Dread Comes to Universal
Friday, October 13th. It’s the premiere night of Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood, CA and Dread Central has been invited to take part in the opening gala event. Trudging through the rain, I meet up with screenwriting pal David Rosiak and his girlfriend Diana, and we’re quickly led into a large press auditorium. Corpses and severed body parts are strewn all over the buffet tables and cages hold kidnapped park tourists who cry and scream for help. Naturally, we’re too busy to oblige because Universal has provided us with an open bar.
The press has been invited by Pavel Pranevsky, AKA “The Director”, a demented Slovakian auteur once hired by Universal to make the most hardcore horror film ever made. We’re shown footage of Pranevsky’s extreme work-in-progress (which looks suspiciously like Un Chien Andalou) and told that the Universal execs had second thoughts regarding the sociopathic director. Upon his termination, Pranevsky fled deep into the wilderness behind the studio and now roams the back-lots of Universal, determined to finish his bloody masterpiece with the park’s visitors as his new cast.
The event kicks off with the Zombie Graduation ceremony, presided by a demented undertaker who sounds exactly like Clancy Brown. One by one, the recently deceased receive their diplomas and head out into the audience to terrorize party-goers for the rest of the evening. Several drinks and one large buzz later, we decide to leave the party and (not unlike the walking dead) stumble out into the theme park for some action.
The foggy streets are littered with every demented spectacle imaginable. Chainsaw-wielding maniacs jump out of the darkness. Sweeney Todd deals out free throat slashes. Undead vendors offer human guts for sale. This isn’t your typical family-friendly Halloween event with happy witches and white-sheet ghosts. Universal has gone all-out to deliver the genuine goods and for all intensive purposes, they’ve delivered in spades.
First stop: The Asylum – a giant walk-through mental hospital where the lunatics have taken over. This place is as good as haunted house attractions get, dishing out all the gory goods and even making this writer jump a few times. Is it time for a change of underwear? Outside eclectic percussion/electronic/experimental band The Mutaytor blasts through the night on stage with blistering drum sets, burlesque acrobatics, and ten-foot high pyrotechnics. You could easily waste the entire night watching their act.
We feel ourselves start to sober up, so we run back to the party for more drinks and make our way over to Chucky’s Insult Emporium, where the killer doll dispenses his unique brand of raunchy insults to audience members (the “warning” signs plastered all over are well justified). After about ten minutes, we’ve had our fill of the routine and make our way over to the big attraction: The Terror Tram.
The line is long, but moves fast. It’s a good thing too, because an obnoxious Latino radio station has set up a booth nearby (if I hear “Gasolina” one more time, I’m gonna gut something). We board the tram and are whisked into the Universal back-lot by a foul-mouthed tour guide. It doesn’t last long though: The driver panics, drops the entire group off at the Bates Motel, and takes off. We walk by all the rooms, which have strung up Clive Barker-ish corpses inside. A little girl comes running up to me with her eyes gouged out and asks me where her mother is. Over to the left, there’s a wrecked tram where the tourists are in the middle of being disemboweled by Leatherface. We proceed up the hill to the infamous Bates house and come face to face with Norman who brandishes a carving knife and screams to his mother at the window.
Next door is the most impressive thing in the entire park: A destroyed neighborhood from Spielberg’s War of the Worlds set that has been converted into a full-on zombie apocalypse. The sheer sight of this place automatically makes one hunger for a $200 million dollar Romero movie. We walk on and on, watching the undead feast on hapless victims and stumble through the ruins of houses and crashed planes. Just when it looks like there’s no end to the zombie invasion, the tram comes back around and picks us up, taking us through a trippy rotating tunnel and finally back to the studio.
As midnight rolls around, the park begins to close but we decide to hit one more exhibit on the way out: Universal’s House of Horrors which is being held in the Van Helsing fortress (yes, there’s still a Van Helsing exhibit). After seeing the entire park, this one is a bit of a disappointment; it’s simply a few horror characters (Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, etc) thrown into the same attraction, which isn’t nearly enough to clean out the vile stench of that god awful Stephen Sommers film. Skip this and check out one of the other cool shows instead.
Minor quibbles aside; Universal has kept up their streak of excellence with the annual Halloween event. In fact, they do it so well, one can't help but ask: Why the hell don't these guys make more horror films?
Special thanks to Universal for giving us one helluva night and David and Diana for all the juicy pictures. Halloween Horror Nights will be at both the Los Angeles and Orlando parks throughout the month of October, so get your ass out there. It’s well worth it!
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