Attraction Review: The Walking Dead at Universal Studios Hollywood

June 28, 2016, 2:31 PM · Universal Studios Hollywood opened its new year-round The Walking Dead Attraction to reporters this morning. The attraction opens officially to the public on July 4, but invited guests were allowed to run the gauntlet between walkers and saviors to enter the attraction today.

The most popular cable TV show in America, The Walking Dead has become a staple of Universal's Halloween Horror Nights, both here in Hollywood and in Orlando. With this attraction, Universal is giving The Waking Dead a year-round presence in its Hollywood park, allowing it reach more casual fans who don't make it to the annual Halloween event.

Universal's also plussed up the experience for this attraction. With the bigger budgets that full-time attractions allow, Universal's John Murdy and his team have taken advantage to create several visually stunning set pieces that far exceed anything fans have seen at Halloween Horror Nights.

You start, as Rick Grimes did, disoriented and walking through the halls of the Harrison Memorial Hospital. (Okay, let's just go ahead and nitpick that this rural Georgia hospital somehow is sitting on Baker Street in London's Westminster in the park.) After you turn the first corner inside the hospital, you are confronted by the iconic "DON'T OPEN DEAD INSIDE" doors, from behind which animated hands grasp at you.

From there, you'll hear a bit more set-up in the hospital before emerging into the walk-through itself. The first of the three main set pieces in the walk through is the burning cabin scene (from season four?), which employs what might be the best use of theme park fauxfire I've ever seen. And since this is a walk-through, you're just inches away from the effect, which is enhanced by a burning walker who emerges from the flames. I could have stood here in amazement for many minutes, taking in every last visual detail. But Universal's got to keep things moving, and whenever a guest lags, a walker will be there to jumpscare them into the next scene.

The second major set piece is the prison, the West Georgia Correctional Facility. Here, the wonder comes not from any single effect, as in the burning cabin, but in the combination of dozens of practical and visual effects. Gunfire, projections, lighting and sound all come together to convince you that you've stumbled into a firefight instead of the sanctuary you'd hoped to find. Pardon the pun, but it really is overkill with the level of detail that Universal has piled into this scene — with unique action in each upstairs cell, not to mention a museum's worth of props and icons from the TV series scattered on the ground. Again, you want to linger forever to catch all the references, but those walkers have other plans for you.

The final major piece is the warehouse, where you discover your fate. The highlight here is the amazing animatronic work by The Walking Dead director Greg Nicotero and his team at KNB Efx. Using the same molds as the TV series, the bodies in this scene both repulse and enthrall you with their graphic detail.

The finale is straight out of Halloween Horror Nights, with dark and claustrophobic switchbacks leading you into a mass of walkers, who welcome you with very open arms.

Here's the full walk-through video:

Universal's planning to double the number of scareactors in the attraction for Halloween Horror Nights, which should tell HHN veterans that they won't find the number of scares here that they've come to expect in a typical maze. Universal built The Walking Dead Attraction for its daytime audience, and the focus here is on detail and creating a richly immersive environment inspired by the show. Someone who's not a Walking Dead fan can push through and appreciate the impressive visuals in the burning cabin and prison scenes before hightailing it through the gore at the end. But a Walking Dead fan could easily spend hours walking through again and again, trying to pick up all the detail Universal has packed into this attraction.

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Replies (8)

June 28, 2016 at 2:47 PM · Being a big chicken I wish they would have these types of attractions with periods without scare actors.
June 28, 2016 at 3:03 PM · Looks awesome. I'm excited to check it out on Monday — and very happy that I'll be able to mostly skip it when at Horror Nights this fall.
June 28, 2016 at 4:10 PM · The video distorts the images. Was this intentional? I came away slightly disappointed. I feel like they needed some characters to make the attraction more interesting. Maybe have Rick Grimes or Daryl in some parts. The prison scene was so far back in the series. I prefer the newer Terminus with the cannibals. The burning cabin scene had only one scare from the zombie. They didn't do much with this set piece. The zombie hoard in the end didn't have an iconic image to emphasize the Walking Dead aesthetic. Sometimes this means we see a zombie of our favorite dead characters. The mayor of Alexandria died and became a zombie. The Walking Dead is also well known for having unique zombies and how they get "killed".

I don't even remember the burning cabin from season 4. I can only find a reference to a cabin that Daryl and Beth burned in Episode 12 and they didn't escape from zombies to burn it down.

June 28, 2016 at 4:52 PM · Anon Mouse -- I couldn't agree with you more. Everything you said here is exactly what I was thinking throughout this video walkthrough, "This is it?"

I'm sure the real thing is much more exciting, but from the pictures and videos I've seen, it all seems like a knock off of TWD...

June 29, 2016 at 9:15 AM · Simply AWESOME! And I haven't missed one single episode of TWD TV,And READ TWD COMIC BOOK TOO!OMG! I'm a true TWD FAN !
July 1, 2016 at 10:14 AM · People need to remember that HHN is aimed at teenagers and adults. For most of the year Universal Studios is supposed to be a family park. These scareactors would absolutely terrify my young daughter, if she saw them she would have sleepless nights and nightmares for weeks. I'm really hoping all these zombies outside the ride are just for the press event and that once the ride opens to the public all the scareactors will be safely shut inside the attraction. Otherwise this is one family that won't be visiting.
July 3, 2016 at 5:56 PM · Harrison Memorial Hospital is actually in Cynthiana, Ky...where the creators are from!
July 3, 2016 at 6:39 PM · This is another thing where it's better to be there in person. All of the scary/ haunted house type of attractions are meant to be done in person. It's like complaining that a video of a rock climber's perspective or a whale shark is boring.

And yes, this is running at a "reduced scare level" for non Halloween time. When it was the Mummy Walk through, it was one or two big scares here and there, but nothing unbearable for most people. Same when they did the Universal Monsters version later.

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