By Anthony Lim, Contributor
As a Halloween enthusiast, I always look forward to the multitude of Halloween excursions that Los Angeles will have up its sleeve during such a sinister holiday season. One that I favor is Universal Studios Horror Nights. Being a veteran of this attraction, I have paid a visit five years running. With each year that passes, I hold higher expectations of the park’s mazes because they combine current spooktacular films with classic horror icons, such as Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers. They morph these characters into themed mazes that are full of creativity and spine-tingling turns. Unfortunately, previous mazes throughout the years have been underwhelming or decent at best. This year, they exceeded my expectations.
One of the first mazes that I encountered was the Stranger Things maze. I was very excited to see how they would pull off the atmosphere and aesthetics of the famous series. Surprisingly, the production design, sets and lighting were all impressive. There were a lot of memorable moments, such as the recreated scene of the Demogorgon portal leaking out into the laboratory. One thing that I found refreshing was that the layout was set up as a one-by-one replication of each season from the series. Each part of the maze highlighted the darker and more intense scenes of the show, such as the Demogorgon dogs attacking decomposing bodies. Despite the elaborate maze, it had little scare factor to it, merely serving as a fan service.
Meanwhile, the Poltergeist maze was worth the wait time due to my appreciation for Steven Spielberg films. In the classic 1982 film, a family moves into a SoCal home, where they experience paranormal activity through a television set. The family tries communicating with that paranormal presence. The maze terrified my group with unexpected jump scares and stunning visual effects that disorient the senses. Additionally, there are mechanical props that will definitely catch you off guard. The Poltergeist maze, in particular, had various opportunities to use animatronics, scare actors and fog machines. Overall it created one of the scariest mazes of the night.
Universal has and continues to raise the bar on how a maze should be.
This year, Blumhouse Productions made a return with The Horror of Blumhouse: Chapter Two. Featured was a maze that combined two of their most recent films, “Truth or Dare” and “Unfriended: Dark Web.” I expected the maze to not be frightening at all because the trailers for the movies didn't impress me. However, the lighting in both of the mazes added suspense, disorienting people with flickering strobe lights and allowing the performers to surprise you again and again. As a result, The Horror of Blumhouse definitely surpassed last year’s mazes, which were based on “Happy Death Day” and “The Purge.”
For those interested in the classics, this year’s Universal Monsters maze is for you. This maze is based on Universal’s legendary horror films, “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Wolf Man.” This is sure to entice those looking for a throwback experience. I had mixed feelings about this maze. I admired the nostalgic throwback although the characters themselves didn't provide me the scare factor that I anticipated. I originally wanted Universal to set up the maze as a chilling walk down memory lane but I think the studio struggled with this maze because the characters are primarily seen as scary from a child's point of view.
Overall, the mazes were definitely entertaining. Universal has and continues to raise the bar on how a maze should be.The scenery for each of these mazes felt like you were stepping into the film itself. If you’re a newcomer, I suggest visiting the Stranger Things or Universal Monsters maze for a beginner horror experience. If you’re an experienced veteran, or simply looking for a challenge, the Poltergeist or Horror of Blumhouse mazes are the ones for you.