I grew up going to theme parks. While most families were taking vacations to Hawaii, my family packed up the truck, threw us in the back with a camper shell as our only protection (seats belts?), and nothing but the road ahead of us as we trekked to Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm and Universal Studios every year. Seriously, this is all we did every single year. It's the reason why I love theme parks, and also the reason why I've never been to any of the real locations showcased in It's a Small World. As an adult, my love for theme parks is still as strong as it was as a child, and this year I got to visit Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights, one of the biggest Halloween events held every year in Los Angeles.
I invited my friend Troy to go with me as my +1. He had never been to Universal Studios before. In fact, he had never been to a Halloween event before, so it was exciting going with a first timer. Alongside Troy, my friend Gabe, his girlfriend Nicole, and our front of the line VIP passes, we headed in for the evening's scares. I'll break down the night and rate each of the rides and mazes we went on. Some of the images depict quite a bit of gore, so if you're a little girlie man, you may want to read with one eye open.
Eye Gore Awards
First up were the Eye Gore Awards, an awards ceremony celebrating horror in Hollywood. The event was only a half hour, which was a relief compared to past Eye Gore shows that dragged on for an eternity. Bruce Campbell got an award, as did the cast of The Walking Dead, Insidious and even Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne showed up. While it was groovy seeing these stars, the best part of the awards show was the free food and booze. After three beers, a Red Bull vodka, two shots of tequila and two shots of whiskey, we headed into the park.
Jurassic Park in the Dark
Our first stop was the lower half of the lot and Jurassic Park: the Ride, which goes dark every year for this event. (Going dark means you can't see a goddamn thing while you're riding it, but who cares, it's Jurassic Park.) My friend purchased ponchos for us because we're Angelinos, and getting your hair wet out here is akin to first degree murder. This is my favorite ride in the park, and even though the dropping Jeep physical effect wasn't working, the rest was awesome and we had a great time riding it.
The Mummy roller coaster replaced E.T., a ride I still miss to this day. While the queue is pretty cool, and the show effects at the beginning are fun, the actual coaster itself is short and not worth the huge wait. Not sure how much longer this will stay at the studio, but with The Mummy reboot coming, I doubt if it's going anywhere anytime soon. Sorry, no Mummy pic. Guess I was too busy wiping water off of my iPhone.
Transformers: The Ride
The most recent addition to the park, Transformers is a 3D motion sensory mind f***. Put on your 3D glasses, get inside the motion car, and help the Autobots defeat the Decepticons. The 3D is incredible, the vehicle throws you every which way and you're amazed from start to finish. The storyline makes about as much sense as the movies, but you're having too much to notice or care. Best part? No Megan Fox. A definite must ride.
Black Sabbath: 13 3D Maze
To celebrate the release of their new album, Black Sabbath teamed up with Universal Studios to present this crazy 3D maze that had no rhyme, theme or reason. (At least, none that I was aware of after I had drank enough alcohol to kill a small elephant.) The 3D looked good, and some of the effects were gory and really well done. No idea what any of it meant, but it was a fun walkthrough.
The Walking Dead: No Safe Haven Maze
There are two Walking Dead events at Horror Nights and I'll get to the other one later. This one had a huge 135 minute wait. We didn't have to wait because I threw a fit and got front of the line passes. (Being a diva has its privileges.) The maze takes place on one of the sound stages on the backlot. You'll walk through the outside of the prison, then inside where zombies await to scare you at every turn. Some really nice effects and gore was spread throughout. The street set looked fantastic. But this wasn't the best Walking Dead experience at the park. I'll get to the best one in a bit.
Insidious: Into the Further Maze
The Insidious experience was pretty cool. You first walk into the home where the movie takes place and through sets that were recreated from the film, while the creepy score plays in the background. The demon and evil spirits from the first two movies pop out at various times in the maze to scare you. I of course, didn't get scared at all, because I'm 100% manly man. I can't say the same for my friend Troy, who screamed like a five-year old girl on a roller coaster engulfed in flames.
Evil Dead: Book of the Dead Maze
You walk through the cabin from the film. Some great practical effects and nice set design, but nothing really stood out. In fact, none of us could really remember anything special from it 10 minutes after we exited. Course the beer might have had something to do with that. Still had some nice set pieces though. Unfortunately, I got yelled at as soon as I took out my camera, so no pics.
The Simpsons Ride
Goodbye Back to the Future, an attraction that would throw out your back and require a hot tub and massage after every ride. Hello Simpsons, a much smoother, and more rewarding motion ride simulator experience. Hop into your cabin and go through various scenes and locales from Springfield. It's pretty funny and is a great ride for fans of the show.
The Walking Dead Terror Tram Tour
Horror Nights kept chugging along with the best scare zone experience in the park, the Terror Tram tour. Instead of going on the regular tram tour, you're driven to the How the Grinch Stole Christmas and War of the Worlds airplane crash sets that have been taken over by zombies from The Walking Dead. And by taken over, I mean they were everywhere. You couldn't turn around without a zombie getting up in your face. This was a lot of fun and there were times where you had to run from hordes of them. At one point, I saw about 15 zombies locked in a cage. I walked up to it, shook the door and told my friends, "See? They're locked in. No one is gonna chase you. These zombies are too stupid to escape." The actors playing the zombies went along with it, and as soon as we walked away, the cage door busted open and they came running after us. Needless to say, we didn't expect it and we ran for our lives. That was a fun and nice touch. Didn't actually think that was going to happen when the zombies just stood there as I taunted them.
We then got to take a photo op at the actual house used in the classic film Psycho. In all my years visiting Universal Studios, I had never, ever gotten to walk up to that house. This was a real highlight for me. I was kind of pissed that Troy got to do it his first time out though. Dude should have had to wait 30 years like I had to.
El Cucuy: The Boogeyman Maze
A nice walkthrough scare zone that's narrated by Danny Trejo. No idea what he was saying in the maze because it was so noisy, but there were some nice set pieces and it was a long maze. Nothing really memorable but it was still a fun experience. Got yelled at for trying to take pictures again.
Curse of Chucky Scare Zone
To celebrate the release of Curse of Chucky, Universal sectioned off an area near the now closed Terminator attraction (which was always crappy). We walked by as a Chucky puppet on the second floor of one of the buildings talked to the crowd, but as soon as he started doing WWE John Cena jokes we just kept walking. Dumb. There was a Chucky doll walking around on the ground trying to scare people but the "comedy" portion of this just killed it. And I love Chucky too, so I was pretty disappointed.
After an exhausting non-stop night, we finally headed out at 1:00 in the morning. The park was still packed and launch night was a huge success for Universal. These kind of events are logistic nightmares to pull off, and how Universal did it in such a fun and drama free fashion is beyond me. Every employee and actor gave it 100% and it showed.
Universal's Halloween Horror Nights is a must see event if you live in or are visiting Los Angeles. It runs until November 2nd from 7pm to 2am. Check their website for pricing and other information.
I'd like to thank the publicists for providing me with such great access to Universal's Halloween Horror Night and the Eye Gore Awards show. The place was packed, the mazes were fun, and we all had the greatest time. I can't wait to see what Universal has in store for horror fans in 2014!