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Universal Studios Hollywood unveils its 2007 Halloween Horror Nights

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Published: October 6, 2007 at 12:40 AM

Tonight, the west coast had its turn.

One week after Halloween Horror Nights kicked off at Universal Orlando, Universal Studios Hollywood unveiled the 2007 version of its annual Halloween affair.

The evening started off with actors congratulating one another during an awards show. (Hey, it's Hollywood, folks. This is what they do.) Film director and rock star Rob Zombie held court, recalling stories about horror directing legend Roger Corman...

Rob Zombie
Rob Zombie kicks off Universal's Halloween Horror Nights

David Arquette showed up in full Halloween garb, a Zorro get-up fresh off of Castro Street...

David Arquette
Actor David Arquette gets a rare chance to be the most famous person in the room.

But Child's Play director Don Mancini stole the show with a politically-charged speech that accurately summed up the horror genre's appeal.

"There is a code in the horror genre. Jason [from Friday the 13th] kills people who engage in premarital sex. Hannibal Lecter kills the rude... but no one dies who has committed no wrong."

"If I could borrow a line for Sally Field... if Freddy, Jason and Leatherface ruled the world, there would be no more goddamn wars. These characters, unlike some governments, always insist on having reasonably plausible motives for killing people."

So let us accept this reasonably plausible motive for a Blog Flume entry, and get away from the made-for-media photo op and into the park.

Full disclosure: This was my first Halloween event. Yep, your TPI founder and editor has managed to avoid Halloween events up until now. So I've got nothing for you in terms of context to pass judgment on tonight's entertainment. I'll just lay out what you've got here:

  • Four mazes, one each for featured horror stars Freddy, Jason and Leatherface, plus Universal's year-'round House of Horrors attraction
  • The "Terror Tram," a reworking of the park's signature tram tour, with opportunities for riders to get off the bus and walk through scare zones set up on some of Universal's iconic backlot sets, including the original Bates Motel
  • Three shows, including long-time favorite "Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure"
  • Three regular USH rides: Revenge of the Mummy, Jurassic Park and Terminator 2:3D.

    Halloween Horror Nights at Universal has a different look -- a darker look -- than a normal night at the theme park. Walking through the upper lot, blue smoke swirls down the street, and a ghoul in a top hat comes out of nowhere to get uncomfortably close to certain guests walking by. A tattooed guy in a skeleton shirt thrusts a chainsaw at people, giving it a menacing whir just to make them jump. There are sirens and spotlights, and blinking red horns atop people's heads.


    Whach-you lookin' at?

    I did a lap around the upper and lower lots, to get a feel for the place and the scare actors, then hopped on for a spin on Mummy and a walk through the Friday the 13th maze in the old western stunt show space. Mummy, as usual, paled in comparison with its far superior Orlando sibling, but I had fun in the maze and with the scare actors. (I am officially setting 79,840 as the over/under on the number of times guests will say "Don't Tase Me, Bro" to scare actors at various theme park events this Halloween season.)


    With a bat like this, maybe the Angels wouldn't be down two-zip.

    I can't tell you if Universal's mazes or actors were any better or worse than those at other parks. But I will say that, for an event so well themed to death, what struck me most about Halloween Horror Nights was how the event seemed so utterly alive.

    Unlike most theme park entertainment, there's a competitive element available at a Halloween event: Can you scare me, or not? And it is a competition between you, the visitor, and the scare actors in mazes and scare zones. It's not like testing yourself against the twisted metal of a roller coaster or the seeing if an animatronic can make you laugh. This is mano a mano, person to person, totally alive.

    I always play close attention when walking through a theme park. (Heck, it's my job.) But I felt my senses more alive than ever walking through HHN, as I tried to initiate eye contact with every scare actor I could find lurking in the fog and shadow. I'll stare you down before you can make *me* scream, bub!

    And I did. So let's take off, perhaps, for a crew in early season that couldn't get the best of a Halloween rookie. But I'm giving Universal credit for helping me enjoy USH in a way I never had before.

    Halloween Horror Nights runs Friday and Saturday nights in October, as well as Sunday, Oct. 28 and Halloween, Oct. 31.

  • Readers' Opinions

    From Robert Niles on October 6, 2007 at 12:55 AM
    I don't know where to fit this in, but...

    My wife and I were on our way home, getting in to a deep conversation about the fake gore at HHN, when we drove into a scene of real horror: a car on the 134 freeway divider in Glendale, consumed by flames, which were shooting 20 feet in the air, its smoke billowing into the night.

    Veering into the far right lane to avoid the heat of the flames, we inched with traffic past the inferno to find a pickup truck, windows shattered, idle in the far left lane, several feet in front of the flaming car.

    And lying in front of the truck, a man's body, dead on the ground, as a nearby motorist yelled to passing cars to steer right, to give respectful distance to the corpse.

    No fire department, no highway patrol. Just drivers steering to avoid the flames, many with cell phones to their ears, no doubt calling 911.

    Reality humbles fiction.

    From Joshua Counsil on October 6, 2007 at 7:03 AM
    This is the most interesting perspective I've heard on HHN. Normally, most write about how it compared to last year, or how incredible/terrible it was, but this was really great.

    I really want to experience it now. Thanks Rob.

    From Phillip Florendo on October 7, 2007 at 1:37 AM
    Nice to hear a review of HHN at USH. I've been going to Knott's Scary Farm's Halloween Haunt every year since 2001-ish. Good stuff. But I'd like to see USH has to offer some time.
    From Jamie Smith on October 7, 2007 at 10:28 PM
    My trip review for opening night (October 5):

    I had never been to a theme park Halloween event, but I had been in my fair share of haunted houses, so I was excited to see how the "professionals" pulled it off.

    First, after reading some reviews from the 2006 HHN event, I braced myself for huge crowds and long lines at the mazes, and we arrived early to make sure we at least had a fighting chance once the gates were open. To our surprise, the crowd was light before opening, and once the gates opened (15 minutes early) we were able to do literally whatever we wanted without any wait. We were through the 3 mavoe -related haunts within an hour of entering the park. I guess coming to HHN early is the answer to the 70 minute long lines?

    Once the gates were open, we staggered into the first scare zone which was the "Zombie Invasion" area. The scare actors assaulted us immediately and were relentless in their pursuit. People were running, screaming, and laughing everywhere.

    First stop was "A Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy's Nightmare" located in the overflow queue area of Shrek 3-D. The line area was a little confusing as there was no effort to mask the Shrek elements in the line for "Elm Street" It was a little bizarre to be entering a Freddy maze surrounded by pictures of the three little pigs and Pinocchio, but I guess that is a minor complaint.
    The house was really well done with some great effects and some good scares. The highlight of this, and the other movie-related houses, was the attention to detail and the direct referencing of the movies. Distinct scenes, from the syringe killing in Dream Warriors, to the demon child of Part 5 are all present and accounted for. Other than some late jump scares, the house was really effective and the actors did a nice job of selling the scenes.

    Next was "Friday The 13th: Camp Blood. in the Wild West Stunt Show area" Again, the level of detail was excellent with specific death scenes from the movies depicted in all of their bloody glory. Ever wanted to see Jason smash that camper in the sleeping bag against the tree up close? How about watching the masked maniac skewering the 2 teenage lovers at the same time in bed? In this maze, you will literally be up close and personal with Jason and witness all of the mayhem firsthand. This was really an awesome maze, and again, the level of detail and the referencing of the movies was really well done.

    After "Friday the 13th" we exited into the "Deadwood" scare zone which was basically a redressing of the Wild West area. This scare zone was sparse and somewhat disappointing with only 4 actors visible.

    We then headed down to the lower lot for Jurassic Park, The Mummy, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre maze. But once we landed off the escalators, we were greeted with more scare actors waiting to chase us. The lower lot "Hellbilly Hoedown" scare zone was by far the most active and most fun. The actors here were ruthless and seemed to come in waves! We literally found ourselves trapped in the middle of the Studio Center surrounded by inbred mutants, chainsaw-wielding maniacs, and other creatures. it took our party a good 10 minutes to get through the scare actors. Great stuff!

    Finally we made it to "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Back In Business" on the lower lot in the Mummy overflow area (after a quick ride on The Mummy). This maze was definitely the best of the three movie-related haunts, and it really felt like we were in the Hewitt house watching the carnage firsthand. Leatherface and the rest of the family were everywhere, and it seemed like there was a chainsaw flying toward us throughout the entire maze. I swear I felt a blade on the top of my head. The clausterphobic maze really added to the atmosphere and made this a scary and thrilling haunt. Some of my friends were so freaked they refused to go through again. And of course, once we were through this maze we had to fight our way back through the "Hellbillies" again to get back to the upper lot.

    Once upstairs we made our way to Slaughterworld 2 (Waterworld). The show had some funny moments, and some cool gore effects, but we were pretty underwhelmed with the whole thing. It seemed like it had been thrown togehter and very little thought had been given to the story (basically, none of it many aany sense) Still, it was cool watching stuff get blown up, people getting splattered, and hot chicks in very little costuming.

    After Slaughterworld, we moved on to the "Terror Tram" which was a bit of a disappointment. The walk around the sets was cool, and being that close to the Psycho house and the War of the Worlds set was definitely unique, but nothing about it was scary. In fact, there were local television news crews out on the lot filming spots for the TV news to the left of us, and Jason stalking victims at "Camp Crystal Lake" to our right. Pretty hard to feel the atmosphere when reporters in golf carts are whizzing around on access roads. Another problem with the Terror Tram experience was that our guide absolutely sucked. Unfunny, unprepared, and completely useless. Much more can (and should) be done with the "Terror Tram."

    Because we had breezed through so many attractions in just over 2 hours, we were able to catch the early Bill & Ted's Halloween Adventure show. I had read online how unique this show was, and it definitely was that. Loud, obnoxious, and occasionally funny, this show was the equivalent of throwing spaghetti in the wall. Imagine a Dennis Miller pop culture riff on acid, and you are in the ballpark. Lionidus, Sylar, Britney Spears, the Beastie Boys, a Transformer with a phone on his crotch, and a huge list of other celebrities get involved. Some of the jokes fall flat, and some of the music numbers seemed pointless, but to say this was not entertaining would be a lie. I was entertained, but I am still not quite sure why.

    After Bill & Ted we headed over to "Chucky's Insult Emporium", but unfortunately, Chucky didn;t appear at his schedule time. I am not quite sure what was happening, but we saw alot of tech guys coming and going. We decided to bail and run through "Friday the 13th: Camp Blood" one more time. By this time it was 11:00 and there was still no wait!

    After our return visit with Jason, we caught the last T2-3D show and then headed to House of Horrors. I had been through this house before, and nothing much had been added, so for me it was a little disappointing. But for the rest of my party who had not been through it before, it was fun.

    After picking up some cool souveneirs, we were satisfies with our nigt and headed out of the park-15 minutes before closing! I was completely shocked how manageable the crowds were. I don't know if this was because it was opening night, but I was pleasantly surprised.

    My friends and I had a great time at Hollywood's HHN event, and we will definitely be back again. the quality of the haunts were superb, the scare actors were great, and the park's atmosphere was perfect. There were some minor areas that could be fine-tuned, and the shows ranged from mediocre to bizarre, but all in all I thought it was a great night of fun and scares. I highly recommend Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights to everyone!

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