Lots of amusement parks have scary Halloween attractions that feature cameos by popular horror franchises. But very few are actually created with the help and permission of the people who created those franchises. One that is: Halloween Horror Nights. And 2015’s version is absolutely terrifying.
Halloween Horror Nights is an annual event that takes place at Universal Studios Theme Parks in Hollywood, CA, Orlando, FL and Singapore. Each year the attractions feature different haunted mazes inspired by the biggest and best movies and TV in the horror genre. This year, in Hollywood, they include Halloween, The Walking Dead, Insidious, The Purge, Crimson Peak, This is the End and Alien vs. Predator, all of which are overseen by the directors, writers, and producers of those films and shows.
For some, the ability to walk through your favorite horror franchise is probably a bit too scary. But if it excites you, and you’re in the area, there’s no doubt Horror Nights is worth checking out. It’s a wholly entertaining and frightening experience, for both easily-spooked and experienced thrill seekers alike.
I attended opening night, which means there were probably still some kinks being ironed out. No matter. The instant you walk in the gates, men with chainsaws start running at you. Past them, smoke billows up and other random terrifying creatures walk around, occasionally trying to scare you (as seen above). They have axes, bats, walk on stilts, and are scattered throughout the entire space. Some of these people are scary, others are not, but it adds to the atmosphere of the whole event.
Here’s a quick tip: Horror Nights gets very busy very quickly. And though the tickets can range from a very expensive $50-$85 per person, if you’re going to go, I highly recommend getting a front-of-the-line pass. They’re even more expensive (about $100 more per person) but when the lines for the mazes start to get into the two-hour range, it’s worth it. They also sell out in advance, so book early.
Back to the event. Since we were given front-of-the line passes by Universal, we were able to move through the attraction at our own pace. We started with Terror Tram Survive The Purge, which takes the classic Universal Tram Tour and transforms into its own attraction. You get on the tram like you were taking the normal tour—but then you get to walk through the backlot sets, including Psycho, War of the Worlds and more.
This year, the theme to this attraction is The Purge, and unfortunately it’s the most disappointing thing in the park. Lots of attention is paid to details like videos, having bloody victims walking around and recreating many of the scenes from The Purge Anarchy. But overall, the experience—because it’s so sprawling and open—just isn’t that scary.
That’s the opposite of the next maze we hit: Insidious: Return to the Further. It was probably the best maze at the entire event. It doesn’t have the cache of some of the other mazes, but what it lacks in recognizable villains, it makes up for in surprises. Basically, you walk through all three Insidious films seeing lots of the most familiar scenes (above) and hearing familiar songs, but the maze has lots of touches that others did not, like translucent walls that change what you’re seeing, pitch-black rooms, even strings that hang from the ceiling to give you a physical sensation as you walk through them. It’s awesome.
From there, we walked to the park’s most popular maze: The Walking Dead: Wolves Not Far. It’s basically a realistically designed walkthrough of season five of The Walking Dead. You start at Terminus, with crazy people sawing up human beings. You then hit a bunch of the scarier moments of the season, like the crew getting stuck in the revolving door or the trucks full of zombies. Much of the maze requires you to push away hanging bodies from the ceiling (above). Zombies are everywhere, of course, and some of them will follow you through without your knowledge. It’s gross with a decent amount of scares.
Next up was This is the End 3D. Most people probably wouldn’t consider This is the End a horror movie, and appropriately, the maze really isn’t much of horror attraction. It’s more of a fun break between everything else. You put on a set of 3D glasses (that give you a trippy feel like you’ve taken drugs) and enter James Franco’s house, complete with impaled Michael Cera outside.
Franco’s artwork from the movie is all over the walls, there are jokes peppered throughout, and people dressed as the devil jump out at you. A lot. Some of it is scary, but mostly, the maze is just funny. Actors portray Jay Baruschel and Jonah Hill (above), Craig Robinson, Danny McBride and even Channing Tatum. While fun, it’s a tiny bit of a letdown because the maze felt so short compared to the previous two.
The downside to those three mazes is that they are on the lower level of Universal Studios. You have to take four huge escalators down and the trip, which takes a good 10 minutes, kind of ruins the momentum of the evening. It’s inevitable, but worth mentioning.
Having completed all of the mazes on the lower level, it was time to take another slightly annoying but necessary short tram ride back to the third section of the park. It’s the Universal backlot, where Crimson Peak: Maze of Madness and AVP: Alien vs Predator are located. While I was looking forward to the Crimson Peak maze more than almost any other one, it was incredibly disappointing.
If this was 2016 (or a month from now) and people had seen Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, maybe this maze would’ve been more effective. As it stands, it’s simply not that scary. It’s gorgeous, including some of the most beautiful sets at the entire event, plus there are some truly gross bloody things hanging around (above). However I didn’t understand the story or what the point of the maze was. There wasn’t really an aim. It felt more like a series of pretty rooms with a few scares scattered here or there.
The opposite could be said for Alien vs Predator. I almost was going to skip the maze—because who cares about these films in 2015?—but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It has the same problem as Crimson Peak in that you don’t quite get the story, but the design of the maze draws your attention one way, then scares you the other way time and time again (above). I walked out thrilled, especially by the design of the creatures.
It was time to start to head out and there were only two attractions remaining, both on the main upper level. Saving what I hoped would be the best for last - Halloween—we made a pit stop at Jabbawockeez (above). This is the only non-scary attraction at Horror Nights, a 30 minute, high energy, surrealist hip-hop dance show. Filled with popular music, humor, odd visuals and amazing dancing, it offers a super fun break from the main event.
Then it was time for our final maze of the night: Halloween: Michael Myers Comes Home. John Carpenter’s boogeyman really brings it to Horror Nights. The maze starts outside the Myers residence with a projection of a little Michael killing his sister. You hear Dr. Loomis’ voiceover and, of course, the freaky synth theme. Then you enter the house. All the iconic Halloween scenes are here: the closet, the sheet, the gravestone etc. Some of them are even reenacted with real actors playing characters like Loomis and Lynda. And of course there’s Michael Myers. A lot of Michael Myers. He pops out of the walls, emerges from the dark, and follows you around, and there are a ton of jump scares and unsettling situations here. More than any other maze you just feel uneasy and unsure about what’s next and the ending is truly, truly creepy.
Honestly, I could not have had a better time at Halloween Horror Nights 2015. Lots of that is because we didn’t have to worry about lines, but I was thrilled, chilled and totally drained of energy. Not every attraction is a home run, but even the less-exciting ones have things to make you sick to your stomach. Yes, it’s very expensive and the distance between mazes is a bummer, but overall, it’s so, so worth your time.
Halloween Horror Nights is open now though Halloween in Hollywood, CA and Orlando, FL. Click here for more information.
Photo credit: Universal Studios Hollywood
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.