This year, I had the privilege of visiting Halloween Horror Nights on the West Coast as part of the R.I.P Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood. I’m going to break down some of the HHN Experience on the West Coast as well as give some comparisons between the Orlando and Hollywood events. I will also throw in a quick review of the R.I.P Tour itself.
So how does Hollywood’s event compare to Orlando? Read on to find out!
Scare Zones in Hollywood
Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood “technically” only has three Scare Zones compared to Orlando’s five. However, I would count Terror Tram as another Scare Zone for Hollywood (more about that later). Although Hollywood does a great job in presentation for their zones, I feel Orlando has more more to offer in this arena.
Hollywood’s three Scare Zones are Urban Inferno, Hell-O-Ween, and Toxic Tunnel. The best of the three is definately Urban Inferno, which takes you on a journey through Hell. Full of energy from the scareactors, this was actually quite a long Scare Zone on the Production Lot. Lots of good, close scares with many props used.
Toxic Tunnel connects two areas of Mazes on the Lower Lot. The story is utility workers were doing repairs inside the tunnel and accidently burst a pipe with toxic gas. Everyone that was infected by the gas has turned into zombies. It’s quite quick and plain looking, but the scareactors make up for it. They are very engaging with the guests as they pass through.
Last, there is Hell-O-Ween, with a similar theme to Trick ‘R Treat in Orlando. All kinds of monsters roam New York street in celebration of Halloween. This zone was a bit too spread out, but had some really fun set pieces and costumes.
The Scare Zones in Hollywood are more of a walk-through more than anything else. I didn’t see guests hanging out in them like they do in Orlando. I would consider these more outside mazes than anything else.
I gave both coasts a TIE on this one. I felt the quality of some of the zones were better on the West Coast this year, but Orlando simply has more of them. Both coasts have immersive zones and are done well. I just wish Hollywood had more.
Houses/Mazes in Common (Comparison)
First off, why are they called Houses in Orlando and Mazes in Hollywood? Here is a look at how the houses, mazes (or whatever you want to call them) compare.
Orlando’s version of this house is MUCH better than Hollywood. I found Hollywood’s to be rather dull and not as immersive as Orlando’s. One example - Orlando has the “Blood Elevator” as a true set piece. In Hollywood, it’s just a video screen. The set design for this house also looked cheaper in Hollywood.
Hollywood takes this one. Their version of Saw may have been my favorite house of the night. It’s not because it’s drastically different than Orlando, but it’s just how the scareactors performed in each torture scene.
The Horrors of Blumhouse
Again, Hollywood takes the win on this. Both coasts have different versions as well. Hollywood’s excludes Insidious from theirs, since they have a stand alone house for it. Instead, they added Happy Death Day (an upcoming Blumhouse release). Well executed scares in this house compared to Orlando. It was one of my top houses.
American Horror Story
(Note: Just Roanoke in Hollywood. Orlando focused on a few seasons of the show)
This was a tough one. I love Orlando’s version since it covers several different seasons. However, Hollywood does a GREAT job with just the Roanoke season in their house. A lot more involved in Hollywood, they were able to cover more of the Roanoke season (additional scenes). I gave this one a tie simply because Orlando’s covers more seasons.
Ash vs. The Evil Dead
Hollywood wins this one for sure. On either coast, this wasn’t my favorite house, but Hollywood’s packs more scares than Orlando and I enjoyed the sets more overall. Hollywood’s also felt longer and more in depth with the story.
Additional Hollywood House/Attraction Offerings
Titans of Terror - This house was FANTASTIC. Although I have seen houses with the Titans of Terror (Leatherface, Freddy, and Jason), the whole concept of this house was very creative. You walk into the first scene (a kid’s room) - someone who is a big fan of Halloween and the Titans of Terror. This is almost reflecting Murdy (HHN’s Creative Director) as a young child. The concept is that’s he’s making his own “home haunt” but things get out control. You walk through his closet and then into his “nightmare.” Although this is still an IP house, this is the closest to an original for them. The best house using the Titans of Terror that I have seen.
Titans of Terror Tram
In complete contrast to the House, I found the Titans of Terror Tram to be cheesy and just one big drawn out Scare Zone. Although the tram is part of the experience, it only transports you from the load area to the “Scare Zone” and then back again. During the tram ride, you are greeted by Chucky, who is quite useless and also plugs his new “direct to BlueRay” movie at the end. The Scare Zone is in the part of the tram tour that goes by the Pyscho house, Jaws, and War of the Worlds sets. It just features sort of mini zones for Chucky, Jason, Freddy (in the longest one through War of the Worlds) and finally Leatherface. Each zone was not remotely scary to me and fell flat overall. It also gets insanely crowded and backed up, so it’s hard to get through quickly.
I’ve done Orlando’s version of the house in the past, and Hollywood’s was not quite different. Although this was familiar territory, Insidious always works well as a stand alone house. This version packed a ton of scares, especially at the end, where they get you at about four different angles. This version, like Orlando’s, also took a peek at the next Insidious movie and one of the characters.
Really enjoyed this show, but I would choose Orlando’s Academy of Villains if I had to chose the better show. Don’t get me wrong, the Jabbawockeez have a HUGE following, and it shows with the energy during their performance. However, it’s just a dance show overall. I think Academy of Villains has a lot more to offer as far as creativity and execution.
Houses in Orlando vs. Hollywood - each coast has a very distinct creative tone to their houses. Aiello vs. Murdy - they are completely different in their layouts and execution. Aiello definitely focuses more on THEMING- larger, grander, immersive sets. Murdy focuses more on STORY. In every house in Hollywood, the telling of the story is very apparent as you walk through each room. The speaker audio continues the story throughout. It feels like you walked into the movie.
Murdy also has a very distinct style with these square, black “boo rooms” as I like to call it. As you walk through a house, you enter into these dark rooms that connect different scenes of the house. In these dark rooms, there is ALWAYS a boo-hole effect - a scareactor (or sometimes multiple ones) jump out of a hole. I’m not saying it’s bad - a lot of them work very well. It’s just a very distinct style for Hollywood’s houses. It does, however, kill the theming sometimes.
What Hollywood Does Better/Lacks vs. Orlando
Scare Actor Engagement/Energy - I found a much higher level of energy and interaction in Hollywood. With a city full of actors, this makes sense. I went into the houses at all hours of the night and the energy was consistent throughout. In contrast, some of Orlando’s scareactors’ flames go out towards the end of the night.
This is the main drawback in Hollywood - the lack of any original houses. I found myself getting bored of the IPs, especially with not one, but TWO houses focused on the Titans of Terror.
Doesn’t Fit the Park as Well as Orlando
The layout of Universal Studios Hollywood just doesn’t work as well as Orlando. With the Upper and Lower Lot, it takes awhile to travel between Houses/Scare Zones and it gets PACKED. With the smaller layout, the event seems extremely cramped. I love that they used the Production Lot to put some of the event in though. These are the areas that the tram tour normally goes through, but you’re never usually able to travel on by foot.
The R.I.P Experience
Overall, good experience. Check-in was easy and fast when I arrived (they have a separate entrance for R.I.P Tour guests). After check-in, you get an assigned time for this INCREDIBLE buffet. The buffet had a little bit of everything, including two alcoholic drinks.
After you dine, you are escorted around the event by your Tour Guide. You get to do each House/Scare Zone as a group. You may also just go off on your own if you so choose. The R.I.P badge gets your UNLIMITED Front of the Line access to all houses all evening and VIP seating at the Jabbawockeez show.
The Tour Guide I had was friendly, but didn’t provide too much background or interesting facts about the houses. Even though he carried a light-up rod, it was very hard to follow the guide due to the amount of guests in the park that evening. I also found it odd that he left the tour before we had done the Jabbawockeez show (still got VIP seating though). It was a very abrupt end of the tour.
Would I do it again in Hollywood? Absolutely. It’s the only way to get unlimited Front of the Line access and you get this wonderful buffet. The normal Front of the Line upgrade ticket (what we call Express in Orlando) only gives you front of the line access to each house once.
The Bottom Line
There is just no way to pick a WINNER for Halloween Horror Nights between the two coasts. Each has their strengths and weaknesses, which I hope I laid out well in my Hollywood comparison. I feel they are both very good events with a lot to offer. Orlando and Hollywood have quite different experiences, and I would recommend to check them both out.
Have you been to Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood and Orlando? Feel free to comment and tell me your thoughts. I’d love to compare notes!
For some video of the event, check out below, part of my Brian’s Halloween Adventure series: