Review: Halloween Horror Nights 2014 at Universal Studios Hollywood

September 21, 2014, 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.

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.

Replies (9)

September 21, 2014 at 7:55 PM · We'll be there this Friday evening. Are they still doing the early entry for regular guests? I've heard that they allow guests to enter a little earlier (like maybe 15-20 minutes) than the 7:00PM opening to start the journey to the backlot houses. I thought I read somewhere that the early entry line is the right of the main gate.

Also, is it true that you have to walk to the backlot houses this year instead of taking a tram?

September 21, 2014 at 10:03 PM · For reference, when I got through security at 6:30 p.m., the early entry line was already full. That being said -- it is WELL worth your time to get there at six if it means getting into that line. I promise.

And yes, you now walk to the backlot -- while that may sound like a pain, I actually think the event was better off for it. Instead of waiting in a line to get on a tram to wait in more lines, they gave a space for the crowds to spread out. The walk wasn't too bad in my opinion, and I'm no marathon runner.

Hope that helps!

September 21, 2014 at 10:57 PM · That definitely helps. I didn't realize that the early entry line was a finite number of guests. We will certainly make sure to arrive early now. Thank you!
September 22, 2014 at 3:16 PM · Hey Jacob,

What's going to happen to the house or horrors after horror nights?

Also while I understand that event sells out, what was your experience in terms of the amount of visitors in the mazes?
(Many times scares are limited because it's a long of people walking through the maze together) Did you find that the spacing between parties was adequate for providing scares? Or was it more of less feeding people through the lines for time purposes.

September 22, 2014 at 10:00 PM · @Tim: Neither did I - let my pain be your gain in this case :).

@Jay: That's a tough question to answer because there are so many factors that go into whether or not you end up with great spacing...or less than great spacing. Some of that (slowing the flow of guests into the maze) is under the park's control, while some (guests stopping every five seconds and not allowing other guests to continue moving forward) is not.

I felt like the spacing was very good; at least, I didn't notice it being a problem. I know the LA Times theme park writer said the spacing in AVP was poor -- I didn't encounter that, but it illustrates that this can be a problem for one cycle and not for the next. I will say that getting a front of line pass increases your chances of being the first guests in the cycle which maximizes your scare potential.

September 23, 2014 at 1:19 PM · Thanks Jacob!

September 24, 2014 at 9:41 PM · How do you get to be in the early entrance line?
September 25, 2014 at 6:05 AM · Great review! Now for me to make a decision if I can make time to get out to Hollywood!

Glad to hear that AvP is fantastic. After so many failed and mediocre attempts at a movie, at least this got it right!

I have to agree also with the Dracula movie assessment. I don't have high hopes for it... IMHO they could have gone towards the realistic route, but instead it looks like they went for the lowest hanging fruit... I, Frankenstein/ Priest/ Immortals route. I hope I'm wrong.

And while I'm a fan of Walking Dead and Face-Off, maybe they don't really need to be part of this after this year? I don't agree with the "if it ain't broken, don't fix it" mentality as it causes stagnation in creative juices. But I get that the bean counters may want to play it safe.

September 28, 2014 at 4:08 PM · While I LOVED the Universal Hollywood Horror Nights (I was there on opening night as well), one of the things I took from this event was that you have to walk half a mile to get from the entrance to the backlot mazes (next to Transformers) all the way out to the "city" backlot area. Walking that distance nearly wrecked it for those in my party. Our feet were hurting and our legs were wobbly once we arrived at the mazes. Upon arriving, the area was confusing and we had a hard time finding the entrances to the individual mazes. Faced with walking back after the mazes, we decided to stowaway on the handicaped bus which delivered us to a drop off area on the other side of the overflow queue for Transformers. Other than that interminable walk, we had a great time and will probably be attending at least another couple of times before the end of October. Only next time, we're bussing it in both directions when it comes to the backlot mazes.

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