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SYFY WIRE theme parks

How to maximize your terror at Universal Studios' Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights

By Jenna Busch
Stranger Things Halloween Horror Nights

Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights opened for another Halloween season on Friday the 13th — which was also a full moon — so it was the perfect night to get the spooky festivities started. SYFY WIRE got a chance to attend the Fan Preview Night for the event, and we're still shaking in our boots. These were the big highlights for us this year, along with some tips for how to try to avoid getting too scared, if that's what you're into.

There are a number of new mazes this year, including ones based on Jordan Peele's Us, Ghostbusters, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, and Creepshow. There is also an updated Stranger Things maze, a new Universal Monsters maze based on Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, the return of Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses, and Holidayz in Hell. The Curse of Pandora's Box is all new, and we're seeing a return of The Walking Dead. There are a few other goodies out there, including a Jabbawockeez show and some of the regular park attractions.

When you first enter the park, you're going to be accosted by scare actors dressed in all sorts of horrifying costumes. No, they can't touch you, but they can get awfully close. So close, in fact, that if you're anything like me and might as well have a "scare me" sign on your head, you're going to be screaming before you get near a maze. The scare actors seem to be a little lighter than they've been in previous years, but they look amazing. There are little pockets as you go along where you get a breather from them, but look in every direction, including up. There are actors on stilts, ones with chainsaws, ones around the new Kung Fu Panda area, and, of course, clowns.

If you want to get to some of the mazes on the lower level of the park, and you absolutely don't want to miss these, you're going to have to go through the tunnel of terror. (Our name, not theirs.) It's full of scare actors who look like they're having a blast, running at you with chainsaws, lead pipes, and general creepiness. One thing to note, though, is that if you have an issue with strobe lights, you might have to have someone walk with you so you can keep your eyes closed. A lot of people had their hands up over their faces as they walked, and the scare actors seemed to notice this and leave them alone. Not me, though. No one left me alone. Seriously, did someone tell them I was coming?

Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights

Do not — I repeat — do not miss the Jabbawockeez show. The dance troupe is outrageously good. The show is at the "Special Effects Show" venue near the Simpsons area, and it's incredible. It's a short show, and if you have Express Pass and sit in the front of the section reserved for you, they might drag you up on stage. Not only are these masked dancers incredible, but the laser light show is going to blow your mind, especially toward the end. It's a short show, the music is great, and it's going to give you a break from the monsters for a bit. The audience was screaming and dancing along to the music, and laughing their butts off at the comedy. If you haven't seen them dance before, just take a look at their Twitter feed for highlights.

Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights

Ghostbusters might be at the front of the pack when it comes to maze standouts this year. This one is based on the classic 1984 film, and it has all the big scenes you want. We've got the library, the firehouse, Gozer, and a certain man made of marshmallow. The line was long for this one, even with Express Pass, but you can't miss it. The outside of the maze is pretty fantastic as well. Even cooler is that this one, along with Creepshow and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, are on the lot, so you're getting a look behind the scenes of your favorite films while freaking yourselves out.

There are tons of places to pick up light-up hats and glasses, as well as libations to fill those glasses out there, so don't worry about being so far from the rest of the park. Ghostbusters is full of jump scares, so while it's not a scary movie by itself, you're going to scream your head off anyway. You might love Slimer from the Ghostbusters cartoon, but he's still going to scare you here.

Maze Pro Tip #1: If you want to see what's coming and not scream and make your date/friends laugh at you, get behind a bunch of other people and follow closely behind them. We tried it like that, as well as at the front of a group, and let's just say there is more screaming if the actors see you coming by after a pause in people.

Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights

Another big standout this year was the Us maze. Freaked out by Jordan Peele's work, were you? Oh boy, are you going to shriek while walking through this maze. There are jump scares galore, and the actors they picked look so much like the actors from the film that it's like you're reliving it in person. Scissors are everywhere, and though we don't want to give anything away, let's just say the use of mirrors is really well done. Like Ghostbusters, this maze is really true to the film, and will likely be around for more than this year.

Maze Pro Tip #2: If you don't want to be scared silly, keep your hands at your sides. If your face says that you're freaked out and your hands are clenched, the actors know they have a target. If you want to be scared, go ahead and telegraph it. They can see you coming a mile away.

Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights

Another great one this year is the classic monster maze Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. It's based on the 1943 film, of course, but you don't have to have seen it in order to enjoy this one. It's a reimagined tale (as per the press release), but what we saw is going to have classic movie buffs going through this more than once. Forget thinking that classic movie monsters aren't scary. Seriously, forget it. You're going to be freaking out. The same goes for Creepshow. That said, you can take your friends who are a bit gore-shy to these. Maybe skip the House of 1000 Corpses with them, though. All the mazes based on the films are pretty dead-on (sorry, not sorry). If you have limited time, though, and you might with the lines, we definitely recommend Frankenstein.

Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights

Another one you can't miss is Stranger Things. We have to say, though, this wasn't so much scary as it was fun. This has been updated for Seasons 2 and 3 and is, again, super true to the source material. There are fewer jump scares here from actual actors and more from animatronics. You are, however, going to get wet. We didn't see a sign letting you know, and I got hit in the face with water. My friend/monster protector had a phone out and it got hit as well.

Maze Pro Tip #3: Yes, you can take pics, but we got held up in a few lines where people couldn't stop taking them. Aside from the water that might get your phone, you're also probably going to drop it when an actor sees you and targets you for it. As a former scare actor, I can tell you that we look for you guys. It's sort of a bet to see if we can make it fly out of your hand.

One more thing to note: Some of the actual theme park rides are open during the event, including Revenge of the Mummy - The Ride, Transformers: The Ride - 3D, The Simpsons Ride, and the newly revamped Jurassic World - The Ride. We got on that one with Express Pass with no waiting at all, and for comparison, I was there three weeks ago and waited three hours. If you get a chance, check it out. It's a short ride, but it's worth it, since everyone else is going to be screaming as they run from clowns with chainsaws.

Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood runs select nights from September 13 through November 3 and runs from 7 p.m. until 1 or 2 a.m., depending on the night. There are multiple passes as well. You can get all the info at Happy haunting!