A Trip to Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights

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Rotten vs. Jason, Freddy & Leatherface

On a weekly basis thousands of star-seekers ascend – equipped with cameras, fanny packs fastened too tight – the steep hill just off of Lankershim Blvd. overlooking the San Fernando Valley to reach Universal Studios Hollywood which sits atop this Mt. Olympus like some pantheon paying worship to the “magic” of movies and its late great talent residing in the heavens above.

This month in particular always offers a tip of the hat to the black & white bad boys of Universal’s yesteryear and their interminable place in horror history. Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr.’s eternal mugs – in their most recognizable guises as the Frankenstein monster, Dracula and the Wolf Man, respectively – can be spied lurking in the shadows at the theme park’s Halloween Horror Nights. But, as we told you here, these legends are making room for a modern malicious trinity befitting of their own veneration: Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Leatherface. All three are being given their own respective mazes and ShockTillYouDrop.com was fortunate to get an invite to give each attraction a whirl.

And so, on a night when temperatures dropped and a uncharacteristically chilly wind crept in (making this New Englander feel at home), I immersed myself in meticulously recreated nightmares that have plagued my imagination and driven me to countless restless nights as a wee horror fan. Following the Eyegore Awards Ceremony – where “Child’s Play” creator Don Mancini summed up contemporary boogeyman perfectly by explaining that their methods eliminate the assholes of society and, “if these guys ran the world, there’d be no wars.” – a group of journalists, including myself, banded together and infiltrated the foggy corridors of Universal’s alleyways.

A barn facade replete with unknown terrors was the first attraction to stand out like a beacon and beckon us within. Visitors gazed at some poor fellow propped erect in the hayloft above the entrance with a pitchfork jutting from his chest. This was the Friday the 13th maze, a time machine-like jaunt through Camp Crystal Lake and all of Jason’s guises, from his mongoloid youth days to the hulking machete-wielding machine that has become a merchandising staple. For the devoted “Friday” follower, this is where it’s truly at. Universal gets crazy mad points for the painstaking detail they put into the attraction; where it missteps in frights it more than makes up for in gore gags and some of the finer kills of the series – which is what Friday the 13th has been all about, right? Away you go, through the woods of Crystal Lake, but before you do so…what’s that by the door? Oh, just a counselor banging away at some broad, negligent of the campers he should be watching. Further along, Jason is spied raising hell with a camper in a sleeping bag and within one cabin’s kitchenette a poor soul has been skewered through the hand with a corkscrew (an obvious ode to Crispin Glover’s turn in Friday the 13th: The Final ChapterWhere’s the corkscrew?!). Around every turn Jason is trying to take your head off. One memorable “jump” moment involves a headless Mother Voorhees. The “Friday” maze warranted a nostalgic second visit in our evening because we couldn’t get enough of that Crystal Lake ’80s vibe.

Given the fantastical nature of the series, Nightmare on Elm Street, formerly the Shrek attraction (or somewhere near it), played it loose and aggressive. It paints the world of Krueger in broad strokes – introducing you to the asylum where he was conceived, for example – but it’s not afraid to take creative liberties to scare the crap out of you. Fans will wade through the Roach Motel from “Nightmare 4” (an icky fave) and stroll by the Dream Child’s enormous baby cradle; meanwhile, multiple unruly Kruegers contend with their busy environment for your screams. The freak out factor is high in this one with plenty of surprises in store. On the opposite end of the spectrum is “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” cribbing its inspiration from the Platinum Dunes remake days – get past that fact and there’s certainly plenty of enjoyment to come from what this maze offers.Trespassers creep through the Hewitt house and the adjoining Blair Meats Factory to witness Leatherface carving up fine young flesh and feel the spray of blood hit your face (pure, heaven!). Lots to see, and smell (beware of the shit-covered undies!), but not enough interaction, I felt like the Leatherfaces were “holding back” from getting involved with the crowd. A final scare drove me out the exit screaming like a little bitch, however. That’s the last time I attempt to touch a cow skull in a garbage bin.

A fourth maze, the Tram Tour, was fun enough. It’s a modified backlot tour that allows you to walk up to the “Psycho” house and pass through the massive War of the Worlds set featuring a devastated neighborhood and crashed airliner. The area is populated with various ghouls and creeps and is distinguished by carrying a plotline about a “horror fan” who has taken his love for movies too far and is now a crazed clown.

Through their partnership with New Line, Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights has, without a doubt, been reinvigorated with fresh blood. There’s nothing more exciting than stepping into a haunted maze thinking you’ve seen and done it all only to have your nerves skewered. One thing’s for sure, if I took a trek through a real Jason-inhabited Camp Crystal Lake, I’d be as dead as the hacked and handicapped Mark from Friday the 13th Part II (another recreation in the maze, believe it or not).

Suggestions for next year? Take a cue from Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse (a Universal property) or explore the opportunities Motel Hell has to offer.

Stop by this event for sure if you’re in the Los Angeles area – you’ve got less than a month left before it disappears. Now, I’m curious to see the Orlando, Florida counterpart where a maze based on The Thing has been created…

Source: Ryan Rotten