Waiting-Line Existentialism

By Maya ChenOctober 23, 2023

Waiting-Line Existentialism
HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS, Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal City, September 7–October 31, 2023.

There is a special plane of reality that can only be accessed in line for the Universal Studios Simpsons Ride at 1:30 a.m. The same made-for-the-ride Simpsons clips are playing on repeat. The fluorescent lights are aggressively illuminating the intentionally too-bright interior of “Krustyland.” Your feet hurt so bad and your right contact might fall out. And you’re waiting in line—you’re the only ones in line—but for some reason, the Krustyland employees just won’t let you inside. You start to wonder, Why am I here? Not just waiting in line for the seventh time tonight, but why am I here, on this planet? Also, why don’t they just play one of the 750 Simpsons episodes in line instead? This is the reality of attending Halloween Horror Nights.

This particular Horror Nights experience was actually in 2022, but, despite the emotional/physical havoc it wreaks on me every time, I returned for the very first day of Halloween Horror Nights 2023. It was September 7, it was a Thursday, and yes, I felt like a certified Halloween Adult™. My group arrived at precisely 6:42 p.m., 18 minutes before Horror Nights officially opened (to ensure maximum haunted house attendance). As we walked in, just a few members of the enormous crowd, we were treated to one of my favorite parts of Horror Nights: the possessed dolls, skulls with chainsaws, and monsters on stilts that roam the opening stretch of the park. The first time I came in 2018, these creatures scared me multiple times, but now I’m brave and 24—I knew what to expect. We immediately headed to the sign that shows how long the wait is for every haunted house, and saw, shockingly, that the line for the Last of Us house was already 120 minutes long, despite Horror Nights opening a mere 10 minutes ago. This is another one of the cruel realities of Horror Nights: no matter how early you go, you are inevitably doomed to wait at least 50 minutes slowly shuffling towards the experience of being afraid for 10 minutes inside an Exorcist: Believer haunted house, for a movie that isn’t even in theaters yet.

At least that’s the expectation. Perhaps it was because it was the first night in early September this time, but for some reason, most of the lines were significantly shorter than we had experienced in the past. No line was longer than 30 minutes, a huge relief, giving us time to take a little break and go on the Harry Potter ride (which has a one-in-three chance of breaking down, but is so fun when it doesn’t). Usually, the regular Universal rides are attended in desperation for my group, in situations where wait times are so dire that we’ll do anything to avoid standing for another 70 minutes (how we ended up on the Simpsons Ride at 1:30 a.m. last year). This year, there were intentional choices!

Most of the houses themselves ranged from delightfully scary with fun, silly production quality (the American-holiday–themed house featuring Baby New Year, the Easter Bunny, and a dead family at Thanksgiving dinner) to legitimately frightening (Evil Dead Rise). The house to really write home about, though, was The Last of Us, which was one of the main featured haunted houses this year. The main houses of HHN have let me down in the past—they’re usually one of the big TV productions of the year, like Stranger Things or Haunting of Hill House, and tend to be high in production quality but not truly scary or immersive. The Last of Us featured scenes from the show and actual actors, with stand-ins for Joel and Ellie at almost every turn acting out scenes with real dialogue throughout the house, which made for a truly excellent experience.

We closed out the night with the Transformers ride (horrible waiting experience, extremely fun ride), and called it a night at 12:49 a.m., satisfied after making it to five houses. Horror Nights, you bested my expectations—I’ll see you again next year.


Photo courtesy of Discover Universal Blog.

LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

LARB Contributor

Maya Chen (she/her) is the social media director/list-maker for Los Angeles Review of Books.


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