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article imageReview: Halloween horror comes in a couple of flavours in California Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Oct 30, 2017 in Entertainment
California offers a couple of top-notch Halloween destinations, whether you want to be chased by famous screen icons or prefer your tormentors be less familiar.
When most people are bitten by the travel bug, their journeys take them to exotic countries and foreign landscapes. But a few years ago I got a slightly more specific sightseeing itch to visit various amusement parks across North America and more specifically ride some of the biggest rollercoasters they had to offer. I’ve shared some of these experiences here on Digital Journal, but this year I decided to modify my adventure-seeking expedition in search of a different adrenaline rush. So I travelled to California to check out a couple of the most popular Halloween destinations for those brave enough to enter: Knott’s Scary Farm and Universal Studio Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights.
Located about an hour apart in Southern California, each park is open for its usual daytime fair seven days a week. But Thursday to Sunday evenings near the end of September and for the entire month of October, they transform into nightmarish scenes of fog, blood, screams and murderous-looking creatures. The separately ticketed event requires all the daytime patrons to exit while they make everything spooky for the bold souls coming to face their fears in the various mazes filled with dark corners concealing scary monsters.
Shadow Lands monster at Knott s Scary Farm
Shadow Lands monster at Knott's Scary Farm
Knott's Berry Farm
While the general premise of the nighttime entertainment is the same, each has their own flavour of scares to deliver. Knott’s turns into a dark and eerie host of nine horror mazes meant to chill visitors to the bone. The themes are somewhat generic, but represent frightening lore with which genre fans will be familiar. “Paranormal Inc.” begins with a brief show (that predictably backfires) before sending the audience “running for their lives.” In “Shadow Lands,” ghostly samurai haunt each room as their restless spirts replay their battles and deaths. A couple of the more innovative walk-throughs included “Trick or Treat: Lights Out,” which begins by handing people flashlights so they can explore the pitch black house — but everyone knows those things always fail when you need them — and “Special Ops: Infected,” which is a version of laser tag with zombies.
Regardless of whether you have nerves of steel or are a complete scaredy-cat, the one thing everyone should take a second to appreciate is the incredible make-up work and costume detail on most of the actors as it’s this that can make you forget it’s only an amusement park. The “scare zones” are populated with equally well-disguised monsters who wander the area frightening unwitting guests — most of them are practiced and have mastered the skill of unnerving people.
Titans of Terror at Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights
Titans of Terror at Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights
Universal Studios Hollywood
Conversely, the immediate advantage of Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights over its counterparts is the licenses it possesses for various characters. During the day, the park is a family-friendly haven of beloved personalities such as the Minions, Harry Potter and The Simpsons; the scariest encounter one may have is with photo-happy old school characters, Frankenstein’s Monster and The Mummy. However, the setting sun triggers a disturbing transformation. Stilted creatures eight or even 10 feet tall wander the area beyond the main entrance, while shorter goblins dart between people wielding small chainsaws. While a few of the mazes are squeezed in between other amusements, the park uses its abundance of space on the studio back lot to house most of its nighttime attractions… you just have to make your way through a tunnel of dead utility workers irked by the multitude of living trespassers.
Scar Zone at Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights
Scar Zone at Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights
Universal Studios Hollywood
Already being familiar with and potentially having been scared by these screen monsters creates even more suspense as one prepares to face their nightmares come to life. In correlation with some of their more popular properties, the convincing masks and costumes result in less jump scares and more frights coming from what’s right in front of you. There is a house dedicated to Jigsaw’s disturbing atrocities, complete with bloodied blades and agonizing victims of his game; an Ash vs. Evil Dead cabin inhabited by clawing Deadites; the latest season of American Horror Story is represented by the pig man and his murderous backwoods cohorts; and the “Titans of Terror” maze boasts just that as each section is dedicated to icons Freddy Krueger, Leatherface and Jason Voorhees (though the latter doesn’t really get his due until the next maze).
An even more unique twist is presented in the “Terror Tram,” which is hosted by everybody’s favourite possessed Good Guy Doll, Chucky. The same train that provides sunny, daytime tours of the studio lot is taken over by the darkly sarcastic serial killer. He then drops riders off at the start of a winding outdoor maze occupied by larger versions of himself as well as his fellow terror icons mentioned earlier. Another attraction doing double duty is The Walking Dead network of zombies who attack regardless of the time of day.
Elvira s last show at Knott s Scary Farm
Elvira's last show at Knott's Scary Farm
Both parks also offer a live show several times a night, which gives attendees a chance to take a load off after walking around and waiting in lines. Universal booked the local, masked hip-hop dance crew Jabbawockeez, who deliver a high-energy performance with plenty of audience interaction. However, this year’s presentation at Knott’s is a special one as it marks the final year of Elvira’s annual show. The Mistress of the Dark hasn’t lost an ounce of wit and is backed up by a troupe of attractive dancers (and served by a group of scantily-clad, muscular men). While not exactly staged as a farewell tour, she does take a moment to look back at her life in black and revives a tassel trick that hasn’t been seen in years.
Jabbawockeez at Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights
Jabbawockeez at Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights
Regardless of whether your taste leads you to generic thrills or recognizable screen monsters, there’s one more thing to consider: the fast lane pass. While the additional expense is considerable, the advantages can be worth it — particularly on a busy night. Knott’s Scary Farm offers unlimited priority entrance to all available rides and attractions, while Universal’s is one line-bypass per attraction. Although seven or eight hours sounds like more than enough time, lines that stretch anywhere from one to three hours may change your mind.
No matter what you choose, you’ll enjoy a spookier Halloween.
More about Halloween, Amusement park, Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studio Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights, Knott's Berry Farm
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