Universal Studios Hollywood was transformed into a terror theme park for its annual Halloween Horror Nights event on September 16. The lineup this year featured the most popular villains from television and cinematic history, from works like The Shining, Friday the 13th, Insidious and American Horror Story, which were adapted into maze attractions to send visitors into their own horror story remake.
Immediately upon entry, visitors are greeted by the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface, zombies, freaky Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street and other swarming ghouls singling out the most terrified guests to inflict more horror before the mazes.
The crowd favorites — the Insidious, The Shining and American Horror Story mazes — had wait times of nearly an hour to two hours once the event filled up throughout the night. However, the sheer amount of detail within each maze that truly transforms a visitor’s experience into a real-life horror film makes it well worth the wait.
Perhaps the most psychologically thrilling experience was The Shining’s maze, directed by John Murdy, which showcases an ominous hedge as its entrance. The attraction relies on a number of various visual illusions to bring scenes from the movie to life, such as the eerie appearance of the Grady twins, who were murdered in the hotel, and a blood-gushing elevator.
The maze surprisingly does not offer immediate jump scares; rather, the visitor moves room-to-room in a symbolic psychological meltdown, representative of the movie’s main character Jack’s delusion. As Jack and the visitor likewise descend into a horror hell, the number of jump scares increases, ending with the emblematic “Here’s Johnny!” scene from the movie before visitors rush out of the hedge maze.
In comparison, the American Horror Story maze offers a multitude of jump scares and gory scenes taken from the “Roanoke” season. The maze institutes a few lifelike details to heighten the horror experience, such as the smell of smoked ham and baby powder.
Beyond the traditional maze attraction, the Titans of Terror Tram, hosted by Chucky, the terrifying doll, transports guests to a completely new setting as they face villains like Leatherface, Jason and Freddy outdoors after being dropped off by Chucky’s tram.
Compared to the carefully engineered indoor mazes, the Terror Tram lacked the close-up element of horror guests enjoyed. Although the outdoor setting creates a feeling of pure isolation from reality, the large number of people made the experience less frightening overall.
The attractions also weave in a few movie promotions. On the tram’s screen on the way back to the main park, Chucky promotes his own upcoming remake. Visitors to the Saw-themed maze also received a preview of the upcoming movie Jigsaw, set for release in October. However, the Saw-themed maze captures the gory element of its films, showcasing the infamous reverse bear trap, automated scalping machine and other iconic horror scenes from the series.
Universal’s Horror Nights offers a healthy dose of fright to guests, but for seasoned horror enthusiasts, there is lack of a surprise factor for those used to jump scares in mazes. As guests move from one attraction to the next, there is no scare element past the chaotic smoke-filled pathway that leads visitors deep into the park.
Mazes like The Shining, however, offer a psychological element that creates an unforgettably thrilling, although ominous, sense of dread.
Universal Studios Hollywood is also offering the “College Thursdays Terror Pass” (ushtix.com/usc) which allows students, faculty and staff, with .edu email addresses, the option to visit Halloween Horror Nights every Thursday night throughout the run of the event.