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THEME PARK REVIEW

Welcome: Norman Bates awaits

Access to the back lot -- yes, off the tram! -- is merely one fright night highlight.

October 19, 2006|Thomas Mills | Special to The Times

HALLOWEEN entertainment should have ample scares, a dose of sick humor and a bit of naughtiness. Universal's reentry into the Southland scare season offers all those, with some elements more memorable than others.

Back on the haunt scene after six years, Universal Studios Hollywood finally got the hint, realizing it has a back lot screaming out with possibilities. For the first time, guests will disembark the trams and get to walk, and sometimes run, for their lives, through sets on "Terror Tram: The Director's Cut," the focal point of the evening.

Universal created a back story involving a crazed Slovakian director who has been fired from a horror-film production for his bloodlust. The lunatic reportedly hides in the hills above the back lot, and he may pounce at any time. Unfortunately, he doesn't, and that would have been fun given all of the tease of his ominous presence; guests see his image only on the tram monitors.

Once off the trams, the masses parade past killer clowns, ravenous zombies, bloodied cheerleaders and, of course, Norman Bates. Those encounters would be frightening enough if they were upstairs in the main park. But in front of the "Psycho" house, Bates Motel and "War of the Worlds" plane-crash site, they're environmentally ramped up to higher levels. The last is easily the most exciting set design in all of the theme parks this Halloween season.

What disappoints, however, is the limited use of that back lot. So much more could have been part of this experiment.

The real frights are found upstairs in one of the park's five scare zones: "Old London." Omnipresent fog, well-versed and well-accented actors, plus inventive guest interplay, make it the must-see of the night's outdoor entertainment. It also features the creepiest roaming characters in the park.

Twisted humor abounds in a maze called "The Asylum," and yes, the lunatics have definitely taken it over.

As for the naughtiness: Check out the scantily clad zombie go-go dancers, and "Fear Factor Live: Dead Celebrity Edition," a show that is clearly adults-only.

One other unplanned fright: huge lines. Hours past the 7 p.m. opening last weekend, guests were still making their way through metal detectors into the overcrowded park. To keep your sanity, arrive early and expect long lines. Recognizing this problem, Universal has just announced that it will stay open until 2 a.m. each remaining night of the event.

For more theme park reviews and other scares, go to calendarlive.com/Halloween.

*

Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights

Where: 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City

When: 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 27, 28 and 31

Price: $49 at the door, or $34 to $39 online

Info: halloweenhorrornights.com

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