Things to do in Los Angeles: Haunted Attractions: Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights 2017 Review

This was my first time at Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights in my new home of Los Angeles, California. I feel like in LA it’s always a good day to wear a Kreepsville 666 Skull Necklace from the shop on Melrose Ave. :)

Oni Hartstein Kreepsville 666 SKull NEcklace Los Angeles Melrose Ave

I am very familiar with the Florida parks so I didn’t know what to expect. USH HHN has 8 houses, plus their year-round Walking Dead haunted house, the Terror Tram, 3 scare zones, and the jabawockeez dance show. We didn’t see jabawockeez so that won’t be part of this review.

I normally place the marketing images for each house in their reviews but… Note for when Universal Studios Hollywood’s team reads this: Hey guys, you may want to tell your ad agency to make the images easier to save and not like this on your site so we can write about how much we love your work and make it look as pretty:

universal studios hollywood halloween horror nights los angeles 2017

Anyhow. I did this one like I do all of them. VIP all the way. DISCLOSURE: I paid out of pocket to do this and USH Management had no idea I was here on this night.

oni hartstein universal studios halloween horror nights hollywood los angeles 2017


I’ve seen the first Insidious film but for some reason I can’t remember much of it. This house was no different. I believe the thing possessing the people in the film was just menacing you as you went through. It was a rather simple, but effective design, but the story wasn’t explained if you didn’t already know the film. I don’t mean this as a negative. Simple isn’t necessarily bad. At least, it’s not bad in how I’m conceptualizing it here. Personally I feel like an attraction goes from good to great when it tells the story for people who aren’t in the know already, so this one was good. The set design didn’t have the depth that it’s counterparts in Florida have. Overall we had a lot of fun in here but I’d probably have to watch the film again to get a lot of what I saw on a deeper level.

American Horror Story: Roanoke:

I love AHS and have a pretty deep knowledge of the franchise. I really enjoyed the AHS house in Orlando, Florida last year. This house was fun, but a bit scaled down from what I saw in Florida. I also had problems with the narrative flow much like I did with the Insidious house. I saw what I think was Kathy’s Bates’ character chasing us over and over and some pig people but not many of the main characters from the show. If Lady Gaga’s character was in the house I missed her. I feel like if you aren’t deeply familiar with Roanoke this house may have been lost on you – but I enjoyed this house!

The Shining:

In this house you get chased by Jack. The set pieces were a bit better in this house. There were projections, peppers ghost illusions, and many of the scenes replicated form the film. I enjoyed this one! This one was easily one of the stronger houses. Even if you didn’t know the story (like me – I was blind before recently and catching up) you understood vaguely what was going on because of how the scenes were book ending the sequences of startle scares.


SAW is another franchise that I have a deep knowledge of. By the time we got to the SAW house, we were realizing that the houses in general in USH are more sparsely decorated than it’s Florida counterparts across the board. Again – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing because we enjoyed ourselves in all of them – just an observation for my east coast readers who will be asking me how they are different. The SAW house was one of the more visual houses and it actually made Harknell queasy. You got to see several torture scenes from the films interspersed with pig people chasing you.

Titans of Terror:

This one had slightly better levels of decor and set pieces than other houses and several really good scares and effects. I especially liked Freddy’s glove coming out of someone’s chest in front of me. This one was fun! I felt that the scares were also a bit more creative throughout.

The Horrors of Blumhouse:

This was The Purge, Happy Death Day, and Sinister. Our takeaway with this (and most of the houses) was “oh, that was fun.” This may seem like an odd thing for me to write because I usually get really in depth – but just bear with me until the conclusion of this post. I’m going somewhere with this. In this case my blow by blow observations are just an appetizer.

Ash vs. Evil Dead:

This was one of the best houses. Great set pieces, great actor improv, and phenomenal sound. They had actors working together in here which I find is relatively rare everywhere. I don’t know why it’s so rare because it’s a great way to deal with high capacity and still give everyone a good show quality. This one was probably THE best house of the night.

The Walking Dead:

I don’t know if the show running in here was different than any other day of operation since it’s a year-round attraction, but this house was on the level that Florida usually does. The atmosphere was great and the scares were set up well. The rooms were built more upward than all of the other houses. I imagine its a challenge when working with so many temporary locations – in Florida they have sound stages that aren’t being used so the houses can be built in there like this one. In Los Angeles they are kinda busy filming movies so…

They took some of the scares I saw in Florida and perfected and played with them to be unique to their space. Someone email me from the top bar / tweet / FB / Instagram me and let me know if this was different for HHN or just the usual attraction.

Titans of Terror Tram hosted by Chucky:

I had heard amazing things about the Terror Tram but it really was just a bus ride to a large walkthrough scarezone. Again: Very enjoyable. But when you are bussed to a special area perhaps you expect a bit more than this. We had a lot of fun, but maybe because we went to Florida first we’re surprised by the smaller scale. The Urban Inferno scarezone that was part of the main area actually felt more “big” to us. But again – this was a lot of fun!


As mentioned above, Urban Inferno was great. Devils, stilt walkers, great lighting and sound. Hell-o-ween and Toxic Tunnel were mostly forgettable. Minimal props and just actors roaming about. Fun!


So you’ve heard what I have to say – but what does all of this mean? It means I had an AMAZING TIME at Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights for 2017. This is a Must See event and this may be my favorite park. You don’t need to be as big as Florida to be amazing. Scare Zones don’t need to be done with super set pieces to be enjoyable. The Florida Park is bigger and more detailed in it’s execution by far and they are awesome, but personally I actually felt more at home in Hollywood. The park experience was just nice. You felt welcome, you had fun in every house, and the staff were all kind, friendly and not pushing anyone through quickly. I give these guys my wholehearted recommendation – just know that like Disneyland, they are working with a smaller space. But they truly know how to execute properly within it.



Things to Do in Los Angeles: Reign of Terror haunted attraction 2017 review – Thousand Oaks, California

Hello from my new home of Los Angeles! It’s windy today:

Los Angeles halloween oni spooky boobs party time

I’m just about adjusted to life on the west coast so I will be online more often now. Who would have thought moving 2450 mikes away from everyone I know would be a lot of work? (Spoiler: I did.) Thanks for bearing with me while I put things back together bigger and stronger!

Anyhow, I had the opportunity to check out Reign of Terror, which is actually one of the few independent haunted attractions in my beautiful new home of southern California.

Before I talk about that, it’s kinda important for me to talk about cultural differences between the east and west coast regarding to this.

The first thing I noticed about Los Angeles is that they have less haunted attractions than the northeast. Aside from Universal Studios and Knott’s Scary Farm I think I found like – 3? Real estate is very expensive and everything is vey spread out so that may be a factor.

They do a lot of high end immersive theater in Los Angeles but that, to me, is a different type of attraction. I enjoy immersive theatre and I’ve actually reviewed a few before. So I’m not saying I don’t like these types of things. I do like them. I’m simply saying that the productions I’ve seen so far California don’t seem to deal with supernatural fantasy like New York City’s Then She Fell or Tampa’s The Vault of Souls. Personally I’m attracted to darker fantasies like that. They may exist here and it could be that I haven’t found them yet. If you know of any, do let me know by emailing me via the top bar on this blog.

TL; DR: They still aren’t haunted attractions like 99% of what I’m known for reviewing on this page.

Reign of Terror is, so I checked it out on October 20th, 2017.

Reign of Terror haunted house in Thousand Oaks, California Los Angeles halloween 2017

Reign of Terror is located in a strip mall in Thousand Oaks, California which is generally a red flag. Attractions can seldom pay the year-round rent so often you find that the ones in these spaces are sometimes less developed than ones that don’t have to pack up and leave during the year. I don’t know if they have this space all year ’round or not since I just moved here, but I did not find this to be a problem. The attraction’s rooms were amazing and well-staged. If they set this up in a few months that was amazing work on their part.

They must not have the same laws in California regarding hallway width that New Jersey and Pennsylvania have because the halls were more narrow. This wasn’t a problem – just an observation in how the feel was slightly different. I enjoy seeing what’s different in my new home state, so maybe this piece of information would appeal to just me.

There is no story to the haunt. It was the style of haunt where it was a greatest hits of many types of haunt themes. This is not a bad thing, just another observation in what you can expect from the execution of the production. You’ll see a haunted mine, clowns, killers, contaminated areas, aliens…you get the idea. It was decently executed. The rooms looked good and they hit all the marks that your casual haunt fan is going to expect. Aside from the wait times (get there early to help with this) casual haunt fans will probably enjoy this attraction and should go see it early to avoid longer wait times.

So now let’s talk about the constructive criticism part of the review. What would an experienced haunt fan notice? How can this attraction transcend past what they are now to being able to hold its own with the country’s best?

I noticed that the sound bled a little in the pre-show room. It was a video of a coal miner introducing the first attraction and telling you what to expect, plus the rules that customers should follow. Since there was no story and the lines were very long, I felt like this room was maybe a redundant stop in traffic flow.

Usually the person working the line performs this task at most attractions – and that works better communication-wise since many customers seem to ignore videos but pay attention to people in my personal experience. In this case we had 2 stop points in the loading sequence instead of 1. I expected an actor – assisted scare here or something to make this space blend into the production. I’d suggest that they look at how this part of the attraction fits into their flow. I like to always ask myself creatively “Why is this here?”. If I can’t say that it adds to the story/atmosphere or crowd flow efficiency then perhaps it should be changed or eliminated.

They oversold the VIP tickets so that it was 40 minute wait for the VIP line. It appeared to be almost as long as the regular line. Once you got inside you realized it was shorter, but from a customer’s point of view this seemed annoying. I’m not sure I’ve ever waited more than 15 minutes for a VIP line in every haunted attraction across the country, so this didn’t work as well as it could have.

I applaud that they were pulsing people through in small groups. They kicked ass at that. We experienced no backups in the haunt and so once you got inside traffic flow was great. That’s actually relatively rare so they deserve applause for this.

I heard several actors screaming in vocal chord damaging ways and the timing just wasn’t there on the night that we went. They were by no means the untrained level of New Jersey’s Camp Evans Base of Terror, but it felt like an hour of instruction in how to function in their own narrative space and how to be more fluid and less direct would help.

I’d like to see them examine their actor blocking in each room and encourage the actors to work in teams. For example if there’s a room with only 1 person face down on a desk it’s pretty obvious she’s gonna stand up and scream at you. Put another actor there to the side to scare people and have that person be a decoy – not the payoff. Or have 2 actors fight with each other or something unexpected to break up the chain of startle scares.

I especially feel like too many rooms had only animatronics. In the case where they had actors they did not have the actor set up to take advantage of distraction scares (similar to what I mentioned above) in tandem with the animatronics. They were using the animatronics as the hero character for the rooms they were in. I saw several missed opportunities throughout where you’d expect them to have placed actors but there was no one there. Animatronics should, in my opinion, almost never be used on their own and should always be incorporated in a distraction scare or actor-driven interaction. If they had trained the actors to work with the animatronics I feel like the rooms without actors wouldn’t have registered as the same type of thing. To me it was kind of like a movie that needed a slight recut due to pacing.

This haunt was long – I think we were in there for over 20 minutes. I wasn’t bored inside this haunt. I have been bored in haunts that were this long before so this was a very good thing. It flowed well and was enjoyable. That said, it didn’t fully grab me – mostly because the timing of the actors was off just enough that it felt like each group got hit in the middle or behind and I got almost nothing the entire way through in the front.

Don’t get me wrong – they have an amazing setup in here. The people with us seemed to be freaking out a little so for casual haunt fans this is probably going to be a great time. For folks who really know haunts I feel like some small tweaks – examining their queue system, pacing, and investing in training their actors could make them a game-changing, resonant haunt for all of us and worth of a plane ticket for my readers back east. In it’s current state it doesn’t inspire repeat visits or stick with you after you leave due to the lack of a cohesive narrative.

All in all Reign of Terror was a lot of fun and it was way better constructed than I expected. They pulled off some amazing design in a strip mall of all places and should be very proud of what they accomplished. My criticisms come from a place of wanting them to be able to hold their own with the country’s best – and they are darn close to be able to do so! These guys are pretty cool and I am glad they are in Southern California and even more proud to live here because of this.

2017, Oni's Life

Preparing to relaunch: Where has Oni been?

PERSONAL UPDATE: So how have I been? I’m going to start resurfacing soon here on my blog with new adventures. Ginger Hoesly and I are gonna work together to rebrand and re launch it focused on my music and marketing-loving Los Angeles based life now – which has been a weird ride for sure already. Here’s a selfie I took at a photo shoot I did last weekend:


Day of the Dead makeup by Kahlovera.

I’ll be launching a companion program to my blog here that’ll allow me to help those of you who want my marketing and coaching help in a way that’s fair to me and all of you. I’m really excited about that and I’ve been taking my time with it so that it’s the best work I can offer. Definitely get on my mailing list. because if you just follow me on Facebook they will not show you all my posts unless you click on my profile and select “See First”. (Also follow me on Facebook. For 100% more Oni bullshit.)

Maybe we should have a Facebook hangout where I get you guys drunk to commemorate the reopening of my blog just like I used to do. I miss you guys and it’d be nice to see you all again and party – even if it’s a virtual one.

Migraines are the worst. I have one now.


(Athleta Threadlight Relaxed Mock Neck Tank, Nordstrom/Zella Live-In Leggings, Teva De La Vina Low Boots.)

Relocating across the country is great but ultimately the worst shit I ever had to handle in my life. Every time you think you’ve planned for everything another thing pops up. Maybe I should think of it as running an event and it would be easier. I’m one of those unfortunate women who can run C-Level badassery beyond compare but if something simple like my laundry fucks up I start getting scared. Apparently it’s common for people who have spent so much time working to be like that. One of my VP friends when I worked in Pharma marketing was just like that, too. We laughed at ourselves.

I am hoping the pills kick in so I can go out and run my errands today. I feel like I’ve given so much back east and a location change is just the thing to get me back on track. I want to explore and meet new people.

Soon, I’ll start writing here about my experiences – as soon as I have time to process this new area a bit more. I have so much love for California – just as much love as I have for you guys back east and those of you reading from around the world. My people.

I still don’t know where most things are. I’ve been tying to pick one area of Los Angeles per week and go explore. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s weird. Sometimes I get threatened by homeless maniacs who want to fight me for my 2/3 drank latte and start throwing chairs at me. (Really happened.)

I’m a bit of an Athleta addict these days so I’ll probably go there to start today. They aren’t paying me to say this. I wish they would because I gave them half of my last got dam paycheck. Why? Unforeseen shit. East coast wardrobe highly not appropriate for west coast weather and corporate culture. It was 45 degrees this AM and 80 something now. I need to get rid of and replace a lot of clothes that don’t work with this climate. Also back east I’d masquerade in dresses that were more frumpy than my actual style. I no longer have to do that. In fact it feels weird and too stand out conservative for the west coast. They really are more casual out here. You can’t not be yourself here.

I also lost too much weight too fast since January. I paid to tailor all of my jeans smaller and I’ve dropped another size or 2 since moving in like – a got dam month. Who would have thought moving your entire life can be stressful? But also veggies in California are just so tasty it’s sometimes hard to eat enough. HURRR. Major first world problem there. It’s just tough to figure out what my body needs when in a new climate when I’d never ever traveled away from the east coast climate before June. I’m almost like a Martian or something.

Things That I Must Get Used To.

Thank you all for your patience while I pick up the shattered pieces of myself (because that’s what a major move is) and reassemble her into the next evolution of weird and positive creativity plus marketing awesome that you all will recognize. I guess it’s time to build a second empire on the west coast that compliments the impact I have on the east coast. If you know me at all did you really see anything less happening? I’m a compulsive builder of things.

The best news this week? I started guitar class again. DEEZ. FN. NOTEZ. 🙂

Guitar class then supermarket with my baby:


PS: To answer the most frequently-asked question: No, I am not interested in running more geek conventions (unless you have the budget to pay me up front.) At this time 2.5 cons on the east coast are enough for me. I’m focusing on music and alternative art events out west. Focusing on my heart and my love.

I miss you all and can’t wait to show you what I mean.

2017, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Horror, New Jersey, Oni Haunts, Reviews

Haunted Attraction Review: Flemington, New Jersey: Schaefer Farms Frightfest

Get Ready To Ride

Schaefer Farms Frightfest can be classified as a “family style” haunted attraction. It’s goal, as far as I could see, is not to be the most frightening, but to be a fun experience for the whole family. When I visited it on Oct. 1, 2017, the group I went with on the hayride was filled with teenagers, children, parents, and older people–so a good cross section of people. (and afterward I asked around and they all had a good time)

For my own personal filter, I tend toward liking haunts that have more scary set ups, or extensive visual settings / set pieces–but I have to say that I actually found myself having a good time going through Frightfest. They obviously know that they won’t be the scariest or most ornate (given what looks like a somewhat modest budget), so they tended toward comedy and other elements that were a hit with the crowd. Each stop on the hayride had their actors talking and interacting with the group–and they actually threw candy and other treats into the cart–something I can’t remember any other location doing–but is a great idea!

Time To Ride To Your Doom

The idea at Frightfest is you go on the hayride for quite a distance, with an actor on the ride who adlibs and provides context for the set pieces. I’d suggest they consider setting up a microphone system for the actor since it wasn’t always easy to hear them from the other side of the cart–but he did move around and include most people over the course of the evening. After riding for awhile you’re let off to walk through some areas, then return to the same cart for a bit more, then walk through a final area that’s more of a defined haunted house set up (the other areas are in the woods or a corn maze. They call this multiple attractions–but in reality they can’t be visited separately, so they are really just sub sections of one overall thing.

Like many other farm based attractions, please note that the walking paths can be quite challenging for anyone with walking issues–and even without issues, you’ll need to be careful not to trip or stumble in some parts–but this is the nature of being out in a real setting.

Get Your Treats, Then Get Chased

As this is a working farm, they also have a store on property–with many delicious looking items and things to buy–and not just Halloween related. Also, a “bonus” (at least to me) was the fact that they have a range of animals near the end of the attraction that are usually wandering around and would love to have you feed them:

The Deadly Emu and His Friends

Again, I normally shoot for more intense attractions–but I found myself having fun at Frightfest. If you want to dip your toes into going to a haunted attraction, or are unsure of how much intensity you can handle, these guys will be a good training wheels location to get you going.

2017, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Horror, New Jersey, Oni Haunts, Reviews

Haunted Attraction Review: East Brunswick, New Jersey: Arcana Haunted Experience


I received an email announcement for a new haunted attraction in central New Jersey called “Arcana Haunted Experience” with an intriguing description: “New Jersey’s First and Only Fully Immersive Haunted Experience”–so of course I had to go and check it out. It was a bold statement–and left many questions as to what exactly would be found when going into the experience. Was it a theater performance? What made it “Fully Immersive”? Was it one of the “extreme” attractions that have popped up in recent years? Or maybe some kind of “escape room”? I didn’t know what to expect–and I was going on my own, so whatever it was I was going to get it all in my face.

So, what was it? Well, sort of a combination of all of the above.

First off, I went on their second day of operation–and as far as I can tell this is the first year of their existence. They seem to have grand plans for being a year round operation with new themes over time. This first time they are calling it “Mortuary”–with a back story involving a crazy mortician who decides to create his own clients. He is your adversary during your time in the attraction–and you keep hearing that he’s coming and you want to avoid him (cut to the chase: You obviously don’t avoid him).

The attraction is entirely contained within a building, so it’s available rain or shine–though the line and other elements are outside. I happened to arrive early and was immediately taken inside (literally–when the event started I was taken by the hand and escorted into the interior). It was then that it became obvious what they were shooting at–each room you enter is a separate experience and akin to an escape room in that you need to do something to move on to the next room. In my case this was a bit of a challenge, since I’m not very good at that sort of thing (which is why escape rooms are not something I normally go for). Also, Some of the rooms are actually supposed to be done with at least 2 people–so they needed to adapt things slightly for me solo.

As opposed to many escape rooms though, there were scare actors in the rooms that sometimes menaced you as you looked around–or helped when people like me were struggling. In between some of the rooms were “classic” scare areas where jump scares or other traditional haunted attraction elements would happen.

So, what did I think of it? I think it has great potential. As a first year, and literally first weekend of operation, it showed that they had some great ideas. It’s not completely fleshed out–and I would suggest they consider investing a bit more on set design between the rooms–but I liked it’s style and though it was a fun time. I also wonder how well it will work if they do get a big crowd, since things can easily hold up if one group is going really slowly since the concept is to not push people through until they figure out each room. And the solo idea isn’t exactly an expected flow.

If you like the idea of escape rooms, with a bit more menace and some scares–I think a trip to Arcana would be fun. It’s not a huge time investment and well worth the $20.