Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights, is now open at Universal Orlando Resort and you won’t stand a Chance, as the twisted right-hand woman of Halloween Horror Nights legend Jack the Clown steps into the spotlight as the star of this surreal world of horror. Playing off the “Theater of the Mind”, whatever Chance conjures up in her head eventually becomes reality. Halloween Horror Nights 25 was always going to be a tough act to follow, and while 26 isn’t on the same level as the year before – we didn’t expect it to be, and that’s not a bad thing – it still delivers as a pretty solid year.

This year, the house line-up is possibly their strongest as a collective unit. When coming up with our ratings and lists, we had trouble with listing our 1-7 because they can move up and down after another run through the house. We’re sure as the event continues, and as the house casts find their footing – the list will change again.

So what exactly did we think of each house? Here’s the official OU Rankings of each house: (Some Spoilers)

Tomb of the Ancients (∗∗∗∗ ½)

One of the most detailed houses that Halloween Horror Nights has ever done. This house brings some great scares in some really tight spaces, and we mean tight – where the ceilings are brought down so low to give you a claustrophobic feeling. The costumes are really well-done and the appearance of the much-hyped Amut (aka Crocolion) doesn’t disappoint. The only drawback we found is that it can be a bit dark making it hard to see some of the details, even during night runs. Having said that, we wouldn’t be surprised if this house continues to improve throughout the event to find a place in a lot of “Top Ever” houses by HHN’s end.

Krampus (∗∗∗∗)

One of our biggest surprises of the event, we always left this house with a smile on our face. While it may not be as scary as others on this list, it definitely has some “Got ya” scares and is probably Horror Night’s most entertaining (as far as “fun”) house to date. The use of the Shrek theater is incredible and shows that we can expect Sound Stage quality houses for future events. The house also brings some welcome pleasant smells, especially during the Gingerbread attack; and also makes great use of puppets to bring the dark toys to life. Our only critique, the ending kind of just ends.

Ghost Town: Curse of Lightning Gulch (∗∗∗∗)

Hands down, the best designed house at any HHN to date. It features tight spaces, but also some massive scenes, with the “Shoot Out” scene being a major highlight of the house. A lot of great character moments, but this house can be hit or miss on the scares; but as far as atmosphere and settings – you’d be hard-pressed to find anything better this year.

Halloween 2: Hell Comes to Haddonfield (∗∗∗∗)

We were a bit worried when this house was announced because generally speaking, sequel IP houses can be a let down. We are happy to be wrong as this house is a worthy successor to the great house featured in HHN 24. While it may not feature the eye-candy set-wise as some of the other houses featured this year, it makes up for it with lots, and lots, and lots of Michael Myers around every corner.  The cast makes this house, and be expected to get scared as Myers stalks you throughout the house.

The Exorcist (∗∗∗ ½)

Fans of the movie know that this was always going to be a tough house to interpret as a majority of the scenes take place in one bedroom – and while the artistic choices made are great to make it not feel repetitive, the house kind of bounces between greatness and average. The facade, the first room, puke hallway (Warning! It smells bad and feels gross), and the last 2 finale rooms are great but the bed shaking, the spider-crawl scene, and some of the other transition rooms are kind of a let down.

American Horror Story (∗∗∗ ½)

Another house that can be hit or miss. We’ve done this house 3 times over the weekend, with each run being completely different than the last. First visit was good, 2nd was bad, 3rd was phenomenal. Fans of the show will really enjoy this house, but non-fans may find themselves a bit lost on the material, especially when entering into the Hotel scenes. Either way, it is a solid representation of the show and features some very clever scares. We have a feeling once the cast finds their footing, this may move up our lists.

The Walking Dead (∗∗∗ ½)

I know, I know… but gotta give the devil his due. After 4 years of OK to bad houses, this house actually is one of the standouts of this year, taking what worked from the previous houses and putting them all together. It’s low on the list because it is the Walking Dead; it’s nothing new and features a lot of things we’ve seen before, but this house featured the best scares for us all weekend. We wonder how high the ranking of this house would be if this was the first year… Hmm??? Either way, we really hope this is it, and if so – it’s a great way to send it off.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (∗∗ ½)

This house was one that we were really looking forward to, but it just didn’t work opening weekend. The sets were great, and the guys they got to play Leatherface are perfect, but there isn’t a lot of scares. We’re hoping it was just a rough opening weekend, because this house does have a lot of potential, especially since the house  extends beyond the tent’s confines giving some new opportunities for scares.

Lunatics Playground 3D – You Won’t Stand a Chance (∗)

It’s a shame that the icon’s house is at the bottom, but it’s just not a very enjoyable house. The new 3D effects they use are great and hopefully a stepping stone for some future creative ideas, but this house really falls flat. We don’t want to be overly critical, but this house is probably one for the bottom lists of all time.

♦♦♦

Scare zones add ambiance to the event, setting the mood and atmosphere as you’re walking from house to house. After a solid return to form with scare zones last year, this year is a bit of a step back.  That’s not a knock, just again, HHN 25 is a tough act to follow. From the 5 scare zones, 4 are really solid – and out of the 4 roaming hordes, 2 hit the mark. What did we think?

Dead Man’s Wharf (∗∗∗∗)

While this zone doesn’t feature a lot of scares, and can be quite the bottleneck of traffic, the atmosphere and character designs are some of the best in recent years. It also works well that the zone ties into the San Francisco Wharf theme to really bring it all together. Lightning and thunder flash periodically throughout the night in this zone, giving the actors a good chance to creep on you while you’re temporarily blinded by the light.

Vamps 55 (∗∗∗∗)

This zone is all about the cast. If not for them, this would be given a lower rating. The themeing is simple, with just some lighting and 2 “homecoming” floats, but the cast is strong. They are consistently interacting with each other and guests to really breathe life into this zone. Occasionally, you might see the jocks and greasers start going after each other before realizing there’s some “fresh blood” near-by.

Lair of the Banshees (∗∗∗ ½)

Another strong zone this year, featuring some great costumes and masks (Like that all-teeth guy). The problem is it doesn’t feel fresh. Central Park has been known to be home of many zones that features woodland creatures or myths, so here we are featuring it again. Having said that, the atmosphere is great and some of the hiding areas for the actors are done really well that you don’t see it coming.

Survive or Die: Apocalypse (∗∗∗ ½)

Another strong zone that also can be hit-or-miss. Here, 3 factions are fighting in the apocalyptic world so there are 3 unique feels throughout New York. The projections are a great touch (and glad to see them back after a few year break) and some of the costumes are great; but it may feel a bit redundant after a while. Still, some great moments are had when one of the factions drive their way thru the crowds, and eventually there is a faction fight every so often.

Roaming Hordes (∗∗ ½)

Some may argue that the Roaming Hordes were the stand-outs of last year’s scare zones. This year, they take a step back. The Cheerleaders and Scarecrows do a great job, but the Hillbillies and Geishas feel light with their presence. Hopefully they add a few more actors to really bring it all together.

A Chance in Hell (∗∗)

Another miss for the Icon this year. While Chance herself is a standout when she interacts with guests, there’s not much else to the zone. Not to mention, it’s located at the entrance of the park so it can be quite the traffic jam.

 

♦♦♦

Rounding out the event are the 2 shows, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure and Academy of Villains: House of Fear, a dance troupe making their first appearance at the event.

hhn22artBill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure (∗∗)

Great beginning and a great final number, but the rest is pretty rough. Like last year, this year’s show doesn’t really have a cohesive plot, and it falls flat after a great intro to the villain of this year. They did feature a few zingers that hit the mark; and yes, the Avatar joke makes its return at a great spot –  but a lot of the references went over the audience’s head. The finale’s dance number was fine, with tributes to Prince and David Bowie, but a few songs didn’t resonate with the audience.

Academy of Villains: House of Fear (∗∗∗∗∗)

A lot were wondering what a dance troupe has to do with Halloween Horror Nights. After our viewing, who cares? This show is fantastic! One of biggest highlights of this year, the show features wonderful dancing and performances while tying into a horror theme of escaped inmates of Shadybrook. This is a definite must-see!

This year’s Horror Nights is a strong year, especially considering last year’s success. The houses are probably the strongest as a collection since HHN 21, and is definitely one of the better years of the past 6 years of the “new era”. If you’ve already visited, make sure to share your Review on our forums.