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Van Helsing: Fortress Dracula Debuts at USH

Universal Studios Hollywood turns again to Stephen Sommers, who was on hand to open the latest version of the park's walk-through maze attraction.

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Published: May 12, 2004 at 5:29 PM

"Van Helsing: Fortress Dracula" debuted officially today as the latest version of Universal Studios Hollywood's walk-through maze attraction.

Despite the popularity of such mazes at theme park Halloween events around the country each fall, USH's maze is the only permanent attraction of this type at the major theme parks in Southern California and Orlando. For the past few years, the maze has featured props and scenes from Stephen Sommers' "The Mummy" films.

For the latest installation, Universal turns again to Sommers, the writer and producer of the "Van Helsing" film, who also was on hand to open the new attraction. Sommers was joined by Dracula's Brides from the "Van Helsing" film, Josie Maran and Elena Anaya, in a made-for-the-cameras stunt to open the attraction by throwing the switch to awaken Frankenstein's monster.

In a switch from industry habit, where theme park attractions typically open years after the films upon which they are based, the "Van Helsing" attraction and film opened the same week. The attraction features a variety of props and scene sets from the film, as did the Mummy and Chicken Run attractions which previously inhabited the same building.

"Van Helsing"'s gothic facade stands near the entrance to the studio's theme park. Upon entering, visitors will find themselves in a depiction of Castle Dracula, surrounded by bats, rats and other assorted detritus of creepiness. Additional scenes feature Frankenstein's laboratory and catacombs in which lurk assorted monsters and zombies await to jump out at passersby.

Plan 10 to 15 minutes to walk through the maze, plus the wait time to get in the building, which will vary by park attendance and season. Universal rates this attraction "PG-13" and advises expectant mothers, sensitive children and those with heart conditions or claustrophobia to skip this attraction.

Although "Van Helsing" is based upon a current release, the attraction marks a nostalgic turn for Universal, as the maze replaces the spotlight on several of the film studio's classic monsters -- Dracula, Frankenstein's monster and the Wolf Man -- characters that identified the studio during the 1950s and '60s. The original movie studio tour at Universal devoted much of its attention to these monsters, only to shove them aside in recent years in favor of more contemporary films and characters.

Sommers will debut his second attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood next month, when the eagerly-anticipated indoor coaster "Revenge of the Mummy -- The Ride" opens on June 25.

Readers' Opinions

From Robert Niles on May 12, 2004 at 8:43 PM
Providing further evidence that yours truly is an idiot, I was on my way back from the press event before I realized that Elena Anaya was the star of what is my favorite audacious guilty pleasure movie scene of all time. (And no, I am not going discuss that little detail any further on this presumably family-friendly board.)

My chance to go full-on groveling stalker, and I blow it. I didn't even get enough shots for a TPI members-only Elena Anaya photo gallery. Like I said: I. Am. An. Idiot.

From Kevin Baxter on May 16, 2004 at 5:44 PM
Was it just a press event, or did you get to go on it? I don't see anything reviewy here, dammit!

BTW, who went on the Chicken Run walkthrough? Was it cool?

Oh, and I don't want to burst your bubble here, Robert, but that wasn't really her in that scene. It was only BASED on her.

From Robert Niles on May 16, 2004 at 6:00 PM
They had the walk-through lit and tricked out for TV cameras, so I don't consider what they had going last week a true represenation of the attraction. I'm going through as a "normal" guest this week when I go back to Universal for a hard-hat tour of Mummy.

I'll write about both Wednesday.

From Robert Niles on May 19, 2004 at 7:12 PM
Well, I went through the walk through "normal style" today, and well, let me start by saying that while I love theme parks, I'm not a devotee of scare-me-silly haunted houses. Never been to a Halloween event and really don't see the appeal.

That said, man, is this ever a *fabulous* way to pick up chicks.

A group of four young women went in ahead of me and I used 'em as a rather loud shield through the first half of the walk through. (It really isn't a maze, in that there's just one path through it, with no spur dead ends.) Finally, after a jumper nearly sent one of the gals into cardiac arrest, they demanded I walk ahead.

And they crammed up so close to me, I thought I was gonna have to pay 'em $20 a song.

It's dark. There's a couple cool effects, notably a mirrored hall and a turning tunnel. But the fear of what could be around the darkened corners is far more scary than anything that's actually here. Which is, I suppose, the point.

And if that helps you meet the ladies, well, then more power to this. I, being a married guy, will opt for Shrek 4-D next time I'm in the neighborhood.

From Robert Niles on May 21, 2004 at 9:41 AM
By the way, a hearty 'thank you' to the reader who pointed out via e-mail that my last comment illustrates why I *really am* an idiot -- since I did not do everything humanly possible to walk through Van Helsing in very close proximity to Elena Anaya.

Thank you, thank you very much. But let's be real here. Even if you are reacting on a subconscious level, if you are an actor in Hollywood and have the choice of clutching a director who makes blockbuster movies or a guy who runs a website, who are you gonna rush to for "comfort?"

That's right. Not only am I an idiot, I'm a loser, too. ;-)

From Kevin Baxter on May 30, 2004 at 2:59 PM
I'm not an actor and I would've clutched onto the director! And, at the first opportunity, I would've tossed the hack onto the nearest scythe! Thanks for ruining a great idea with Van Helsing, loser!