Man About Town: Fear and priority passes in zombie land

Man About Town: Fear and priority passes in zombie land
The Terror Tram can take you to a little stop of horrors. (Universal Studios)

One of the first things you have to realize about zombies is that they drool blood, which must be hell on the dry cleaning. Never date a zombie, not even over a cup of coffee, unless you're one of those women with a bad boy/blood complex, in which case there's probably no helping you.

That's just one of the takeaways from attending Halloween Horror Nights, currently playing at Universal Studios. Widely regarded as the best Halloween attraction in the area, Horror Nights features a half-dozen haunted house mazes. In case life isn't frightening enough already, I completely recommend it. As with all near-death experiences, I also recommend comfy walking shoes.


Manly as I am, there were still a few actual frightening moments. About 40 minutes in, my brain went from analog to digital, pulsing for the first time in patterns of 0s and 1s.

Then, just so we could sit down for a few minutes, my daughter and I hopped on the Simpsons Ride, one of the regular theme park attractions that remains open during Horror Nights. No breather, this thing. I kinda coughed up my kidneys. As Bart Simpson himself once said: "I don't know why I did it, I don't know why I enjoyed it and I don't know why I'll do it again!"

"This is the sort of thing," my lovely and patient older daughter says at the front entrance, "where you want to have a couple of shots first."

Now she tells me? Neither of us has been here before. And just from the crush of people — even Sunday night is sold out — I wouldn't have minded a little attitude enhancement.

No worries, because squeals and laughter are the recurring soundtrack at Horror Nights — not just ours, but the thousands of fellow patrons. It's a genial crowd, if not a particularly attractive one. I should talk, right? But it looks like every tattoo artist and fender shop tech in the world is here.

"There is nobody here I would ever date," my daughter says while studying the crowd.

"Should we leave?" I ask.

"Let's do one more maze," she says.

So that's what we do. There are six movie-quality mazes and the hugely popular Terror Tram, which zips you past the Bates Motel and the "Psycho" mansion to a hillside dotted with zombie camps. From a production standpoint, it's like producing six movies at once, says creative director John Murdy.

His tricks include scent cannons and moves as subtle as black industrial thread that caresses your cheek like a spider web.

But probably the most off-putting moment is when I got peed upon by a zombie, though I consoled myself that it might've been embalming fluid. It's not the first time. In several of the mazes, I get squirted as well.

"They always take out the alpha dog first," I explain. "Zombies are surprisingly smart."

But that doesn't make them good company. My goal tonight is to get one of them to respond to my jokes, such that they are. When one ghoul jumps out, intestines braided around his neck like Christmas pearls, I say, "You really oughta have a doctor look at that."

When a zombie nurse attacks me with an ax, I say: "So this is Obamacare?"


Nothing. Just like at home.

If you go, here's another tip: React to the zombies and they will leave you alone. If you ignore them, that messes with their zombie pride and they harass you till you respond.

On the other hand, if you react too much, the zombies feed on this and they will hound you as you flee. I was grabbed by several strangers, just clinging to someone out of reflex.

Nice to meet you, lady. Will you explain these nail digs to my wife?

Lines are long, waits range from 10 minutes to almost an hour. We zip through with what they call a Front of the Line priority pass, which is $109, compared with the usual $66 (online discounts apply on some days). It was the only way I could get my daughter to accompany me.

Thank gawd. Listen, sell your blood, mortgage your house, whatever it takes, but a Front of the Line pass is worth whatever sacrifice you make.

Because if the ghouls here don't get you, the waits probably will.