Screaming my way through Halloween Horror Nights

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Eli Roth's Hostel: Hunting Season Maze

Pictured above: Eli Roth’s Hostel: Hunting Season Maze

I am still in shock and awe at how completely and totally awesome Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights was. My throat was sore from screaming, and I swear I injured some muscles from hunching over, tensing up, and running in a crouched position. So funny how every time I went into a maze, I thought I wasn’t going to be scared, but EVERY TIME the jumpy-out things got me. Every. Time.

Anyways! I don’t have many photos – both because it was too dark to see everything and because you’re moving so fast/want to take in everything first hand that you can’t really stop to take a bunch. Which is honestly pretty cool so it doesn’t ruin it for everyone else. I’m kind of hoping Universal posts a bunch of photos after they wrap up so people can see how great it is and go next year to see both the old and new stuff. The few snaps I did take are here.

Here’s a wrap-up of what my friend Hanna and I experienced:

Hostel: Hunting Season
Since I’m an Eli Roth fangirl, this was the primary reason I wanted to visit Horror Nights. Unfortunately, I totally forgot about the whole “password for Elite Hunting Card” deal that I was obsessed with as soon as I got to the front of the maze (Bratislava, dammit! I so wish I hadn’t been too amped to say it then). Two sexy east European girls greeted us with a smile, a wave, and a cold “goodbye” just as we walked in. EEEEEK.

The maze was authentically Hostel-esque – with scenes from both the original and the sequel played out in gory detail, as well as scenes created just for the maze. The most effective one was a recreation of Heather Matarazzo’s demise in Hostel 2.  While I was busy examining the completely fantastic job they did of creating a wriggling, screaming girl spurting blood from her freshly cut throat over a splattered tub, a Countess of Bathory wannabe ran out from behind a curtain with her scythe, screaming eerily and scaring the pants off me.

Other surprises: a giant meat grinder with a still (but barely) alive half-dude wailing, lots of Elite Hunters in those crazy horned helmets + one with a gun threatening to blow someone’s head off in the dressing room, piles of blood and guts – really so much gore I could barely contain my glee. In retrospect, after visiting the rest, this was the least scary maze simply because it had the least amount of jump-out scares, so it was a good one to do first. That doesn’t mean it didn’t still rule though, because it totally did. And it also doesn’t mean I wasn’t sufficiently scared, because I was. It’s just that the volume of scares increased with each maze.

Alice Cooper: Welcome to My Nightmare
I was somehow convinced this one would be a easy walk through after a heart-pounding journey through the first, and boy was I wrong. I was thinking it’d be totally crazy and sort of cheesy, but nope. There was some awfully weird shit in this one, but it was all INSANELY terrific. Basically you’re journeying through an old broken-down house with a bunch of nightmarish creations based on Alice Cooper’s vision for his WtMN album.

There were several versions of Alice Cooper himself, wielding everything from axes to butcher knifes, jumping out at you with crazy eyes and straggly hair. But the three things that stick out the most from this one were the giant venom-spewing cobra, the weird gigantic melting guy in a pile of blood and guts, and the creepiest part ever: a “body-bag” style illusion done with super frightening empty-eyed dolls. Yeah, that’s the thing that’ll give me nightmares, every time.

Jurassic Park in the Dark
This was just cheesy fun. Of  course there’s nothing different about this ride from day to night, but the climb to the top for the last drop is still pretty nerve-wracking (especially for someone like me who’s afraid of heights, and eschews all things roller-coastery). And that drop IS really cool, even with some major splashes. Luckily, we ended up in the back of the boat, so we just got a misting. Those poor, poor souls in the front got completely soaked. It was so NOT warm by that time in the evening. The best part, our expressions in the photo – which we passed up, since neither one of us wanted to fork out $25. Still, fun to see.

My only gripe: the crazy “Welcome to the Jungle” ending with strobe lights and what looked like dancing raptors. REALLY, Universal? Really?

The Thing: Assimilation
I mistakenly thought there wouldn’t be anything that scary about this one, since it deals with made-up sci-fi monsters, and not crazed serial killers. Still, I jumped at every single one of the elaborately constructed “Things” that popped out (from perfectly normal looking walls!) at various points and appreciated the various gore-riffic stages of guys changing into The Thing.

Extra special touches: pumping cold air into the maze to make it feel like you were really in the Antarctic, the row of beat-up dog cages, covered in blood and featuring a few mutilated puppy corpses, and the guy stuck outside the building who would run up and scream for you to let him in because he was really himself. And the monsters, man. They were really something. Spectacular creations!

La Llorona: Villa de Almas Perdidas
To me, this was one of the scariest attractions, simply because it’s just so damn creepy. Imagined by Diego Luna, this maze was based on a legend/ghost story about a woman who drowned her children, and then herself, and starts out by having you walk through a church filled with eerily still ladies shrouded in lace and scattered across the pews. While you’re distracted with peering at the children’s bodies (propped up in coffins at the front), some of those ladies suddenly move, making a grab for you and showing their terrifying corpse faces.

After that, there were crazy, stringy-haired ladies popping up everywhere, jumping out from the corners, holding rotting babies, moving their heads all jerkily like J-horror spirits, and crawling around in blood-soaked garments. Towards the end, you get to see the actual drowned corpses floating in the river, as well as the most insane thing I have ever seen: a wriggling, still-alive girl being devoured by a grotesque monster creature (think Freddy devouring Kristen in Nightmare on Elm Street 3). Whoa, that was CRAZY. And GREAT. And CRAZY GREAT.

Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses in 3D Zombie Vision
Full confession: I have a love/hate relationship with this movie. I love the idea of it, but I hated the execution. Still, I have to admit the maze was pretty cool in terms of how faithful it was to fans of the film.

You start out going through Captain Spaulding’s “Museum of the Strange”, where you get to see various serial killer artifacts, with Spaulding narrating your passage (and occasionally popping out of doors to scare the bejeesuz out of you), but once you get to Dr. Satan, things turn real. Passing under the tied up, bunny-suited clad corpses of two hapless souls from the movie, you see Satan’s gruesome workshop, and the man himself—who threatens you with a bonesaw.

Past that, you enter the House, and run into the most terrifying character, Tiny the giant. (Those guys on stilts got me every damn time). There was also a fantastic recreation of “Fishboy” and a very effective Otis impersonator, who didn’t understand why I was laughing and proceeded to peel the skin-face mask he was wearing off his own to ask me “What’s so funny?” while pointing a knife in my direction. My favorite part of this maze was the Baby character, who at first ran at us with a knife, poked it at Hanna, and said, “Pook!” in a sweet voice – before popping out later to scare us, and then proceeding to scalp some poor soul (Jerry?) right in front of everybody. Another standout: they did a really nice job on the rotting Cheerleader corpse in Otis’s bed.

I’m not sure the 3D effects of this one made it more terrifying, but they did succeed in making us feel a little disoriented, which I guess was part of the point.

Scream 4 Terror Tram
This was the most fantastic experience out of all of the Horror Nights stuff! Which is so funny, because I thought it was going to kind of suck. The way it’s described on the site doesn’t really do it justice—I expected we’d get on the tram and tour the back lot, with Ghostface popping out from the trees every once in awhile to terrorize the passengers. But, uh. No.

They set this thing up like the Stab movies actually existed; complete with fake trailers for some new horror movies being filmed at Universal. The premise being that you’re on the tram to go to a “Stab-a-Thon” party showing all 7 Stab films (like in Scream 4). Along the way, while you’re being shown trailers for the new films, the phone on the tram rings and you’re threatened by the killer several times (amidst footage of video nerds being murdered in front of their laptops – so you’re trying to guess what is real, and what is not).

It’s all pretty tame, albeit interesting, until the tram pulls up to the Bates Motel and the operator tells you to GET OUT…and good luck making it back. Wait. WHAT?

So now you and the entire tram full of people gets to walk right by the motel (so cool!) where there are Ghostfaces everywhere stabbing people trying to get away, other guests screaming for help in rooms, and corpses (or not) in cars outside. Then you proceed up a pitch black hill to the Psycho house. On the way, all manner of scary things hide in the trees and dirt, completely camouflaged so you have no chance of seeing them until they POP out and scare you! I almost got trampled by some dude and his girlfriend who were surprised by a couple shadowy figures.

Once you pass the Bates house – which was pretty much the highlight of my entire night, because we were close enough to almost step on the porch — (we even saw Norman! Hooray), you enter the “set” of the fictional film Zombiez on a Plane, and holycrap. They did an awesome job putting that together! A little internet research shows me that they used the plan crash wreckage from War of the Worlds (which I guess is part of their regular tour on the back lot), but they dressed it up with enough body parts, wandering zombies looking for brains, and corpses that I’m as impressed as I would have been if they had to build the whole thing from scratch. It was SO elaborate and so well done…and so hard to see everything. If we’d had time, I definitely would have done that part again just so I could try to move more slowly (kind of not possible, but still…) and drink every bit of set dressing in. So much admiration for the people that created that.

We also passed a few more serial killers on the way back to the tram, bodies being hack-sawed in the forest, hanging corpses from the trees, grotesque monsters pushing other corpses around, etc. And then, to get to our tram, we had to walk through two other trams placed veryclose together and filled with unmoving Ghostface-clad people. ANY ONE OF THEM COULD MOVE AND GET YOU AT ANY TIME. You just didn’t know which ones, until you were running as fast you could through them, screaming at the top of your lungs.

Seriously, my favorite thing of all the great things. LOVE LOVE LOVED it.

The Wolfman: The Curse of Talbot Hall
Another one that I thought might be kind of lame, but actually ended up being really scary. They built this in the The House of Horrors, which is also a regular studio attraction. The first part was set up a like a classic Universal Monsters horror movie museum, complete with lots of Wolfman artifacts from the original and new film — and then you end up in Talbot Hall, being threatened every which way by half-man/half-wolf monsters.

The second part took you through a little classic monster history—complete with a bunch of scary jumping out creatures. Frankenstein’s monster (this part looked just like the original movie set- so cool!), wolves, Chucky (!??!), I’m sure there was a Dracula in there I just couldn’t see because of running and screaming – and some disgruntled rotting brides who jumped out in unison and then just STOOD THERE UNMOVING. In fact, there were several performers who used this tactic inside The House of Horrors, and it was frighteningly effective.

What really sold this one though were the narrow hallways and the traipsing up and down of stairways. It made it seem like the attraction was HUGE, and you had no clear idea how long it would be until you were back out into the night and away from all the scary things inside.

Scare Zones
In addition to the mazes and rides, they had Scare Zones placed all around the park. There was always something/someone running up to you with a chainsaw, a knife, an axe, or just some really sharp teeth – and they managed to get me several times, especially when they would either silently stalk us from behind, or come right up next to me and growlllll in my ear. *shiver*

Scare Zone breakdown:

Scream – 100s of actors in Ghostface costumes, complete with noise-making knives. I fell into this trap a few times, focusing on one GF behind me, while another one popped up at my side ready to stab me.

Zombieville – This was SO elaborate and cool. Set up down one of the streets you had to walk through to get another part of the park. Tons of set pieces, shambling zombies, brains, and guts strewn all over the place. Another attraction that was hard to see everything in, because there was so much going on.

The Reapers – Mainly this means guys with skull masks/clown masks/any other kind of scary mask you can think of, and CHAINSAWS. They chased you around at the entrance, but they mostly gathered on the lower lot and over by the Jurassic Park ride, terrorizing everyone in their path every 5 minutes or so. I can’t even remember how many (supposedly) fearless teen girls I saw get right up in their face to yell at them about how they weren’t scary—only to be freaked out seconds later by another one stalking them.

Klownz – Self explanatory, this was right smack in the middle of the park and featured a giant arch complete with flames coming out of the top that put out some serious heat, and some scarily loud noises. The klownz were covered in blood and and performing gruesome circus tricks.

Freakz – Similar to Zombieville, but with a bunch of sideshow performers set on eating human flesh in a burnt-down Pair setting. One particularly nasty fellow on stilts bent down to talk about eating our ears off, and maybe taking one of our eyes just for fun. He also wagered that our arms would taste really juicy. Oh yeah, he did his job well.

At several points inside and outside the mazes, the “scare actors” would target me and growl or whisper things in my ear…and it worked, EVERY TIME. Mostly because I think I was focused on looking ahead of me, so it was easy for them to sneak up behind me silently and get really close. The most disturbing was the guy in the Alice Cooper maze who made obscene kissy-face noises. GROSSSS.

Pro tip: One thing they don’t tell you is that you will get wet. And I’m not just talking about the Jurassic Park ride – each maze is equipped with things spitting, sputtering, and spurting blood so you can feel the splatter. Luckily it’s just plain water, but man is it disconcerting when it hits you in the dark (especially full on in the face and eye, which happened to me more than once).

All in all, I HIGHLY recommend a trip for hardcore horror fans. And make sure you get the front of the line pass! It was well worth the money to be able to skip wait times of up to an hour and half to get into a maze. We barely had any wait at all – the longest was at The Thing maze, and that was just due to a back-up of too many people inside.

Seriously, you guys. If this was located closer to me so I didn’t have to buy plane tickets, I would go every single year.

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