Ever since my father first took me to Knott’s Scary Farm at an impressionable 11 years old, I can safely say that about 70% of my dreams thereafter have involved Halloween haunts, a nocturnal cycle of sidestepping ghoulies, gouging vampires and bashing in the brains of the undead among mysterious unnamed theme parks that continues well into this, my 40th year.
This past Friday night, Universal Studios Hollywood opened its annual Halloween Horror Nights. Yes, it’s a bit early to start draining our Halloween juju, but given that I’m kind of into this stuff and the opening invited us media, there was no refusing.
Now typically, I don’t find horror mazes particularly scary. As I live in LA, I just assume these people leaping out at me in scary masks are the same unemployed actors I see in line every day at El Pollo Loco. I’ve worked as a bar bouncer and in LAUSD schools and am generally tough to frighten. But something felt different this year.
Maybe it was estrogen. I just had a baby girl last year and haven’t left her or my wife’s sides in months. I’ve been feeling downright sensitive lately and even getting teary whilst watching some very special episodes of Netflix original programming.
Or maybe it was a diminishing sense of security that's inherent to male middle-age, heightened by these troubling times. Maybe it was something er, edible, I ate. But what I’m trying to say is, I had the absolute shit scared out of me this year. A lot. Like jumping out of the way as I audibly yelled “aaaaaaaaaaaa!” kind of scared.
The only way to do these massive haunts is to skip the often two-plus hour lines with front-of-the-line passes, which found my wife and I repeatedly entering the maze scenes all by ourselves. In past years, we’ve seen some of the scares coming ahead of time from the group closely ahead of us, but on Friday we were left completely alone and vulnerable, leading ourselves through dark and scary corners of our popular culture’s worst nightmares, with no one else in sight.
So I bugged out a little when forced to squeeze between cages full of lurching zombies in the Walking Dead maze. And I lost my shit when the naked old woman from the Shining’s bathtub scene popped out at me in Room 237. And nearly had a heart-attack when a maniac burst through this movie screen I was staring at from a foot away in the Horrors of Blumhouse maze.
We were feeling on edge, but having a great time as the hour scrambled past 11pm. That's when we walked over in the direction of the American Horror Story maze. Approaching the line, I noticed a familiar form ambling just a few people in front of us. It was Slash. That Slash! Thee Slash. As in fucking Slash from fucking Guns n’ fucking Roses fucking Slash.
I discretely alerted my wife, normally the chief celebrity-identifier in our family, of this discovery. Slightly stung that it wasn’t her find, she feigned skepticism until making her own positive ID on the identity of this rocker in a leather jacket, jeans and backwards, black “Fuck” cap...
I was a massive Guns n’ Roses fan as a kid. I even named my pet red-eared slider turtle “Slash.” I saw the band open for the Stones at LA Coliseum when I was twelve. And after a chance encounter that lead me to smoke a bowl with Pauley Shore and the porn star Savannah, again, when I was about 15 (Metallica opened). Needless to say, I’m still a huge fan of the band's early work. And at this point in life, I just wanted to be in some sort of proximity to their lead guitar player.
So I informed my wife that we would henceforth be following Slash into this maze, right before I attempted to take a couple of blurry photos of Slash’s back while we were all on the move. Taking our places in line behind Slash and family, it wasn’t long before the line stopped, putting us suddenly much closer to the rock god and his crew of about six.
I was trying to get a good look at Slash’s profile. Did he still have the nose ring? Might I be able to glimpse that weird tattoo of Steve Tyler with tits or whatever it is? Unfortunately, not long after we’d stopped, his companion threw her arms around his shoulders and sort of eyed us for a second. A pause or two went by. Then she did it again.
Was she on to us already? Was I that bad of a detective? Had we been made as the kind of weirdos who wanted to stand as close as possible to Slash? I put my arm around my wife and acted casually, like I had no interest and am totally one of those LA people who hang around cool people like Slash all the time and can handle it like a non-asshole.
Eventually, we made it to the front of the line where the door-people check passes. Slash’s party made it to the front and were admitted, at which point my wife and I boldly stepped forward to be ushered in with the last two members of his party.
We were in. Operation Slash had commenced. Then in a stroke of God-given fortune, just as we entered, a few bodies shifted, causing Slash to step back and become literally the person closest to us. We were descending into a Halloween maze with what could arguably be considered the greatest hard rock guitarist of all time. Would he hold us if he got scared?
So what crazy and epic thing did Slash do once we made it into the maze? Well, nothing really. He was just a normal guy, looking around at the cool, pointedly metal shit around him. He wasn’t even scared by anything. He’s probably seen scarier set-pieces at Lemmy’s house.
But soon we became aware of another guy. A rather short, corporate-y Michael J. Fox-looking, official figure of authority from Universal wearing a backward baseball cap. Blasted guy.
It became clear once we’d followed Slash through a couple of rooms that this small dude was suddenly now in charge of providing a buffer zone between the guitarist and us. No matter that we weren’t talking to Slash or touching Slash or even talking about Slash, but somehow our combined Russian-American intelligence had just received a reverse tail on our asses.
The little guy kept hanging back once Slash and crew had passed through a room, touching the décor and looking around, stalling our best efforts to be part of Slash’s entourage and life, bound by a higher sense of duty to make sure we didn’t molest or kill the rock star in the darkness.
He was actually pretty effective. And in time, we just let them distance theirselves to continue through the maze, even if it meant giving up on our rendezvous with greatness. We cursed the Michael J. Fox guy the whole way through. Fucking guy.
We made it out of the maze in time to see Slash posing for a couple of selfies with fans up ahead of us. My wife suggested I should get one, but I hate bothering celebrities and hate selfies. Slash is cool enough to have actually named himself Slash and let it stick. He really didn’t require my recognition or approval so much as my leaving him alone. So let the record show, I was not trying to bother the dude.
So we walked on, ambling through some red-glowing tunnel filled with mutated construction workers to land on a completely different side of the park. It was just past midnight, thus we debated leaving or grabbing a smoked turkey leg before discovering there was still one maze we were yet to do.
It was Insidious. I couldn’t remember if I’d seen the movie or not, but with just one last maze to undertake, we figured, hey, let’s do it and bail.
As we got into the line, who do we see waiting right in front of us but, you guessed it... Slash. So now it totally looks like we’re stalking these guys. No one really seemed to notice, though, until we get to the front of the line. Suddenly, the little Michael J. Fox guy appears again out of nowhere, whispering to the attendant and pointing in our direction.
Sure enough, the kibosh. We get cut off right as we try again to merge with Slash’s entourage at the entrance. The benefit being that we get to enter the maze all alone with no one in front or behind us. And it was the scariest by far. Fucking voodoo creatures and ghosts jumping out of the walls.
Eventually, we plunged deep enough that we found ourselves back behind the little Slash protector guy again. At that point, I reached out my arms when his back was turned and yelled, “Slash! Slash! We’re coming to kill Slash!” It was pretty loud in there, but at least my wife thought it was funny the first three times.
We make it out of the maze amid the scariest sequence of the night: Five cramped pitch-black rooms in succession where you just know something's going to jump out at you in each one but you don’t know where from. We left Insidious laughing in fitds.
And, of course, we’re right there behind Slash and his group again. Can you believe the nerve of these people? Now we were following them out of the maze area and back into the park. Walking a good, safe fifteen feet behind. Or maybe less.
Suddenly, Slash’s companion’s eyes shift back towards us and she whispers something to the little protector guy. They bolt in a quick left into the gift shop as if the sudden need to procure a giant Simpsons donut just couldn't be resisted. We can't help but look back once we’d safely passed to see the whole entourage leaving straight out of the store’s left flank, eyes scanning the crowd to make sure they aren’t being followed by that deranged couple.
Did we just freak out the heretofore un-scareable Slash? Did the thought of real-life creeps bearing VIP passes somehow trigger a fear that costumed movie monsters could not provide? Are we not nice people? Did our innocent flirtation with celebrity violate some sort of Hollywood protocol?
We didn't mean any harm. Okay, sure, we'd followed them. And yes, we'd tried to take an unflattering photo without permission. And right, okay, we had even technically sort of threatened someone with great bodily harm...
So who were the real villains at Halloween Horror Night? All the terrible creatures lurching from beyond? Or the people not letting famous individuals enjoy themselves in peace by recreating the very things celebrities fear the most: Stalking weirdos infringing on one's private life. Were we the real monsters? We may be haunted by these questions forever.
Shortly following our final offensive, we beat a hasty retreat from Universal Studios. On the way to our car, we ran smack dab into the actor who plays Danny’s son on Bloodline. He was just hanging out in the parking lot looking for his keys or something. And yes, we’re fans. So we just put our heads down and ignored him.