by Andrew Rybarczyk
I've always wanted to experience the differences between the Hollywood and Orlando versions of Halloween Horror Nights. After having the opportunity to go to Orlando for my first HHN last year, I didn't ever expect to go to Hollywood so soon. However two things changed that very quickly. First, COASTER-net was afforded the opportunity to attend HHN Hollywood at this year's very prestigious media event. As one would expect, the Hollywood event is filled with celebrities, red carpets and the all of the haunts people have come to expect to be some of the best in the business. Attending any HHN media event has always been a dream of mine and getting the opportunity to go was one that I just couldn't pass up. However, what sealed the deal was finding out that AvP would be returning for a unprecedented second year. Now if you recall, AvP was the impetus for my attending Orlando last year. The thought of getting to experience the sister haunt especially being able to see the exclusive Alien Queen had me so excited that I booked my flight within the hour of the announcement.
This past weekend was my inaugural trip to Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood. Overall the Hollywood version is definitely one of the best theme park Halloween events anywhere. There are three distinct types of haunts at Hollywood: scare zones, traditional haunted houses and the Terror Tram which is really so unique that I believe it should be put separately. Here are my thoughts on each:
Going into this event, many of these houses had me more intrigued, more so than even the first leaked list from Orlando. AvP, Crimson Peak and This Is the End were at the top of my list. I was also excited to see what the Hollywood crew would do with Halloween. The lineup rounded out with The Walking Dead and Insidious. I'm very happy to say that the three I was most excited about actually came in as my top 3 mazes for the event.
The best house at this event was by far Crimson Peak. The amount of detail poured into this house would put most other haunts to shame. Although I was unfamiliar with the story of this house, I was so impressed that it makes me want to check out this movie when released. This house excelled in the way that it used a variety of ways to scare you. Classic scare techniques put a smile on my face while at the same time mechanical props added to the human scareactors. By far this was the most well balanced house and the attention to detail is what jumped this to my #1 spot.
Second on my list was This Is the End. I know a lot of people rolled their eyes when this was announced, but being one of my favorite movies of the last few years this was one I was very excited to check out. It's done in the classic 3D neon. To be honest the 3D was almost not needed, but just a little something extra. I went through both with and without the glasses and had a good time both trips. The story does recreate classic scenes from the film and by far the Jonah Hill scenes were the best. I also appreciated clips of the real actors during trasitions to try to bring you more into that world. One criticism is that other transition pieces with the demons does get a bit repetitive but the demons look so good, I didn't mind too much. The ending of this house may be one of the best effects and sequences ever done in a haunt. It combines scares and hilarity and will have you walking out very pleased.
Even though AvP could not ever match the perfection of last year's house in Orlando, this iteration gave Orlando a pretty good run for its money. The sets were well done especially the Predator Chamber scene which was just outstanding. This version took a bit different take on the story that followed AvP: Requiem more closely. It featured many Earth based scenes, whereas Orlando's environments were more space based and futuristic. Throughout the maze, there were various interactions with both classic icons, however I wished there were more iconic Predator scenes. The Alien scenes though ruled this house and were so well done that it jumped this house to my top three.
Halloween was tough for me to judge. I was surprised at how similar it was to Orlando's version last year. I can't blame them because of how well received that house was. Most of the scenes were tweaked a bit for space and some were even a bit stronger. The phone cord choking was much more effective with live actors. It was fun to relive this haunt for a second year and people who haven't ever experienced it will undoubtedly love it.
I was really not expecting much from the Hollywood scarezones because I felt that Orlando's are kind of just added in and are either small or designed for photo ops. Wow, I couldn't have been more wrong on this. All three scarezones are the best I've ever been through. I was shocked by the amount of props and scenery used throughout all three. Corps and Exterminatorz both had really energetic scareactors that really worked together to get people. Exterminatorz used some props that absolutely shocked me but thought it was brilliant. Another note was that the amount of fog used was perfect. It obscured forward vision perfectly and really allowed for maximum scareactor effect.
The standout among the three was Dark Christmas. Here the holiday theme was evident from start to finish. The props were just so detailed and the costumes so perfect. The holiday music just topped off a perfect scarezone. This is how it's done folks, I wish other parks would go to learn.
By far the highlight of the event was another that took me a little by surprise. Now I love The Purge. The concept captivated me from the announcement of the first movie. Last year's Purge scarezone was one of the highlights of the event for me. Having not ever been on a Terror Tram, I was never quite clear what it was all about. Let me say the concept of a tram taking you to a location, dropping you off through a scarezone and then picking you back up is an absolutely awesome concept. The story presented on the tram portion was just perfect and really set up the whole experience. The scarezone on the tram and into the backlot were just awesome and combined elements from both films. It just felt like the awesomeness went on forever. This experienced might actually rival AvP for my favorite haunt experience. I should also note that a special touch was the female auctioneer coming back as a greeter for when you are entering the Tram. She added a good deal of tongue in cheek humor that really put you into the world of The Purge.
Overall, my first Hollywood HHN experience was amazing. There's no way Hollywood can compete with the budget and space Orlando has. However, John Murdy and crew really do a great job with working with what they do have. Creativity and ingenuity rule the day here. Going through Orlando last year I sometimes got a very corporate feel that sometimes became a bit formulaic and overly rehearsed. Granted, those elements also are the reason for why it's by far the number 1 Halloween event anywhere. Hollywood though, still has that a bit, but I feel they also have a bit more freedom and push the envelope just a little further. The pieces that were great like The Terror Tram and scarezones were better than anything else out there. I can't wait to be able to go back next year to this event and I'm looking forward to seeing what they can conjure up to keep raising the bar.