Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights TR (spoilers, violent content)

Friday, October 28, 2011 6:25 PM

Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights TR (spoilers, violent content)
Crowds: Light to Medium
Queue Wait Times: Fast pass 0-10 minutes, regular 60-120 minutes
Fast pass cost: $75
Walking Past thousands of people waiting in line: Priceless
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OVERVIEW
Universal Studios Hollywood retrofits existing attractions to fit the Halloween theme. And they build some new attractions from scratch. Many of the walk through gross-out attractions have similar elements which are repeated, sometimes ad nauseum. (For example, Universal seemed to use the hanging bodies that you have to walk through like sides of beef in a meat locker scenario about 10 times.) Not scary, other than you have to touch these things. How about changing some of them up a bit? Better if they were cold to the touch or moist with water, or had some cooling mechanism inside. No, they were just plastic or burlap. Meh.


NO MAZES, COMPLETE DARKNESS, OR CHOICES ALLOWED
When you have 30,000 guests walking through 15 attractions, you have to crank them through as fast as possible, limiting their direction and path choices. This flow restriction affects the way these haunted attractions are designed. There’s only one way through and that gives the walk-through experience a rushed, pre-programmed feel, in a way. A guest can’t choose which way to go. The characters are always hiding behind a black curtain in the next room, and a guest learns pretty quick that he shouldn’t walk through that way. And learns pretty quick that the window probably has something behind it. They learn to go through only the doorways that have meat locker blinds. After about three of these, a guest pretty much knows the ghouls are going to pop out of the doorways with drapes on them which limits the surprise element.


CORPORATE LIMITATIONS
Is it true that publicly held companies have more restrictions on safety, lit pathways and violent content limitations than private, mom and pop terror attractions? As a result, the scariest element of fear isn’t used effectively. Everything’s brightly lit with shrouded attendants in every room moving you along with a swaying glowtick. [Who sued because they tripped?]


SCENARIO AUTHENTICITY VS. STARTLING
Some main Universal Studio attractions were prime picks for horror nights. They just fit. And some of those attractions, like the War of the Worlds plane crash walk-through, start out conceptually as a perfect for a gruesome Halloween scene… but then the designers ruin it by adding tons of ghouls popping out with chainsaws. Why ghouls at a plane crash? That's like adding space aliens to a funeral home scenario. The ghouls are completely unrelated and ruin the authenticity of the experience. The plane crash seemed to be a perfect opportunity to create a separate, convincing, authentic and haunting gruesome scene peppered with live actors. It is ruined by the ubiquitous “startle” feature that every single attraction featured. Every. Single. One. “Boo!” “ Boo!” “Boo!” “Boo!” After a while, it illicits an eye-rolling “Whatev.”


Infusing every attraction with chainsawing clowns ruins some of the scenario authenticity and splits our focus. What should we look at? The gruesome carnage which is scary enough, or these clowns with chainsaws popping out, completely from another story? Too many elements split the focus, and diminish the intensity and believability of the scenario.


Instead, why not design the plane crash scene with hundreds and hundreds of bodies like the carnage in that scene from Gone with the Wind. Row after row. A few of them live actors. Mabye EMT’s could try to revive someone. It could be an authentic gruesome crash scene with people grieving and disoriented. The chaos of carnage. If you wanted to heighten it, maybe there could be remote control rats that scurry about the injured laid out on the pavement.


Authentic plane crashes don’t have random ever-present clowns popping out with chainsaws every 15 seconds. I mean really? In the middle of a movie studio-designed, ultra-realistic scene of tragedy and gruesome gore in an Ohio town plane crash? Wah-wah-wahhhhhh… clunk. Other attractions at Universal push the envelope, so I don’t know why there isn’t more of an emphasis on authentic, convincing, large scale scenarios without the misplaced lunatics with chain saws.


WHAT’S THE LIMIT?
Serious question for industry professionals: Are some of these attractions designed to be watered down because they’re too intense? Or is it basically guts out, make it as scary as possible? What are the rules and limitations on content?


MISCELLANEOUS
Some of the strangest things that happened last night are when reality blurred with the staged scenarios. After one attraction, in a secluded area near the exit, a mop-headed woman sat slumped over in a wheelchair, trying to revive her seeing eye dog who appeared to have collapsed. Was she an actor? Unfortunately this was real, but it was hard to tell the difference between this and some of the staged horror scenes.


I’m surprised that many of these attractions have items that crowds can touch if they wanted. [I remember on Terminator at SFMM, they removed many of the touchable items because the guests were messing with them.] Here, guests can touch any of the gruesome stuff.


ELECTRIC CHAIR
One of the most effective scenes was an electric chair scenario where the guy is electrocuted and then gets up and comes charging at you. Great. The startle came from the scene itself, not from some random headless clown entering the scene without reason. Logic is the underpinning that heightens the fear in every scenario, in my opinion.


GROUP THEATRICS
The groups of chain saw wielding skeletons organize at some points on the midway at night and create a mob. They stand still and suddenly fire up their chainsaws all at once and come charging. About ten of them. A truly spectacular and frightening effect.


WHY NO PHOTOS?
Is it true that photographs are not allowed not for some high-tech reason, but rather because Universal doesn’t want the offensive, violent material to be shown on the Internet out of context?


TOO MUCH REPETITION
Overall, the elements that are truly frightening are repeated too much and lose freshness during a five hour evening. Ghouls on stilts? Fabulous. 25 of them everywhere? Meh. Skeleton guys with chainsaws? Fabulous. Over 50 of them, scattered through the whole park? Meh. Camouflaged bush people? Fabulous. All over the park? Meh. I wonder if these elements are copyrighted by design companies and can’t be combined with other elements for more variety because of licensing reasons?


THINGS I’D LIKE TO SEE
--Guests in line who are really shills—they look normal, but they get selected for choreographed abuse, randomly in the middle of the attraction, much to the shock of regular guests.
--Guests who are secretly invited to be removed and sneak out from the attraction, mid-course, so that when the group assembles outside, they have no idea what happened to them. Then, they join the group later pushed by an attendant in a wheelchair, scaring the group.
--Instead of showing on-ride photos… how about on-ride videotape of the groups waiting in line, with videotape of what’s happening behind the curtain they’re standing next to—the earth is giving way and monsters are assembling as they wait idly by—or a large spider waits to pounce. [Splice edit the left and right side of the video image.]
--Customized experiences where a group picks a member, gives information in order to adapt the scenarios to that person’s weaknesses… e.g., if they have a fear of being buried upside down, the announcer tells them during the attraction that [name] will be buried upside down! Customized audio and visual messages throughout the attraction.
Overall, fun, too repetitive, and definitely buy the fast pass option.

Last edited by Bill, Friday, October 28, 2011 6:28 PM
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Sunday, October 30, 2011 10:54 AM

WHY NO PHOTOS?
Is it true that photographs are not allowed not for some high-tech reason, but rather because Universal doesn’t want the offensive, violent material to be shown on the Internet out of context?

I think it's so people snapping photos and using flashes don't ruin the experience for the other guests.

GROUP THEATRICS
The groups of chain saw wielding skeletons organize at some points on the midway at night and create a mob. They stand still and suddenly fire up their chainsaws all at once and come charging. About ten of them. A truly spectacular and frightening effect.

They do this in a few places to great effect. They choreograph scenes which is amazing, but if you're unlucky enough to walk into the scene at the wrong time you miss the effect.

I can't wait to go back! It's a party unlike any other haunted attraction I've been to.

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Monday, October 31, 2011 10:29 AM

"Lights to medium" crowds, waits of 60-120 minutes?

Someone's going to have to explain this to me. Last year was our first trip back to HHN is years, largely because it's simply TOO popular. We took advantage of an early-passholder thing, did a Friday night, and did REALLY well for the first 3 hours or so. By around 9pm it started getting crowded, and by 11pm we were done, so it wasn't too bad. If we had arrived at 8:30-9:00 like most people seemed to do, it would have been prettu unbearable as far as I'm concerned...

I just can't see waiting 2 hours for a haunt, a ride, or pretty much anything. I still think HHN is the best I've seen, but we generally do H-O-S at Busch largely because it's not SO crowded.

Last edited by rollergator, Monday, October 31, 2011 10:31 AM
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011 7:39 AM

I was down there a few weeks ago, and this trip report mostly sums up my feelings. I was pretty disappointed by everything except for how well put together the houses/scenes were. The actors did nothing for me and were easily the most disappointing part of the experience. For an event run by a movie studio, their "characters" had no character. It was just a bunch of people in predictable places yelling predictable things at predictable times. The repetition, both in characters (seriously, why does every character in a particular area have to look nearly if not exactly identical?) and their techniques.

From my point of view, as an experienced haunt actor, it was painfully clear they just threw whoever they could in a costume and said "stand here and do this." Their people had no ownership over what they were doing, and it showed big time. Give them some proper coaching and some ownership over both their character and their scares, and they would likely see a huge improvement.

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Saturday, November 5, 2011 2:42 PM

I am actually really glad to see this trip report because I have wanted to do the Orlando Universal haunt for a while, and it has been killing me (no pun intended) that I could not afford the trip. I'm relieved now that I have not wasted my money. There is a fantastic Halloween attraction variety where I live, and I will stick with that.

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Monday, November 7, 2011 3:43 AM

Don't get me wrong, Universal has all the right pieces in place, their execution (and actors) just sucked. They had some of the most absolutely amazingly well done houses I've ever seen from a theaming perspective.

That being said, I don't plan to go back anytime soon. This trip cost me $800 (paid for my girlfriend too) so you could definitely see a lot of quality regional haunts for significantly less money.

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Monday, November 7, 2011 9:19 AM

I wouldn't pay $400 a head for the single most unbelievable, life-changing haunt ever created. I hope you went for other stuff, too.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011 3:07 AM

Nope, just one night at HHN. It had just been on the to-do list for too long. Would have liked to stay longer, but work precluded that possibility.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011 11:22 AM

Do you think your expectation and the amount you paid may have skewed your perception?

I know after standing in a 2 hour line, I tend to have a much higher expectation for whatever ride I'm waiting for.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011 11:40 AM

That would be my guess as well. Expectations must have been staggeringly high if $800 was spent strictly for a 1000-mile trip to a one-night event.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011 4:43 AM

There's no doubt my expectations were high, that's pretty obvious. Yet they did meet my expectations in pretty much every way but one (the actors being terrible). Personally, I prefer awesome actors/characters over awesome theaming, so that's where my big letdown came in. Had my interests been more with haunted house design, I'm pretty sure I would have enjoyed it much more. There's no doubt their designers are top notch. I just felt like they were missing the other 50% of the experience.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011 9:51 PM

This talk about the actors lack of effectiveness is interesting to me. I worked as an actor in the park for HHN in 2001, and they spent a lot of extra time coaching the actors and giving them constructive criticism. They actually had tryouts for each actor to place them into the right acting part. I really learned a lot from them. It's too bad that it seems like they don't do that anymore.

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Friday, November 11, 2011 3:42 AM

I'm not aware of what goes on behind the scenes there, so I'm not sure if they still do that or not. However, the end product certainly didn't appear to be what you would expect from tryouts and good coaching.

Granted, I'm also a haunt actor, so I judge more harshly than most people would, but it seemed like everyone was just told "stand here and when the light/sound cue goes off, run around a little bit." I'm not sure if they triggered their own cues or if they were programmed into the soundtrack of the house, but if they triggered their own, that makes it even worse because none of them were scaring at the proper times. I also didn't like that with the exception of one or two houses, not a single one of them talked or made any noise at all. Any sounds like screaming or growling came from the audio cues they had, which seemed really tacky. It just seemed like nobody had anything invested in their character or what they were doing.

The outdoor zones were even more disappointing, as they all seemed to have the same three kinds of actors in them. Actors who stood around looking gory/menacing, actors on stilts, and actors with chainsaws. The chainsaw bit is good in small doses, but it's cheesy (and annoying) to have them absolutely everywhere.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012 7:18 AM

That's an interesting point. None of the haunted house attractions used silence. Most of them were noisy, with pre-recorded soundtracks at high volume. A pre-recorded soundtrack sounds "canned." Inauthentic. I mean, after all, in a scary real-life situation, is there a symphony playing in the corner?

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