Despite sharing a name with its more famous Orlando counterpart, Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood is its own unique event, with its own distinct character and flair.
This year, the event features nine unique mazes, 10 if you count the year-round The Walking Dead attraction, as well as five scare zones and the return of the Jabawockeez dance show. I was able to attend the Fan Preview Night, which gave a select number of Horror Nights fans the ability to check out the event before it opened to the general public, and wanted to share my thoughts on the event:
I feel like I need to preface this ranking by explaining how much I love the Netflix series “Stranger Things.” The characters, the ’80s aesthetic and the tense storylines all add up to make it some of the most exciting television that I’ve seen in years.
Unfortunately, none of that excitement translates into the maze at this year’s Halloween Horror Nights. The maze is boring and lacks all of the charm that makes the series great. This maze is supposedly themed to seasons 2 and 3 of the series, but there’s no sign of the Starcourt Mall, the Hawkin’s fair, or even the Hawkins Community Pool. This is probably the most disappointing maze of the entire event.
Based on the cult horror film directed by Rob Zombie, this house starts off great, with a recreation of the low-budget dark ride run by the insane Captain Spaulding, but later becomes too generic and repetitive to really leave a lasting impression. I was also a little disappointed with the façade for this maze, which looks like a low budget home haunt rather than the high-quality recreations we’ve come to expect from Universal Creative.
One of the two mazes this year using the Studio Tour Tram garage, which is a new location for this year’s event, “Us” really captures the unsettling nature of the film by Jordan Peele. All of the scareactors playing the Untethered are top-notch and the set design is great. My only gripe here is that the maze itself is so dimly lit that it’s hard to really appreciate all the great work being done inside.
For the second year in a row, Halloween Horror Nights at Hollywood is bringing it back to where it all began – this year focusing on a duel between two of its most famous classic monsters. The maze does an amazing job continuing the aesthetic put forth by last year’s Universal Monsters maze but doesn’t quite live up to the lofty expectations that its previous incarnation set.
Based on both the original 1982 film as well as the upcoming Shudder streaming series, Creepshow starts off extremely strong and is probably the single scariest maze at the event this year (the Crate monster is one of the most terrifying things I’ve encountered in my six years of attending this event). Unfortunately, the maze loses a little steam when it transitions from the film to the series, but it still manages to pack a wallop.
FYI: This is the house that uses the infamous “poop” smell that Horror Nights Hollywood uses each year, so prepare your nostrils!
Like Trick ‘r Treat, or Killer Klowns from Outer Space in Orlando, Holidayz in Hell originally began its life as a scare zone during the 2018 event. This year, it’s been given the full house treatment, and it’s a worthy upgrade.
With twisted visions of New Year’s Day, St. Patricks Day, Easter and more, the maze features great character designs and some great set pieces. My favorite part of this maze is the Thanksgiving section, which features a not so subtle nod to Eli Roth’s famous fake trailer from the movie “Grindhouse.” At the end of the maze, guests are dumped directly into the “Christmas in Hell” scare zone, which really gives it a nice ending.
From the moment I stepped into the Ghostbusters maze, and saw Janine stand up and exclaim “WE GOT ONE!,” I knew I was in for a treat. This maze captures not only the visual style of the classic horror-comedy, but its use of the Elmer Bernstein score throughout makes you feel like you’ve really stepped into the film.
Since “Ghostbusters” is one of my all-time favorite, ‘desert island’ movies, I feel like it was inevitable that this maze was going to make my top three. I do wish that the maze would have focused a bit more on the final showdown with Gozer, but regardless, this one is a ton of fun.
One of my biggest frustrations with Halloween Horror Nights over the last several years is that unlike their counterpart in Orlando, there hasn’t been a truly original maze in Hollywood since Clowns 3D: Music by Slash in 2014.
This year, they finally changed course on that creative decision with two original mazes, the aforementioned Holidayz in Hell and this maze. Loosely based on the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box, this maze features some seemingly old school effects to create a genuinely unnerving, but enjoyable experience. I really hope that this maze convinces Universal Creative to use more original concepts in the future.
One of the joys of events like Halloween Horror Nights is the feeling of stepping into the world of whatever film or television show that they’ve recreated and living in it for a few moments. Never has a maze felt more real than this year’s take on the 1988 cult hit “Killer Klowns from Outer Space.”
The maze starts with a live actor standing in front of the extraterrestrial circus tent facade for the maze, looking for his poor lost dog. It lends a level of immersion to the maze that carries throughout. The maze is bright, colorful, and a ton of fun. As an added bonus, unlike the dreaded poop smell that permeates the Creepshow maze, Killer Klowns smells like cotton candy and ice cream throughout!
Halloween Horror Nights runs on select nights at Universal Studios Hollywood now through Nov. 3. To learn more, and to purchase tickets, visit Hollywood.HalloweenHorrorNights.com.
You can watch our full video walkthroughs of each maze and scare zone here.