Halloween Horror Nights has returned to Universal Studios Hollywood and they have returned with a clear goal in mind – to scare the living daylights out of us! But how is this event holding up after last year’s absence? With many old mazes and a few new, explore the frights with us as we delve into this year’s haunt!
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Universal Hollywood’s Horror Nights are often hard for me to form my general opinion on because I always find myself struggling between 2 different factors. If we were just judging based on the Horror attractions, Universal is hands down my personal favorite in SoCal. Their mazes provide top notch theming often centered around existing horror properties. However, the crowds at this event are always miserable. I struggle to recommend the event to people who aren’t hardcore park enthusiasts just because I know I’m sending them to line city. I wondered if the crowds would be less this year due to Covid restrictions but unfortunately they were just as hectic.
I attended the event on a Thursday night early in the season. To do USH HHN’s right, you need a very solid game plan going in. This haunt is a much more ‘active’ experience as opposed to just being able to wander the park leisurely. By ‘active’, I mean constantly checking wait times and reevaluating your plans. In the remainder of the review, I will give a number of tips on how to do this event right as well as an accurate look at all the wait times I experienced.
Before arriving, you will need to select your ticket option, and there are many! If you can, I’d recommend either getting the Express Line pass or the after 2pm ticket. The latter allows you to enter the park after 2pm, get all the rides done, and then you can be the first one waiting at the mazes once they open. The next best option is to buy a regular ticket online which allows for early entrance starting at 6pm. This is what I did. If you go with the 6pm option, be sure to actually be at the gate at 6pm. Even a few minutes late will make the difference of a 10 minute wait to an hour.
The early entry hour only has a few mazes and rides open, all of which are located on the lower lot (except for Terror Tram but do not go to this yet as it’s line tends to be manageable throughout the night). Upon entering the park, I B lined for the lower lot. On the way down, I got some great views of Super Nintendo World and it’s looking great!
When I got to the lower level, everything had a 5 minute wait. In my head, I knew the right thing to do was to go to the mazes; alas, I didn’t follow my own advice and was tempted by the short ride waits. I convinced myself I could do the rides really quickly and the mazes would still be short when I got out.
First, I walked right onto Jurassic World. I was really excited to do this ride as I hadn’t been on it since the re-theme. I really enjoyed the new version of the ride, however, I’m not sure if I would take it over the old one. The new ride is very clean and put together, almost to a fault in my opinion. It was so pristine and pretty that it very much made me aware I was on a very produced ride. Even the spots that were supposed to be ‘damaged’ looked so perfect that for me it took away some of the full immersion aspects of the ride. Don’t get me wrong though, I still really love this ride and think that Universal did a wonderful job. The Mosasaurus tank scene is really cool! The next mistake I made was going to the Revenge of The Mummy. All the lines still felt minimal so I thought I could knock this out super quick and then move onto the mazes. It took me about 5 minutes to get on the Premier Rides’ hybrid dark ride/coaster and as always, this ride never disappoints!
When I exited the ride, the lower lot felt completely different. It was about 6:20 pm at this point. Texas Chainsaw Massacre was now sporting an hour long wait while The Exorcist was 40 minutes. Both the rides still had 5 minute waits. The ride wait times will get longer as the night goes on, but in the early minutes of the event, the maze lines will fill up much quicker than the rides. Had I done the 2 mazes first, the ride lines would have still been 5 – 10 minutes when I was done. So learn from my mistakes and don’t get tempted into the rides! Do the 2 mazes first, then try and hit a ride.
Since it was 20 minutes shorter, I got in line for The Exorcist. The line was consistently moving so that was nice but do be aware that there is a second indoor line section that is deceivingly large. The Exorcist is a returning maze that tells the classic story of young Regan and her possession. This maze was incredibly well done. The attention to detail was really stellar. The maze primarily consisted of larger rooms divided by corridors. The larger rooms were less scary and more about recreating classic moments from the film, which they did a wonderful job of. The corridors in between the rooms would act as palate cleansers between the scenes but these moments were arguably the scariest as this is where the most scare actors would jump out. Posted wait time when I entered the line: 40 minutes. Actual wait time: 55 minutes.
At this point, I made my way back to the upper lot as I was meeting other members of my group. The next maze we did was Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. This was my most anticipated maze of the evening as I’m a huge horror fan and the Halloween franchise is my absolute favorite. Kudos to Universal for continuing the trend of recreating the films in the series, even as we begin to get into the lesser known entries. Set 10 years after the original films, Halloween 4 follows the story of the young Jamie Lloyd, whom we learn is the daughter of the now deceased Laurie Strode who died in a car accident (a decision that would be reversed for later sequels). When being moved to a new hospital, Michael Myers breaks loose and returns to Haddonfield to stalk his young niece. The maze left me with mixed feelings but I’d imagine that comes from being a huge Halloween fan. The maze only actually focused on 2 scenes from the film. The first being, the service station massacre scene where Dr. Loomis and Myers come face to face for the first time since the original films. The second half was mostly devoted to nondescript hallways and the film’s climax (with one brief look into The Meeker home scene). While casual fans won’t notice, I found myself wishing a few more classic moments from the film had made their way into the maze. For example, the aforementioned Meeker home sequence provides numerous kills and chases that fans would have loved to see. Where was Michael in the rocking chair with the Shotgun? Where was the iconic rooftop chase with Rachel & Jamie? Where was Rachel??? I know these are minor points and that every scene from the film can’t be included. However, considering the second half of the maze was mostly just unrelated hallways, I feel a few more scenes from the film could have been added to please the die hard fans. That being said, the scenes they did include were all done very well and provided good scares for both genre nuts and casual audiences. Plus, John Carpenter’s iconic score playing throughout the maze is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine! I would love for Universal to continue this trend with Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers but I highly doubt they will as Halloween 5 and 6 are considered by many to be low points of the franchise, but I still love them! Posted wait time: 35 minutes. Actual wait time: 30 minutes.
At this point it was 8:30 pm and most of the maze’s waits were around 2 hours. I highly recommend downloading the Universal app as it’s very well done and updates the wait times frequently. Keep in mind, when a maze has a shorter wait time listed, lots of people rush there and it then jumps up very quickly. All of the food and drink offerings had very long waits as well. Pro tip if you’re looking for an adult beverage, the Studio Cafe located near the Transformers ride sells Beer, White Claws and various beverages and snacks. This location consistently had no wait time in comparison to all the other locations. I would highly recommend stalking up here. You can have drinks in line so I’d recommend getting one right before entering a longer line so you can sip on it throughout the wait.
Next up was The Terror Tram: The Ultimate Purge as it was the only wait under an hour. As you can gleam from the title, this year’s Tram is themed to the Purge. I always love doing the Terror Tram as it provides a very different experience that you can’t get at any other park. For those who have never been on it, the Terror Tram takes you to the backlot studio section of Universal where you can get out and walk around actual film sets. The highlight of this excursion has got to be visiting Bates Motel and the Psycho house! It is a very unique experience to be allowed to walk around these iconic horror film sets, all with scare actors jumping out at you! I found that the Purge theme lent itself very nicely to the Terror Tram. Blessed be our New Founding Fathers and America, a nation reborn……..and blessed be Norman Bates. Posted wait time 20 minutes. Actual wait 10 minutes.
The last maze we got on was Universal Monsters: The Bride Of Frankenstein Lives. This was one of the new for 2021 mazes and was a true standout. This maze wasn’t necessarily the scariest but it told the most complete story. Plus this maze had the most elaborate and beautifully designed sets of any other maze at the event. Bride also consistently had a shorter wait throughout the night, in comparison to the other lines at least. Bride Of Frankenstein is not to be missed! Posted wait: 25 minutes Actual wait: 20
Unfortunately, The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash wasn’t open during the event. But the exterior is stunning at night!
At this point we decided to head out as everything we hadn’t been on had at least a 2 hour wait. The mazes I missed are The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, The Curse of Pandora’s Box, and The Walking Dead Attraction (which can be experienced year round. I would’ve loved to do these attractions, especially Hill House as it was the other new maze but it consistently had the longest line the entire night, but I had a 6am call the next morning and just couldn’t convince myself to wait 2 hours.
I know I’ve harped a ton on the crowds of this event but it just baffles me every year how insane it is. I have never been able to go to USH HHN and get on every maze. Every year I feel that Universal could be doing more to spread out the crowds or they should start selling less tickets. But then again, people are still buying tickets every year so from a business perspective I understand why they’ve kept it the same.
Overall though, I do love Universal’s haunt! As I said earlier, from the lens of just the mazes, it’s the best theme park haunt event in Los Angeles. So few parks use actual IP for their mazes so it adds a completely different level to the experience. Getting to actually live and be scared within the worlds that we already know and love puts these mazes on a whole other level. Next year, I will follow my own advice and stick to my schedule. Had I done that, I would’ve been able to get a few more things under my belt. Universal’s theming for each maze is top notch, with great detail and respect paid to all the source material. If you’re a horror fan in any way, you will greatly appreciate this event!
Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights is open select nights through October and tickets can be found on Universal’s website. Please note, beginning October 7, all persons ages 12+ must be prepared to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, or a negative test taken within 72 hours of visit.