By: Kayla Caldwell
The excitement heading into the first HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS since the pandemic cannot be understated. The buzz could be felt from the long line in front of the Hard Rock in City Walk all throughout the long walk to the entrance of Universal Studios Hollywood, as goths flocked to have the crap scared out of them for the first time in forever.
This year, HHN is giving their mostly-maligned attempt at The Exorcist maze a second chance. Our game plan was to tackle the lower lot first, so, of course, we began with The Exorcist. To be honest, I don’t remember the last The Exorcist maze, but this one felt like a great way to start the evening. There was a combination of vignettes with actors, animatronics, and jump scares featuring scareactors behind doors. It’s not quite as scary as when they can get all up in your grill, but we’re also still in the middle of a pandemic, so that was a smart decision on Universal’s part.
Unlike with The Haunting of Hill House, they built a pretty cool facade leading into The Exorcist maze, equipped with a figure of the priest standing outside, like the iconic shot many would recognize, even if they hadn’t seen the film. There’s plenty of writhing around on a bed, crab-walking down the stairs, and, of course, strobe lights.
Next, we headed to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Again, there was a fun facade built outside, and one of the poor teens from the films was out front with a camera, ready to document what he thought would be a fun road trip. He kind of acts as a bit of a hype man, preparing you for the maze. It’s always nice to have some facade and/or scareactor to look at while you’re waiting in line.
I really didn’t think I would like this maze, because these style mazes often smell like barbecue (which it did), and just freak me out. Once, at another theme park haunt, one of the scareactors whispered in my ear, wondering what I would taste like, and they’ve just never really been my favorite since then. However, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is actually really fun. I never thought I’d want to enter into the world of the Sawyer Family, but it was certainly entertaining to run right through it! Expect: unappealing family meals, dead bodies, butchering, and chainsaws (duh!).
Once we had the lower lot covered, we decided to hit the Terror Tram, and finish off that side of the park. This year, it’s Terror Tram: The Ultimate Purge. Confession: I kind of love the Terror Tram. I know a lot of people don’t, but sue me - I’m a big Psycho fan, and you get to walk past Bates Motel, as well as have the option of standing in a separate line to get a photo in front of the Bates home, along with a scareactor dressed as Norman Bates. I also love The Purge. It’s terrifying in its current relatability, but it’s also just really chaotic fun, when it comes to a scare zone or maze. Expect: monsters dressed as patriotic figures, cop cars covered in twinkly lights, and so many spooky, white masks.
From there, we went to The Curse of Pandora’s Box. I’m not going to say that I totally understood what was going on in this maze, but I will say that there is some amazing imagery. I’m talking, glowing monsters that blend in with the walls (until they decide not to!), neon-glowing skeletons in cages, and a truly stunning Medusa mural.
That brings us to Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, which is a maze I so desperately wanted to love. Unfortunately, unlike with the Orlando counterpart, Universal opted not to build a facade for this maze. It seems strange, since out of all of the mazes thus far, The Haunting of Hill House is the one where the physical structure of the house is a major character in and of itself. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some really cool vignettes, and it’s exciting feeling like you’re walking into the red room.
Next, we hit both my favorite maze and scare zone of the night, Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives, and Silver Scream Queenz, respectively. Before you even walk into the maze, you see this amazing entrance, which is “The Bride of Frankenstein Lives,” turned into a large, open book. That theme is continued throughout the maze, as each chapter leads to new vignettes and monsters.
It’s amazing to see The Bride as the lead character, trying to save her love, while also fighting off female vampires. Expect: killer costumes, some Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque bad a** staking scenes, and overall the best execution of a maze (in my opinion) for HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS 2021.
The accompanying scare zone is also full of estrogen, thanks to the Silver Scream Queenz. There’s The Bride, Anck-Su-Namun, and more. They’ve made trailers for each of the monsters, and the vintage movie vibe also continues through the area. Honestly, this area was so amazing, I wish they had put some tables and a bar in there so we could’ve just hung out with these horror vixens.
The Demon City scare zone is super fun, with plenty of vignettes for photo ops. The characters on stilts in this area stood out to me. I have about 20 photos, if not more, of this one particular creature who brings to mind the good season of True Detective. Chainsaw Rangers is great, because you’re scared, seeing as strangers are running at you with chainsaws. However, they also happen to be wearing bizarre animal masks, so it almost alleviates the fear and turns it into curiosity and humor? I definitely laughed out loud when we found a possum-man.
The Walking Dead maze was also open during HHN, but I’m not going to review it, since that is the same maze that has been open there for years. It’s fun, but not worth the time if you’re waiting in lines, since the other mazes have been constructed specifically for this event.
Last, but certainly not least, we checked out Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, which was an absolute blast. Before you even enter, you see the facade of a garage, with the silhouette of the boogeyman attacking someone as the iconic music plays. Expect: just so much Mike Myers, but also an amazing homage to Jamie coming down the stairs in the clown costume. This maze also may have the best ending, as you exit through a mirror-filled passageway, where Michael Myers is lurking at every turn.
It’s also worth noting that there is an amazing Día de los Muertos food and bar area by The Bride maze. It’s very well-decorated with vignettes, colorful lights, talking animatronic skeletons, and mesmerizing scare actors/performers. If I were to return to HHN this season, I would definitely spend a lot more time hanging out in this area. Be sure you don’t overlook this space!
My ranking for scare zones is:
1. Silver Scream Queenz
2. Demon City
3. Chainsaw Rangers
My ranking for mazes is:
1. Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives
2. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
4. The Curse of Pandora’s Box
5. The Exorcist
6. Terror Tram: The Ultimate Purge
7. The Haunting of Hill House
8. The Walking Dead
HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS runs at Universal Studios Hollywood through October 31, 2021.