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Event Review: Halloween Horror Nights 2016 at Universal Studios Hollywood

September 17, 2016, 11:30 AM · The best artists establish their brands on innovation and creativity; but every once in awhile, you gotta play the hits. In its 11th year of revival, Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights has broken out the greatest hits album its fans have been craving.

It didn't disappoint. A combination of reimagined classics from the past and mazes fans begged for year after year, the 2016 version of the park’s annual Halloween event is definitively its best ever.

Unfortunately for those of us who don't love the crowds and lines that have come with the event’s wild popularity, this year will require the same careful planning it has in recent years. Thankfully, we've got a plan.

As it did last year, the park offers early entry to the event, starting at 6 pm. (I would line up at the main gate at 5:30 pm.) Do not waste this opportunity to get a huge jump start on this year's most popular mazes. The Exorcist — by far the most popular and terrifying maze of the event — American Horror Story, and Freddy vs. Jason all are included in early entry.

So your first move is to head to the lower lot and towards Transformers. Once you get there hook a right to find The Exorcist, one of the most anticipated mazes in Horror Nights history. A deft combination of black-out room scares and amazing thematic set pieces brings the most famous horror film of all time to life. This is the must-do maze of the event and if you show up early, you can do it without waiting.

Next up, you'll walk to the backlot where there are three mazes this year. I recommend hitting American Horror Story next as it seemed to consistently have one of the longest wait times. I'm not terribly familiar with the show, but there were tons of fabulous scares and the set design was just as fabulous as always. Now you'll hit the final of the three early entry mazes: Freddy vs. Jason.

Freddy vs. Jason

This maze, quite loosely based on the mediocre film of the same name, brings two iconic characters together to great effect. This maze tells a better story than the movie, which, albeit a low bar, is really impressive for a maze that uses mostly visual cues and voiceovers to tell its tale. These characters are familiar to longtime attendees of the event, but they've never been as good as this year.

There's one more maze in the backlot and it's a damn good one. Krampus, based on the 2015 film, brings its terrifying puppets to the party in a maze that features plenty of the titular goat monster. It doesn't have the humor of the film, I'm slightly disappointed to say, but this is a very fun maze and it's likely you won't have much of a wait.

Krampus

Now the park certainly will be open in full and you'll want to get to Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield as quickly as possible. Inspired by the sequel to the John Carpenter classic, this maze picks up right where last year's left off. It doesn't disappoint. There's plenty of the masked murderer and this year's iteration does an even better job focusing the attention on the guests instead of highly dramatized kill reenactment. Oh, and you're gonna love the finale for this one.

From there you'll make the long trek to the upper lot. Head to Waterworld to hit Texas Chain Saw Massacre up. This maze is an original concept created as a "sequel" to the 1970s hit. There's tons of scenery to chew here and Leatherface is front and center while his brother Choptop shows up as a worthy costar. This isn't quite as good as the incredible Chainsaw maze we got a couple years ago, but man do these mazes pack a terrifying punch every damn year.

Now you'll want to do Terror Tram, a clown-themed take on the annual backlot trek, presented by Eli Roth. This closes around midnight most nights, so plan accordingly if you end up running behind. I love this version of the Tram, though my experience ended up being a bit congested, which took away from some of the scare potential. I hope this signals a trend towards bringing directors in to come up with original concepts for the Terror Tram.

Now you have just two activities to go. Jabbawockeez is back this year and the award-winning dance troupe has a terrific show lined up. The show runs until 1:30 am, so this isn't something you need to stress about in terms of time, so saving it for the end of the night makes perfect sense.

You might notice I haven't mentioned The Walking Dead. The now permanent attraction was plussed for Horror Nights, giving more actors to intensify an already fun daytime experience. This is the only maze I would say you can skip, particularly if you've done the daytime version. I just didn't find it quantifiable different from what I've done many times on a regular operating day.

So that's it! You survived the best year of all time. Now go soak your feet and start dreaming about what Horror Nights will bring us next year. As for me, I'm already planning my next trip.

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Replies (11)

September 17, 2016 at 4:40 PM · Thank you for the detailed strategy. I like that you kept it spoiler free and I am definitely going to follow it maze by maze. When in the lower lot, how do you get to the backlot? Do you walk there or take a tram?
September 17, 2016 at 5:54 PM · You walk to the backlot this year. The entrance to that path is right next to the Exorcist entrance — so just walk towards Transformers and hook a right when you get past the Transformers store.
September 17, 2016 at 8:55 PM · You never mentioned the Purge Gauntlet just across from the Walking Dead. Too bad, because it was really cool. Sort of a mini-maze mixed with a Scare Zone.
September 17, 2016 at 9:28 PM · Great article, would like to take a gander one day over there.
September 18, 2016 at 4:06 AM · Go early, some mazes had a 140 minute wait time!!!
September 18, 2016 at 3:47 PM · True! I should have mentioned the scare zone, I just got so caught up in trying to break down a "plan of action" that it slipped my mind. The new scare zone entrance is by the fountain at the center of the upper lot. Head over there and check it out! It's a fully enclosed scare zone experience that's unlike anything USH has done before. I really enjoyed it.
September 18, 2016 at 5:13 PM · Is it the 2012 chainsaw maze that you're calling "incredible"? Personally, I don't understand how you can have a TCM maze with only one or two working chainsaws and the rest cardboard. I know the reason is because they have to pay the scareactors who are able to operate the chainsaws more, but why even do a chainsaw-themed maze in the first place if you're not gonna do it right? It was a big disappointment for me, so I won't have too high of hopes for this year!
September 19, 2016 at 9:50 AM · When they announced a maze based on The Exorcist, I knew I had to start planning a Cali vacation this year. Glad to hear that the result is terrifying.
September 19, 2016 at 9:41 PM · Unfortunately, the entire Wizarding World of Harry Potter is closed during the Horror events. My friend was extremely upset that it was closed and later lamented that it could have absorbed some of the crowd rather than having the oppressively oversold park full of people squeezed into the remainder of the park. They could have something going on in the Waterworld arena to absorb some of the crowd as well. Never doing this event again without a Front Of The Line ticket. $160 to $200 is a bit pricey though!
September 20, 2016 at 8:17 AM · Would you recommend doing AHS before The Exorcist? Every review I read on the event says AHS has been the longest line in the park.
September 23, 2016 at 2:46 PM · @Leonardo No, do The Exorcist first. If you do Early Entry you should be able to hit them both before either gets a long line. The Exorcist will be the first maze you see and then you can keep drifting out towards the backlot as you go.

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