FINALLY! The Halloween season is upon us and although masks are prevalent, it could never dampen our excitement for all things scary! We were supremely lucky to be invited to Universal Studios Hollywood for Halloween Horror Nights this year to see what they had in store after missing 2020. Like many people, missing the 2020 haunt season really affected us more than we thought. We’ve said it before and we’ll sound like broken records, but haunts aren’t just about getting scared. It’s about being with friends, making memories, screaming together and having fun. HHN 2021 reminded us about all these things and really showed us why we missed HHN. We won’t lie, it was an emotional night! Finally being back at HHN and fully immersing ourselves in the IP’s that reign supreme at this event. Each year of HHN brings new challenges to the team behind the event. Always being judged by their previous efforts. With a lineup of characters that haunted all our dreams when we were little, 2021 promised and delivered on all our nightmares.
DEMON CITY & CHAINSAW RANGERS
We’re grouping these two scare zones together because sometimes they meshed together. But in reality Chainsaw Rangers is the scare zone you’ll encounter as soon as you enter the park and Demon City begins at the Universal Plaza and ends at the Dreamworks Theater. Chainsaws are truly the symphony of HHN. Even on a normal day during the year, we’ll see gardeners using chainsaws and we immediately think of HHN. So it’s extremely fitting that the opening scare zone utilizes them to their fullest extent. All the scare actors were wearing masks of different animals which was more creepy than I thought. The designs were incredible and it really felt like they peeled the skin and fur off these creatures and fashioned them as their masks for the night! Also, it never gets old watching people recoil in terror at the sound and smell of a revving chainsaw.
Demon City fits perfectly under the fire cannons that sit next to the Universal Plaza. These energetic monsters are fast and fun to watch. Of course, we have incredible stilt walkers in this zone and they are amazing to watch. Even if they don’t scare you from afar, when they get in your face…it’s unnerving.
UNIVERSAL MONSTERS SCREAM QUEENZ
This is hands down the best zone of the night! It’s because the props, costumes, music, fog and tone all worked harmoniously together to create a wonderful experience. Even better, you didn’t need to go through the maze this year to experience the zone! The only issue we see is there really isn’t a reason to head in that direction, so people might easily miss it.
Minions and Pets were both closed (to our knowledge) during the event, so many people would only experience it after going through the maze adjacent to the zone. Maybe in the future, USH can open up another bar and food location to lure people into the zone which would easily fix the problem.
There was a lot of commotion in the HHN community about the return of particular IP’s to the event. Some people going a bit over board on how they felt about it. We personally are just thankful we have an event to go to at all! So seeing “old friends” return to the event made us excited. Especially because we enjoyed them in the past.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Based on the original 1974 film, this maze takes us right back to Texas to enjoy some good ol’ fashioned Sawyer Family BBQ. This maze has all the expected scenes that play out in gory detail. Faces being peeled off, bodies being cooked, and obviously chainsaws going through bodies! It really is the “greatest hits” of the film, which will make you want to shower after having experienced it in person.
We really enjoyed this maze but felt that it suffered from some Covid safety protocols in some cases. In certain rooms of the maze, you’d see an oddly place ottoman or piece of furniture. It was usually pretty close to a scare, which tipped us off a bit early to where it was going to come from. Not sure if that’s exactly why those set pieces were placed where they were, but it did stand out a bit. Even with these moments, we still had a ton of fun seeing Leatherface in all his glory once again. The noise of the lightbulbs from the film and the chainsaw will never get old. The rotting flesh smell might, but we can handle it if it means we get to see the Sawyer Family having a nice family dinner again.
Back in 2016, we remember nearly running from this maze, drenched in sweat, trying to catch our breath. It was an incredibly intense experience. It felt like scares were coming around each corner and were unpredictable which made the tension unbearable. With some slight adjustments, this years iteration of the famous horror film hits the right notes once again. The visuals are oddly beautiful at times and really put on display the horrors of the 1973 film.
I attended the event with my older Sister who hasn’t been to a haunt in 13 years, let alone Halloween Horror Nights. This was the maze that was giving her nightmares leading up to the event. Throughout the maze she was yelling about being Catholic and how she felt wrong being in the same room with the possessed Reagan character. It really affected her! And she was nearly crawling out of the maze to avoid any and all scares coming her way. It was a hilarious sight to see.
One addition that I believe really made an impact were plexiglass barriers for some of the scares. I’m almost certain these are present because of COVID guidelines. But for us, it really added another element. You couldn’t see the scare coming in a dark lit hallway and the noise the plexiglass made when being pounded on was incredibly unnerving. The first time I heard it, the hair on the back of my neck stood up!
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
Michael Myers is back in all his jumpsuit glory with Halloween 4! Now this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Halloween 4 at HHN in Hollywood. We also saw this film come to life during HHN 2018 and in the same WaterWorld queue location. It did seem that they improved upon the previous iteration with some very well placed scares and wonderfully acted moments.
Similar to The Exorcist, plexiglass was used at certain points in the maze but it didn’t cause a detriment to the experience. Some of my favorite moments are when the plexiglass was used as a window and Michael would menacingly reach through the window at guests passing by!
Of course the maze wouldn’t be complete without its etherial and other worldly ending paying homage to the original Halloween film with the idea that the boogyman is everywhere. While not as complex or pretty as previous versions of Halloween mazes, it’s still incredibly suspenseful and effective.
THE TERROR TRAM: THE ULTIMATE PURGE
The Purge films were never something that outright scared me. The themes are terrifying, but coming face to face with humans weilding weapons never bothered me. Give me a monster and see me run in fear! With that being said, I don’t think the Terror Tram was really aimed at me. Besides that, we loved the gimmick that everyone on the tram was being lead to their death for the forever purge. Placing guests right in the middle of all the action.
Regardless of the theme for Terror Tram, it’s a must-do every year. This is because of how unique and different this offering is for a halloween event. Where else can you say you walked the steps of the Bates Motel and Psycho House? Or even traversed the wreckage of the War of the Worlds set? Nowhere! Also, it’s really hard to miss out on the opportunity to take a photo with Norman Bates!
The Walking Dead
When The Walking Dead attraction closed, we were pretty sad. It was our taste of HHN while the nightmares of next years event were being developed. Although we loved it, it because rather stale quickly. But absence makes the heart grove fonder because I had a blast in this maze! It felt like the zombie were really up in our faces while going through, sometimes closer than other mazes.
We’re happy to see our old friend return, albeit missing some limbs.
The Haunting of Hill House
The Haunting of Hill House was hands down the most anticipated maze at this years event. Like many Netflix mazes before it, it pulls in a completely different crowd. So many people were beyond excited to step foot into the world of the notoriously scary show. I’ll be honest, I’ve been flip flopping on how I feel about this maze. On one hand, this maze scared me the most! The dominating presence of The Tallman caused me to stop in my tracks. As well as the feeling that the scares were coming from all directions.
On the other hand, the show really made the house a character upon itself and was a masterclass in storytelling. Because those aspects of the show were so strong, we expected it to be more present than it was. Dialogue through the sound design helps, but visually it felt more like the greatest hits rather than telling a story. I don’t necessarily think this is bad, just a very different approach than I was expecting.
Outside of those minor issues, this house really reminds me of Crimson Peak! Unbelievably beautiful in its execution and design, transporting guests the spooky hallways of Hill House! Ultimately, if you’re a mega fan of the show; know the story kind of takes a back seat. It’s more about cementing the tone and scares that is extremely “haunting” and unnerving.
The Curse of Pandora’s Box
This was one of our favorites from HHN 2019 because it just felt non stop. It was unrelenting in it’s assault on guests as they traverse through the blacklight painted hallways. This year is no different and we were very happy about it.
As before, lots of fun visual and audio gags to keep guests on their toes while various monsters come for you. This is one of the few mazes that was not IP based and was an original concept from USH. With the success of this maze and the past few original concept mazes; we’d love to see HHN Hollywood lean heavier into these offerings. It really feels like the creative team excels when they are let loose on a theme and we will be here for it all!
Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives
This was hands down the most impressive maze at this years event. From sound design, sound track, character/monster design, maze, and set design. It was firing on all cylinders and created an instant USH HHN classic.
One thing I cannot get over is how well the story was told throughout the maze. Not only because of dialogue throughout, but because of visual literacy. Moments that could have easily been black hallway boo holes were now transformed into story moments between the characters within the story.
What I find the most interesting is how The Bride spends all of 5 minutes in the original 1935 film, but has quickly turned into this full fledged bad ass character for this story. It makes me want to see more from the character and continue the series of tracks created by Slash for the event. Speaking of which, I’m happy to admit when I’m wrong and I was incredibly wrong about the music. When it was announced that Slash was doing the music, I wasn’t overly excited. I thought other music could have easily done it just as well, but I was so wrong. The music Slash created for the maze and scare zone not only elevated the experience but helped progress the story in ways I thought was impossible. We desperately need all the music Slash has created for the event on a vinyl release! We’d pay a good amount of money for that!
FOOD, DRINKS, & MERCH…OH MY!
With every year comes new and exciting options for food, drinks, and merchandise. This year really seemed to have some of the best food we’ve had at the event. Our first pit stop was at the Terror Lab for some drinks, but you can also snag some snacks there as well. We had the Cutwater Paloma and the Amber Mai Tai, both were really good and the Mai Tai came with a piece of candy with a small bug in it!
Our next stop was at Leatherface’s Texas Family BBQ on the lower lot. Here we bought the 22 inch Hot Dog and Nachos! Both were really good, but we had to share the hot dog because it was just too damn big. One small detail that I loved but also equally grossed me out is that the nachos come on a styrofoam plate similar to how raw meat is packed at the super market.
Last on our food adventure, we stopped by the Universal Plaza were it was decked out for Dia De Los Muertos. Here you can snags plenty of specialty drinks and food. I opted not to get any more drinks since it was kinda late, but I did try the Beef Birria Tacos and Horchata Churros from Little Cocina. Both of these were my favorite of the night. The tacos were flavorful and filling and the churros were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Highly recommend trying these food options.
Overall, the themed food and drink options at this years event really took a step forward for us. We also really loved how the Universal Plaza was utilized this year. In the past it’s usually the queue for the maze that’s in the Parisian Courtyard. But we feel like this is the best use of the space and gives people a spooky alternative to the Demon City scare zone to enjoy their food. Not only that, but they had some atmosphere characters walking around in costume.
As for merchandise, there was plenty to go around like years past. Either you can choose your favorite IP from that years lineup or you can go with the traditional maze lineup t-shirt so you can remember all your nightmares fondly.
We did notice this year that USH was utilizing the classic Universal Studios Logo a lot and even with its HHN merchandise. We love to see the black, red, and grey version of the logo with some of our favorite characters looming behind. They even released a USH AP shirt for HHN as well! Sadly, they were out of my size when I was attending the event.
Walking into HHN 2021 brought with it so many emotions, including trepidation. After not having visited a park in this type of capacity in over a year and needing to wear a mask; I was extremely weary. But I am very happy to say that the entire experience felt as if we never truly missed a year at all. It felt like old times once again, friends gathering for a good time. Albeit our friends might be some demons or monsters, but friends non the less. We even felt safe while venturing into the mazes because lots of actors/actresses were wearing masks and the usage of plexiglass between us and monsters.
This years lineup consisted of 7 mazes and the Terror Tram with 3 scare zones compared to 2019 which featured 10 mazes and 5 scare zones (no Terror Tram). So we took a bit of a step down in terms of the offerings. My only concern with this would be dealing with much longer lines. HHN always conjures up images of long lines and this was with more experiences. Hoping adjusted park operations and capacity can help alleviate this potential problem.
Ultimately the question is begging to be asked, is it worth checking out this year? We think so, especially if you feel comfortable attending an event of this size. With the combination of Hill House and The Bride of Frankenstein Lives, you’ll be hard pressed to find any where else were you can be thrusted into the world of your favorite horror film. Nobody really can do it other than Universal Studios. Also, with the addition of The Wizarding World (mainly for access to two mazes) we might actually see Death Eaters at HHN in the near future. Ticket prices range from $69 – $99 for general admission, but can go as high as $249 – $339 for Universal Unlimited Express for the whole night. There are plenty of ticket options that fall between those options, but it’s important to choose a ticket that works best for you! We think the general admission price is well worth it and with a strategy you can easily hit all the houses and even have time to enjoy the scare zones. We highly suggest getting Universal Express because it will alleviate any stress you have about experiencing everything the event has to offer.
If you want to buy tickets to HHN at Universal Studios Hollywood CLICK HERE