Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios is supposed to be one of the premier horror events in the country. Accordingly, when we packed our bags for LA, I brought an extra pair of pants, in case I had a fear-related accident. However, I should have checked to make sure the extra pair of pants actually fit me. When we went swimming earlier in the day, I’d worn my pants over my suit going to and from the pool so that no one would have to look at my see-through leg skin, but this plan backfired as my pants got quite wet on the way back to the room, creating the appearance that I’d already had a fear-related accident, and my backup hipster pants were too tight to the point of severe discomfort. So I spent the minutes before we were off to CityWalk furiously blowdrying my crotch in the hotel bathroom with the provided hair dryer.
Waiting to get into the park, Jason had his first experience with a Southern California Bro waiting behind us in line. “So, bro, get this, I was dating this chick who turned out to be lame, and she was like, I thought that The Simpsons ride was too long but that the King Kong ride could have been longer and I was like, what, the Simpsons ride is like, a perfect length, and really, how much longer can a gorilla fight a dinosaur? Man, the best part of The Simpsons ride is like, when you go down to hell, I was all like WHOOOOOOA!” …he was suitably impressed with the guy’s bro-itude.
Immediately upon entering the park, it’s clear this event isn’t intended for children, with made up girls in short shorts grinding and writhing in cages to rock music. Once you’ve passed them, you’re into the Klownz area, overflowing with chainsaw-wielding clowns and geysers of flame shooting into the sky. There were so many clowns, in fact, that it was very easy for one to sneak up behind you while you’re distracted by another. One clown was very, very determined to try and get a squeak, a squeal, a screech, something out of me as he followed me through the area, blowing into my hair and dangling some sort of furry mass of something in my face. Really, the one he should have been going for was Jason–there were only a couple of times I was genuinely startled all night. Overall, the actors were very good at finding people who were totally engrossed and scaring them back into the moment.
Terror Tram: Scream 4 Your Life
Our first stop was the Terror Tram, as it stops running a few hours before the park closes. We had purchased front-of-the-line passes, which meant that the most we had to wait for anything was a few minutes (compared to the 100+ minutes everyone without a pass had to wait for damn near everything), so we weren’t concerned about having to pick and choose the things we wanted to do most out of fear of not being able to see and do everything–but we didn’t want to get caught up elsewhere in the park and accidentally miss the two things that closed early.
The Terror Tram bills itself as a behind-the-scenes look on the Universal Studios backlot of four horror movies currently in production; it’s essentially Universal Studios’ unbranded horror maze. I’m glad we chose to do it first, as it set the scene for the rest of the night. I’m not necessarily certain what I expected Halloween Horror Nights to be, but the Terror Tram absolutely blew all of my expectations away. The only word I can possibly think to use to describe it is “elaborate”. One of the movies was “Zombiez on a Plane”–and we walked past an entire plane ripped up, with bodies dangling out of the seats. I was so impressed by the work and money pumped into this event that I would forget that I was supposed to be scared. One girl was having her face ripped off, and as I was gawking at her makeup, she squirted water “gore” into my face and my reaction was not “ewww”, but “Wow! Awesome!”
The Simpsons Ride
Our next stop was The Simpsons ride. It was hard enough for Jason to drag me away from Krustyland the first time to go to the Terror Tram: there was no way he had the strength to resist me again, especially since I’d been wanting to ride this ride ever since I’d first heard it existed. Everything about the area was spot-on perfect, from the references to the “Tooth Chipper” to schlocky Krusty-brand merchandise to the fully-stocked Kwik E Mart. The ride was charming, funny, and had a number of unexpected surprises. Afterward, my cheeks hurt from smiling.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure was an excellent (wait for it) respite for my smile muscles, because it was the only down note of the evening. It was a bunch of juvenile racist jokes with some song and dance numbers…and the main villain was Osama bin Laden. Really, Universal Studios? Wow. Pretty tacky. It did have some pretty attractive scantily clad young people, but I can get that elsewhere, without jokes about Mexicans and leaf-blowers.
House of 1000 Corpses in 3D Zombievision
I’ve always been a fan of Rob Zombie’s horror work, particularly House of 1000 Corpses, so I was definitely looking forward to this maze. Before we went through, we were handed a pair of 3D glasses to wear, which made the maze even more disorienting than it would have been otherwise. They managed to touch on nearly every area in the movie, from Captain Spaulding’s store to the Murder Ride to the house of the Firefly family to the underground tunnels where Dr. Satan resides. The colors, the tone…everything was spot-on perfect.
The Thing: Assimilation
The Thing was one of our favorite mazes of the evening. Not only were the special effects amazing (they were created by Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, two people who worked on the film), but they managed to create an atmosphere in which you felt like you may have possibly stepped through a portal into Antarctica, your breath fogging from your mouths on what you know is a warm Los Angeles evening. One of the only downsides is that, unlike the film, you aren’t threatened by the menace that anyone around you at any time could turn into The Thing (which could have been fixed with some line plants…but then again would have increased wait time so I don’t know if the payoff would have been worth it).
Jurassic Park: In the Dark
This is the same ride as it is during daylight hours, except in the dark, it has a little more punch. We were told that you would get drenched on this ride, and since we wanted to do everything but didn’t want to spend have the night shivering in wet clothes, we bought two of the ponchos that were available for sale. I recalled all too well the time I’d gone to Six Flags Great America’s Fright Fest (located in Gurnee, Illinois, home of chilly to downright freezing temperatures in October) and ridden the Roaring Rapids ride, certain that all of the water geysers had been turned off, and discovering far too late that I was wrong and ending up soaked to the bone and colder than the White Witch’s nether regions. So I was insistent upon poncho purchase.
…we were the only people in line in ponchos. When we got off the ride, our ponchos were barely sprinkled with water.
At least we looked cute.
Alice Cooper: Welcome to my Nightmare
This maze was designed with the help of Alice Cooper himself, and contained a lot of references to his music, some of which I caught, and some of which went straight over my head as I’m not the biggest Alice fan. I’m guessing I would have enjoyed the maze more were I a huge fan, but then again, the dingleberry teenagers behind us were clearly fans, and one of them kept shouting at the actors that they weren’t so-and-so, that they weren’t doing such-and-such right, so they couldn’t have been having a great time. Unless they enjoyed taking some of the fun out of it for me, in which case I guess they had a blast. I certainly had fun mocking them afterward. One of the actors in this maze got me good, as he came crawling at me on the floor and I only saw him coming out of my peripheral vision: I tripped over my feet and then Jason’s feet while scrambling away.
Revenge of the Mummy
This ride was ok. I mean, I enjoyed the Mummy movies (up to a point), and I always dig rollercoaster-type rides, but it wasn’t anything special or particularly horror-themed. It’s certainly not something I would have waited an hour and a half to ride.
Hostel: Hunting Season
On our way into this maze, a group of girls came screeching out of the end, running and screaming well into the night. I thought for SURE this meant that something at the end would be beyond terrifying, but it didn’t end up scaring me, though overall the maze was one of the most gruesome. However, one of the actors squirted me and caught me off guard with more water “gore”, and the guys in the next room must have heard my “EWWW” because they nailed me, too. Or maybe they all like taking shots at girls in glasses, I’m not an expert.
La Llorona: Villa De Almas Perdidas
La Llorona is a widespread legend in Mexico about a woman who drowned her two children for the love of a man, who subsequently rejected her, and she now roams the afterlife in ghostly purgatory, weeping for her lost children and seeking to drown other children to join them. I was distracted by the dudebro in front of us who was masking his own fear by walking behind his girlfriend with his arms around her, penguin waddling through the entirety of the maze. For the amusement of the people walking behind us, I did the same thing to Jason, which encited some laughs from the people behind us. Though the legend doesn’t really resonate with me personally, I thought the makeup and everything was very well done–there were a lot of cemetery settings with gravestones and weeping angels, and the actors were painted to resemble stone so realistically you could not tell which were the people and which were the props. At one point during the maze, they had an extra-large Maria head devouring a child in his bed (Freddy Krueger style), and when I drew Jason’s attention to it, saying “I don’t recall that being part of the legend”, an actor crept out of a hiding place, so when Jason turned back, he was so startled he nearly jumped through the ceiling, getting brays of laughter from everyone including myself.
The Wolfman: Curse of Talbot Hall
This was the perfect maze on which to end our experience. Not because the maze itself was particularly outstanding, but the people around us enhanced, rather than detracted from, our experience. I’m not easily scared, but if someone fails to scare me, I won’t fling insults at them or be a jackass, and I was surprised to see that so many people WERE jackasses about it. But this time, it was perfect. Just before entering the maze, the group of girls in front of us screeched and said “You please go first, I can’t go first, I’m so scared”. I laughed and said “No fear, ladies, I will hold your hands” and led the way through the maze. I had my fair share of people jump out at me, but there were also some people who targeted the girls at the back, one of whom ran forward into me, screaming “BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLS”. I turned to her, confused, and said “Excuse me, but did you just scream “balls”?” Yes, yes she had. Apparently this is a thing among the youth these days. This maze also contained my maze kryptonite: mirrors. Unless someone shows me the correct way, I will walk back and forth between two mirrors and spend the rest of my life in the maze, often walking into them face first.
After we’d seen everything there was to see, we decided to hit the Kwik E Mart and head out early–our front of the line passes got us to the front of every line once, but if we wanted to see or do anything again, we’d have to wait the full time, and there wasn’t anything I was willing to wait in line for that long to do again. While at the Kwik E Mart, we bought some plastic glassware for the house because I can’t be trusted with real glass, a “Duff” and “Flaming Moe” energy drink to go with my Buzz cola, and a big pink Simpsons donut. How big, you ask? Big. Really big.
We’re already talking about going back next year.