Your Creepy Tip Guide to Halloween Horror Nights

Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights lives up to its hype… but perhaps to its detriment.

Mmmm... the smell of burning flesh! (photo courtesy Universal Studios Hollywood)

Mmmm... the smell of burning flesh! (photo courtesy Universal Studios Hollywood)

Considering my face has appeared all over the the place* in seeming endorsement of Halloween Horror Nights as part of their publicity campaign, not to mention my own early hype, I’m pretty relieved to say the attraction exceeded even my expectations. Besides the high production value and attention to detail that has become designer John Murdy and Universal’s trademarks, Horror Nights has a number of fresh scares, scare actors that stay deep in character, and an entire park that allows the Halloween mood to creep into every nook and cranny.

The highlights include “The Life and Crimes of Michael Myers,” a maze that allows fans to walk right through scenes from the “Halloween” movie series (read our sneak peek here), perhaps the best “scare zones” I’ve ever encountered, and the backlot Terror Tram was in example in how great casting (or training) and some well used resources can effectively frighten the crowds.

But oh, the crowds… Universal’s success at selling tickets seems to be its Achilles heel as opening night’s heavily clotted crowds diminished the effectiveness of even the best mazes. I’m hoping this is an issue they can address in some way – even it it means metering how many people enter the mazes at once (at the detriment of even longer wait times in line). Better yet, here’s to hoping this year’s success results in even more mazes next year, as 4, however great they are, seems like slim pickings against Knotts 12.

*front page of Variety, inside the LA Weekly, at NBC Los Angeles, etc… I’m the guy on the left.


Arrive early, stay late.

As eerie as the mazes are, the fright factor gets lost when you’re shuffling through at a snails pace with the line. Make the effort to arrive at 7pm, when the gates open, and head straight for the “Saw: Game Over” on the lower level before the maze gets clotted with crowds (and trust me, you don’t want to get stuck inside the bathroom set… there’s an oditory element to it).

During peak hours…

  • As a general rule, the longer the line, the slower you’ll walk through a maze, and the less you’ll be able to experience the intended scares. The exception here is the Terror Tram, which by its very nature meters the number of people who can board and walk thru the backlot at once.
  • Take a seat, enjoy the shows: The Rocky Horror Picture Show tribute is worthwhile, though horror free, campy diversion, and while I didn’t have a chance to check it out, the Bill & Ted stage show is also a bit of fun. (Personally, I’m disappointed that the Creature from the Black Lagoon musical wasn’t kept up for Horror Nights.)
  • Enjoy the rest of Universal’s rides which are open as usual during Horror Nights, from “The Mummy” to “The Simpsons.”

If you’re on a diet, avoid the Simpsons giftshop.

They occasionally have their giant Lard Land donuts priced at 2 for $5.00. These things taste better the Krispy Kremes, and the price would make them a steal even outside of an amusement park.

If you’re going to miss anything…

Skip “Chucky’s Funhouse,” which feels like an uninspired afterthought. While the rest of the mazes and park exhibit heavy attention to detail, this is basically the existing “House of Horrors” attraction with the lights dimmed more than usual, and a few dolls thrown in. If there’s no line, its a welcome diversion, but otherwise I’d suggest taking a second walk thru of the nearby “Michael Myers” or “My Bloody Valentine” mazes instead.

Got some dough? Indulge in a Front of Line Pass…

As press, my guest and I were treated to front of line passes to the mazes opening night, which would cost the general public between $100 and $120… but if attending on a crowded night, are well worth the premium. You’ll still need to deal with whatever flow exists within the maze, but won’t need to wait in lines that are regularly 30 minutes to and hour just to get inside. The passes work even for the regular park rides, among some other perks. Details here.

Have you been to Halloween Horror Nights? What did you think? And any tips to future visitors to be enjoy the experience?