Save your tears and face your fears during Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood by knowing exactly what you’re going to want to hit before attending the hot haunt ticket.
io9 has already covered how to best approach its East Coast counterpart at Universal Studios Orlando, which with its number of houses and space is more of a multi-day experience. However, on the West Coast, the offerings are cinematically curated in a smaller dose of horror that can quickly suck up time in long lines due to the park’s smaller size.
io9 attended Horror Nights during its opening as invited media to check out which houses hit high marks on the horror meter to make the most of the popular event. This year’s slate includes some new IPs, like Jordan Peele’s universe of thrillers unleashed on the Terror Tram featuring Nope, The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare, and recent Blumhouse titles like The Black Phone. Returning houses include Halloween (with a cool twist), Latin American folklore-themed La Llorona, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and the Universal Monsters. And new for this year are two original mazes, Scarecrow: The Reaping and Universal Horror Hotel. All in all, the eight houses plus the Terror Tram fill out a night quickly and do warrant some preparation.
Let’s start with which houses should be a priority. If you have a soft spot for John Carpenter’s Halloween, this house (last done in 2015) is a must for any Michael Myers fan. This year’s version pays respect to Final Girl Laurie Strode, as the Jamie Lee Curtis character is now featured in the house alongside Dr. Loomis. It’s the perfect encapsulation of a horror titan and Halloween haunt combined as you’re chased by the Shape through iconic scenes from the minds of Carpenter and Halloween screenwriter-producer Debra Hill. In this house, Myers is here, he’s there, he’s everywhere—there’s no escape.
This year is big on slashers and joining in with a thrilling take is The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare, which pays homage to ‘70s horror with hallucinogenic bad trips, helped along by bass-pounding tracks from the artist’s catalogue. You’ll want to dance, run, and not ever lick toads, no matter what. It’s flashy, bloody, and splattered with gory glamour. By far, it’s the most interesting musical act house we’ve experienced, and it gave us something completely different from the event’s usual wheelhouse. It’s been long overdue for HHN to try something new.
Terror Tram also got a refreshing update by way of Jordan Peele’s cinematic universe. One of my biggest wishes on this specific attraction—where you’re taken through the legendary backlot on foot after dark—is to actually go into the worlds of some of Universal’s horror movies. This year, the park definitely leaned somewhat more into that. Sure, the tram was mostly taken over by the park’s killer clown, Hollywood Harry, through sets like Psycho’s Bates Motel, but it was really Jupiter’s Claim from Nope that proved there’s more real estate to explore for HHN fans. You get to enter the set from the film and it’s filled with the tethered from Us, alongside fake theme park employees trying their best to not look up plus some characters stirring tea cups. Admittedly it did feel like they just threw all three movies into one spot, but there’s something there that can be expanded on which we found intriguing. It definitely felt like Universal was dipping its feet into more of these collaborations, and it would be killer to see more haunted nights on the Universal backlot, with other movies coming to life.
We were also really excited to see more original house content. This year’s Scarecrow: The Reaping felt like a home-baked slice of spooky, helping the event dig into more of a traditional haunt vibe with very solid scares. Among the returning houses, Killer Klowns was in pretty much the exact same big top shape as before, but in a haunt era where it seems like we’ll have to do with some repeats for a while, this fan favorite never fails to impress. It’s got genuinely creepy clowns, er, klowns, but is also fun, smelly, and hilarious to go through even if you’ve never seen the film. If you haven’t, and you’re planning to hit up HHN, definitely check it out beforehand; lots of people were turned on to this cult classic thanks to the first house back in 2019, and now the fandom has grown. There’s even a lot more Killer Klowns-themed treats this year, too.
The scariest house, however, is another returning original based on the Latin American legend of La Llorona, the weeping woman who drowned her children and haunts the riverbank where she did the deed, searching for more children to follow and drag into the depths with her. (If you grew up in a household where you were told she was going to get you if you were out too late, you knew better than to try it.) This house captures the legendary ghost in all her grotesque glory in ways that had us hugging the black hallway walls, which we generally hate doing, with our eyes shut until it ended.
While no Stranger Things or other big name IP came to play this year—2022 is still a transitional year, affected by the pandemic—the houses offer up mostly solid scares and amazing sets that does still get a bit undercut by the presence of those black hallways with boo holes. Year after year, they kind of cheapen the experience when you’re waiting in long lines, especially when there’s rides and fun food and drink to try and cram in too, and yet they’re still here—much like the perpetually appearing Jabbawockeez dance troupe. Not a dig on their talent, but give us a Halloween horror show that’s more on brand, please.
So there’s a few different ways to maximize going to Horror Nights that depend on whether you’re a tourist or a local. If you’re visiting from out of town, or if you’re someone who just wants to do it all in one night, we recommend opting for the Express Ticket for front of the line access—or taking part in Early Entry and knocking out as many houses as you can soon as the attraction opens, then hitting up food, drinks, and rides until Express gets discounted near the end of the night (usually around 11:00 pm). And if you want to roll like a VIP, there’s an “RIP Tour” option that’s also available and might be worth splitting among friends for a behind-the-scenes look at the event and seamless front of the line entry.
Trust us: it’s a foolish endeavor to try and do a lot with a general admission ticket unless you just want to hang out for the vibes of long lines and maybe hit two mazes if you’re lucky. Locals can take advantage of “Frequent Fear” passes, which allow visitors to pop into the event on the nights allotted for a pretty solid deal—the cheapest pass is $200, still less than Express (there’s a more expensive version that gives you access to all nights). This way you can roll through spontaneously or when your friends opt into going, and hit houses over the course of the season. Shorter lines choose houses for you, and you get to enjoy the atmosphere and treats. Though it must be said—there are lines for those things too as they’re hot Instagram commodities. This year there’s a West Coast-exclusive Weeknd-themed bar that we walked by twice and nope’d at the long line to try themed drinks offered there.
We’ll just try another weeknd.
Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights runs through October 31. Buy tickets here.
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