Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood is the most lavish and elaborate Halloween attraction in Los Angeles, and first-time visitors are guaranteed to scream with delight at the monstrous mayhem haunting the 2013 incarnation. Hardcore fans, on the other hand, may sense a certain sameness, as the successful formula is mixed once again, with only slight variations, mostly cosmetic.
The back lot, the streets, and the mazes are filled with hordes of monsters in ghastly makeup; the sets are like nothing you will see anywhere else; and the effects are truly impressive. But the underlying template for the scares is a little too obvious: you walk into a room with an eye-catching piece of decor; distracted by the set-pieces, you presumably do not notice the curtained doorway to your side; then a strobe light flashes, and a monster emerges from the door, takes a swing at you, and retreats into his hiding place, to wait for the next group. These jump-scares go off like clockwork, with little regard for the cattle-call line threading through the labyrinth corridors, so it's just your tough luck if the monster emerges before or after you are in the right place to receive the scare.
A brief run-down of the mazes:
- Insidious: Into the Further. Spooky and ominous, with a haunted house theme perfectly suited for Halloween. Lots of scares and atmosphere. This year's must-see maze.
- Black Sabbath 13. This year's rock-and-roll horror extravaganza (following in the footsteps of Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper) is a wild splash of 3D day-glo colors, offering a complete change of pace from the other mazes. The pulsating rhythms of Black Sabbath energize the maze, but you do not have to be a fan to enjoy the colorful thrills. There are even a few traditionally creepy moments near the beginning, preventing this from being a one-note monotone. Highly recommended.
- The Walking Dead: No Safe Haven. A great recreation of the prison set from the third season of the AMC zombie show features some wonderful props, but the scares do not come at you nearly quickly enough. Content yourself with seeing several of your favorite scenes recreated live, right before your eyes.
- The Evil Dead: Book of the Dead. A close replication of the recent remake, both literally and figuratively. Which is to say: you see new versions of a lot of stuff you have seen before. It's well done in its enthusiastically gruesome way, but it's not exactly inspired or original.
- El Cucuy: The Boogeyman. This year's obligatory Latin-themed horror attraction shows what happens to little children who misbehave. The Jack-0-Lantern monsters suit the season well, but the attempt to use narration to tell a story (read by Danny Trejo) doesn't yield the results it should. This is one of the few Halloween Horror Nights mazes to feature blank corridors in between rooms, instead of fully realized sets from beginning to end. It feels vaguely a little half-hearted - more like something you would see at the Knotts Berry Farm Halloween Haunt.
- Universal Monsters Remix. The House of Horrors walk-through is once again turned into a dance party featuring classic movie monsters. This perennial is always worth revisiting, but there is little new here.
- The Back Lot Tour. The Walking Dead are back, and there are hordes of them. Unfortunately, except for Michone's literally disarmed zombie-slaves, the walkers here are fairly generic, with little to identify them with the television show. Still, the back lots airplane crash setting is light years beyond anything you will encounter anywhere else this Halloween.
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