepy moment. From this point we walk up to the Bates Motel. This part was a little disappointing as they had set up a maze but it was simply just too bright to be scary. From this point we walked up a trail towards the Psycho house. This was a very long Haunted trail like experience. Along the way we come across some mountain people that were slicing faces off victims and wearing them. If this wasn’t the same family that won the chili cook off from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, then they had to be related. Their victims flopped about on the tables missing their faces screaming at us. Once again great casting. As I walked up the trail I couldn’t help but think how awesome and scary this would be if I were by myself on this trail. The sound effects and lighting were great for such a large area to cover. Soon we passed the Psycho house and then we walked down through the War of the Worlds plane crash site which is always a treat. I think getting down onto the back lot for this haunted experience is a must when you visit HHN.
About the author:
Steve Rowin is a Halloween enthusiast and for many years published the Halloween Tips & Tricks website HalloweenNet. Steve has also provided creative and technical input for several amusement park and entertainment projects worldwide. In recent history, Steve participated in the original home screening sessions for “Paranormal Activity” with his friend Oren Peli.