Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights
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Oh, Halloween Horror Nights. How we love you. Every year Universal Studios and creative director John Murdy bring together some of the best filmmakers, FX artists and production designers in Hollywood to create the most authentic horror movie experience you’ll have in the flesh. Ever since my first trip to the grand opening ceremony in 2006, it’s remained the most anticipated night of the year, and its creators have consistently topped themselves every time. After watching Corey Feldman cheerfully ham it up at the annual Eyegore Awards (coverage here and here), we wasted no time hitting the fog-drenched park to check out the sights, sounds and smells of Horror Nights 2011, which boasted more mazes and scare zones than ever before.
Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses was pretty much the same maze as last year, but since this was one of Horror Nights’ crowning achievements, another trip to Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters & Mayhem had us first in line. Once again attendees don a pair of 3D glasses and take the “Murder Ride” through a gallery of serial killers before ending up at the Firefly house and then Doctor Satan’s cavern, encountering all the characters and set-pieces from Rob Zombie’s cult film. The fact that this maze exists at Universal (who produced and disowned the film back in the day) is still incredibly bizarre – and a sure sign of Hollywood’s ever-changing attitude – but if they made this a permanent part of Horror Nights, it would be more than welcome.
The next stop was The Thing: Assimilation based on Universal’s upcoming prequel, which took us through the doomed Norwegian base camp. I haven’t seen the film yet, but if this maze is any indication, fans can rest assured that they’ve recaptured Carpenter’s world in stunning detail. Many of the grisly scenes discovered at the camp in the original film are in full effect here: In one room, we got up close with the block of ice that housed the The Thing, while in another we encountered the poor bastard McCready found, who was in the process of slashing his own throat. And if the creature work in the film is as half as cool as the creations in this attraction, we’re in for one wild ride.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with La Llorna: Villa De Almas Perdidas. As Horror Nights’ first non-movie themed maze, it seems like a concept aimed specifically at LA’s large Hispanic population – but luckily, some artfully done wall crawls helped educate us about the Mexican legend: “La Llorona” (which translates to “The Weeping Woman”) was a young woman who drowned her children to be with the man she loved and later killed herself. She can’t cross over until she finds her children so she wanders the Earth for all eternity, and locals in Mexico often claim to see her weeping near bodies of water.
Stepping into a darkened candle-lit Mexican church, we were treated to a funeral for the three dead children with mourners filling the pews. Several of them leapt up and attacked the crowd, driving us deeper into a maze consisting of graveyards, pools and ghostly women screaming in agony. I won’t reveal all the secrets behind this one, but La Llorona instantly claimed the throne for this year’s creepiest maze. It’s further proof that you don’t need a big-wig boogeyman to scare the pants off people.
Next up was our most anticipated maze, Alice Cooper: Welcome to my Nightmare, and it didn’t disappoint. Without giving too much away, we got to experience all the insanity of Alice’s stage show up close and personal, with guillotines and severed heads, as we marched through the nightmare version of his childhood, encountering scenarios and characters from some of his classic tunes (which also provided the maze’s soundtrack). The craftsmanship and production design behind this maze is easily the best I’ve ever seen in a haunted attraction, complete with actual photos from Alice’s childhood and visual references to his music. By far the best maze this year – and maybe the park’s history.
Despite being in a huge corporate theme park, Universal has never skimped on the gore, but even I was shocked by how far they went with Eli Roth’s Hostel: Hunting Season. After a quick wait (complete with hot Slovakian women who try to “pick you up” in line), we were ushered inside the “Elite Hunting Club” and hit with arterial sprays almost instantly. True to the nature of the films (and much, much gorier), we hopped from torture chamber to chamber, witnessing poor young Americans getting mutilated in all the worst ways.
After maze-hopping through five amazing attractions, we were almost too exhausted to stand so ended our night with a quick ride on the Terror Tram. Modeled after Wes Craven’s Scream franchise, the tram took us on a backlot tour through the currently in-production “Stab 8”, where the ever-vigilant Ghostface killer wasted no time showing up. After a brief ride we were dumped off the tram onto the famous Bates Motel and War of the World sets, where multiple Ghostfaces assaulted us at every turn.
A quick note to all who plan to attend: The crowds are overwhelming this year (even by Horror Nights standards) and most of the mazes have wait times of 60-100 minutes. If you plan on hitting everything, hit up the park during a weekday or pick up a front-of-the-line pass. Either way it’s well worth the price of admission, and Universal continues to raise the bar for haunted attractions. Halloween Horror Nights is running now through October 31st.
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