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Universal Studios Hollywood
Halloween Horror Nights 2011 Report

Sept. 27, 2011

Eli Roth's Hostel: Hunting Season is the straight-up nastiest maze this year, no surprise to anyone who has seen Mr. Roth's incredibly disturbing Hostel movies. The set-up is simple: this is the dank, grimy industrial facility where "Elite Hunting" offers up its human victims for torture and murder to its twisted clientele.

As we move through the locker areas, cyclone fenced corridors, and torture rooms, we're both harassed by masked and gowned "hunters," and invited to watch as people are carved, gutted, bled out and eaten alive. Oh, and ground up like hamburger, too. No joke, we're talking near-NC-17 levels of depravity. The combination of live actors and insane prosthetics make some of the vignettes almost unbearable to look at. Do these sound like words of recommendation? They are. Horror doesn't get any more horrible than this.

Upon reflection, I do think there are two mazes in particular that stand out as my favorites, and one of them is La Llorona: Villa De Almas Perdidas ("The Weeping Woman: Village of Lost Soul"). This one has a real story to it, one that is apparently quite familiar to Latin Americans, and it's remarkably sad and chilling. (According to the press materials, actor Diego Luna was a creative force behind this maze. Well done, sir.)

In the queue, the story is presented in three chapters. Chapter 1, pictured above, tells you the most diabolically awful part of that story. If you are a parent, this maze will likely be exceptionally troubling.

We went through this maze twice, once just Doug and I, and the second time with Brady MacDonald, he of the LA Times' awesome "Funland" column. Everyone agreed that the set design here was exemplary, especially the foreboding mission gates we pass through at the start.

The tone throughout this maze is drenched with anguish and misery. There are lots of dramatic scares, but the most haunting scene is a quiet one: the lifeless bodies of the drowned children floating face-down in the water. That is an image I will never, ever forget, worse than any graphic, gory blow-out at this event.

And if you liked the finale of 2008's "Nightmare on Elm Street" maze, you'll love the payoff here.

(On your way out, after it's all over, stay close to the right side of the exit. It really isn't quite over yet...)

Finally, there is The Thing: Assimilation. Now, I'm a die-hard fan of John Carpenter's astounding 1982 remake, and was almost personally offended that any studio would attempt to revisit that movie, in any way. I must admit that the trailers do not look terrible. (The presence of Mary Elizabeth Winstead doesn't hurt.) But I still went into this one with a bit of a chip on my shoulder.

One thing we did learn recently was that the props for this maze were made from the same molds the filmmakers used, so we were going to get quality monsters, without a doubt. And the entrance to the icy "research facility" looked pretty good.

All I can say is this: if the movie is half as scary as what we walked through, it's going to be terrific. Between the many incarnations of the "thing" and the dead and dying researchers that lurch and lunge at us repeatedly, there are scares from start to finish up in this joint. The monster effects are wondrous, by far the best props in any haunt maze I've ever seen. And boy, do those monsters come at us pissed. A lot of money was spent to pull The Thing together and it shows. Yeah, this sci-fi horror treat messed me up. Awesome.

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Bottom line, if you are anywhere near Southern California during the month of October, Universal Studios Hollywood's HHN is simply unmissable. This is one of the best haunts in the world and it is getting better and better. Hats off to everyone for putting on a show that will haunt me for some time to come.



© Robert Coker
All Rights Reserved

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