Friday, Sept. 20 marked the opening night of Universal Studios Hollywood's annual Halloween Horror Nights, and Riverside Horror Examiner was there to tour all of the horrifying new mazes for 2013. This year, they ranked from okay to frighteningly phenomenal, and considering wait times ranged from 60 to over 175 minutes, Riverside Horror is reviewing each one with our new skull rating system. With five skulls being an absolute "must see," you'll be able to decide for yourself where your time will best be spent.
THE WALKING DEAD: NO SAFE HAVEN - 5 SKULLS
By far the most frightening and incredibly-produced maze, this is one you'll want to get in line for as soon as you enter the park. You'll turn right at the Transformers 3D ride and make a pretty hefty trek to a tram, followed by a ride to another area of the park and then more walking. That being said, this one is well worth it. While there was a "Walking Dead" maze last year, this year's "No Safe Haven" is based on events from season 3. (See video in the sidebar for footage from inside the maze). You'll find yourself walking through the shadowy confines of the West Georgia Correctional Facility, an unbelievably detailed set that makes you feel you really are inside prison walls; walls that have been breached by walkers who are all around you. You'll then find yourself in the walker-infested wilderness and eventually in the town of Woodbury, where you'll stumble upon the governor's nasty little secret. With plenty of scares, intense sounds and music, along with incredibly realistic sets, this one is definitely one you won't want to miss.
On a side note, "Black Sabbath 13: 3D" is in the same area, so you may want to do both while you're there considering the trek and tram ride, but "Black Sabbath," probably because it's a 3D maze, had the longest wait time on opening night at nearly three hours, so it's up to you to decide whether it's worth possibly foregoing other mazes to wait for this one.
THE WALKING DEAD TERROR TRAM - 4 1/2 SKULLS
While "The Walking Dead Terror Tram," is not classified as a maze, it's definitely an attraction that shouldn't be missed, transforming the usual Universal back lot tour into something completely different. While it is a returning attraction, this year, like "No Safe Haven," they have concentrated on events from season 3 by building sets for the fictional town of Woodbury, complete with armed guards, townspeople and plenty of walkers. After a ride up the hill, you're asked to depart the tram, putting you on foot through areas where guests are normally not permitted. You'll encounter guards, bloody, screaming residents of Woodbury, and plenty of the living dead in various states of decay. You'll make your way through the sets of the famous Bates Motel, around the side of the Psycho house and through the middle of the studio's plane crash set, all while being confronted by the hordes of walkers that now infest the area. Lucky for you, a few are already munching on a hot meal, but there are plenty still on the hunt. There's a tiring climb back up the hill to the tram; however, for your efforts, you'll be attacked by zombie hordes that have escaped from their caged confines. The citizens of Woodbury try to scream at you to turn back, but, of course, it's too late.
Universal has outdone themselves with the makeup effects for every zombie actor, and they all do an outstanding job lurching and coming at you in ways that make your hair stand on end. Add to that the heavy gas fumes from the real running chainsaws wielded by the riot gear-clad guards, and the realism is pretty convincing. In addition, you'll be treated to an extended preview of season 4 of "The Walking Dead" on the return tram ride.
INSIDIOUS: INTO THE FURTHER - 4 1/2 SKULLS
Beyond our world lies The Further, a dark realm occupied by tortured souls of the dead. But one evil soul – a cold-blooded murderer – has escaped into our world and is occupying this incredibly well-produced maze. Universal worked closely with the creative team from the "Insidious" films so the maze would not only match the look of the film but the tone, and it definitely shows, right down to a replica of the exterior of the house. This one isn't just about people jumping out and saying "boo," and in fact, many of the best scares in this maze are really ones you don't see coming. Yes, there are actors, but there are also creepy lighting effects and even smells that really make you feel you're a part of the film. Don't miss this one
EVIL DEAD: BOOK OF THE DEAD - 4 SKULLS
Following the well-received remake, this one follows the storyline of "Evil Dead" with incredibly frightening results, beginning with those unholy words read aloud from the Book of the Dead to the chilling aftermath, complete with the self-amputation by electric knife; the bloody bathroom horror and the terrifying "thing" peering through the chained basement door. The details are meticulous, and like "Insidious," there are a lot of unexpected scares, enhanced by the distraction of the lighting and sound effects. This is also one that's worth the wait.
BLACK SABBATH 13: 3D - 3 1/2 SKULLS
The allure of this maze, obviously, is that it's in 3D, but it's also peppered with blaring mega hits from the 43-year heavy metal career of Black Sabbath. The maze is inspired by the most famous songs of Black Sabbath, but it came off more as a complete acid trip of phosphorescent paint, clowns and shockingly-bright rooms full of demented lunatics, all of which made it seem devoid of any real theme except to find ways to make something work in 3D. For the most part, the 3D wasn't particularly effective, and even Universal's own description makes it sound like a hodgepodge of crazy; however, when you're dealing with the songs of Black Sabbath, perhaps that's the whole point. This one will certainly be a "to each their own" experience, and there was definitely a range of opinions at the exit. Your mileage may vary.
EL CUCUY: THE BOOGEYMAN - 2 1/2 SKULLS
Perhaps it was the fact the Riverside Horror staff knew nothing about the El Cucuy legend, but this one seemed disjointed, though it did have a lot of excellent effects. Surely many entering this maze won't know the legend either, so it would seem prudent to make the story flow, even for those who are going in with no previous knowledge. There is narration by actor Danny Trejo, but in a situation with people screaming and anticipating scares, the narration is greatly overshadowed. The general gist, as per the title, is the boogeyman, El Cucuy, stalking children in various settings, including a movie theater and under a child's bed, which was one of the better scares with huge, frightening hands reaching out from beneath. It then turned to various rooms full of pumpkins, which one deduces is the lair of the boogeyman, though, again, not knowing the legend, the pumpkins seemed out of place to the earlier portions of the maze with no clear explanation of why they were there. It wasn't a completely unsuccessful maze and had some decent scares, but if you're pressed for time and have to choose, this is one you might want to save for last.
As always with Universal Horror Nights, the park itself is also a sea of horrific characters and "Scare Zones," which this year include "Curse of Chucky" from the Child's Play films; "Cirque Du Clownz" because what's scarier than a clown, and "Scarecrowz" with the always-amazing stilt walkers.
Universal Studios Hollywood’s "Halloween Horror Nights” continues for select nights through Halloween from 7pm to 2am. Event dates are September 27 and 28, October 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 26, 27 and 31 and November 1, 2. More information at www.HalloweenHorrorNights.com/hollywood., 29 and October 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31.
Tickets to this year’s event are available for purchase online, including a Front of Line ticket option that enables guests to enjoy priority entry at each maze and theme park attraction. Advance purchase is recommended as event nights will sell out.
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