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Theme park review: Halloween Horror Nights delivers frightening disappointments

A cloaked, skeletal figure stands by a makeshift graveyard. Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios in Hollywood will be open until Oct. 31. (Joseph Jimenez/Photo editor)

“Halloween Horror Nights”

Sept. 7 to Oct. 31

Universal Studios Hollywood

By Sanjana Chadive and Talia Sajor

Oct. 26, 2023 3:09 p.m.

This post was updated Oct. 27 at 1:35 a.m.

Split between terror and titters, Halloween Horror Nights brings about another year of undead frights.

Open until Oct. 31, Halloween Horror Nights has returned to Universal Studios Hollywood. This year’s spooky event includes haunted houses with themes based on HBO’s “The Last of Us,” Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” “Child’s Play,” “Evil Dead Rise,” and more. While Universal Studios once again provides immersive and realistic production value, it unfortunately continues to underestimate the sheer number of nightly patrons it attracts.

Upon entering, audiences are sinisterly greeted by scare actors appearing to be dressed up as some sort of mad scientists. Despite every scare zone having a crystal-clear theme every year, the nature of these white wig, lab coat-wearing creatures is not certain unless one looks on the Universal website, which labels them as “ghostz.” Fire, chainsaws and unexpected scares are then paired with cracked porcelain dolls, bloodied nutcrackers and ax-handling Raggedy Anns, establishing a much more obvious evil toy theme.

(Joseph Jimenez/Photo editor)
Holding a weapon, a scare actor at the El Terror De Las Momias scare zone. points toward the camera. Attendees can visit three scare zones at Halloween Horror Nights. (Joseph Jimenez/Photo editor)

Although these scare actors running around do a superb job at terrorizing and menacingly interacting with guests, the same sadly can’t be said about those placed inside the haunted houses. Eventgoers are crowded in with dozens of other groups, preventing a streamlined walk-through of each maze. Because of the excessive amount of people let in at each time, only a select few are able to fully experience the entirety of scares within every scene without it being spoiled.

As each room became suffocatingly overcrowded, audiences were left standing still for long periods of time instead of continuously moving. Even outside of the actual houses, unfortunately, overflows of people crowded the lines, with wait times ranging from 30 to 180 minutes.

While waiting around inside of the houses, visitors have the chance to take in the meticulously crafted scenes laid out in front of them. It is clear that Universal Studios reigns supreme in the visual quality of its event, as every single macabre detail does not go unnoticed. From the realistically gory makeup done in “Evil Dead Rise” to the intricately placed skulls in “Universal Monsters: Unmasked,” the line between fiction and reality was frighteningly blurred.

While each house undoubtedly succeeds in giving an immersive experience of paranormal scares, some may have gone too far for those who are sensitive to particular senses. In both “The Exorcist: Believer” and “Monstruos: The Monsters of Latin America,” overly intense stenches of feces and odors of pork, respectively, were present.

Many of the houses, such as “Monstruos” and “Chucky: Ultimate Kill Count,” to name a few, also included machines that sprayed guests with water. Although they functioned in engulfing one into the spine-chilling storylines, both could have easily been taken out without sacrificing the lifelike style that Universal strives for.

Even though the haunted houses had their highs and lows, the other activities were nothing short of disappointing. For instance, guests will forget about the lackluster “Terror Tram … The Exterminatorz” mere moments after they step off it. Moreover, horror film enthusiasts will be underwhelmed by the “Blumhouse: Behind the Screams” exhibition. Although real props from the production company’s most notable films are displayed, fans will struggle to catch a glimpse of them because of the congested space and limited time inside. Before they can completely take in the artifacts, guests are forced to watch a rather silly skit of the doll from “M3GAN” dancing and will leave wondering what its purpose was.

(Joseph Jimenez/Photo editor)
A scare actor dressed as “The Grabber” from the Blumhouse film “The Black Phone.” “Blumhouse: Behind the Screams” featured real props from the production company’s most notable films. (Joseph Jimenez/Photo editor)

One of the most abhorrent aspects of the night may have been the outlandish music. Rather than horror movie soundtrack instrumentals, dubstep tracks and remixes of popular 2000s hits echoed throughout the park and even inside the haunted houses – a jarring choice considering the supposedly harrowing mood of Halloween Horror Nights.

Guests would be terrorized by a scare actor as a bubblegum pop artist crooned in the background, which was more funny than frightening. Whether or not the DJ pulled up to the wrong event, there is no question that more spooky tunes would have enhanced the atmosphere.

Evidently, Halloween Horror Nights lived up to its name in some ways and not others. While the careful attention to visual detail and scare actors’ performances were noteworthy, the same cannot be said for the accessibility of the event, mediocre activities and discordant music selection.

Although not quite a bloody mess, this year’s Halloween Horror Nights didn’t live up to its name.

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Sanjana Chadive | Lifestyle editor
Chadive is the 2023-2024 lifestyle editor. She was previously an Arts staff writer from 2022-2023. She is a third-year comparative literature student from Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania.
Chadive is the 2023-2024 lifestyle editor. She was previously an Arts staff writer from 2022-2023. She is a third-year comparative literature student from Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania.
Talia Sajor | Arts editor
Sajor is the 2023-2024 Arts editor. She previously served as the 2022-2023 Theater | film | television editor and a Photo, Opinion and PRIME contributor. She is also a third-year communication student from Oxnard, California.
Sajor is the 2023-2024 Arts editor. She previously served as the 2022-2023 Theater | film | television editor and a Photo, Opinion and PRIME contributor. She is also a third-year communication student from Oxnard, California.
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