The signature maze, Where Evil Hides, features The Storyteller and plays on childhood fears. Bogeymen hiding in the closet and lurking beneath the bed spring to life. In the attic, guests encounter The Storyteller reading bedtime tales to an anguished man tied down to a bed of nails.
The Body Collectors and Blood Ruins mazes focus on the Terra monsters' insatiable lust for blood and body parts. Dismembered victims abound amid medieval torture devices, surgical equipment, and butchering rooms. The grotesque monsters appear hell-bent on nabbing a few more victims
Perhaps the best haunted house is Cold Blind Terror. It employs Halloween maze staples, such as misdirection, sensory stimulation, and magic parlor illusions to freak people out. As the name implies, the house uses inky darkness and blasts of frigid air to disorient and shock guests. After a few minutes in near pitch-black corridors, guests are bombarded with blinding bright lights to great effect. Another room, painted in stark black and white, is bathed in strobe lights. Scare-actors, also clad head-to-toe in black and white, all but disappear in the chaos. Above the gauze ceilings in some of Cold Blind Terror's hallways, actors buckled to bungee cords are utterly convincing as flying apparitions.
Halloween Bender NightsTo calm jangled nerves from the haunted house mayhem, kick-start the event's whacked-out party vibe, and add some coin to Universal's coffers, the park has booths selling liquor every few feet. Roving vendors also sell Jell-O shots and assorted beers. This is one seriously sloshed crowd.
It's also one seriously huge crowd. While nearly all theme parks and amusement parks now offer Halloween events, the two biggies are Knott's Scary Farm at Knott's Berry Farm in California, and Universal's Halloween Horror Nights. They both generate, er, monster numbers. It's nearly impossible to experience all of Halloween Horror Nights in one evening. Depending on the night, the event is open either five or seven hours. Waits at each of the seven haunted houses can climb to an hour or more, and some of the larger houses can take twenty minutes to navigate. Even guests who bypass the lines with Express passes or RIP tours barely have time to hightail it from one house to the next before closing time.
But there's more to Halloween Horror Nights than the mazes. The fright zones, set up in the areas along Islands of Adventure's paths, are filled with costumed zombies and other assorted monsters. Camouflaged by darkness, theatrical fog, and the flora that lines the paths, they appear out of nowhere to elicit jolts of adrenaline from passersby. Most of the park's coasters and regular attractions are also open, including lights-out rides on the launched Incredible Hulk coaster and Dr. Doom's Fearfall tower ride.
"Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure," a perennial Halloween Horror Nights highlight, is a gonzo, Broadway-style rock musical featuring the dudes from the popular (if dated) movie. Lampooning celebrities and the media, the show pulls together characters as varied as Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka, Lil' Kim, the Dukes of Hazard, and Napoleon Dynamite for an odd, but entertaining, cultural pastiche. Unless the actors' costumes count for something, there is nothing related to Halloween in the show. (Although Knott's Scary Farm started the trend with a similar pop media sendup.) The buzzed, twenty-something audience greets the wink-wink, nudge-nudge risque material with the unbridled enthusiasm of a pro wrestling crowd.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary admission, accommodations, and flight for the purpose of reviewing the event. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.