When Universal Studios relaunched Halloween Horror Nights seven years ago, the strategy was to craft mazes based on established horror franchises. Whatever one thought about A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, FRIDAY THE 13TH, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and their various sequels, the sheer number provided plenty of grizzly grist for the mill, offering a variety of incarnations of their star monsters, along with a multitude of famous scenes worth recreating live. However, Halloween 2013 sees Universal Studios building two mazes around titles with less longevity, which results in less diversity and more predictability. Despite this, both The Evil Dead: Book of the Dead and Insidious: Into the Further (both located in the studio's lower lot) turn out to be worth a visit, especially the latter.
Every year, Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood offers at least one "gore" maze, and you always know where it will be ensconced - in the lower lot, next to the building housing Revenge of The Mummy: The Ride. Sometimes, the maze seems to be little more than a re-branding of what was seen the previous year: the same old blood repackaged in new wine-skins. Fortunately, that is not the case this year; The Evil Dead: Book of the Dead is as gleefully gory as one could want, but it is not a disguised remake of Halloween 2012's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Saw is the Law.
The unfortunate irony, however, is that the Book of the Dead maze is based on a remake - somewhat to the mazes detriment. The EVIL DEAD franchise has been around a while, and Halloween horror fans have long been hoping that Universal Studios would take a crack at it. Sadly, the studio opted to seek inspiration only in the 2013 reboot, not from the three seminal movies in the 1980s and '90s, directed by Sam Raimi. This limits the variety of scenes and, most tragically, omits the franchise's iconic character, Ash (memorably embodied in the films by Bruce Campbell).*
Instead, the Evil Dead: Book of the Dead offers a straight walk-through of highlights from the remake, in all their bizarre and bloody glory. It's way - way - way - over the top and frequently fun, but seldom scary. In fact, the result is a bit like the remake itself: you see a lot of familiar images, amplified with bigger production values and spectacular special effects, but there is not a whole lot that is original or innovative. Nevertheless, the maze has its virtues: the action is nearly non-stop, and the final vignette - a recreation of the film's conclusion, featuring a chainsaw through an open mouth, complete with spraying blood - is so outrageous and well realized that it is worth the wait in line, in and of itself. No, we did not scream, but we sure did laugh - a demented laugh, to be sure.
Insidious: Into the Further likewise seeks inspiration from a relatively limited palette: the 2010 hit Insidious and its sequel, Insidious: Chapter 2 (currently in theatres). The first film was a remarkably effective ghost story, marred by a contrived and frankly idiotic ending, which causes the sequel no end of trouble, resulting in a disappointing follow up. Fortunately, narrative coherence is not all that important when it comes to creating an effective Halloween theme park attraction.
Insidious: Into the Further capitalizes on the ghostly imagery of the two films, yielding a walk-through maze that earns the oft-used - and often mis-used - phrase, "a haunted house." Of course, the standard jump-scare strategy is employed: numerous curtains, windows, doors and even paintings swing open to reveal hideous spirits grasping at you. But the maze also features an eerie atmosphere, replete with images of innocence (childhood toys) turned menacing (they rock as if by an invisible hand!).
Insidious: Into the Further strikes the right balance between anticipation and fright, allowing you to soak in the ambiance and experience a slight shiver, before the more visceral fright pounces upon you. The walk-through is also densely populated by the demonic denizens of the after life, so the frights come at you as fast as you could desire. If you have seen the movies, you will recognize several characters, including the ghostly drag queen and the demented mother. Their sudden shock appearances do not really allow for anything resembling a full-blown characterization to emerge, but at least for viewers of the films, you will sense a hint of distinctive personality, which helps to set these malevolent spirits apart from the other monsters you will encounter at Halloween Horror Nights.
Not to put too fine a point on it: Insidious: Into the Further is the best of this year's mazes. But don't take our word for it; check out the full-size video below.
- The decision is rendered inexplicable by virtue of the fact that the third EVIL DEAD film, ARMY OF DARKNESS, was released by Universal Studios. One would think that they would capitalize on their vested interest in promoting one of their own properties.
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood runs on weekends through November 2. The address is 100 Universal City Plaza, Univeral City, CA 91608. Check out halloweenhorrornights.com for more info.