Editor’s Note: For the past few years, I have sent different reporters to cover opening night of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood while I took in the sights and screams of Universal Orlando’s sister event. This year, I finally convinced Inside the Magic regulars Jeremiah and Josh Daws to take on the task, despite the fact that they dreaded the experience. The following is their tale of taking on the terror for the first time. - Ricky Brigante
I’ve had a dozen opportunities to go to Halloween Horror Nights. I used to live in Orlando and I currently live in Los Angeles. I’ve been invited by friends and family over and over again but I never had the guts to go. I hate being scared. Things that jump out at me are the worst so the thought of going to a theme park where anything can jump out at me at any point isn’t my idea of fun.
Most years, turning down Halloween Horror Nights was easy. I’m not a huge fan of gory horror movies. The scary level of our Halloween time short Missing in the Mansion is just about the edge of what I enjoy. So the properties featured at Horror Nights in the past didn’t pique my interest - until this year.
Halloween Horror Nights 2013 features “The Walking Dead” in not just one maze, but a Terror Tram, scare zone, and a new maze. And the kicker - part of it takes place on the classic New York backlot at Universal Studios Hollywood… THE Universal Studios, where the movies REALLY are made. I couldn’t turn this opportunity down.
My brother Josh and I talked it over and decided we’d finally conquer our fears and go. During the weeks leading up to opening night, we started to regret our decision. Both of us contemplated telling Ricky that we changed our minds. But we didn’t, and the night of the event finally came. Los Angeles turned cold on that night and there was a light fog adding to the creepy factor as we drove to the studio and theme park. Once we parked, we took a minute to gather our courage and went inside.
Immediately upon entering, rock music blasts while barely dressed dancers make it clear that Halloween Horror Nights isn’t necessarily for everyone. This year these dancers were dressed to match the The Purge, one of the scare zones in the park, hiding what are surely pretty faces with slightly creepy smiling masks.
Video: The Purge Go-Go Dancers of Halloween Horror Nights 2013 at Universal Studios Hollywood
We braved five different scare zones throughout the dimly-lit streets, some more frightening than others.
Video: Scare zones of Halloween Horror Nights 2013 at Universal Studios Hollywood
The Curse of Chucky - This was the first one we experienced. I don’t really find Chucky that scary so it wasn’t so bad. I was keeping an eye out during this scare zone and none of the performers “got” me. One even screamed “You better watch your back!” That was a nice touch.
The Purge: Survive the Night - I haven’t seen the movie “The Purge” but after going through this scare zone, I want to. It wasn’t too dark, so you could see the “scareactors” for the most part. From time to time, they would run at you with chain saws or you’d turn around and they’d be standing beside you. Their smiling face masks are creepy, but not too terrifying. There was one “leader” taunting people and talking about The Purge while big fireballs erupted above him - fun to watch.
Scarecrowz - Can you even call this a scare zone? It consisted of 4 or 5 stilt walkers wearing scarecrow masks. This zone was right outside “The Mummy” attraction where they usually have stilt walkers dressed as Egyptian gods during the daytime hours. Pretty lame. Though at one time I saw four of the scarecrowz circle around a woman who was on the ground crying - and they wouldn’t leave her alone. Brutal. For her, it was indeed a scare zone.
Cirque Du Klownz - This was probably my favorite scare zone. Clowns are just awful. By this point in the night, I was able to relax and enjoy watching the clowns scare the other guests. The worst part of this zone was a really large man dressed in some kind of bear suit. I turned and he was standing in my face and breathed on me. It was scary… and gross. But it worked.
The Walking Dead: Dead on Arrival - This was the darkest of all the scare zones and so the one where I was “gotten” many times. The use of strobe lights made it impossible to anticipate where the walkers were coming from. They seemed to appear out of nowhere. And being set on the Universal Studios backlot was worth the visit unto itself.
The Walking Dead
Moving past the scare zones, I was most excited about doing the Terror Tram invaded by The Walking Dead. I figured we’d be riding the tram and the walkers would be trying to get us. Pretty safe. Much to my surprise, the tram stopped at the bottom of the hill and we had to WALK. Ugh. After taking a minute to gather our courage, we started walking through the backlot. It started around How the Grinch Stole Christmas sets and went past the Bates Motel. Nothing too terifying. The walkers were all around but well lit for the most part.
Halfway through, you could do a photo op with Norman Bates on the front steps of his home — with his mother looking down from the window. This was one of the highlights of the experience for me.
Around the War of the Worlds plane wreck, we found ourselves alone on the walking tour. Too much time with Norman Bates. That was a mistake for two guys wanting to avoid walkers. We were quickly targeted and pushed through the rest of the tour as fast as we could.
Here’s a tip - Stay with a group. Some say be first. I say be middle. And try to stay near a pretty girl. They always go for the pretty girls. If you’re near one, they usually don’t have time to reset by the time you go past.
The ONLY maze we had enough courage to conquer was The Walking Dead: No Safe Haven. I’d heard in the past how elaborate the sets can be - full recreations of iconic scenes from the various horror films. This maze did not disappoint. We visited various locations from The Walking Dead including the prison yard, the cell block, and even Woodbury (including the Governor’s private quarters). This maze was just on the border of being too much for me to handle. I’m glad I did it, but I immediately knew I didn’t want to do any of the other mazes. Horror Nights creative director John Murdy and his team are just too good at designing places for walkers and others to scare me, so one was enough for us. Ricky will be out here in a couple weeks and he’ll report on the rest.
We did stick around to see Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure, knowing there should be more laughs than scares. But, first of all, why are Bill and Ted still around? I heard several people in the audience asking who they were. I know it’s become a staple of Halloween Horror Nights but, seriously, time to let that go. It may be a favorite for a lot of people, but I didn’t LOVE it. It parodied all the pop culture moments and celebrities you would expect, including Miley Cyrus, Oz the Great and Powerful, The Hobbit and… The Great Gatsby? Okay, maybe some you wouldn’t expect either. The plot was lame and the jokes were lazy. However, I don’t think that was the point. Every musical number started off with fully clothed dancers and who managed to end up in their underwear. It was like clockwork. I got so used to it that the next day while watching “Mickey and The Magical Map” at Disneyland and I was SHOCKED when the dancers didn’t rip off their shirts. (Ha!)
Video: Opening dance of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure 2013 Universal Studios Hollywood
Video: Finale dance of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure 2013 at Universal Studios Hollywood
Obviously I’m a Disney kind of a guy so this show was pretty shocking to me. The content is definitely PG-13 bordering on R and that’s not really my thing. But to each his own.
Overall, I did have fun at my first Halloween Horror Nights. I really do appreciate the craft and artistry that has gone into it. But I am not its target audience. I don’t see myself as a regular attendee… unless they offer another property that I just can’t pass up. “Bioshock” anyone? (Please John Murdy, make it so!)
Check back in a couple weeks for a full report of all the haunted houses from Halloween Horror Nights regular and Inside the Magic editor Ricky Brigante.
More photos from Halloween Horror Nights 2013 at Universal Studios Hollywood:
(Photos by Josh Daws)