Halloween Horror Nights has returned to Universal Studios Hollywood in earnest for the 2022 season, delivering an event featuring old favorites and new classics. On a muggy, hot evening among the hills of Hollywood last night, Horror Nights appeared much closer to its pre-pandemic self while putting on a strong return-to-form performance.
This year's Halloween Horror Nights features eight mazes (sorry, houses), an outdoor walkthrough known as the Terror Tram, and one live show, Jabbawockiez. We have lived long enough for Jabbawockiez to be on its seventh consecutive year of performances — yes, it has lasted nearly as long as Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure’s reboot run from 2007-2015.
The houses are far flung, though if you’re a Horror Nights veteran this may seem like a year charitable to your favorite pair of walking shoes. A real Theme Park Insider will arrive around 5:30 p.m. to take advantage of early entry and head to the Lower Lot, where select mazes open at 6 p.m.
On opening night, those mazes were The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare and Killer Klowns From Outer Space. The Weeknd is not Horror Nights Hollywood’s first foray into musical partnership; in fact, it’s become part of the event’s DNA. Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath and Slash have all either received houses themed to themselves, their work or been collaborators on mazes.
That showed. Built in the large soundstage behind Transformers: The Ride (where The Exorcist was located in 2021), The Weeknd leans on strong set and audio design to create an immersive environment. There are plenty of scares to be found, but it’s the creature work that will have you coming back for more — this is one of my favorite houses of the night.
Killer Klowns is a straight redo of the maze from 2019. It captures the same mischievous energy of the movie, which will likely be appreciated by fans, but it’s one of the weaker houses of the night. There aren’t many scares to be found and there’s an overreliance on mannequin props.
The final lower lot house is a massive winner and a real show stealer — Universal Monsters: Legends Collide. This is a master class in themed environments, but it doesn’t hold back on the scares. There are plenty of nooks and crannies in the physical sets for Dracula, the Mummy and the Wolfman to pop out while you’re admiring Universal’s set department. I think Universal is trying to sell us a bridge regarding the connective story between its Universal Monsters mazes, but thankfully this one works all on its own. [See Robert's preview of the house in Go Behind the Scenes at Universal's Halloween Horror Nights.]
The Terror Tram: Featuring Jordan Peele’s Us and Nope will likely draw short lines because it’s a bit of a people eater. However, make sure you check when the last tram departs, as it's often multiple hours before the event closes. Terror Tram was a big upgrade on its 2021 and 2018 predecessors, featuring better placement of actors and more enjoyable set dressing. Of course, the star of the show was an opportunity to walk right down Broadway on the new Jupiter’s Claim set. There’s a brief show element that kicks in every few minutes — and it’s worth sticking around to see.
Back on the Upper Lot you’ll find the rest of the houses, though you’ll need to hike through The Wizarding World of Harry Potter's Hogsmeade to get to Halloween and Scarecrow: The Reapening. Halloween is a remixed version of the house that appeared at the event in 2016 and 2015. This is Horror Nights at its scare-you-till-you-run-to-your-car best. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of that 2016 house, the omnipresence of Michael Myers is spectacular, and the precision and blocking of actors is something you’re only going to get at Horror Nights.
Scarecrow is a spiritual sequel to one of the best mazes ever hosted at Halloween Horror Nights Orlando in 2017. The character design is a standout feature, and the gross-out rooms don’t quite take you to Texas Chainsaw Massacre levels of disgust to achieve their desired effect. That is, until you take a trip through the rookery ahead of your final encounter with whatever they’re calling the Big Bad in this house.
After all this walking, the rest of the Upper Lot feels frankly manageable. The Horrors of Blumhouse (featuring Freaky and The Black Phone) is located next to Waterworld and is largely forgettable, save for a few interesting special effects. If you’re running short on time, I’d skip this one.
Then you can make your way to the Universal Horror Hotel, which lives inside the charred remains of the Walking Dead Attraction. While it was fun to see the creative team take on a fully original concept (and create a host of queue videos to supplement that experience), I would have liked to see a clearer story told through the house. The vibe is definitely more grungy than cursed glamor, for those looking to set their expectations.
That takes us to what may have been my favorite house of the night, La Llorona. This house first graduated from a scare zone in 2012 and, following a lukewarm reception, was completely overhauled a year later. That redesigned house was a hit, featuring puppets, rudimentary animatronics and upping the gross factor to create one of the first, great intellectual-property-free houses at Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood.
I’m happy to report that the 2022 house is even better. While much of what made the 2013 house work is back, the updated actor costumes and new audio tracks improved an already great house. This is a house you do not want to miss.
Crowds were very manageable on opening night despite it being listed as a sellout — so I don’t have much to say about what to expect going forward, other than plan ahead, drink plenty of water and have a good time.
From the east coast, last week: Halloween Horror Nights Delivers Again at Universal Orlando
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