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DTH Misses a Maze Because of Budget Cuts and Poor Operations, Thx Universal - 9/14 Trip Review

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Universal Studios Hollywood presents
in association with Halloween Horror Nights

9/14 Trip Review
Saturday, September 14th, 2019
6 PM - 1 AM

 

As always, this is a very detailed review. By its nature, spoilers are abound. This is for people who have already gone and want a refresher, for people who will never be able to go and want perspective outside of just watching walkthroughs, and for people who don't mind spoilers and want to just get more excited.

 

PROLOGUE
This is my first time getting FFP for the event. Not because I’m super excited about the IPs, just because I figured I may end up going a lot. Plus I’m most likely skipping Knotts this year since there isn’t much new there. On the plus side, with the insane crowds, and the new Jurassic World, and the Throwback Thursdays, I wanted to experience this as much as possible and get the most bang for my buck on this year’s offerings. As a forewarning, I did not get to experience Stranger Things. This is the very… VERY first time… since I’ve been going in 2007… that I did not get to go through all the mazes in a single night. This is not for a lack of trying, but with Early Entry ripping away an hour and then ending tonight at 1 AM instead of 2… and taking away Terror Tram which usually dispersed people decently around the park… let’s just say Universal really screwed us over for what seems like no apparent real good reason. Usually I add a lot of detail on times I did things to help people game plan, but truthfully, unless you’re going on a very sparse Thursday or Sunday, I don’t see how you could conceivably do all the mazes, unfortunately. You’re 90% going to need a FOL pass to see all the mazes this year, especially if you’re considering including Jurassic World and Jabba into your night.

 

CREEPSHOW
Advertised Wait: 20 minutes
Time In Line: 6:10
Actual Wait: Walk On
In the Maze: 6:20 (was waiting for some friends to catch up)

Going through, I felt something was very off. It was very dark and there were few scare actors. Watching the maze on Youtube, I almost felt like it was an entirely different maze because of how many more scares there were and effects that were on that lit up the maze in different ways. I won’t go too into detail, since I feel I can’t properly rate this maze without seeing a full on live version. Anyway, I liked good amounts of detail and some of the scares were very aggressive. Naturally, as an anthology maze, stories felt disconnected, but that’s on purpose, so the flow and pace seemed inconsistent in a strange way.

Now let’s get into 2 things that EVERY-SINGLE-MAZE has this year. An excessive amount of fabric-picture scares and werewolves. Somehow every dang maze this year has a wolf or four footed creature that they could repurpose wolf puppets for. Even with knowing what this maze is like from watching it, there’s a certain grittiness that I wish this maze had. It’s almost live-action cartoony in a way. While I don’t hate it, I don’t necessarily love it either. My personal experience was fine, but I can see from YouTube that it could’ve been much better. I look forward to this improving in the future. And I’ll fully review it with full on scores when I’ve gone through it again. For now —
‘B’-

 

GHOSTBUSTERS
Advertised Wait: 75 minutes
Time in Line: 6:25
In the Maze: 6:59
Actual Wait: 34 minutes

 

Oy. Where do I begin? I had reservations for this maze and I really wanted to be surprised. This is everything I feared it’d be and worse. The beginning is so goofy, it’s childish. The scares did not hit at all. My friend said, “this is a maze for pre-teens who don’t want to be scared.” I can’t even say I liked the sets all that much. I was even disappointed with Stay Puft. I get it, he’s huge and there’s only so much you can do. But one scene with him and that’s it? No sense of him coming, or rumbling, or anything? I didn’t even like how Slimer looked, I think I would’ve preferred pepperghost. Comedy houses are just not - my - thing. We went through this maze so stone faced and came out very disappointed. I do no foresee this maze getting any better for me, personally. I understand if other people boogie to it, but man, even with my FFP, I don’t want to waste my time with this one again. I just feel like this is the exact opposite of what I come to HHN for. That’s not to say it wasn’t well crafted. When I say I’m not impressed with the sets, I’m just being a hater. Because technically the effects, costumes, and everything is well done. But tonally, I just can not fathom waiting 2 hours for this and getting THAT as the result. I’d run my head into a brick wall. Honestly, I don’t even want to break this down with scores for how I came to my grading. With that said, this is not even my least favorite of the event, but that’s for later.
‘F’

 

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN
Advertised Wait: 35 minutes
Time in Line: 7:07
In the Maze: 7:26
Actual Wait: 19 minutes

 

Finally, a GREAT maze this evening! And something I want to fully dive into review-wise. I wasn’t the biggest fan of UCM, so I was apprehensive about this maze a bit. However, this is everything I wanted that maze to have been. It was much more gothic and gritty, the music more horror-y, with the scares coming in closer proximity. That was my biggest issue with UCM is the monsters were always so far away with their pop outs. This fixed that BIG time, sometimes with two popping out RIGHT NEXT to you at once (another huge staple this year, next to the fabric scares and random wolves everywhere).

Walking in, I loved the smell. The storytelling of knowing Talbot’s story was great before it takes us to the point of where the UCM maze left off. The crypt had great environment and reminded of the graveyard scene in La Lorona. Seeing Fritz at the top of the building was a nice touch. This is where you finally get to see Franky and Wolfie start to be in the same scene with each other and these encounters were great. Both monsters on the table and having to walk between them was SUCH. A. GREAT. MOMENT. I was genuinely scared to go through. And finally getting The Bride close enough to see was great too. I think the only section that fell flat for me was the icy ending and the projector room. But at least the projector room was at the end this time instead of in the middle of the maze, making more sense with a narrative of whether I’m just watching these films or living them.

Before, I think I compared UCM to House of Horrors and liking the HOH more. I think this was a worthy followup to the HOH and a much better followup to UCM. I’m hoping they will continue this series so we can see what happens next. I’d love to see Creature from the Black Lagoon (missing from UCM) or Dracula next. While this is a very great maze, it oddly somehow falls somewhere in the middle this year because the top two mazes are so good. This is another I think will only improve with time and they’re already rocking it in this maze.

 

FACADE — 8. Really brings you into where you’ll be in the first scene, I’d like another wagon or so though. The full moon looks cheap, IMO, so I’m docking another point.
SET DESIGN - 10. Absolutely beautiful sets in here.
SOUND DESIGN - 10. The sound really sold the story, which is another section later on.
SCAREACTOR DESIGN - 9. Docking for a few funky looking Frankies.
CAST PERFORMANCE - 8. For a first weekend, they’re already pretty much on fire, but I think that tad extra bit of aggression will make this maze that much better.
ATMOSPHERE/TONE/IMMERSION - 10. I was really sold into this world moreso than any other maze at this event.
LENGTH - 9. I wanted maybe ONE more scene.
SCARES - 9. Some of the scares didn’t hit as hard as I wanted them to. But again, maybe later when things are ironed out.
STORY - 10. This was beautifully told and crafted. I always knew where I was in the story by the sound design and things pushed along nicely, just like a movie.
PERSONAL BIAS POINTS - 10. For coming back so strong, I gotta give this maze props. It made me a firm believer in the UCM getting a solid maze at HHN. While UCM felt unfocused to me, this gave a solid story that was worth following and environment worthy of scares for modern audiences.

93 out of 100. ‘A’

 

ALL HALLOW’S EVIL
This felt like a Knotts maze, it was very strangely streamlined, even with a roof at some points. I enjoyed it but it was understaffed. And honestly, I just feel like you can see the same props/themes so many times before getting used to them.
‘B’-

 

TOXXXIC TUNNEL
No. Stop.
‘F’

 

KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE
Advertised Wait: 40 minutes
Time in Line: 7:50
In the Maze at: 9:27
Actual Wait: 97 minutes

 

{A very unfortunate side note, operations and line management was absolutely awful once the crowds started pouring in. This said 15 minutes when I walked up to it then jumped up to 40. Then I waited twice as long for it. The line barely moved and it’s because of the amount of VIP/FOL they’re letting in. STOP THIS, Universal. CAP IT.}

 

The facade-pre-show felt underwhelming. Such a long scene just for that. While I should’ve known, seeing the movie and all, I just thought more would happen haha. Also, why is the show on the OTHER side from where MOST guests can’t see it?

 

I loved this maze instantly when walking in. I know I just blasted Ghostbusters for attempting comedy in a maze but this had a great balance of horror mixed in. The spaceship and cotton candy sections were great. I feel like this really came alive once the clowns got to the streets. The finger show was ridiculous in such a great way. I loved seeing the clowns trying to hide behind things but they’re literally too big. The water squirting was excessive but these were great scenes and gags. The police station part was PERFECT. The guy who did it was so great. He stared me down even AFTER I left the room and just stayed glued on me. It’s impressive how this maze utilized its space as well, as it never felt like there was a weak spot or blank area.

 

The energy in this maze is peak HHN. This was taking a well earned risk on a cult classic that was both scary and goofy just enough that it could work as a maze, one of my favorite in HHN history. Also, the fans for this maze came out in droves. I’ve never seen so many Killer Klowns shirts in my life. I felt like every 10 people in line had one. And the popularity shows because the line stayed long all night. Or maybe because people kept stopping in the maze to see the gags. Or maybe because line management sucks. I don’t know. Anyway, great maze.

 

FACADE — 9. I’m docking a point for that pointless pre-show. Save some money and give me another hour of early entry instead, how-bou-dat?
SET DESIGN - 10. Fantastic, they made such great use of the small area and made it work.
SOUND DESIGN - 10. I felt like I was in the movie with how it strung me along from scene to scene just with audio.
SCAREACTOR DESIGN - 10. The clowns looked so great come to life. I laughed and they scared me.  
CAST PERFORMANCE - 10. And that’s because the cast was so on point. They knew how to draw you in with something goofy then strike and be menacing. These guys were doing great with such huge suits on.
ATMOSPHERE/TONE/IMMERSION - 8. I was really sold on where I was but I did feel reminded a bit on the fact that I was in a maze a bit, and that’s because the gags were very obvious. I suppose in most mazes, the gags are hidden a bit better, but since the gags are literal gags from the clowns, it just felt like back-to-back set up for the next punch-line/scare.
LENGTH - 10. It ended just at the right time.
SCARES - 9. It could’ve been scarier, but it made up for any scares with pure entertainment or at least a tone. This is where Ghostbusters fails and KKFOS succeeds in spades.
STORY - 10. This was so nice and easy to follow.
PERSONAL BIAS POINTS - 10. Great cult classic has come to HHN and I couldn’t be more proud or happy. And they did the movie pure JUSTICE by going above and beyond. You can tell they genuinely cared to make this one good.

96 out of 100. ‘A’+

 

SPIRITS & DEMONS OF THE EAST
These guys were pretty intense, I dug ‘em. I think the overall tone didn’t work in this area though and would’ve been much more beneficial in an enclosed space. This and All Hallow’s Evil should’ve swapped.
‘B’-

 

HOLIDAYZ IN HELL/CHRISTMAS IN HELL
Advertised Wait: 35 minutes
Time in Line: 10:37
In the Maze: 11:04
Actual Wait:  27 minutes

 

I feel like my cartoony comment about Creepshow applies to this maze as well. There’s a certain grittiness missing. HOWEVER, I enjoyed this more. Each holiday had a great little moment in it. To see this progress from scare zone to maze is a delight. I remember really wishing each section in that zone had it’s own full on room and here we have it. And it completely works. I think my biggest scares in the maze were in the leprechaun section. Guy just kept coming out of nowhere. And the Easter section was surprisingly more demonic than I anticipated, it was so fun. I think the one section that could’ve been a bit better was the 4th of July. The set up and scare here just felt anti-climactic. Halloween was very intense because of the proximity of the pumpkinheads and how many of them there were. The Thanksgiving part was so delightfully disturbing that I’m curious about a whole maze on it. I was surprised to see Christmas considering there was a zone and since the zone is such an obvious continuation, I’ll count it to be apart of the maze. A great surprise in here was Elsa—errr… a snow queen. Funny enough, they throw in another New Year part.

 

FACADE — 6. I like the smoke bubbles, but that’s about it. I’m not a fan of flat facades. At least Creepshow has some angles.
SET DESIGN - 7. Again, I wish there was a bit more realism added at points to make this scarier.
SOUND DESIGN - 10. Much like the zone, this used all the things we recognize from those holidays to really put you in the environment.
SCAREACTOR DESIGN - 10. Things I never thought were scary have become scary now, let’s just say that.
CAST PERFORMANCE - 7. I think this is the maze where I feel like there can be the most room for growth. They hit their marks very well, but I think there can be a bit more aggression each time.
ATMOSPHERE/TONE/IMMERSION - 7. I think going through everything so quickly, like an anthology maze, gives you almost a reset with every room. In a way, I wish they only stuck to maybe 3 holidays to really expand on some ideas.
LENGTH - 8. As I said just above, I feel like to really sell it, this needs to be longer so we can fully enjoy certain holidays instead of getting single rooms on things.
SCARES - 9. I got some of my best scares of the night in here, but they could hit harder.
STORY - 9. It’s very self explanatory and easy to follow. I think maybe if there was a device though, like seeing it through a child’s lens like in Titans of Terror, this could’ve gelled together in a much more cohesive way other than “here’s some holidays.” Which works fine, but I mean, room for improvement and all.
PERSONAL BIAS POINTS - 10. I liked it a lot and love the idea quite a bit. It works as a maze in so many ways and I know this will just get even better with time. It’s something that could come back every year and be completely different.

83 out of 100. ‘B’

 

HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES
Advertised Wait: 45 minutes
Time in Line: 10:37
In the Maze: 11:04
Actual Wait: 27 minutes

 

Filler.

 

Okay, maybe I’ll say more. Honestly, I liked this visually more than the 2009-2010 version. It’s more truthful to the scenic of the movie. However, that version had more space to tell a much scarier story that the more you went in, the more depraved it got. This felt like a cliff notes version of that maze. With five times more Spaulding. Okay, I get it, Spaulding is recognizable, but he was used WAY. TOO. MUCH. WTF, WHY? He’s literally half the maze and it ruined it for me.

 

That first room was exactly the same as the prior version. Some scenes were just poorer versions of what they were before. It’s like… why bother bringing it back unless you can improve on it? And why add so much Spaulding and his laugh over and over again? He can only pop out from a random curtain so many dang times. The Murder Ride felt endless and pointless. Like, where’s Baby, Tiny,  and Otis? They felt like cameos in comparison to Spaulding. Final scene just seems like they ran out of ideas. While I can’t hate everything about it, I got some decent scares. But it feels so… cheap to do this again for no viable reason. I don’t think it can improve much over the season, it’s flawed by design. Annoying even. But at least it’s the only other maze with a consistently scary tone. Everything else is slightly goofy. It’s like a decent HHN maze from 2011 or 2013. Would’ve been good for the time if the other maze never came out, and disappointing that they haven’t thought of any new tricks.  I’m not going to break this one down, it is what it is.
‘C’

 

THE CURSE OF PANDORA’S BOX
Advertised Wait: 70 minutes
Time in Line: 11:22
Time in Maze: 12:25
Actual Wait: 63 minutes

 

The line for this was ridiculous and just did not move. It looked smaller than 70 minutes so we figured to chance it, plus the last few lines were shorter than advertised. Nope, just line management at it’s finest, folks. Letting in 60 FOL/RIP people and only letting 5-7 people from the regular line. Without exaggeration, I counted them do that at least 3 times. Anyway, this has no effect on my score for the maze. Not like it matters, because it’s a freakin’ 0.

WHAT. WAS. THIS? And WHY? The moment I heard UV lit maze, I held my breath. And going through, in the first 10 seconds after that cool moment in the first scene, I knew it wasn’t going to go well. It was all down hill from there. I’ve hated on a lot of mazes in the past, but this was such a jumble of old stuff, it was almost insulting. Before I hate too much, let me get some positives out of the way. I liked the sound design. It was super intense and the maze felt like all action. Now, back to the negatives. There was ZERO tension because it was ALL action. Just scene after scenes of pure attack. Okay, another positive. Every scare actor was super aggressive. Back to my negatives. Every scareactor was so aggressive that none of it landed because it was a constant barrage of insanity. I wasn’t able to focus on anything. What happened in this maze? Who even knows. I just had flashback after flashback of mazes of old and their sets. You know how people complained about a prop or two returning in a maze like in 2014 or 2015? Prepare for entire scenes. If it wasn’t bad enough already, the Medusa puppet head was literally hitting the wall when I went through. Just embarrassing. Was there a climax even? And Pandora herself and the design? This maze just screams laziness around every turn. It’s such a shame such great actors are working it. I’m sure for that reason alone, this maze will have its fans. It sure is intense. But to me, it’s also nonsense. I feel like all skill, tact, and storytelling was thrown out the window for this one. This goes down in history next to TITE, Clowns 3D and First Purge as one of the worst and most headache inducing mazes I’ve ever encountered at HHN.
‘F’

 

US
Advertised Wait: 120 minutes
Time in Line: 1232
In the Maze: 1:02
Actual Wait: 30 minutes

 

Like Creepshow, I felt like there was a lot of stuff missing when I went through and when I watched this after on Youtube, I was assured that was true. However, I feel more apt to judge this one because a lot of the scenes worked how they were intended anyway. This was my most anticipated and it didn’t disappoint. It improved upon the movie in some very fun ways. Getting to live through it was much more scary.

 

The overall tone was perfect. The fear level built in every scene. If there wasn’t a scare, it just made the next scene build in dread because now I knew a scare was coming. The soundtrack was phenomenal. I do think the mirror portion in the beginning could be a bit better, but it definitely felt unsettling. Once the family arrives, all hell breaks loose, and in an a way that’s comprehensible. Those playing the leader of the Tethered was fantastic. Those movements were so spot on. The family jumping out in their specific spots to scare were so on point not only for the maze, but it didn’t even stray that far from the movie. I think it’s fantastic they somehow found the perfect way to adapt this without even having to take too many liberties like I thought they would.

 

The girl in the mirror was the best part. The way you have to walk around her and towards the guy in the doorway was just so unsettling. This maze has so many moments where you’re being set up for something else and it just worked in so many unnerving ways. The return to the mirror maze was fun, and the underground tunnels were a great creepy touch with tiny little bunnies everywhere. I loved the classroom bit, but from YouTube, I didn’t see the full version. I just got a creepy girl staring at me while moving to the music in a very specific and creepy way, which worked just like that. Another favorite is the final scare, that I won’t even spoil in this spoiler review. It’s the most freaky moment of the entire event and I’m overjoyed this maze got some major TLC to make certain moments work.

 

FACADE — 10. You get this facade twice!
SET DESIGN - 10. There was so much detail, even in something as simple as a living room.
SOUND DESIGN - 10. The “I Got 5 On It” plays in the whole maze and it’s awesome.
SCAREACTOR DESIGN - 10. The cast was so perfectly put together, is mostly what I’m thinking of. And the masks were so lifelike, it’s insane. The bulging eyes just made it that much scarier.
CAST PERFORMANCE - 10. Every one seemed to be on the same page and working towards a unified goal to scare the crap out of us.
ATMOSPHERE/TONE/IMMERSION - 9. Little moments like the car gag remind me, “oh yeah, I’m in a maze.” However, the tone was top notch and the most scared I felt the entire event. Just dread and feeling creeped out.
LENGTH - 10. This maze (and Pandora) felt so epically long.
SCARES - 10. Best scares of the night are here.
STORY - 10. The story points are brought up in the audio, really making sure the confusing stuff at least is conveyed. Seeing the movie definitely helps though.
PERSONAL BIAS POINTS - 10. As my most anticipated, I’m glad this worked out so beautifully, as it easily could’ve been a dud. Major props to this team.

99 out of 100. ‘A’+

 

OVERALL
I can’t give my final thoughts until I see Stranger Things. Or Creepshow when it’s fully on. I even would like to see Jabba. With my FFP, I will luckily get to fully absorb this event this year. As far as how good the overall year is, so far, it’s pretty just okay. I wasn’t blown away but I didn’t hate it. It falls down right in the middle for me. While I loved Us and Killer Klownz, all the other mazes are spread pretty decently across the spectrum. And there’s also two mazes I absolutely loathe. While there’s a lot of quantity, I do think quality suffered a bit. And having no Terror Tram really stole the heart and soul from what Hollywood represents. It was the one unique thing HHNH had and they should’ve held onto it as long as they could’ve. Getting rid of it, so far in my eyes, has been a horrible experiment so far. Lines are way longer, it feels like there’s less to do, and adding two more mazes just feels pointless when there’s two crap mazes (maybe even three, if ST is as bad as I hear). While I did heavily enjoy certain mazes, they definitely aren’t created equal. Oddly, my list of most anticipated is almost exact to how it panned out, which usually doesn’t happen for me as things at least swap, but this year it was pretty exact to my expectations of what I would and wouldn’t like. While some of these mazes are going to be great by the end of the run, right now it’s pretty even across the board, which makes this above average, in general, but nothing stand out. Better than 2016? Not by a long shot. Better than 2018? For me, personally, I don’t even know if I could say that yet. I really loved the things people didn’t care for much last year, like TrT, Halloween, Stranger Things (later in the event), and HOB: Vol 2. For me, those were all solid ‘A’s. UCM was good, but not great. With Poltergeist being the only “meh” one of the bunch and First Purge just being trash. For me, Ghostbusters and Pandora are very, very, very strong Fs and are what bring the event down a bit, in my eyes. The odd-numbered year curse hasn’t been broken, at least not for me.
B+

 

RANKINGS —

MAZES:
AMAZING - Us, Killer Klownz from Outer Space
GREAT - Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman
GOOD - Holidayz in Hell
AVERAGE - Creepshow
OKAY - House of 1000 Corpses
BAD - N/A
WTF - Ghostbusters, The Curse of Pandora’s Box

 

SCAREZONES:
Christmas in Hell
All Hallow’s Evil
Spirits and Demons
Fallen Angels (I don’t think I even SAW this maze)

 

 OVERALL YEARS:
*PERFECT* - 16
AMAZING - 14, 08, 12, 10
GREAT - 13, 09, 18
GOOD - 19, 15, 11
AVERAGE - 07
OKAY - 17
BAD - N/A
WTF - N/A

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Hi DTH, I didn't read the full review because I didn't want to see spoilers, so I scanned your grades of the houses.

I heard the Horror Buzz people say that black hallways with the strobe box at the end were back in full force - massively disappointing if true.

Can you confirm?

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This is true for some mazes, but definitely not all.

 

If you want to know which ones do and which don't, without being too specific to ruin any moments, read on:

The one that was most strict about it is Us. I can't remember a single moment in that maze with a black wall section or a random boo-hole box scare in the dark. FMTW, Creepshow, Corpses, and Holidayz have some portions like that randomly thrown in, but definitely not for their finales. Killer Klowns results to that a bit in the end, but it works in the context of the maze. The worst offenders are Pandora and Ghostbusters, and from what I've seen in videos, Stranger Things. The latter two I imagine it's mainly because those are more puppet heavy and they couldn't figure out how else to do it. While Pandora is just a bunch random haunt imagery with no tact in mind.

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Glad to hear it's not as bad as last year.  Pandora and Ghostbusters had me most excited.  My expectations are now very low.

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