Thriller / Filler

This year’s Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights was a smashing success. The mazes were heart-stopping fun and the vibe was foggy-freaky. Everything worked out perfectly for us (but not necessarily for the bigwigs at Universal).

You see, the economy sucks, and lucky for those shelling out, the crowds were way tolerable. Though we upgraded to a front-of-the-line pass, had we braved it with the general admission drones, things wouldn’t have been as bad as they had been in the past (where we waited almost two hours to board the backlot tram!).

Still, even though the park’s streets and alleyways weren’t crazy congested, some of the more popular lines posted wait times in excess of 80 minutes! Without the upgrade, we’d probably get through two mazes, and another attraction or two. With the pass, there was absolutely NO waiting for anything. We walked right on up. It was pretty sweet. When we do it again next year, we’re definitely doing it with front-of-the-line passes. It’s totally worth it.

(Up close and personal with a groovy ghoulie)

Here are the best and worst things about the event.

1. Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses in 3D was the best terror maze by a mile. The 3D effects worked out nicely with the day-glo, neon, go-go splatter of Zombie’s signature look. The movie is an underrated gem (IMHO) and the maze does a great job of pulling the best parts of the movie together, whisking nervous walkers along on a swift jaunt to hell and back.

You begin by venturing through Captain Spaulding’s Murder Ride, then end up in the Firefly’s demented residence, then you wrap things up with a descent into the bowels of the earth to tackle Dr. Satan’s sadistic lair.

The effects were top-notch and the actors scared the bejesus out of me. It was fantastic. If you go, it’s a must-see.

(Though his head is humongous, Rob Zombie’s vision goes hand-in-hand with haunted mazes)

2. La Llorona is a creepy Mexican fable about a woman who drowns her young son and daughter so she can be with a man who doesn’t want anything to do with her kids. When the man finds out what she has done, he rejects the woman. She kills herself in the very lake where she dispatched her kids. Together, the three spirits roam, and moan, and do a whole lot of ghostly crying.

The maze was aptly atmospheric. Catholic imagery, eternal wailing, and a bunch of dead kid dummies got the blood pumping. The screaming Llorona got things jumping.

If you go, be sure to pin this one at number 2, right behind Zombie.

3. The studio tour tram was converted into a SCREAM 4 themed snoozefest. Monitors ran video footage of Stab 8, the new movie-within-a-movie from those “clever” Scream writers. The idea is that YOU and your tram-mates are extras in Stab 8 and fodder for ghostface’s sure knife. It’s a nifty idea (they did the same thing with Jigsaw last year).

Unfortunately, everything feels half-baked. The experience is disjointed at best. Creative doesn’t follow through, even dropping the kinda cool, live action role-playing (we were sort of LARPing) midway throught the ride in favor of a series of commercials about upcoming Universal horror movies.

The tram doesn’t go through any of the cool tram stuff either. No King Kong, no Jaws, no spinning ice tunnel. They simply drive you down to the Psycho House, let you out, and then make you hike through some pretty gnarly, dirt-trailed terrain. With so many feet trudging along, dust rises to mix with the piped in fog and things get almost unbearable. It’s sort of…miserable.

At the end of the tiring trek, you pass the Psycho House (unceremoniously) and then descend into a left over WAR OF THE WORLDS set – the gruesomely impressive aftermath of a plane crash. Effects wise things aren’t too shabby, but a lame ZOMBIEZ ON A PLANE theme cheapens the thrills, sucking the creepy right out of the plane crash scene.

At this point you reboard the tram and ride back with another round of commercials.

And that’s that.

Not too cool.

What’s scarier? Being run down by club wielding maniacs or being exploited as test-marketing cattle (though to be fair, I’ll probably see every movie they advertised).


4. Oh, how I hate power tripping freaks.

Universal hires hundreds of actors to roam the park and scare patrons. Some of them have the right attitude. They scare folks in good fun. They do their freaky thing, then run away, (probably) giggling beneath layers of latex.

But then, some of these seasonal actors are real douchebags. There’s a mean-spirited vibe to their antics. They seem to enjoy making others uncomfortable. It becomes less fun and a bit weird.

My wife doesn’t help. She spent a good part of the evening supposing that Universal may have accidentally hired a wacko ready to freak out and start stabbing people with a real knife.

Which is totally possible when you think about it…

Anyway, the worst of these sadists, chainsaw wielding skull-heads – their chainless chainsaws harmless – are obnoxiously loud and extremely unnerving. The bastards use the impotent saws to torment patrons and drive hysterical, screaming women to their knees. They tend to really work it and push things as far as they can.

I suspect, that had this been some sort of no-holds-barred bloodsport, a few of these guys would have gladly took up a real saw and embraced the violence…

(Running on crutches brings out the beast in me!)

Here’s a good litmus test for cruelty: while most of the freaks are instructed to feign brutality, swinging fake scythes, and machetes, and clubs, pulling away at the last possible second, some of them take things too far and go for the low blow (in my case, they targeted my legs the moment they noticed that I was hobbling around on crutches).

One dude even followed me for a while, mocking my unsteady gait, basically gimping it up and making fun of the way I walk (I feel self-conscious enough already – I don’t need some zombie lackey rubbing my handicap in).

A note to upper management: please encourage horrific savagery, it drives the event, but please insist upon respect. This may seem oxymoronic, but this is a business. Employees should never offend guests no matter their specific, scare-all directives. There’s a fine line here. Being intelligent enough to make the simple distinction should be one of the job’s primary prerequisites. Meatheads need not apply.

(The only way to fly)

5. The live-action, musical show, Bill & Ted’s Halloween Adventure, is, as Roger Ebert said about THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2, “An affront upon human decency.”

This is not an exaggeration. I’m sure Ebert was exaggerating for effect. I am not.

I steal his words and repeat them back with supreme sincerity. This live-action debacle was the worst theme park stage show I’ve ever had the displeasure of squirming through. Nothing made any sense. The production forewent coherence for idiot rambling and awful celebrity impersonation.

It’s hard to believe that somebody somewhere put this thing together. It’s even harder to believe that somebody approved it. And even harder to believe a whole cast of wannabes actually perform the dog five times a night.

I can’t even find the right words to slag it.

There’s bad dancing, bad lip sync, bad writing, bad acting, unfunny racism, and it drags on and on far too long.

Oh, and once you’re in, you’re trapped for the duration. There’s no disrupting the “performance” with early exits. I’m not the type to stir the pot – I’ve sat through some bad stuff in the name of civility – but if I had the opportunity to go back, I’d grab my wife’s hand and insist upon being let out. It really was that horrendous.

Okay then, Loyal Reader, repeat after me: I WILL NOT WATCH BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT HALLOWEEN ADVENTURE!

Take my word for it and stay away!

Despite the thirty agonizing minutes wasted on Bill & Ted, we had a great night. I look forward to doing it again next year.


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