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Southern California Halloween 2013 preview: Tickets now on sale for Universal and Knott's events

August 27, 2013, 9:52 AM · While the weather in Southern California may tell us otherwise, fall is quickly approaching; and with autumn comes Halloween events of all shapes and sizes around the Southland. Their intent ranges from glorified (and expensive) trick-or-treating to scaring the pants off of you and your closest friends.

Celebs at HHN 2013
Photo courtesy Universal Studios Hollywood

We're going to preview the latter, today. There are two major players in the Halloween event market, Universal Studios Hollywood and Knott's Scary Farm. Six Flags does its thing every year, but I can't comfortably put it in the same category as the other two right now.

Five all-new mazes highlight the six-maze lineup that has now been announced in full by Universal Studios Hollywood. Since the event returned from a five-year hiatus in 2006, it has established itself as the premier Halloween event in the area in terms of quality — while Knott's holds the distinction of being the largest haunt in the western United States.

Most of Hollywood's mazes come from properties that originated in the film industry — notable examples from the past include Friday the 13th, Nightmare On Elm Street, Halloween, The Thing, etc. Set-quality movie mazes have been Universal's mark on the industry, and this year's lineup does not deviate from the movie-inspired mantra.

The Evil Dead, Insidious and The Walking Dead represent the independent properties assembling at Horror Nights. The Evil Dead and Insidious are new to the event, while The Walking Dead is back for its second year with a 100-percent redesign for 2013.

El Cucuy: The Boogeyman is brand new this year and features the voice of actor Danny Trejo as the titular monster. This idea riffs on the La Llorona maze which made two appearances at the event. Given Universal's success with urban legend mazes (particularly in Orlando where these are produced regularly), there is plenty of reason to be excited about this maze.

Black Sabbath: 3D replaces Alice Cooper's maze, making the band that your parents really liked the third musician to grace the Horror Night grounds since its revival. Rob Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses first made an appearance in 2000 before the event's hiatus. It returned in 2010 and was joined by Alice Cooper in 2011. Alice Cooper returned in 2012 and is now replaced, more or less, by Black Sabbath.

The only repeat offender is Universal Monsters Remix which became infamous last year for its dubstep jams mixed by Dr. Frankenstein himself. Apparently this maze was requested by fans to return — and whether that's true or not we'll never know. It was unoffensive and grew into its own as the actors became more comfortable with their roles.

The House of Horrors (the all-year permanent maze in Hollywood) venue, which is where this maze is hosted, has long been host to the weak link at Horror Nights. On the bright side, it has also long been host to the shortest line of anywhere at the event! Awesome!

Three of the five scare zones are IP-inspired: Child's Play, The Purge and The Walking Dead all make appearances. [For newbies: A scare zone is an area of the park (usually a walkway or path) with a number of actors dressed to match a central theme — their only job is to scare passersby. This is a great way to get scares without waiting in lines and it sets the tone for the rest of the event.]

While the mazes understandably get a significant amount of attention, it's the Terror Tram that is the most unique aspect of the event. Guests ride the tram down to the Universal backlot and are unceremoniously forced to exit and walk through the backlot to return to the park.

The drop-off point is typically Whoville — guests then walk past the Bates Motel and the Psycho House before entering the War of the Worlds set on their way back to a tram that will return them to the upper lot. Along the way the walking dead will be scattered around the backlot offering scares on the very ground where many iconic horror films were shot.

Horror Nights opens on Thursday Sept. 20 and tickets range in price from $44-69, depending on the night you attend. Thursdays and Sundays will be cheaper while a Saturday will cost you more. Front of line passes are available for anywhere between $119-139, a price that includes admission to the event. The pass allows you to skip each line once, so it may be wise to arrive early and see how many mazes you can get through before the crowds force you to use the passes. That way, you can double-up on the mazes you really enjoyed by using your front of line pass later in the night.

You can see my thoughts on Knott's Berry Farm's lineup here. That event opens a week later than Halloween Horror Nights, on Sept. 26. Knott's holds the distinction of being a bit cheaper than Halloween Horror Nights. You can get in on the cheapest nights for $38, while you'll be charged $54 on the event's most popular dates.

As with most things, it's cheaper to buy your tickets online and in advance. Knott's offers a variety of packages, which you can see on its website; the front of line pass is a good value, running you anywhere from $65-70 on top of your admission ticket. The price is a bit steep, but after waiting in just one line you'll see the money is well spent.

At Knott's, your best bet is to follow common theme park logic; that is, start at the back right corner of the park and start walking your way counterclockwise through the park. Don't forget about the Elvira show, either — I have a feeling that will be a can't miss for those with a bit of nostalgia in 'em.

As with Horror Nights, arriving early will save you a LOT of time at these events. Given the demographic of the attendees (young people) and the location (Los Angeles, home of America's nastiest freeway traffic), you can expect most to arrive late. That gives you the opportunity to bust out a few mazes before most of the crowds are inside the park.

The TL/DR? Arrive early, pick up a front of line pass if you can afford it and go through the event from the back to the front in order to minimize wait times. Attending an event on a non-weekend will save you quite a bit of change and will limit the number of guests in attendance. Buy your ticket in advance because these events can and will sell out! And of course, have fun and post a trip report!

Replies (2)

August 27, 2013 at 11:38 AM · I really like your columns Jacob. There's something about the way you write that it's like reading an email from a friend. Does that make sense? You give a lot of good information but you make it memorable, like a friend would in an email. I love your columns and wish you'd write more. I always send links to your stuff to my friends because you are so good.
August 27, 2013 at 11:00 PM · It's going to be a different drop off point for the terror tram this year instead of the normal whoville/bates motel/war of the worlds sets. Super excited, can't wait!

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