From the spine-chilling sounds of chainsaw gears to snarls in our ears and dark corners of mazes to brace for jump scares, Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights has remained a staple experience for fans of frights to flock to each season. The horrors of 2020 may have paused theme park plans last Halloween, but Universal is back in business this spooky season, and with sweet vengeance. But seriously, this is an especially great year to brave Universal's seasonal event.
CinemaBlend had the chance to live inside the darkly fun delights of Universal Hollywood Horror Nights on opening night, and in turn have some early insights to perhaps help you plan your visit. If you’re looking to go out to Florida, you can check out our ranking of those mazes, but if sunny California is your destination, you’re in the right place. There are eight mazes at HHN this year, and every one of them are honestly a great time. But if you’re looking to just hit the highlights, here's your guide to each and every one. As far as this ranking goes, my tastes did somewhat align with the horror franchises I was personally more attached to for the most part, so keep that in mind.
8. The Walking Dead
If you’ve been to Universal Studios Hollywood between The Walking Dead attraction’s opening in 2016 and this Halloween, chances are you’ve already made this adventure. This maze has been a year-round fixture to the theme park for years now, and for this season’s festivities, HHN didn’t do a thing to switch things up for its immersive presentation of the AMC hit series. However, this is the only place to meet a few zombies at Horror Nights and is always a good immersive reminder about how much this TV zombie apocalypse has remained in our blood and guts.
7. The Exorcist
If the power of Christ compels you to check this one out, it’s one of two mazes on the Lower Lot of the park. 1973’s The Exorcist is, of course, known as one of the most terrifying and truly unsettling movies of all time. The Exorcist maze captures the demonic possession of Regan MacNeil with some exacting sets that take you right back to the movie in a really disquieting way. Yes, there’s Regan upside down on the stairs and writhing in pain in her bedroom and really all over this maze. It had my stomach in twists and turns and looking for the nearest exit. Certainly it’s enveloping, but this one caters best to the dead-serious horror fans.
6. Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The second maze on the Lower Lot is Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which has had many iterations at Halloween Horror Nights over the years. Taking after another ‘70s original, this is the goriest maze at this year’s HHN, as it takes audiences into Leatherface’s house full of human skin and chainsaws. This maze absolutely achieves the icky feeling of being in a house you know you need to get out of, and chooses its scares with a quiet, yet twisted approach. Much like The Exorcist, it’s lower on the list because it’s lacking in a variety of scares. It’s basically one chainsaw coming at you after the other. Still, this one is pretty hardcore and you’ll feel like you really survived something after it.
5. The Curse Of Pandora’s Box
Heads up on The Curse of Pandora’s Box maze, if you went to Hollywood Horror Nights back in 2019, you may have visited this hellscape before, as it is the only repeat from last time’s HHN. Located at the far right side of the park past The Wizarding World, this maze is incredibly fun in how relentless yet wacky it is. It benefits from not being based on a specific property, because its monsters and creatures seemingly from the underworld are random, weird and just a good scary time to scream at. I personally ran through one segment of this maze in playful fear of some wall people. Yes, wall people. Is that ridiculous looking back? Absolutely, but this speaks to how enjoyable Pandora’s Box is.
4. Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives
Word on the street is we’re getting a Bride of Frankenstein movie from Universal sometime in the future. If so, it should be absolutely based on this maze located toward the entrance of Universal Studios Hollywood. It’s completely inspired and a fever dream of iconic old and beautifully-composed horror images. It’s an original maze idea that feels like a spinoff of the fan-favorite, but underutilized Universal monster. There’s a number of appearances of Frankenstein himself, but a steampunk bride takes over here with some femme fatale friends to provide scares as well. It’s oozing with style and loaded with jumpy moments.
3. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
Based on the 1988 film of the same name, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers features the slasher favorite and is another repeat, this time from 2018. The maze is filled with a number of iconic images from the Halloween franchise and really encapsulates the ambience of a Halloween film from beginning to end. This maze is truly cinematic and builds tension as you walk through the halls rather than hit you with scare after scare. By the time you’re out of this one, you feel you need to catch a breath. It offers the shameless entertainment of a Halloween slasher, while also being just as decisive as the movies are.
2. The Haunting Of Hill House
Perhaps the most topical maze this year that has most certainly flooded Horror Nights’ marketing is The Haunting of Hill House maze, which takes after the 2018 Netflix series from Mike Flanagan and is located next to Pandora's Box. Hill House is one of my personal favorite horror titles ever, and the maze did not disappoint. While I will say it’s more understated than most of the mazes this year, as a fan of the series, I thought it absolutely found a way to capture the dread of the series and provide slow-burn scares that play very similarly as they do in the show. The use of the Tall Man especially sent me screaming in a visceral way that I won’t give away, but it blew my mind.
1. Terror Tram: The Ultimate Purge
A major highlight of Universal Hollywood’s Horror Nights that sets itself apart from Orlando is the annual Terror Tram. It has a rotating theme each year and gives guests a chance to take the trams used for the studio tours to be dropped off on the actual Universal backlot for even more immersive scares. Terror Tram is back for the first time in not one, but two years with The Ultimate Purge, and it is absolutely relentless. When the tram drops you off, you are met with characters from the Purge franchise going bonkers in front of your eyes, and I gotta say, this is the one that really got in my head.
The scare actors are more confrontational than other mazes, and they will provoke you for that scare. It’s a pretty diabolical pick too, because The Purge franchise doesn’t have a supernatural element to it. It’s heart-pounding, but all around you have to admire how clever and well executed it is. Plus, you find yourself aside some incredible sets from Psycho and War of the Worlds. The sets you often drive past on the studio tour but don’t get to stand and walk through. As tense as The Ultimate Purge, as the name suggests it’s the ultimate Halloween Horror Nights experience.
Which maze are you most excited for Universal Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights 2021? Vote in our poll below and stay spooky!