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Halloween has officially arrived with Universal Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights once again providing the grand kick-off. Master of Ceremonies and HHN Creative Director John Murdy is starting to become a local legend with his lavishly constructed mazes…
…and in years past we’ve been amazed by how he finds new ways to step up the park every time. 2013 is no exception.
The who’s who of horror once again converged at Universal for the opening night festivities, starting with the 2013 Eyegore Awards (see our coverage here), and after a spirited show and a lot of drinks, DC writer Sean Decker and a group of us headed into the park for another wild night of Halloween thrills. Stepping out into the streets of screaming park-goers, we first pass through several scare zones featuring characters from the The Purge and Universal’s upcoming (and very fun) Curse of Chucky.
Not surprisingly, our most anticipated maze is one of the park’s best: Insidious – which practically begged for a haunted attraction when it was released three years ago. Based mostly on the first film, viewers are whisked into The Further, where they encounter the film’s signature ghosts, Lin Shaye’s gas-masky séance and nearly a dozen red-faced Joe Bishara demons – all to the delightfully creepy sounds of Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” With more Insidious chapters on the horizon, expect this one to become a Horror Nights staple.
Based on the recent remake, Evil Dead: Book of the Dead took us through foggy woods and the infamous haunted cabin for a first-hand account of all the memorable set-pieces from the film (including amputation and tree-rape!) while incantations and demon-resurrection passage blast all around you. Just like the remake, it’s a fun and spooky experience with copious amounts of the red stuff (one possessed animatronic deadite projectile-vomits liquid all over you). Given Universal’s tendency to revisit the classics after their remakes, it would be great to see an Ash-inspired Evil Dead maze next year.
Bringing back the Spanish-flavored frights for Angelinos, El Cucuy: The Boogeyman is a strange and rather confusing mixture of themes. The title character is a child-eating shape-shifting monster from Mexican folklore and we’re told the legend through the disembodied voice of Danny Trejo. I can’t say the maze’s set-pieces – a concoction of movie-theater imagery and pumpkin creatures – put anything into perspective for me, but the target audience of young Latinos seemed to love it.
The most noticeable change this year is how several mazes and scare zones have moved away from the main park and into the Universal backlot. While it takes some major walking and a tram ride to get there, this is an incredibly welcome change of scenery since the street sets and massive buildings of the backlot give Horror Nights a massive scope unlike anything you’ve ever seen at a haunt.
The tram drops us off at a giant Manhattan street set that is turned into a scare zone for The Walking Dead. A short walk through the fog-filled streets and assorted nasties finds us in front of a giant prison set for The Walking Dead: No Safe Haven. Based on Season 3 of the show, this is a huge step up from last year’s basic Walking Dead maze, taking us through creepy claustrophobic tunnels and cell blocks that are crawling with the undead (keep an eye out for Michonne’s “pets”). Attendees even take a little side trip to Woodbury to get up close and personal with The Governor’s private head collection and rotting daughter Penny.
Ironically, the scariest event of the night was on Transformers: The Ride when the ride itself broke down midway through, leaving us stranded in our vehicle for 20 minutes. After receiving some complimentary jelly beans (?!) for our troubles, we hike over to theTerror Tram and the dub-step infused Universal Monsters Remixed. These are basically reskins of the same attractions from previous years, taking viewers through the Psycho/War of the Worlds sets and the Universal House of Horrors while assorted boogeymen jump out. If you’ve come in previous years, you know what to expect by now…but it’s always a fun time.
The final stop is the best of the night: Black Sabbath 13 – based on the greatest metal band that ever lived. Murdy’s rock ‘n roll attractions have always received a little more love and care than the movie-inspired mazes (Alice Cooper being the major highlight in previous years), and he’s outdone himself again with the biggest scale attraction in Horror Nights history. Set in one of Universal’s massive backlot stages, attendees don a pair of 3D glasses and step into a trippy LSD freak-out of psychedelic castles and black lights. We’re attacked by literal “War Pigs” (giant pigmen in combat regalia) and other creatures inspired by the famous Sabbath tunes piping in through loud speakers. The one is worth the price of admission alone.
All in all, it’s another fantastic year for Universal. With Horror Nights constantly one-upping itself and the park expanding to accommodate The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we can only imagine what Murdy and his team have in store for next year. Zombie wizards, anyone?
A word of to the wise: Front of the line tickets are a must since the average wait times were 1-2 hours for any given maze. If you hope to experience everything Universal has to offer this year – and it’s a lot – they’re pretty much a necessity.
“Halloween Horror Nights” is running now on select nights through Saturday, November 2, 2013. Event dates are: September 20, 21, 27 and 28, October 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 26, 27 and 31 and November 1 and 2. More info on “Halloween Horror Nights” is available at Halloween Horror Nights.com. Updates from Creative Director John Murdy can be found on Twitter, as he reveals a running chronicle of exclusive information.
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