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Halloween Horror Nights 2021 (USH): Reviews & Photos

HHN HollyWeird: Into the Black Walls…Featuring Actual Scares!

Unlike Orlando’s event, Hollywood features enough scares to offer a detailed review of each haunt, rather than an overview of plexi-shaming.

How Hollywood’s event hasn’t caught on to the extend of Orlando’s blows my mind. Of the two years I’ve attended, I’ve ended up with the same reaction: this Horror Nights is far more intense! The scares are louder, more aggressive, and in your face! Perhaps it’s because there are legit actors in Hollywood that are trained in stage combat. Or maybe it’s because the HHNH cast doesn’t also work at Disney, so there aren’t any cutesy princesses working the nightmare shift. Or or or, it could be that Hollywood trains their scareactors to actually scare and not rely only on triggers or be photo ops/promo pieces for Instagram in the streets. Whatever it is, this event has real potential and if Universal put the resources into Hollywood that they put into Orlando, Hollywood’s Horror Nights would reign supreme.

I’m going to start with the weakest aspect of the event: the Jaberwockeez show. What the hell was that? And how long did you say this show has been here? Yikes. I guess this serves some purpose in eating people up from the maze lines, but does Universal realize how many comedy writers in Los Angeles would LOVE to write a show for Horror Nights? Hell, Paul Scheer used to do an annual Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure spoof here at UCB. You’re telling me you’d rather have Jaberwockeez over literally ANYTHING else? I guess I liked the Daft Punk bit with the lights, but other than that…uhh…breakdancing mimes gotta go.

Another lackluster aspect of Hollywood’s event are the scarezones. Although the event advertises three, I’d say it’s more like one full scare zone, a half scarezone, and a roaming horde. Scream Queenz is the real winner at the exit of Bride of Frankenstein Lives with set pieces and lots of scareactors in a small space. At the entrance of the park is a chainsaw roaming horde called Chainsaw Rangers and just beyond that in New York is a small zone called Demon City.

While none of these zones compare to the massive set pieces Orlando has to offer, their cast greatly makes up for the lack of immersion. I had actors putting props in my face, attempting to impale me with a chainsaw, and a Frankenstein stilt walker lunge down to growl in my face! Even better, the scareactors in the streets had the discipline not to goof off, stop for photos, or break character. The solution for scarezones? Give Orlando’s sets to Hollywood’s performers, then you’d have a hell of a scarezone.

Another note about atmosphere: Hogsmeade was gorgeously spooky. Even without scareactors, I loved walking through this area at night with the illuminated castle and music. If I could choose anything to add to a Hogsmeade scarezone, it’d be roaming Death Eaters and in-canon murders. Give me a Death Eater blowing up Fred Weasley, Molly Weasley standing over Bellatrix’s corpse, Lavender Brown being devoured by a werewolf…how could Jo say no?

Before moving on to the event’s main event, let’s take a stop at the Terror Tram: Purge Purge Purge! Ugh, the Purge. But, Terror Tram Purge?! Not bad. This experience diminished each time I went through it. The first run I was highly impressed with the amount of actors fully owning their roles out to scare the crap out of you. I had lots of good fake out scares and freaked out through the camouflage tunnel when one of the brush actors got me good. There are also some highly dedicated actors here including the Purge Raver by the plane crash always going HARD each time I saw her. But, as of last week, I noticed lots of actors missing and waning energy from the cast. Still, walking through the War of the Worlds set at night is a highly unique experience in itself.

Alright, now it’s time for the real treat…houses! Wait, mazes! We’re on the West Coast now, Dorothy, call it a f-ing maze! Okay, mazes. I’m going to rank each of them except Walking Dead, which I only did once. Still got an incredible scare in WD’s prison scene, which is more to say than 4/5ths of Orlando’s houses this year.

6 . Texas Chainsaw Massacre - This house featured the most egregious use of a black wall. You’re supposed to be leaving the Sawyer house and going to the gas station. Wtf? Why isn’t this covered in trees, brush, limbs, severed heads, ANYTHING? Still, I had some great scares in this house. Pretty similar to 2016, but some stuff got me real good. The guy banging on the crypt in the cemetery. The last leatherface faking me out thinking I had just seen him scare the group in front of us - he reset and hit that trigger again real quick to scare the sh- out of me! And props to the actor out front always bringing the energy when you walk in!

5 . The Exorcist - This house was actually my number one for the first week. I somehow managed to get every scare my first three runs. But then…well if you aren’t getting hit by those very aggressive Pazuzus nonstop, you start to look around and get bored. Look, at least these black walls have scares hidden within them. I also noticed some lighting differences after my first couple weeks - more light seemed to be in the soundstage which made subsequent runs less intense. Still, I had plenty of thrills jumping when that chair moved, ducking Pazuzus, and trying to avoid the vomiting Regan…only to have stopped exactly where she sprays the water.

4 . Halloween 4 - Surprisingly, this house was at the bottom of my list and moved up over time. Before getting inside the house, I have to say it is very cool to walk through an empty Water World at night! Inside, I love that there are no black walls and every inch of the maze is utilized. The “bus window trick (idk what really to call it) works great here and is a tactic Orlando should have utilized if they were really trying to be COVID safe. I probably had my biggest scare of Hollywood here in the diner when I forgot there’s a Michael after the dummy getting shot. Jesus! I nearly fell over when he popped out with that knife. And even though it’s a dumb final, I really like the black light hall of mirrors Michael Myers room. Either I always forget where they are positioned or they switch up their spots because I’ve always gotten a good scare at the end of every run.

3 . Pandora’s Box - This house is batsh- crazy and I love it! Lots of in your face scares. Holy crap! The stilt walker that’ll lunge down at you full speed is insane! I don’t know how that person does it! Black walls? Yes, but lots of black light scenes and props to offset them - not nearly as flagrant as Exorcist or TCM. Cool use of puppets in this one too - Medusa, the lion fashioned from an AWiL werewolf, and the spider! Man, the guy with the spider bites/welts on the right after the spider got me every time. I also really like how they pulse this house and open the door in the first scene, which btw has the best scenic design of any room at HHNH.

2 . Haunting of Hill House - Man, they did this house dirty with that facade. I can’t believe they would cheap out on something already fabricated for Orlando. “Hey Orlando gets a crazy immersive facade, what should we do for Hollywood? Uh…have them walk through a billboard?” Perfect example of how this event needs more investment. Anyways, I liked the scares in this maze far better than Orlando’s house. The bent neck lady scares were super effective and the maze has a lot of actors getting right in your face. Something about scareactors attacking you from above really gets me. Plus, the last scare of this house is an amazing fake out playing on that “bus window ad” effect. This one got consistently better over time and has remained a highlight through the event.

1 . Bride of Frankenstein Lives!! - This one might be the event’s shortest maze, but manages to pack in a lot of detail and scares! Hard to top with the amazing scenic work and GOAT cast. One night the first Bride was CRYING over the Monster’s slayed body. Legit tears. Sobbing. Holy crap. I’ve never seen a scareactor that invested in their role. This is always the most consistent house for me, with the other actors going for blood. I’ve also noticed them finding new ways to scare. During the red light transition scene before the graveyard, I had a Bride of Dracula pop out at the group in front of me. Little did I know she stayed out, lurking in the fog to snarl in my ear as I walked by blinded by the fog and light. Seriously creepy! This house really proves you don’t need a ton of space to tell a great story and scare the hell out of people. It also has the best soundtrack of a maze I’ve been in! Love the guitar solos and narration as you move through the story.

It’s hard not to compare Orlando and Hollywood, and while those black walls are real, Hollywood proved itself to me in a year when Orlando’s scares were severely neutered. If you want to be dazzled by set design, attend Orlando. If you want to be truly scared, go to Hollywood.
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I’ve attended a few times and I think I’m finally ready to do a review, so here it goes.

it was nice to be back, there really is a nostalgia (at least for me) with HHN so that will always be there. I’ll cover a few different aspects of the event, food, scare zones, mazes.

Scare zones:
definitely lacking from previous years. The decor at the front of the park was almost completely absent besides a few lights. Which is baffling because we know they have plenty of props they could line the whole entrance with? Demon City is cool, and the masks are phenomenal. The actors seem to have quite a bit of energy too. Silver Scream Queenz was the best. Lotta fog, cool props, and the actors were really bringing it. It seems more than anything we NEED something on the lower lot. I understand there’s not a lot of room, but there isn’t a lot of room in Silver Scream Queenz either, and we’ve seen them do it in the past. Make it happen.

Having more themed food on the upper lot and lower lot was neat! The Day of the Dead plaza was great and a step in the right direction. Same with the Leatherface BBQ. Was really nice to see, but the actual food was meh. Small portions, and the BBQ pulled chicken sandwich I got was cold and very gamey…my favorite was the Jurassic World lab themed bar above Jurassic Outfitters. Forgot what is was called. Great execution, fun drinks and nowhere near as long as Isla Nubar.

Now the best part…MAZES!

we knew this year was going to be different, lot of decisions were made by higher ups and not the actual creative team. However, we were just excited to have the event back. I’ll just post my rankings and then go over my few issues with each as a whole…..since I feel they all have the same overall issue ( not black walls).
1. Bride of Frankenstein Lives
This is what I think should be Universal’s new standard of maze if I had to pick from any this year. Frankenstein meets the Wolfman is still better, but this is pretty good given the budget this year. It has almost everything we expect from this event. Good set design, phenomenal costumes and make up. Good mix of trigger scares and non-trigger scares. I do think the black walls with the red light and Dracula brides was executed very well. My party and I were hesitant to move forward because we couldn’t see and we knew something was lurking in the dark for us. We just didn’t know where. Black walls done right. I don’t like the their booth scares though. Where they’re stuck in a booth on the sides of the room? Let them get close to guest. They aren’t sideshow attractions. Don’t display them as such.
2. TCM
What’s not to like about this maze, honestly? I think it’s a good send off for the property, hopefully for a while. If it is, I’m glad it went out with a bang. I would have liked a little more gore in this one. Closer to that of Blood Brothers in ‘16, but it IS based off the original film, which was surprisingly not gorey. I would have liked to see more of leatherface chasing with a hammer, or chainsaw without a trigger than him messing around with a face. We see him so that what? He’s static in a lot of his scenes throughout the maze.
3. Halloween 4
can’t decide if this was an upgrade or downgrade? I do enjoy the ending similar to the original Halloween maze we got back in ‘15, but I did not like the vinyl scares in this one at all. There’s no reason to use that for a character like Michael. It just ends up looking like he’s stuck in a box. He’s best when he’s coming out from a window, from behind a door, hiding in a corner etc. Also Huuuuuge missed opportunity with the sheets. Yes, it’s predictable but trying to figure out which sheet would create a lot of suspense. More suspense than the trigger scares we’ve seen set off in front of us twice already. Michael never feels like a threat here.
4. The Exorcist
Ugh, what a letdown. This really did not age well. I did enjoy it in ‘16 but this year was it so meh. Broken FX’s everywhere! This maze really suffers from too many animatronics….the only saving grace for this maze is the black walls…They do work well in here and you’re almost guaranteed to get one good scare.
5. Pandora’s Box
this one was almost my 3 or 4 but a few things pushed it down for me. Mainly just how understaffed it always felt on all my runs? There was always a Pandora missing OR replaced by a skeleton. The fact that now there’s only 1 lava monster, and the spiders being gone at the end and replaced with that EMBARRASSING spider puppet that moves like 2 inches. Good grief….
6. Haunting of Hill House
Another mailed in Netflix property…..I’d be a little upset right now if I was a higher up over there. I did enjoy the design, but so much felt….missing? And I always seemed to catch the Tall Man resetting, which is a bummer. And the bent neck lady??? Very disappointing. I remember Murdy talking on Twitter saying that they really cooked up something special to tackle that effect! So I was a little let down with the final result. Especially since I know what Magee FX is capable of, and some of the elaborate masks they have made to tackle things like that.
7. The Walking Dead
Same as usual, less staffed than it was the year before, save your actors and put them elsewhere. Close it for good.
8. Terror Tram Forever Purge
Always packed, less fun than previous installments. Not enough actors. There are some REALLY good actors there though. There’s just not enough of them and too many people. It’s the same thing every year. Either get rid of it or make major changes.

Mazes overall: 6/10

Overall the event is still fun, we knew this year wasn’t going to be great given the circumstances and how HHN operates. However these issues have been persistent for a while. I know the event is selling out almost every night and that’s a good sign for next year, but will it change anything? It’s not just us that feel that way. You can see how the GP feels on social media. The event needs a reboot.
The current maze formula just does not work anymore. If you want to keep that formula…then you need to cap attendance earlier, or make sure your guest aren’t getting conga lined through every scare and only seeing actors resetting or having every scare spoiled by the party in front of them because they’re so loud and so bright. If you don’t want to do either of those things, then you need to have more variety in your houses. Less trigger scares, more groundbreaking effects, bigger sets, different paths, Etc. less laughable puppets. The Slimer hall scare in Ghostbusters, the werewolf in Creepshow, the Klownzilla head all in ‘19 and that God awful Spider puppet in Pandora this year should never have been there. I don’t know what it’ll take, but the current schtick has gotten so stale. Something has got to change.
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I forgot to make this sooner, but I did get a chance to visit Hollywood this year. Haven't gone sense 2016. Well I cannot say it's world class, I was super surprised as to how much fun I had. The early part of the night was not great (although that might have been because I was on a six hour flight hours before hand). However, the latter half of the night after my group got into The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was so much fun. I really just embraced the vibe of Hollywood after that maze.

Some major notes from the night included how packed the event was. Even Orlando in my opinion has never felt as busy as Hollywood. Springfield and walking to the Terror Tram were all nightmares crowd wise. It's not fun when walking through the park feels like a line.

I think that's why having Potter open was the best thing to ever come out of the event this year. I am all for Potter being open in Hollywood because it felt like such a nice break and a good way to not walk through Springfield.

The scare zones are not really defined. They all felt exactly the same while also not being enough of them.

I did not experience The Walking Dead Attraction nor the show. Terror Tram was good when the people where moving.

Anyways, here is just my general ranking of the mazes:
1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
2. Universal Monsters: Bride of Frankenstein Lives
3. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
4. Pandora’s Box
5. The Haunting of Hill House
6. The Exorcist

Last noteworthy point from the trip was that it felt less Covid-19-Restricted than Orlando. Actors felt alive, especially the ones in the scare zones.
Final grades now that 2021 is in the books:

Pandora's Box: D-
Hill House: B+
Bride of Frankenstein Lives: A-
Halloween 4 (x2): B+
TCM (x2): A
Exorcist: B-
Terror Tram: C

TCM, Hill House, and Bride grades rose; Exorcist dropped. Everything else stayed the same. HH was amazing to look at but I feel like the I never got a perfect run when it came to the actors. I kept thinking “if this maze had Us-caliber scare actors, it might be one of the GOATs.” But they were always just a little bit lacking. Bride had the reverse problem — amazing actors but repetitive-feeling environs, and it’s short! (At least this guaranteed low wait times each night.)

I didn’t love Exorcist when it debuted and I still don’t love it. It’s a hard one to adapt because it all unfolds in that one room, which makes it redundant, and the effort to kinda branch out just doesn’t fully work or honor the film, IMO. Some cool FX but this one just isn’t a fav.

TCM is my favorite maze of the year, my favorite iteration of Leatherface, and second only to Hell Comes to Haddonfield as my favorite among the slasher set. I really loved this one.

Fun year. Already looking forward to 2022.