No trip to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood would be complete without visiting the House of Horrors and the back lot Terror Tram tour. Neither attraction changes much from one Halloween to the next; the ever-changing labels ("The Strangers," "The Curse of Talbot Hall") are a matter more of rebranding than of substance. Nevertheless, both attractions offer extensive and elaborate walk-through horror experiences, with production values beyond anything offered by the competition.
This year's House of Horrors is titled Universal Monsters Remix: Resurrection. As in 2012, the year-round walk-through tour of terror has been amped up with rhythmic dance music, providing a novel beat for classic horror imagery, including The Phantom of the Opera, Chucky, ravenous werewolves, and a gyrating version of the Bride of Frankenstein. The music isn't exactly appropriate, but it works well enough, and it galvanizes the old ghouls in a way that makes them seem a bit less like dusty museum pieces.
We saw one or two new monsters this time, including a towering giant with a domed bald head, which we took to be an enormous version of Frankenstein's Monster. Curiously, the creature bore a resemblance to the monster as it appears in 1971's Lady Frankenstein, a relatively obscure Italian-produced horror film. It's weird but interesting to think that Universal Studios is ignoring their own copyrighted version of the Monster's makeup in favor of one that appears in a public domain exploitation film. Whatever the original, the towering terror was surprisingly stealthy, lurking behind pillars and sneaking up on unsuspected visitors to deliver some decent jump scares.
Terror Tram: Invaded by The Walking Dead turns loose the walkers from the AMC television series, but with the exception of Michone's armless zombie slaves, a fiery pit (suggesting torched zombies zombies) and a couple other familiar images, you would be hard-pressed to spot the branding. Since its exception in 2006, the back lot tour has always been infested with the rotted corpses of the living dead.
The Terror Tram (which includes an extensive walk past the Bates Motel, the Psycho House, and a neighborhood devastated by a plane crash) is more an extended scare zone than a maze, but you do walk through several structures, including one outdoor mini-maze. Even after repeated exposure, we remain impressed with the sheer scale of the settings, which are always worth revisiting.
As with last year, we thought The Walking Dead theme was not fully exploited. For example, the Psycho House could have served as the setting for the climax of Season Two, which depicted a farmhouse overrun by walkers. We also would have appreciated a bit more drama and interactivity: while waiting to get back on the tram, we should have been protected (instead of harassed) by the military personal, fighting off zombie hordes to insure we could board safely before being overwhelmed and consumed by the flesh-hungry living dead.
We will give the 2013 Halloween's back lot tour credit for this: the zombie infestation is widespread. There is a figurative army of walkers about, providing nearly continuous scares, and there were a few gruesome images we had not seen before, such as a zombie chowing down on a baby - apparently ripped from the gaping wound of its dead mother nearby. There is definitely potential for a more intense and imaginative form of Halloween horror, but what you get is still spectacular.
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 outhalloweenhorrornights.com for more info.
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