To many, Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights is the gold standard of haunted attractions, blending a superbly eerie atmosphere with some of the best mazes around. For many years, however, this has been marred with overpopulation, some maze lines stretching to three hours or more in length. Whether Halloween Horror Nights is “worth it” depends largely upon strategy, but judging purely on maze quality and atmospherics, 2019 may just be HHN’s strongest year yet. Only a few mazes fall short of expectations, but with the sad, yet ultimately inevitable, death of the Terror Tram, Universal Studios Hollywood is able to serve up a robust and varied selection of mazes. halloween horror nights 2019
The scare zones at Halloween Horror Nights have become a mixed bag. In the past few years, the zone welcoming guests to the backlot has been a huge treat, a sort of hybrid of an open-top maze and a scare zone, and this year is no exception. All Hallow’s Evil is a truly breathtaking scare zone, a massive dose of pure dread after last year’s admittedly fun but still light-hearted Holidayz in Hell. The thick fog creates a sense of uncertainty that, for logistical reasons, it’s hard to recreate in a proper maze. In other parts of the park, there just isn’t enough decor to really transform scare zones the way they used to. Christmas in Hell is the one exception here, but since guests can’t go backward and explore this zone once they’ve left, it’s more an extension of Holidayz in Hell than it is a scare zone. The brave scare-actors inside Toxic Tunnel do what they can with a necessary evil, with this year’s “car club” twist at least adding some variety to the prop weapons they can brandish. Spirits & Demons of the East features some genuinely impressive creature design, but it would’ve been nice to see more of Universal’s main corridor dressed to match.
Now in its fifth year of Halloween Horror Nights, the Jabbawockeez show has become a staple of the event, for better or worse. Some might lament the absence of Bill and Ted, or any other stage show for that matter, but down in Orange County, Knott’s proved with Puppet Up that shows don’t necessarily have to be scary to have something to offer a haunt lineup. At this point, though, Jabbawockeez is a “take it or leave it” part of the HHN package. For fans of dancing, or even just fans of sitting and relaxing in between interminable lines, it will provide a much-needed rest, but for hardcore haunt fans, it may simply never do.
When it would have been easy enough to just do a retread of last year’s Stranger Things maze, Universal stepped their game up with this year’s experience. Fantastic scare-actors and clever effects highlight this sequel maze; the spitting pods inside the Upside Down are a nice touch, and the scale of the Mind Flayer adds a sense of scope that was missing from last year’s iteration. While there is admittedly an overabundance of Demo-dogs, just like there was Demogorgons last year, the maze design more than makes up for it in one of this year’s strongest entries.
Rarely has a maze come so close to encapsulating its source material quite like the Us maze has. From the ominous opening notes of “I Got 5 On It” outside the faithfully replicated Vision Quest facade, Us touches on all of the elements that made Jordan Peele’s sophomore effort so effective in theaters. While the fact that some of the “Red” scare-actors wear full head masks is a bit off-putting, their stiff body language accentuated with focused, purposeful strides goes a long way in their performances. There’s an evolution to the maze, as it gets stronger and stronger near its end, with one of the more memorable ending scenes in recent memory.
House of 1000 Corpses
It’s been seven years since House of 1000 Corpses last graced Halloween Horror Night’s lineup, though luckily the “3D Zombievision” has been left in the past. But that’s not the only difference between the two iterations. This maze has been thoroughly pulled into 2019, and what could’ve been a lifeless retread of a used-up theme has had new life breathed into it. The scenes inside the Firefly house are generally the same, but it’s once guests descend underground that the maze takes on a whole new atmosphere. While much of 2010 and 2011’s mazes focused on jump-scares courtesy of Dr. Satan and Earl Firefly, 2019’s House of 1000 Corpses hones in on the claustrophobia and even the smell of being trapped in a subterranean tunnel system, creating a fantastic new climax for the house. The use of Slim Whitman’s “I Remember You” is a poignant callback to the film, especially in light of the tragic passing of Sid Haig (Captain Spaulding), ending the house on a powerful note.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space
If there are any mazes that don’t quite live up to their hype during the 2019 season, Killer Klowns from Outer Space would fall into that category. Fan anticipation may have been ratcheted up to unfair levels after years and years of hounding John Murdy to include the Chiodos Bros. cult classic, creating an unwinnable scenario for the first-year maze. Located off to the right of the Transformers ride, on the way to the Toxic Tunnel scare zone, Killer Klowns is in a bit of a No Man’s Land as far as visuals go, as what should’ve received one of the most impressive facades in HHN history instead received a simple circus tent, with a looping performer yelling about his dog. The clowns themselves are fantastically designed, but the maze is sadly the lowest on scares in the whole lineup this year.
Much like Holidayz in Hell, Creepshow expertly walks the line between terror and hilarity, as guests are plunged into a living comic book. While a familiarity with the source material would enhance the effect of the walk-through, Creepshow is fantastically accessible. Like Poltergeist before it, guests that are unfamiliar with the film upon which the maze is based won’t find themselves lost or grasping for context. The scares are there all the same, with awesome set design and impeccable timing.
The Curse of Pandora’s Box
While it’s admirable that Halloween Horror Nights 2019 has given us not one, but two, original mazes this year, The Curse of Pandora’s Box just doesn’t live up to its true potential. It’s a fluorescent nightmare, taking all of the good things about 2015’s This Is the End maze and cranking them up to overpowering levels. And even though the idea to base a maze off of Greek mythology should be lauded for its inventiveness, by the same token, there just isn’t enough inherent dread in the Pandora myth to properly “set the table,” as it were.
Holidayz in Hell
Holidayz in Hell, on the other hand, is an example of an original maze that goes above and beyond what it has any right to be. After last year’s breakout scare zone, it would’ve been easy for this bit to go on for far too long, risking the possibility of being overcooked at maze-length. Instead, Holidayz in Hell is the sleeper maze of the year, delivering the perfect combination of scares and laughs. The theme is ready-made for silliness, and clearly the maze’s designers were having a blast (the full-size turkey pilgrims are an easy highlight). This walk-through is pure fun, and the perfect break between the bleak terror of mazes like Us.
Universal Monsters: Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman
Universal Monsters: Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman continues the trend that its predecessor began last year; taking classic Universal properties and proving that they can still be just as chilling in 2019 as any contemporary IP. The set design is the star here, faithfully replicating gorgeous sets like crypts and forests. Another memorable hallmark of this maze is its “dual-scare corridors,” in which competing creatures pop out of each wall at the same time, creating one of the most genuinely scary feelings at all of HHN (this feature was used to great effect in 2014 and 2015’s Alien vs. Predator maze). From a visual standpoint, it seems that Halloween Horror Nights can’t go wrong with its classic characters, so here’s hoping that 2020 sees the third installment in this series.
Ghostbusters is one of the most visually stunning mazes in Halloween Horror Nights history, to say the least. As the source would suggest, this maze lives and dies on its creature effects, and the ghosts created for this maze are eye-popping and just genuinely fun. HHN fanatics will be able to give Louis Tully a password in exchange for a souvenir; between that and Slimer’s repeated appearances, no walk-throughs (save for, perhaps, Holidayz in Hell) are as sheer fun this year as Ghostbusters. The fact that it will most likely be a one-off is a shame, so haunt-goers would do well to catch this maze while it lasts.
2019 is a big year for Halloween Horror Nights, now that it’s abandoned the long-lamented Terror Tram. While the Tram had its charm, allowing for more mazes and more intellectual properties is a smart move by John Murdy & Co., one that pays off in spades this year. The lineup on display has a bit of something for everyone, from laughs to screams to jaw-dropping set design. Whether the Terror Tram stays six feet under remains to be seen, but if this year is any indication, 2020 will surely be a can’t-miss spectacle.
MORE ABOUT HAUNTING
If you like the above article and want to find more like it, make sure to join our community. If Facebook is your favorite, follow us there and become a part of our groups for Immersive Horror fans and/or Immersive creators. We’re active on Instagram, posting evocative imagery and informative stories to promote our reviews and recollections; follow us there. You can even find us on twitter; click here to follow. For those who want to explore deeper, we have a vibrant Slack community with new event alerts and immediate ticket sale announcements; click here to join. And subscribe to our event calendar to get emails for all or specific events (look for the link right under the calendar)! Finally, we have a newsletter that comes out once a week; click here to sign up.