Written by Chris Spicer, Fanboy Comics Contributor
Thursday, 11 October 2012 04:22
A friend on Twitter tweeted out on Monday that the last three months of the calendar year are also the best three months of the calendar year. I’m inclined to agree with him. I’m a big fan of fall. I love the weather, although as a Southern California resident, we don’t exactly have a change of seasons. I like fall fashions. I’m an avid fan of both college football and the NFL. And, my favorite holidays come during the last quarter of the year.
I love Halloween. I have since I was a kid. I also love theme parks. I have since I was a kid. Universal Studios does me a solid by combining both of these loves into one irresistible event.
Each fall, Universal Studios, the studio that gave us our first horror movies, presents its annual Halloween Horror Nights, both here in LA and also in Orlando, Florida. I am a huge fan of the event. I even worked it as a performer a few years ago. One of the reasons why I haven’t worked it since is I like to attend it so much.
There are a couple of things that have traditionally made HHN such a cool event. The first is its showmanship. The haunted mazes are created literally by show business professionals. Professional art directors and make-up wizards provide amazing detail to the sets and the characters. You are literally walking through sets that could be used to film a movie or TV show. The second is the relentlessness of the scaring. You can’t go HHN and decide you’ll sit out the mazes and avoid being scared. The park is divided into different “scare zones” that are themed and loaded with ghoulish creatures. Once you set foot into that park, you are fair game. The year I worked for them, the HHN creative team continuously used the word “aggressive” to describe how they wanted us to frighten the paying customers. A normal customer service job would not want you to be psychologically tormenting the guests. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun to work there.
So, I am disappointed to report that I didn’t have such a great time this year.
It wasn’t bad. The creative team has still done an impressive job transforming the park. It just wasn’t as much fun as it had been in the past. I think there were a couple of huge reasons for this.
The first problem was crowd control. Halloween Horror Nights is a very popular event with some nights selling out. That means there will be several thousand people stuffed into the park. The usual problems with overcrowding will be present, but, for an event like this, the massive size of the crowd causes more problems. There is security in numbers. So, it’s hard for the scare zones to be scary when you’re surrounded by thousands of other people. My friend, Joe, lived in New York for five years and said you could be out in Manhattan at 3:00 in the morning and never feel uneasy, because there were so many other people out, as well. Even the performers seemed to have trouble navigating the sea of people.
The overcrowding was problematic for the mazes, as well. The security in numbers thing is at work in the mazes, too, but even more problems come into play. As we went through the mazes tonight, we were essentially one long line of people. That makes it possible for you to see in the distance the person who’s supposed to jump out and scare you. By the time you get there, you know what’s coming. And, at one point tonight the line of people going through one of the mazes became so stagnant that we literally came to a stop for about a minute. Just standing around in one of the mazes really takes the scary away from it.
The overcrowding also creates long, long, long, long lines. A couple hours after opening, many of the lines for the mazes were running between one and two hours. The park is only open for 7 hours. If you are waiting 90 minutes for each attraction, then you’re only going to get to experience four or five things.
The second problem is unaccompanied minors, specifically teenagers. Packs of tweens and teens were roaming without chaperones through the park like their beloved Cullen clan. I can’t blame kids for not yet being adults, but letting them have the run of the place without any grownup supervision is a bad idea, especially when the event itself isn’t recommended for kids under 13 to begin with.
I have no idea how Universal could deal with the crowd issue, except to sell fewer tickets which simply ain’t gonna happen. The teens could easily be corralled by making anybody under 18 be required to have an adult with them. The overcrowding is a puzzler. Last spring, Disneyland was open for 24 straight hours on Leap Day. That sounded like fun. Instead, it was a nightmare. At several points in the evening, they had to stop selling tickets, because the park was overrun. Traffic off the 5 was backed up for miles. It was awful, and I love Disneyland. It’s great that these events are so popular. They just need to have better logistics.
Universal offers a front of the line pass for an additional fee. (I think it’s a $30 extra fee.) This allows you to skip the line once for each attraction. That may be money well spent, and if you have the extra funds, it’s probably worth considering.
I’d recommend getting there early. The event opens at 7:00 p.m. If you get there early, you can avoid the crowd to some degree.
Also, the new Transformers ride is pretty damn spiffy. And, I say that as somebody who doesn’t care for the films. It’s not as good as the new Star Tours at Disney, but it’s still a lot of fun.