The best artists establish their brands on innovation and creativity; but every once in awhile, you gotta play the hits. In its 11th year of revival, Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights has broken out the greatest hits album its fans have been craving.
It didn’t disappoint. A combination of reimagined classics from the past and mazes fans begged for year after year, the 2016 version of the park’s annual Halloween event is definitively its best ever.
Unfortunately for those of us who don’t love the crowds and lines that have come with the event’s wild popularity, this year will require the same careful planning it has in recent years. Thankfully, we’ve got a plan.
As it did last year, the park offers early entry to the event, starting at 6 pm. (I would line up at the main gate at 5:30 pm.) Do not waste this opportunity to get a huge jump start on this year’s most popular mazes. The Exorcist — by far the most popular and terrifying maze of the event — American Horror Story, and Freddy vs. Jason all are included in early entry.
So your first move is to head to the lower lot and towards Transformers. Once you get there hook a right to find The Exorcist, one of the most anticipated mazes in Horror Nights history. A deft combination of black-out room scares and amazing thematic set pieces brings the most famous horror film of all time to life. This is the must-do maze of the event and if you show up early, you can do it without waiting.
Next up, you’ll walk to the backlot where there are three mazes this year. I recommend hitting American Horror Story next as it seemed to consistently have one of the longest wait times. I’m not terribly familiar with the show, but there were tons of fabulous scares and the set design was just as fabulous as always. Now you’ll hit the final of the three early entry mazes: Freddy vs. Jason.
This maze, quite loosely based on the mediocre film of the same name, brings two iconic characters together to great effect. This maze tells a better story than the movie, which, albeit a low bar, is really impressive for a maze that uses mostly visual cues and voiceovers to tell its tale. These characters are familiar to longtime attendees of the event, but they’ve never been as good as this year.
There’s one more maze in the backlot and it’s a damn good one. Krampus, based on the 2015 film, brings its terrifying puppets to the party in a maze that features plenty of the titular goat monster. It doesn’t have the humor of the film, I’m slightly disappointed to say, but this is a very fun maze and it’s likely you won’t have much of a wait.
Now the park certainly will be open in full and you’ll want to get to Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield as quickly as possible. Inspired by the sequel to the John Carpenter classic, this maze picks up right where last year’s left off. It doesn’t disappoint. There’s plenty of the masked murderer and this year’s iteration does an even better job focusing the attention on the guests instead of highly dramatized kill reenactment. Oh, and you’re gonna love the finale for this one.
From there you’ll make the long trek to the upper lot. Head to Waterworld to hit Texas Chain Saw Massacre up. This maze is an original concept created as a “sequel” to the 1970s hit. There’s tons of scenery to chew here and Leatherface is front and center while his brother Choptop shows up as a worthy costar. This isn’t quite as good as the incredible Chainsaw maze we got a couple years ago, but man do these mazes pack a terrifying punch every damn year.
Now you’ll want to do Terror Tram, a clown-themed take on the annual backlot trek, presented by Eli Roth. This closes around midnight most nights, so plan accordingly if you end up running behind. I love this version of the Tram, though my experience ended up being a bit congested, which took away from some of the scare potential. I hope this signals a trend towards bringing directors in to come up with original concepts for the Terror Tram.
Now you have just two activities to go. Jabbawockeez is back this year and the award-winning dance troupe has a terrific show lined up. The show runs until 1:30 am, so this isn’t something you need to stress about in terms of time, so saving it for the end of the night makes perfect sense.
You might notice I haven’t mentioned The Walking Dead. The now permanent attraction was plussed for Horror Nights, giving more actors to intensify an already fun daytime experience. This is the only maze I would say you can skip, particularly if you’ve done the daytime version. I just didn’t find it quantifiable different from what I’ve done many times on a regular operating day.
So that’s it! You survived the best year of all time. Now go soak your feet and start dreaming about what Horror Nights will bring us next year. As for me, I’m already planning my next trip.
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