Universal Studios Hollywood (USH) Discussion Thread

P. 260: Harry Potter Christmas & Grinchas begin 11/24/17
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Re: Universal Studios Hollywood (USH) Discussion Thread

Postby robbalvey » Thu Sep 21, 2017 9:25 am

Here's the walk-throughs of three of the mazes at HHN Hollywood:



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Re: Universal Studios Hollywood (USH) Discussion Thread

Postby Arthur_Seaton » Fri Sep 22, 2017 10:03 am

Soliciting strategic advice from Horror Nights veterans:

Going to the Halloween event tomorrow night with 4pm early entry. Was planning on hitting up a few rides before the event officially kicks off at 7pm, but don't some of the mazes open prior to the gates? Any suggestions on whether it's wise to be on the upper or lower lot around 6/6:30pm and what mazes might be worth knocking out early? Expecting it to be a madhouse.

EDIT: Reading around the internets, it looks like all the lower lot mazes open early, so I guess the best plan is to get down there about 5pm for 5:15pm maze opening and try to knock out all five before 7pm.
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Re: Universal Studios Hollywood (USH) Discussion Thread

Postby laqueefa » Fri Sep 22, 2017 3:17 pm

Arthur_Seaton wrote:Soliciting strategic advice from Horror Nights veterans:

Going to the Halloween event tomorrow night with 4pm early entry. Was planning on hitting up a few rides before the event officially kicks off at 7pm, but don't some of the mazes open prior to the gates? Any suggestions on whether it's wise to be on the upper or lower lot around 6/6:30pm and what mazes might be worth knocking out early? Expecting it to be a madhouse.

EDIT: Reading around the internets, it looks like all the lower lot mazes open early, so I guess the best plan is to get down there about 5pm for 5:15pm maze opening and try to knock out all five before 7pm.
Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 9.57.23 AM.png

Will you have front of line passes? Even without them, you will get to do more with early entry.
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Re: Universal Studios Hollywood (USH) Discussion Thread

Postby Arthur_Seaton » Fri Sep 22, 2017 3:53 pm

laqueefa wrote:Will you have front of line passes? Even without them, you will get to do more with early entry.

I think we're going to eschew front of line passes and take our chances. We've gone on hideously packed HH days before and still covered all the mazes through extra diligence (no farting around, survival strategy, shortcuts etc.) So, I think the goal will be to go HAM on the lower level between 5pm and 7pm and then suffer with the plebs for the remainder of the night in the upper lot. Terror Tram sounds like it's probably worth skipping this year (initial reports suggest it's worse than last year, and last year's TT blew serious goat). Like most reasonable people, I'm allergic to musical theatre, so the Jabberwocky thing will get a pass (unless my group insists on it, in which case I'll disown them). It'll be a fun challenge, I think!

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Re: Universal Studios Hollywood (USH) Discussion Thread

Postby Arthur_Seaton » Sun Sep 24, 2017 10:08 am

The park sold out last night, which I guess is the norm. The whole early access thing didn’t work out so well as, by the time the mazes pre-opened at 5:15pm (the event officially kicks off at 7pm), there was already a 45-minute wait for many of them. So, from 5pm to 7pm, we were able to do Insidious, The Shining, and make a dent in the line for Saw — which was smart because the lines for those three rarely dipped beneath the 150-minute mark all night. The rest of the mazes averaged between 60 and 120-minutes all night. A combination of the sold-out crowd and this year's notable scaling back of the scare zones made for some seriously congested areas, but the park handled it fairly well over all. There was a lot of line jumping going on, and the rope guard rails in the switchbacks were no match for the crowds.

Despite this, we were still able to hit every maze except for the Terror Tram (which we were okay with skipping given the reviews and our experience on last year’s tram [it sucked]). The park began selling $50 front-of-line passes at 11pm, but we opted to go without as we’d already dumped a ton of money into the evening. Given how packed the place gets, and how grim the lines are, the front-of-line pass is a must if you can afford it. However, you can still do pretty much everything without it, but you have to be diligent, take zero breaks, and be prepared for a lot of standing around. 

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A sense of the backlot crowds. Spending too long in this area will take its toll on you as its the most congested area of the park.

We were surprised that the scare zones were so dialed back this year, with the upper lot’s usual props, fog, and flamethrowers largely absent. Instead, there were a few roaming monsters, but that was it. Given the traffic congestion through that area, it’s no real surprise that they scaled it back, though. The transit tunnel was just strobes, music and a few actors this year (I seem to recall insane fog there before that actually made it kind of dangerous). The result was less of a scare zone and more of an inconvenience. Speaking of lines, the only scare zone that really resembled a scare zone was in the backlot and had a fairly steady wait to go through it all night. It was much more elaborate than previous years, although the lack of fog rendered it far less frightening. Perhaps it’s just because it’s still early in the season, or perhaps Universal hasn’t fully staffed the event yet, but the scare zones were a notably minor feature of this year’s event.

In past years, there was some variation to the mazes. Some were kind of cutesy / creative / funny, but this year, there was an unmistakable sameness about them all. They were all strong, but aside from a few moments here and there, they didn’t vary much in terms of design and approach. The Saw maze was more about grisly set pieces, and the Blumhouse maze had a kind of scare zone set up in front of it. Aside from that, they all borrowed heavily from last year’s excellent Exorcist maze by using lots of blackout sections with severe jump scares. Some thoughts on each, from best to worst:

Titans of Terror: This was the most coherent, thoughtful, and well-designed maze — a combo of several past mazes put together as an effective tribute. It was paced well, the sets were excellent, and the scares were consistent throughout. Because of the Waterworld location, the line never really went over 90 minutes for this one, yet it was the standout of the night for us.

Insidious: We actually did this twice, catching it the second time around 1:30am. Unfortunately, much of the staff had left by then, so large sections were unmanned and several of the effective scares we saw the first time through went un-triggered (the door / wall panel scene, for example). The set design is strong, as are the animatronics. The scares are consistent and well-timed, and the ending was probably the most intense of the night (spoiler: it’s a simple trick of about five or six jump scares in an immediate sequence).

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Outside the Insidious house. First trip through this maze, the sun was still up, rendering much of the interior as too bright.

American Horror Story: We thought this was pretty bad last year, but the whole maze has been overhauled. The sets were excellent, and the scares were consistently strong this time around — even up to the closing minutes of the event. Although none of us watch the show and had any idea what was going on in terms of narrative, it was a freaky maze with lots of well-done pig masks and cabin-in-the-woods type scenes.

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The entrance to American Horror Story. This years's version seemed to be themed to pigs attacking people. The cultural metaphor was strong with this one.

The Shining: Clearly a labor of love, but a difficult film to adapt into a maze. They made it work by featuring iconic scenes, but it did seem a bit fragmented and confused overall. Lots of good dark spaces with jump scares, but there aren’t exactly many characters in The Shining so the production team didn’t have much to work with. We also found the over-reliance on projections to be a be a little questionable (but, then again, how would you construct a bleeding elevator scene otherwise?) You can tell that they were trying to do what they did with last year’s Exorcist maze by telling a story through scenes, but we did give the Exorcist the edge in that regard.

Ash vs. Evil Dead: Fairly creative with some good iconic monsters from the original Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 films, but otherwise, same old, same all. There were some good house-inside-the-house sets in here, presumably lifted from past mazes, and the overall set detail was excellent. At this point, though, we really started to notice that there’s little distinction between the mazes beyond superficial cosmetics.

Blumhouse: A long maze with a ton of potential, but also the maze that felt the least complete. There’s a scare zone-type sequence out front which appeared to be some version of the tiresome Purge franchise, and the maze itself tries to cover two different films (an upcoming film that appears to be about a masked slasher [not much originality in Hollywood these days!] and a film called Sinister). The last 1/3 was the best, but it was a fairly inarticulate maze overall with lots of empty space, winding corridors, and weird transitions. Both the concept and the maze design would benefit from more focus.

The Walking Dead: As the permanent fixture maze of the night, TWD wins in terms of set design and overall detail. Less of a maze and more of a series of open sets, it feels a little out of place at the event in that it sacrifices the claustrophobia of the other mazes. Of course, it makes perfect sense why they’d use it, but the TWD does feel a bit like an afterthought.

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The fixed sets of TWD were great . . .

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Giving you a sense of what Universal can do in terms of permanent theming.

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The animatronics were also very good.

Saw: This held the longest line of the night but it really was more about set pieces than scares. It was basically a series of grisly scenes of people being tortured by rusty contraptions. The props themselves were good, but the maze was quite short and the scares were minimal.

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The entrance to the Saw maze appeared to be a warehouse of some kind.

Overall, we did well given the crowds and our budgets, and Universal’s access to sets and props upholds their monopoly on SoCal Halloween events. The lack of scare zones and the sameness of the mazes, however, does suggest that, like many of the movies the company produces, there’s not a lot of thought going on beneath the surface. While the event is always a blast, and the jump scares within the mazes do their job well, we couldn’t help but feel that Universal would benefit from developing and diversifying their tactics to present more ways to scare people than the now-gimmicky loud noise and strobe combo.
Last edited by Arthur_Seaton on Sun Sep 24, 2017 7:06 pm.

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Re: Universal Studios Hollywood (USH) Discussion Thread

Postby edgeboy » Sun Sep 24, 2017 4:30 pm

I was there last night too... it did get pretty mobbed. It didn't help for early entry that they were down to just two working escalators (some sections had three, but two were going up), so that everyone going down had to cram onto one escalator or the stairs, both of which got slammed. That wasn't fun.

Plus, they ran out of cards for Insidious about 15-20 minutes of the maze opening, so unless you get there around 4:45, you may not get one.

I did hear later that they began selling discounted FoL passes for $50 after 11pm. Not sure if they'll always do that, but something to perhaps ask about. If you're able to stay late, it could be very worth it.

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Re: Universal Studios Hollywood (USH) Discussion Thread

Postby Arthur_Seaton » Sun Sep 24, 2017 4:49 pm

edgeboy wrote:It didn't help for early entry that they were down to just two working escalators (some sections had three, but two were going up), so that everyone going down had to cram onto one escalator or the stairs, both of which got slammed. That wasn't fun.

Yeah, the elevators were an issue all night — severe bottlenecking going on. We just used the stairs when we could.

edgeboy wrote:Plus, they ran out of cards for Insidious about 15-20 minutes of the maze opening, so unless you get there around 4:45, you may not get one.

What cards were these? We got the sense there was some Disney-style fast-pass system going on where you sign up for return times, but we asked an employee who appeared to be filling them out what they were and she said they were for select guests only and then appeared to hand a ton of them to what we assumed were her friends (they were chatting and taking selfies together while we were eating outside the Evil Dead maze). We've received random FoL tickets before (not last night though), so we figured that's what they must have been and were just reserved for difficult guests (or friends!) or something.

edgeboy wrote:I did hear later that they began selling discounted FoL passes for $50 after 11pm. Not sure if they'll always do that, but something to perhaps ask about. If you're able to stay late, it could be very worth it.

They did indeed do this. Up until 11pm, they were "sold out" and "no upgrades would be available at all." At 11pm, they were no longer sold out and upgrades were suddenly available for $50. I think last night was perhaps an anomaly and the park is still ironing out the details and getting the staff up to speed. Considering how insanely packed the place was, I can totally see how info might get misrepresented and whatnot.

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Re: Universal Studios Hollywood (USH) Discussion Thread

Postby edgeboy » Sun Sep 24, 2017 6:26 pm

^Every night at around 5pm, Murdy tweets a code word that can be said to the Specs & Tucker characters before going into the house, and they'll give you their business card. If they have any left, that is. Like I said, last night, they ran out in about 20 minutes.

For the last few years, he been doing some sort of password giveaway. Last year is was Krampus postcards, and I believe the year before was an "invitation" to James Franco's party for This is the End.

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Re: Universal Studios Hollywood (USH) Discussion Thread

Postby Arthur_Seaton » Sun Sep 24, 2017 6:44 pm

edgeboy wrote:^Every night at around 5pm, Murdy tweets a code word that can be said to the Specs & Tucker characters before going into the house, and they'll give you their business card. If they have any left, that is. Like I said, last night, they ran out in about 20 minutes.

For the last few years, he been doing some sort of password giveaway. Last year is was Krampus postcards, and I believe the year before was an "invitation" to James Franco's party for This is the End.


Ah, thanks! I’m not familiar with Murdy, Specs, or Tucker and don’t use Twitter so I definitely missed that one! Do you win something or is the business card / postcard / invitation the prize?

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Re: Universal Studios Hollywood (USH) Discussion Thread

Postby DBJ » Sun Sep 24, 2017 6:55 pm

I was there Friday night. I do agree with the review posted above. We only missed AHS maze, because it was not open until 7pm, and we decided not to walk back from the upper lot down to back down to the backlot again. I think it was a budget cut kind of year. There was little theme applied to the Scare Zones. I suppose they are limited by the insane amount of people that have to walk through the main funnel.

We lucked out while in the park during the day briefly. Got there around 2:30 pm with our SoCal neighbor pass, took in the lack of decoration, enjoyed Potter knowing it would be closed. Made a brief stop at Walking Dead - which oddly enough, could use the strobe burst effect found in the HHN mazes. Needs a bit more impact. Our huge silver lining was that we had HHN tickets, but not the day/night combo one because we had the neighbor pass. At first, the attendant outside the gates said we would have to exit and come back in, recommending we leave the park at 4:30 to get back in line. As that time approached we headed towards the front gates and asked a staff person who was handing out wristbands if we head to exit. Luckily the answer was no! Got the wristbands and went back down to lower lot.

I think that is the only reason we saw as much as we did on a sold out night. We focused on Shining first, then the long walk to "toxic tunnel" - a new low, and then onto Saw and Ash Vs. Evil Dead. All well done, and the scare actors did great. Then the long walk back, ASH still not open, so lined up for Insidious and amazingly, the time was wrong on the sign. Instead of 85 minutes, it was far less, like 45. Then the hordes descended to lower lot and we picked off JP (10 min), up to upper lot to do the Blumhouse maze, only 35 min wait. The off to tram tour, this time, wait time was off by 30 minutes. Then wrapped the night up with Titans maze (also good) and for a place to sit down, the Jabba dance show.

We might have stayed later, but the line for AHS at that point was 120. I was fine skipping that. All in all, I would give it a solid B. The lack of decoration, especially with the "scare zones", and lack of Halloween specific entertainment bring it down a notch.

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