Each and every September, haunt season in Southern California officially kicks off with the opening night of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios in Hollywood. Spearheaded by Creative Director John Murdy, this year’s HHN has an admirable mix of both new and classic properties, including Stranger Things, Halloween 4, Trick ’r Treat, Poltergeist, The First Purge, Universal Monsters, and The Horrors of Blumhouse, which features both Unfriended and Truth or Dare. As a whole, HHN 2018 might be one of the best overall experiences I’ve had at the annual event.
One of the first attractions we made our way through for the evening was the Halloween 4 maze, as it seemed like the logical place to start, and it was an incredible experience. As a fan, there are so many great moments in the Halloween 4 maze that were plucked right out of Dwight H. Little’s film that I could have easily spent an hour in there just immersing myself in all the horrors of living in Haddonfield on Halloween night. There’s a Dr. Loomis hunting down his most infamous patient at one point in that deserted diner/gas station, we get to head inside Sheriff Meeker’s house for all kinds of Myers mayhem, and at one point, Haddonfield’s most unlucky electrical technician—Bucky—makes an appearance in a jolting scene. There are also a ton of Michaels to be found inside the Halloween 4 maze, and if you keep a close watch, you should be able to spy one version of the Myers mask that is sporting yellow hair. Good stuff.
Next up was the Universal Monsters maze featuring a score by Slash, and I must admit, this one ended up being the second biggest surprise of the night for me—not only was it pretty gruesome at times, but it also found some unique ways to celebrate all of these beloved iconic monsters to boot. All of the greats were represented throughout the Universal Monsters attraction, although I don’t quite remember seeing a setup specifically for “The Creature,” but there was a lot going on, so I might have just missed it in all the chaos (he was spray painted on the outside, though). But the rooms for both “The Bride” and “The Phantom” were highlights for me, and exiting the maze amidst the Monster Masquerade scare zone was a nice touch, too.
After Universal Monsters, we took a ride on the Terror Tram, which is hosted once again by the murderous clown “Hollywood Harry” and his merry band of maniacal jokesters. This year’s Tram tour feels a bit shorter than last year’s, but admittedly, there’s a lot of walking involved once you head out to all the mazes located in the Universal backlot, so in some ways, I was grateful to be able to give my feet a break any way that I could.
The attractions down in the backlot area included The Horrors of Blumhouse (which is a solid effort, although I enjoyed last year’s maze a bit more) and The First Purge, which did a great job expanding upon the realistic horrors of The Purge universe. But the real highlight for me was the Poltergeist haunt, which quite honestly might be one of Murdy and his team’s greatest achievements to date. The amount of details contained within every single room is incredible, and the way they pull off some of Poltergeist’s most ambitious effects moments is damn impressive. Much like the Halloween 4 maze, I could easily spend hours inside the Poltergeist maze because it is absolute perfection. The other thing about Poltergeist that really warmed the cockles of my horror-loving heart was the fact that the lines for it were nearly as long as the lines for Stranger Things (which was easily the most trafficked house of the night—wait times often hovered around 150–175 minutes during the event), and I was so glad to see so many people out there embracing one of my very favorite horror movies of all time.
And speaking of Stranger Things, we ended our evening with the one-two punch of the Horror Night’s maze based on the popular Netflix show, as well as the Trick ’r Treat haunt, which had Sam running amok throughout the film’s various storylines. I had the chance to preview the Stranger Things maze a few weeks back, so I was excited to see it all in motion, and while I will admit it probably has the least amount of scares in comparison to HHN’s other mazes for 2018, there’s so much love and attention to detail infused into every nook and cranny that you can’t help but admire how well it captures the essence of the first season of Stranger Things (which is something I enjoyed, but would never label as something that is “scary”). Trick ’r Treat is really great, too, and it consistently reminds me of just why I love Michael Dougherty’s movie as much as I do. It is the perfect celebration of Dougherty's modern classic that has rightfully become a staple for nearly all genre fans every Halloween season.
This year’s Scare Zones for Horror Nights are also pretty awesome, especially Holidayz in Hell and the Trick ’r Treat area, which features numerous characters from the film, beyond just Sam. The Toxxic Tunnel offers up very few scares (guys continuously running at you while swinging pipes at your head tends to lose its impact after the 20th instance), but it does feature a dubstep version of John Carpenter’s theme from The Fog, so that is fun. We were also chased around by a handful of deadly dolls in the Hell’s Harvest area, and as mentioned, there is also a scare zone called Monster Masquerade comprised of everyone’s favorite Universal Monsters decked out in lavish ball costumes, and I think I probably spent about 10 minutes just wandering around in that area in particular because there were so many gorgeously grotesque details, that I just couldn’t help myself.
As someone who has become something of a Halloween Horror Nights veteran at this point, the one recommendation I would make for attendees is that getting a Front of Line pass is an absolute necessity. Basically, because of Horror Nights’ ever-growing popularity, it’s mathematically impossible to get through all the mazes in one night without it (most of the wait times averaged around 100 minutes from about 9:00pm on). It may cost a bit more, but you’ll definitely get more out of your experience if you do, so I recommend going for that upgrade if you’re looking to attend HHN this year.
For those interested in learning more about Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood, click HERE.