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Universal's Halloween scares so good, now crowds are the horror

Nights is now in its 24th year of its ever-expanding, top-notch scare fest, but the huge crowds could end up being the biggest horror.

Sure, the Alien vs. Predator haunted house is an intense trip, and the ode to the original 1978 Halloween and the panic-inducing Walking Dead house are without question a great fright. But I was swept to the front with the other reporters, not waiting in those loooooong lines that took more than an hour even on a miserably rainy opening night.

Having grown into a monster, Horror Nights requires patience, carefully selecting the right night (Sunday through Thursday is almost half the price sometimes) or ponying up another $60 to $120 extra for an Express Pass.

Michael Aiello, the creative director behind Halloween Horror Nights, has the gee-whiz zeal of a true horror fan. But he also realizes that popularity comes with a price for fans who have to endure long waits or hefty price tags.

"Being on the creative end our role is to try to create the content they want to wait for," Aiello said.

Here's what we unearthed at last weekend's opening of Halloween Horror Nights:

The Walking Dead: For its third year, the Universal creators put their very tasty brains to work on a zombie scare that's almost twice the size of any previous haunted house. In a maze the size of a supermarket, more than 50 "walkers" stumble toward you before it's done, including an epic finish surrounded by hungry zombies.

Halloween: There are 10 films in this series, but for its first appearance at Horror Nights it is John Carpenter's 1978 classic that is the source material as Michael Myers stalks teenagers. The surprise in rewatching the film that ushered in a wave of slasher movies is it really wasn't all that bloody. The terror is how Michael is hidden and also everywhere at the same time. In the Horror Nights version, I lost count of the times a knife-wielding killer in an expressionless white mask emerged in a maze designed to be claustrophobic.

Alien vs. Predator: The park's most technically complicated and ambitious maze, it makes use of puppetry and lighting, but it's the sound effects, so memorable from the movies, that build the tension. You hear that clicky sound, like mandibles opening wide before the fully realized alien is in your face screaming as the lights strobe with a 7-foot Predator looming nearby. Credit last year's highly praised American Werewolf in London maze for this one. Those nasty werewolf critters opened up a world of possibilities.

From Dusk Till Dawn: Director Robert Rodriguez's cult vampire movie and TV show is easily the sexiest of the Horror Night scares, with seductive dancers ruling an Aztec vampire Playboy Club. While the first season of the Netflix TV series is the inspiration here, the series and the movie penned by Quentin Tarantino share the same sense of murderous cool. Lots of things hanging from the ceiling that brush your cheek really raise the ick factor here.

Hit the streets: Tired of waiting in line? Scenes from The Purge: Anarchy movie play out on the streets of New York. Also, the winners of Face Off, the Syfy reality TV competition of special effects makeup artists, bring their winning gruesome creations to the streets making for a great selfie. Be mindful that when your back is turned a ghoul will likely be waiting to startle you. I was a sucker for that every time.

Social media: Before you go, follow hashtag #HHNcompound and create a team. You will be given missions, such as taking a picture in front of a specific monster, and you can win special experiences or prizes.

Plan your night: Advice from HHN veterans ranges from picking your must-see attractions and heading straight there to going in the opposite direction of the crowd and working up from the back of the park.

Other tips worth noting:

• Leave the younger siblings at home. This is not recommended for those under age 13.

• Weekend nights are the most crowded, and tickets get more expensive the closer you get to Halloween.

• If you buy an Express Pass, note that you can only use your pass one time per haunted house or attraction, so save it for when a wait is 30 minutes or longer.