A helicopter lies uncomfortably sandwiched between the top of two buildings, its nose end smashed in the left structure and the tail end pointed skyward. Underneath the crashed vehicle is the entrance to Universal Studios Hollywood’s The Walking Dead, based on hit AMC television series of the same name.
The sounds of grinding and screeching metal give visitors their first indication of the unnerving sense of dread the attraction attempts to capture. The Walking Dead marks the most intense attraction in the park’s current year-round roster, even if its short length and underwhelming finale slightly dampers what is otherwise an impressive piece of theme park immersion.
The line for the attraction could very well be confused for the attraction itself on less congested days, as guests are lead through a strikingly detailed representation of The Harrison Memorial Hospital seen in the show’s pilot episode. The blood splattered walls of the queue coupled with the iconic double doors with the letters “DON’T OPEN DEAD INSIDE” sprawled along it will be enough to spook the weary before the real scares ensue.
Once in the walkthrough proper, the Walkers become the real centers of attention. They are represented through both surprisingly life-like animatronics and live performers, bringing the television series’ interpretation of zombies to life. The greatest achievement the creative team at Universal has accomplished is merging the mechanical and the flesh together in a way that compliments each other beyond sheer aesthetics. The animatronics often portray grotesque and damaged walkers, such as one who is attempting to crawl across a patch of grass without the advantage of having its lower torso, while the performers in full-costume and masks are able to get up close and personal with guests.
The live Walkers add an element of unpredictability to the attraction, as the performers come shambling out of darkly lit corners and set pieces. Each of the actor’s are committed to their undead performances, complete with convincing zombie walks that look as though they could have been featured on the television series. None of the actors appeared to be phoning in their performance, making it very easy to believe, if only for a second, that the undead are looking to take a bite out of guests.
The central conflict of the show, human survival, is presented through a few appearances by non-zombie characters seen fighting off walkers using prop artillery which reverberate violently through the attractions speakers. The appearance of human characters allows guests to briefly feel as though they may too be fighting to stay alive, adding to the immersion of the attraction.
“Briefly” is the key adjective in the previous sentence. Right when it feels as though The Walking Dead will lead into yet another stellar set piece, it spits guests right back into the cheerful sounds and bustling crowds of Universal Studios. The transition from horror to joviality is a bit jarring, as the attraction lacks a standout finale.
A claustrophobic walk among stationary prop Walkers behind fences with a few performers who jump out from between them serves as the attraction’s finale, but it lacks the visual ingenuity and scare value of what came before. This set-up is a typical haunted house gag, and it is far too easy to spot which Walker is ready to lunge forward and which is completely harmless, making it The Walking Dead’s least impressive sequence.
This is a minor complaint and Universal has shown that they can pack a spine-tingling conclusion to a horror attraction right when guests least expect it. Back when the Van Helsing: Fortress Dracula attraction was in the park over a decade ago, the last room included a werewolf in chains that lunged frighteningly close as a strobe light blinded guests. What made this scare effective is that it came right as the exit became visible, meaning that guests’ attention was on the light coming from outside the building and not on the monstrosity that was about to jump towards them. The Walking Dead is missing a similar last-second jolt to leave guests screaming and running out the exit, which is unfortunate considering that the rest of the attraction maintains such incredible tension.
Regardless, The Walking Dead is immaculately detailed and oozing with atmosphere. Fans of the show won’t want to pass up the opportunity to see it and anyone looking for something a little more menacing from their Universal trip will find it a worthwhile stop.
Cal State Fullerton students can gain discounted access to Universal Studios Hollywood by clicking this link: https://ushtix.com/Home.aspx.