Here is our "official" review of Halloween Horror Nights 2007 at Universal Hollywood. This is the total raw, no BS, no random sausage, straight out how you like it cooked TPR Photo & Video TR!!!
And oh, yeah, if you don't watch the video we will have Dave come over to your house and do a karaoke version of his favorite death metal band!
Overall, Halloween Horror Nights grew this year. And that's what it needed. This is only the events 2nd year back from the dead and I really think they did a lot of things right over last year. There were also a few things I feel they did wrong, and we'll get to that, but for now let's talk about the expansion.
First off, there were two additional mazes from last year. And all 4 mazes were brand spankin' new from last year's offerings. And they all pretty much kicked some haunted house severed A$$.
Then the addition of Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween was MUCH welcome and after last year's "disaster" of a comedy show (yeah, Lilo and Squeek or whatever those guys were called were really bad) it improved the show line up 100%!
The scare zones were on par with last year, and I think the only thing that really seemed to take a step back was the Terror Tram. But again, I'll cover that later.
Ok, so let's get chainsaw deep into some of this stuff....
If you read my interview with HHN Creative Director John Murdy you'll know that his comment was "It's all about the mazes....that's what people want." And I was more than happy to see the park add two additional mazes over what was offered last year for a total of four mazes in 2007.
Now granted, one of the mazes is the parks permanent, year-round maze "House of Horrors" but it's been given a facelift from last year's Halloween Horror Nights, and it was much improved.
The other three mazes were all based on very popular Horror franchises "Nightmare on Elm Street", "Friday the 13th", and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
Out of the 4 mazes, I think my personal favorite was Friday the 13th. If you are a fan at all of these movies you will recognize scenes from the films in the maze. You'll see the "sex room" where Jason impales the couple doin' it in the cabin, you'll see the guy get his spine crunched in the fold-up bed, and you'll see the girl get attacked through the roof of her VW bug. All great classic scenes from the film series.
The mazes felt more like being on a movie set and less like going through "the line ride" which is what you find at other local Halloween events. These are "movie set quality" effects and props. Nothing about HHN mazes feels cheap or homebrew. You can tell there was quite a budget here. (Well, ok, maybe other than the Terror Tram, but I'll get to that...)
One thing I would like to point out is that HHN in Florida has always made a point of being fresh and new each year. Meaning that HHN has never re-used the same maze two years in a row. Each year the entire event is "new." New mazes, new theme, new characters, new scare zones, new shows, etc.
If Hollywood can pull this off, they will be decapitated heads and shoulders above the offerings at Knott's Halloween Haunt. My #1 complaint about Knott's is the re-use of mazes year after year. When I spend $50+ at a Halloween event I do not want to see the same mazes I saw last year, or in Knott's case, for the past 5 or 6 years. I want to see something NEW! I can understand if House of Horrors comes back every year since that is an actual day-to-day park attraction, but next year it would be nice to see something completely new. Now, I would be "ok" if Freddy or Jason had a maze, but give us something new. Not the same maze over again.
Another note about the Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface mazes is that you got to see those characters...a LOT! That was awesome! When I go into a Friday the 13th maze, dammit I want to see Jason! I saw him kill so many people in those movies and I want to see him all over that maze! I got my wish!
Keep it up Universal, you are already BETTER than your local competition on both coasts as far as quality of mazes go!
Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure
I am SO Happy this show was brought back to Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights. Personally I didn't think the show played quite as well as it did in Florida, but that's also because it has a 17 year following there.
In Florida, as soon as they start playing "We will rock you" at the start, the entire theater goes crazy! And in the finale, the audience is rocking and dancing in their seats. I'm not so sure Hollywood quite got into it as much, but I'm also not quite sure they knew what to expect. Could also be that Florida's event sells alcohol where as Hollywood doesn't! C'mon Hollywood, at least give the crowd a two drink maximum! (BTW, I was happy to see you guys fixed the lights on the sign out front. The first show no one could find the theater!)
For those of you California locals, one thing you need to know about Bill & Ted - It is *NOT* "The Hanging." It doesn't try to be, it doesn't pretend to be, it is a TOTALLY DIFFERENT KIND OF SHOW! So if you go in expecting The Hanging, you may be in for quite a shock.
The only similarities between the two shows is that they make fun of pop culture icons. Bill & Ted is a comedy/music show where as The Hanging is a comedy/horror show. IMO it will probably be a hard sell to those So Cal folk who have 'grown up' with The Hanging, as I didn't know what to make of it the first time I saw the show in Florida. But if you go into it knowing that it's more of a "party" atmosphere not an excuse to buy a bunch of blood packs, you may really enjoy the show for what it is. Personally, I now prefer it over The Hanging. It's kind of nice to not have to stand up for one, and not have to hear nothing but Disneyland jokes over and over because Knott's knows they aren't as cool as the park down the street from them.
The last 5 or 6 minutes of the Bill & Ted show, IMO, is probably the most high-energy, most rocking, dancing in your seat, pyro-technic, party atmosphere FUN you'll see in any theme park. So be prepared!
You'll get a feel for what the Bill & Ted show like in the video we produced below! (So watch it, dammit!!!)
The Terror Tram
Ok, this is where things don't get quite as pretty.
Last year, I *LOVED* the Terror Tram. It was easily the highlight of the evening. We spent nearly an hour down in the backlot section and had the best time of any Halloween event ever!
But this year something happened....something was VERY different.
The vibe last year was that it was like the "World's biggest scare zone in easily the most incredible Halloween setting on earth." You were allowed to walk freely and mingle with the monsters at the Bates Motel, Psycho House, and War of the Worlds set. OMG, it was incredible! We got photos with Norman bates, video of monsters coming out of the plane wreckage, and watched the motel inhabitants scare the pants off people!
This year....the moment we got off the tram "PUT YOUR CAMERAS AWAY! NO PHOTOS! DON'T LET ME SEE ANY CAMERAS OUT!!!" was shouted at us by multiple people!
"What?!!? Getting to take photos in this area is what made the backlot special last year!"
And then we were pushed through this section as though they thought it was another maze. The paths were narrow and we were constantly told to move forward. It was like they tried to create a "maze" out of an open area that lent itself more to be a scare zone.
Where last year we spent an hour in this section, this year we were done in 10 minutes! It was quite a disappointment.
And on top of that, this was really the only section of the event where "shaker cans" were everywhere! Why?!?! In past years Universal has done SO much more with their scares than just giving a dude in a costume a shaker can. In fact, I remember a conversation with one of the creative directors last year who told us "We prefer not to use shaker cans. Why would a zombie have a shaker can? They'd have something they could bang or hit you with. A shaker can isn't a threat, so why should our monsters use them?" I can maybe accept one or two here or there, but the entire War of the Worlds section was nothing but monsters and shaker cans. It was the only area of the entire night that felt "cheap" to me.
Please, Universal, go back and remove those shaker cans and give your monsters something that gives a REAL scare. I expect shaker cans from Knott's Berry Farm and Six Flags, NOT the film studio that invented horror.
Now, on the plus side, the addition of "Jack" was amazing! For those of you who don't know Jack (heh, get it?) he is the clown from Halloween Horror Nights in Florida. Getting to hear the back story of Jack while on the tram was also cool. He's certainly the most popular clown of any horror event and I hope his character gets the same following here in Hollywood as it has in Florida.
And to the people who work on Terror Tram, please, PLEASE turn it back into more of a "scare zone" and let people take pictures and video. You had something REALLY amazing here. Something really unique. And it was turned into something lack-luster.
Halloween events are a crowded market in Southern California. Knott's Haunt has been the standard for years. But if John Murdy means it when he said "I want to bring what made Florida's HHN a success to Hollywood" then I really think Knott's should be more than just a little bit scared.
Universal's Halloween Horror Nights has already nearly doubled in content this year (which was really our only complaint about last year's event) and the quality is already far above what all the others offer.
You just can't get the same "movie set quality" mazes anywhere else. If you're only going to do one Halloween event this year, we recommend Halloween Horror Nights!
Now onto some photos!
All photos by Robb & Elissa & Jahan!
UPDATE! 10/8/2007 -
I have just recieved an email from John Murdy, Creative Director at Universal in response to our comments about HHN and the Terror Tram. Here is an excerpt:
Wanted to let you know that I thought your criticism of Terror Tram
was right on. We already started tweaking it by Sat. I didn't realize the attraction hosts weren't allowing pictures...that's just wrong and we'll correct that immediately. That's part of the experience, the chance for the fans to see these amazing sets up close. I'm going to spend a lot of time tweaking Terror Tram this week....
I'm VERY happy with Universal's response and this makes me look even more forward to the growth of their event!