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Review: Halloween Horror Nights 2014 at Universal Studios Hollywood

Jacob Sundstrom

By Jacob Sundstrom
Published: September 21, 2014 at 5:01 PM

We lined up outside the front gates at 6:30 p.m. We exited the last maze at 2:02 a.m. We didn’t stop for anything more than a bathroom break for the nearly seven hours we were inside the park -- that’s what it took to finish all seven mazes and Terror Tram.

It’s going to be crowded this year, folks.

Entrance
Crowds queue up for the opening Saturday at Universal Studios Hollywood's 2014 Halloween Horror Nights

A Saturday in September sold out -- ‘nuff said. After an excruciatingly long wait outside the gates (we didn’t push through the turnstiles until 7:20) we made our way down to the backlot to hit Alien Vs. Predator, The Walking Dead and From Dusk Till Dawn. We waited an hour for both AVP and Walking Dead, and we queued for 30 minutes for DTD.

Looking at the wait times on our way out of the lower lot, we might have gotten lucky. So before I get into what mazes are the best and the brightest of Halloween Horror Nights 2014, a crowd-surfing tip for you: When you lineup outside the gates, move all the way to the left or the right of the plaza. Getting stuck in the middle of that horde will dramatically slow your entry into the park; not that I know from personal experience or anything.

2014 Mazes (From Top to Bottom, Ranking-Wise)

Alien Vs. Predator was incredible, both thematically and in terms of the scares it offered. Walking through the Predators’ ship and coming face-to-face with the Alien Queen was an amazing experience for someone who is a big fan of both franchises. The scares were top-notch, the puppets were excellently executed and the set dressings were as good as we’ve come to expect.

An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in London didn’t disappoint in terms of set dressing, but the werewolves stole the show. Three or four massive puppets got great scares out of every guest that inched past them; which, after all, is the point. The transformation sequence in the apartment was extremely well done and the maze did a wonderful job of leading you through the story in the movie.

From Dusk Till Dawn

From Dusk Till Dawn is based on the new TV show coming to the El Rey network, but fans of the Robert Rodriguez film will find a lot to like about this maze. It’s not quite AVP or Werewolf in terms of thematics, but the scares in this maze were some of the best of the entire evening. The actors made great use of the wide-open rooms, something that is traditionally a lot more difficult than scaring in confined spaces.

Dracula Untold was one of the scariest mazes of the night, and it feels unfair to have it at fourth on the list. Rest assured this speaks more to the quality of the mazes above this maze rather than an indictment of this maze’s specific quality. It was dark, atmospheric and offered tons of scares thanks to a great cast making use of tight spaces. I’m not optimistic that the movie will live up to the maze, but...we’ll always have Hollywood.

Clowns 3D: Music by Slash was much, much better than I thought it would be. The clown concept envisioned by the team at Universal was intriguing, but I was skeptical about how thoroughly it would be pulled off. The 3D in Clowns is the best the tech has ever been used at Horror Nights (not a particularly high bar, granted) and while the scares weren’t the best of the night, the entire maze really sucked you into the creep factor. It was unnerving walking through Sweet Lick’s Fun Center and seeing the story unfold in front of you -- and yes, the music was great.

The Walking Dead did what it has done for the past three years. I don’t think it’s fair to say that there was anything wrong with the maze, but I feel like at some point this is a concept that needs to be retired. I just get the sense that I’ve already seen everything I need to see from this TV show. Hell, I think lots of people decided that after the third season. The scares in the second half of the maze were great, but not really enough to move it higher up the list.

While the suits with $$$ in mind will certainly want The Walking Dead: Still Dead, Still Walking to debut at Horror Nights next year, I wouldn’t mind if this is the last year the AMC show graces Horror Nights with its presence.

Face Off: In the Flesh was a fitting farewell to Universal’s House of Horrors, which will close at the end of the event. The overlay used the same music from Monster’s Remix (as best I could tell) and the insectoid theme was fun, if not always scary. Still, the actors did what they could with what has always been a limited overlay.

The rankings above are how I would group these mazes in order of must-do-ness. What ended up being effective for us was heading back up to the top lot to do Terror Tram (still great this year) and Dracula before heading back down to do Werewolf and Clowns. It meant more walking, but I’m convinced that’s the only reason we got through everything in one night.

Horror Nights is as good as it has ever been, but it doesn’t look like it’s much of a secret anymore. Aim to arrive early, on a weeknight or with a front of line pass if you’d like to have any sense of leisure during your visit. If you have any questions/comments/concerns, drop them in the comments and I’d be very happy to help you plan your trip.

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The Week Ahead: Disney and Universal schedules for September 22-28, 2014

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: September 21, 2014 at 3:53 PM

Planning a theme park visit this week? Here are the operating hours for the week ahead at the most popular theme parks in the United States:

Studio Backlot Tour
Pour one out for the Studio Backlot Tour, closing this weekend at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida.

Walt Disney World

  • Magic Kingdom: Monday 9am-10pm
    Tuesday 9am-7pm (Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, 7pm-12am)
    Wednesday 9am-9pm
    Thursday 9am-10pm (EM* Thursday, 8am-9am)
    Friday 9am-7pm (Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, 7pm-12am)
    Saturday 9am-11pm (EM* Saturday, 11pm-1am)
    Sunday 9am-7pm (Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, 7pm-12am)
  • Epcot: Monday-Thursday 9am-9pm (EM* Tuesday 8am-9am, Wednesday 9pm-11pm)
    Friday-Saturday 9am-10pm
    Sunday 9am-9pm
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios: Monday-Tuesday 9am-7:30pm
    Wednesday 9am-9pm
    Thursday 9am-7:30pm
    Friday-Sunday 9am-9pm (EM* Saturday 8am-9am, Sunday 9pm-11pm)
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom: Monday 9pm-6pm (*EM Monday 8am-9am)
    Tuesday 9am-7pm
    Wednesday-Saturday 9am-6pm (EM* Friday 8am-9am)
    Sunday 9am-5pm
*EM is "Extra Magic Hours" for Disney's on-site hotel guests.

Universal Orlando

  • Universal Studios Florida: Monday-Wednesday 8am-7pm
    Thursday-Sunday 8am-5pm (Halloween Horror Nights, 6:30pm-12am Thursday-Sunday)
  • Islands of Adventure: Monday-Wednesday 9am-7pm
    Thursday-Sunday 9am-8pm
*Universal's hotel guests get one hour of early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, M-Su.

Disneyland

  • Disneyland: Monday-Wednesday 10am-9pm (EM* Tuesday, 9am-10am)
    Thursday 8am-10pm (EM* Thursday, 7am-8am)
    Friday 8am-7pm (Mickey's Halloween Party, 7pm-12am)
    Saturday 8am-12am (EM* Saturday 7am-8am)
    Sunday 8am-12am
  • Disney California Adventure: Monday-Wednesday 10am-8pm (EM* Monday, Wednesday 9am-10am)
    Thursday 8am-6pm
    Friday 8am-12am (EM* Friday 7am-8am)
    Saturday-Sunday 8am-10pm (EM* Sunday 7am-8am)
*EM is "Extra Magic Hour" for Disney's on-site hotel guests, plus selected ticket-holders.
SoCal passports blocked Saturday. SoCal Select passports blocked Saturday and Sunday.
Mark Twain Riverboat, Captain EO, Finding Nemo, and Blue Sky Cellar closed all week.

Universal Studios Hollywood

  • Monday-Thursday 10am-6pm
    Friday 9am-6pm (Halloween Horror Nights, 7pm-2am)
    Saturday* 8:30am-6pm (Halloween Horror Nights, 7pm-2am)
    Sunday 9am-7pm
*Despicable Me and Transformers open at 8am Saturday.

Closing soon:
The Studio Backlot Tour at Disney's Hollywood Studios closes Saturday
Disneyland's Legends of Frontierland closes Saturday
Epcot's Maelstrom closes Oct. 5.

Where are you visiting this week?

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Insider's Update: Disney World closes its Studio Backlot Tour next weekend

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: September 19, 2014 at 10:18 PM

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Theme Park Insider interview with John Murdy: Horror never dies

Jacob Sundstrom

By Jacob Sundstrom
Published: September 19, 2014 at 1:06 PM

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Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: September 19, 2014 at 11:02 AM

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Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: September 18, 2014 at 3:24 PM

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Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: September 18, 2014 at 10:55 AM

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Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: September 16, 2014 at 9:26 PM

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Busch Gardens Williamsburg opens its 16th edition of Howl-O-Scream

Russell Meyer

By Russell Meyer
Published: September 16, 2014 at 11:07 AM

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Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: September 15, 2014 at 10:07 PM

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Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: September 15, 2014 at 11:32 AM

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