This was my first visit to Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood. I have been attending the Orlando version for over a decade, and love the event. It’s been a goal of mine to visit the Hollywood location, to not only attend Universal Studios Hollywood – a park I’ve never been to – but also to see how their horror event compares to the grand scale of the East Coast park.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived at the park – late in the afternoon, after 1 PM – was that it was SMALL. This is a complete estimate, but I would be willing to bet you could fit this entire park into a quarter of Universal Studios Orlando. The park is so small that I arrived at 1 PM and was able to do everything in the park with the help of Express by 4:30. The Citywalk area even is small in comparison. The park also features a weird layout where some of the attractions are in the main gate area, then the rest are down a set of what feels like a million escalators (it’s probably like 5-6.) You get off the escalators in a lower lot area that features The Hollywood version of The Mummy, and Jurassic park (Jurassic World here) as well as a direct clone of the Orlando Transformers. There were also a few haunted houses down here – but more on that in a minute.
Around 5:30 attractions began to close, and at 6 PM the park closed. Horror Nights guests were able to collect a wristband starting at 4:30, and this worked in place of the traditional Stay and Scream areas. The park is also allowing re-entry during HHN (Halloween Horror Nights) for the first time this year. So, how did the event compare to Orlando?
Well…unfortunately, it doesn’t.
The event is good, but when compared to Orlando (or even their competitor Knotts in the area) the event seemed to fall short for me. When you visit the Orlando park there are scare zones through the entire park, with almost no dead space at all. This park is smaller, so I expected less scare zones. I did not expect almost none. There were 2 main sections of the park that featured a collection of scare actors, but for the most part there was a lot of dead space in the streets. This was not the Horror Nights I came to know and love in Orlando. The first scare zone I came across did not seem to have a coherent theme at all. It was titled…well, I’m not sure – because the scare zones are not even listed on the Horror Nights Hollywood website (Which I just went to check to grab the title because I was not sure because the theme was not coherent….seeing a pattern yet?) There was a scaffolding section over the top that was spitting fire out of it, with some devoured bodies at each entrance point – and that’s where the props for this zone stopped. Through the….erm….”zone”…there were 5-6 monsters total. A stilt Walker, and some other costumes that were just….random. This brings us to the second scare zone – one that coherently actually made sense. Located outside of the Bride of Frankenstein house was a Universal Monsters Women zone. A mummy roamed, Bride of Frankenstein was seen in the fog, Dracula’s bride was around. This zone also at least had some props – showing off old movie posters. It also only had 5-6 creatures at a time though, feeling rather empty.
Onto the houses….
Bride Of Frankenstein:
This was the house I was most excited for. I LOVE the classic monsters (I even have a pair of shoes themed to some of them: Bride of Frankenstein being one of the pairs, yes of course, I wore them.) I had high hopes for this house. It’s also one in Orlando, so later this season I will be getting a direct comparison.
The first thing I noticed about this event’s houses compared to Orlando’s was that some of them are outside. I know this has happened in Orlando in the past, but I can not recall the last time – probably not since the removal of Jaws. THIS theme worked very well with the setting – Bride needing the older look of the buildings in this part of the park that are visible through the roof.
The next thing I noticed however – was the dead space in the houses. I’m seeing a pattern for sure. There were complete hallways of black walls in this house, something I would come to find out is the case for all the houses this year. The individual sets between each black hallway were fantastic, however the hallways pulled you out of the story before dropping back into it. The houses all felt inconsistent in this way. The sets were great, but the overall house fell flat for not feeling “connected.”
Texas Chainsaw Massacre:
This was a great representation of the movies. There were chainsaws obviously, and massacring. The sound’s were well done through the house and some of the effects were excellent. The chainsaw going through the person on the table was a well done scene with great visuals behind it. This house also featured less overall black hallways, and more scenes, yet still did not hold up to some of the previous houses for Texas Chainsaw that the Orlando park has done in the past. Overall, its a decent use of the IP (independent property – a house based on existing films or stories.)
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers:
Ahhh Halloween. Michael Michael Michael Michael…..
ALWAYS a classic house. While this one was based on Halloween 4, they all feel the same no matter what Halloween Movie they based it on. Michael with his knife popping out around almost every corner. The rooms were again gorgeous, but mostly separated by black hall’s. The park seems to really focus on individual set’s, and not building a cohesive house with no gaps/lapse in “involvement.”
AMC’s The Walking Dead:
Okay….ok….okay….Enough. I am kinda glad this is the last season of The Walking Dead. Remember how I said I go to the Orlando event every year? Well, if you aren’t a Horror Nights person you may not know this: Florida did The Walking Dead as the THEME for years. Like….5 in a row? Even when it wasn’t the THEME it was still a house for a good while. Hollywood however? THEY BUILT AN ENTIRE DAYTIME ATTRACTION AROUND THIS SHOW. I admit, I’m still watching – ONLY to see how it ends because I’ve committed this much time already, but I’m over it. The Walking Dead attraction no longer operates in the daytime at Universal Hollywood. It took the place of the Classic Monsters daytime attraction *something I am sad I never got to witness.* This is the last year of this house, and there isn’t much to say. It’s the Walking Dead. You go through the Hospital, past the Bicycle girl into the prison and guess what? There’s zombies. At least because this was a permanent attraction for years there is no black hallway dead space.
This was disappointment at best. There is so much potential for an Exorcist house….but this? Was bad. The facade (The front entrance) was perfectly done: Brick wall building ripped straight from the movie that you enter. Then you go into the house and might as well be immediately in a black hall way. If the other houses were guilty of being empty and repetitive this was the leader of them. The scenes were almost all identical – different takes on the bedroom scene, one after the other – so many that I’m not sure there were any other scenes in the house. In between each bedroom was a plain black hallway with nothing in it. Honestly, this was the worst Halloween Horror Nights maze I had ever been through, and possibly the worst haunted house ever….
NETFLIX PRESENTS: The Haunting At Hill House:
Notice how I capitalized NETFLIX PRESENTS? Well, That’s because I think Netflix probably saved this house from being a disaster piece. So far in the event everything had felt very budget. Have I mentioned the lack of environment between scenes and lack of consistency in houses? The BLACK HALLWAYS? Yeah. Why does this park have no budget when the Florida park builds mansions for haunts? Well, fortunately, it looks like Netflix threw a few dollars at this house. There were no black hallways, at least here the dead space was filled with wallpaper, giving a cohesive ambience. Now: I have to admit, I have never seen Haunting of Hill House the show. I don’t know who Nell is, but I do know the ghosts are welcoming him home. Having never seen the show’s this was one of my top houses at the event only for its finished house feeling.
The Curse Of Pandora’s Box:
FINALLY: A Non-IP house. This is the only “original” house at the event. It was also one of the best houses at the event. No black hallways here for the most part. Cohesive scenes and storytelling as you go through Pandoras box and pass all kinds of ancient myths. The house starts with you walking into an antique dealers storage, where Pandora’s box opens in front of you and you step inside. Terror awaits. The house was filled with vibrant neon’s settled into pitch black, and special effects. My favorite scene was the Medusa head that was on the wall and changed in front of you. The house was lively and fun, yet spooky at the same time. It felt complete. I am not sure if they do “house of the year” awards like they do in Florida, but this one is it for sure.
The Terror Tram:
OK NOW THIS WAS COOL AND IM GONNA GEEK FOR A MOMENT SO I AM SORRY. I could honestly care less about the terror tram experience in general: Basically, you start out on the studio tour before being kicked off the tram and having to walk back while being terrorized. This year it is set to the forever purge, so enter purge characters wearing masks wielding knives, machetes, chainsaws and more. Whatever, I DO NOT care. The only thing that you need to know about this experience is that you get to WALK ALONG THE BATES MOTEL AND HOUSE. I took the tram tour in the daytime to check out the experience and was so excited to see the house and hotel, but getting to actually walk along them? Yes please. Psycho is a great movie and if you’ve never seen it you can stop reading here and go watch it now.
OVERALL: The event was fun. I had a good time, and enjoyed doing the comparison to Orlando past events. I am excited to compare it to the current event happening in orlando now in a few weeks. In the end it felt like Halloween Horror Nights Lite. Less scare zones, less houses, exactly what I expected for an overall Lesser version of Universal Studios. With the Groupon deal’s it would be worth going, but if you are deciding between Halloween Horror Nights and Knottscary farms – well, go to Knotts. More on that later this week.
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Justin Landers is 30 year’s old and owns Just Shoot Light Multimedia Productions, a freelance photo and video company involved in the theme park industry since 2013. You can find him on Instagram at @Inverted_Therapy and @Just_Shoot_Light and on YouTube or Facebook.