Halloween is my favorite time of year. I love to see the spooky decorations and costumes come out. I don’t need an excuse to watch horror movies, but I love to see the 31 Days of Horror challenges that my friends post on social media. This is the one time of year that I actually enjoy going to the store. One event that I never miss here in Los Angeles is Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights (HHN). What makes HHN unique among all the haunts around town is the multitude of intellectual properties that the studio has in its library. In years past, such classic films as The Shining, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist and Halloween have been adapted into a maze format. To be honest, the translation has been hit or miss. It’s fun to see how people can take the passive entertainment of film and translate it into a live, interactive event. This year, I was excited to check out the mazes for Jordan Peele’s Us, Ghostbusters, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Creepshow, and House of 1000 Corpses.
So how did these stories translate? First, I’ll take a look at some of the elements that garnered these films popularity, and then we’ll get into how those elements translated to the interactive mazes at HHN.
In 1984, Ghostbusters made a splash by taking a spooky concept and turning it into an action-comedy adventure for all ages. The all-star comedian cast spearheaded by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis (the latter two co-writing the script), along with the killer theme song by Ray Parker Jr. helped this movie become a classic for decades to come.
The first adventure of the night was the Ghostbusters maze, a taxi cab and the Ecto-1 parked out front. Upon entering, we were greeted by Janine and the mood was set. The set design was fantastic, pulling us right into the 1980’s. There was a filing cabinet right behind Janine, but they missed a huge opportunity to have files flying across the room.
The maze wasn’t terribly scary, but there was some incredible use of sets and lighting to help bring famous scenes from the film to life. Slimer was incredible, and we even witnessed a terrifying showdown at the end of the maze with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Once the world was safe again, we jammed to the theme song as we made our way out. All in all, this maze was exactly what one would expect. It felt like a super fun, music-filled, ghost-hunting party, and I am so here for it.
Creepshow (1982) is a masterpiece anthology written by Stephen King and directed by George Romero with the master Tom Savini overseeing special effects. With those three legends at the helm, there is no question as to why this film has become a cult classic. On top of excellent writing, Creepshow is full of wonderful performances from a wide array of familiar faces, such as Tom Atkins, Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen, Adrienne Barbeau, and even Stephen King himself. The use of lighting, music, and comic book-themed interstitials help to tie five spooky tales together while maintaining the overall theme.
So, I went into my most-anticipated maze of the night with an open and eager mind, looking to see how the music, lighting, and special effects translated. The exterior building featured the cover of the Creepshow graphic novel. We made our way through pages of the book, listening to the voice of Tom Atkins hooting and hollering, before entering the first story, “Father’s Day.” Admittedly, it was underwhelming, but the maze was so well done that I didn’t even notice until after the fact that we didn’t get any cake! The use of lighting and sound connected the crowd with elements from the film version of Creepshow. The least impressive segments were, “Something To Tide You Over” and “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill.” I was especially impressed with the practical effects that went into bringing “The Crate” and “They’re Creeping Up On You” segments of the movie to life, though. I legitimately had to close my eyes to make it through the stark white rooms filled with creepy crawlers. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I screamed a total of four times throughout this maze, which makes it the most successful at scaring me.
Comedian Jordan Peele stormed the horror scene in 2017 with his instant classic, Get Out. His follow-up film, Us (2019), didn’t receive quite the same reception, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. At its core, Us was a family drama which followed the Wilson’s, a family of four vacationing in sunny Santa Cruz, CA, who suddenly find themselves being held hostage, and eventually hunted down, by a creepy family that looks just like them. The characters were so well developed that I found myself rooting for everyone, even the evil doppelgängers! The A+ acting and intensely creepy score by Michael Abels builds upon Peele’s excellent concept, which shines light on the class war that is currently going strong in America.
Before entering the Us maze, it was already pretty cool. We initially walked right into the Vision Quest funhouse. I expected to see a lot of mirrors and was slightly disappointed, there was a missed opportunity to have an old school mirror maze. The initial image that maze-goers were faced with was the back of young Adelaide’s head beyond the funhouse mirror. We were faced with the horrors of the film, the murdered neighbors and their doppelgängers, complete with scissors and tons of gore. After walking through the surface world, we moved down to the underworld. The casting of scare actors was spot on; their movements so well-rehearsed and executed that it was like they were picked straight off of the screen and dropped into the maze. Several times, I found myself studying a mannequin just to have it suddenly come to life and move in an unexpected, terrifying manner. Eventually, we made our way toward the exit as red-cloaked Tethered surrounded us and stared at us in their Hands Across America formation. This maze was totally creepy and worth the wait.
KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988)
Written by the Chiodo brothers, Stephen and Charles, and directed by Stephen, the concept is out of this world: Alien ‘klowns’ land on Earth and set to terrorizing the residents of a small town. What made this movie such a hit was a high-wire act of managing tone, keeping things both scary and funny, as well as the opening theme song by The Dickies and the score by John Massari, both of which sit among the all-time Halloween jams.
Approaching this maze was awesome, too. The Dickies were blasting and an old man stood outside of a recreation of the klowns’ circus tent in the middle of the woods searching for his lost dog before meeting his maker. The inside of the tent was colorful and disorienting, and really felt like a circus until things stopped being fun and started getting creepy. Classic moments from the film were recreated while music blasted overhead.
We made our way through a maze of human bodies housed in hanging cotton candy cocoons before encountering the twin brat klowns harassing us in the bathroom and even spraying us with (what I hope was) water. It was quickly made apparent to us that we were in for trouble because the klowns even got to the police chief. This immediately became my favorite maze of the night and if it weren’t for the long lines, I would have gone through ten times.
HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES
Love him or hate him, one thing most horror fans can agree on is their appreciation for Rob Zombie’s directorial film debut, House of 1000 Corpses (2003). It’s the classic horror tale of young kids stumbling upon the wrong creepy, backwoods house and getting more than they bargained for. Zombie brought this gore-filled nightmare to life with the help of a cast including Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, and Karen Black. The focus on set design is what really makes this film special from the Museum of Monsters and Madmen to the serial killers’ house, the film pays homage to classic films such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre but is still original and feels like a Zombie production.
So it is appropriate that the set design for the House of 1000 Corpses maze was incredible. However, I’m convinced that the character actors never saw the movie. Not only did they not act like the characters, but they didn’t really look like them. The wig on the Baby character was jarring and kept causing me to lose focus on the other elements of the maze. There was basically no gore at all in the entire maze. In years past, when HHN has attempted maze adaptations of such films as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the maze was a gore fest, recreating scenes from the film and even pumping terrible smells into their mazes to mimic the stench of death, but we didn’t get any of that with House of 1000 Corpses. Overall, the maze was a mess. It didn’t utilize many scenes from the movie, and aside from excellent set design and hanging cheerleader corpses, the maze missed the mark. And, in my case at least, didn’t deliver any scares.
All in all, Halloween Horror Nights was a blast as usual. Though most of the mazes were great, House of 1000 Corpses and some of the original concept mazes missed the mark. My favorite experience by far was the Killer Klowns from Outer Space maze. This year’s HHN also had fewer scare zones than usual, and typically guests are allowed to visit Bates Motel while running through the dark from Purge actors or millions of Chucky’s. This year, Universal opted not to allow guests that experience, and as a result the night fell a bit flat in comparison to years past. Still, if you’re in the Los Angeles area and love a good haunt, I recommend that you check out HHN. If you go, I’d love to hear about your experience and your favorite Halloween time haunts. In the meantime, keep it spooky!