Nostalgia reigns supreme at this year’s Halloween Horror Nights. With the event kicking off its 28th year, Horror Nights is bigger than ever – with more houses than ever before, the creative team is also bringing to life some of the biggest names in horror, and taking original ideas to new heights. For a non-marquee year, Universal has themselves one hell of a house line-up, with a strong supporting cast of scare zones that many are already saying could be one of their best events ever. What say we?
As of now, it’s looking really good. We’ve always believed a strong theme is the building blocks of a successful event. You don’t necessarily need an icon, but a solid foundation to build the line-up up from.
In leading up to the event, Universal also did a wonderful job with marketing, especially in comparison to the previous year. The hype for the event was reaching fever pitch as each announcement was made, especially when they announced fan favorites.
With the 80’s theme inspiring the event, the creative team stated that idea came later after finally getting Stranger Things on board for this year. Once the theme clicked, they went all in with it. In Vamp 85, you’ll obviously see the actors in the outfits of the 80’s, but you’ll also see vampires dressing up as the icons of the era – such as Prince, Madonna, and Michael Jackson. Slaughter Sinema is an homage to those B-movie, over-the-top, grindhouse horror films that reigned supreme during the 80’s. The team also went after their “white whales” from that decade, and were finally able to bring Poltergeist and Killer Klowns from Outer Space to life.
This year, Universal Orlando has gone to great lengths to bring specialty-themed food and drink to the event; and with Stranger Things being the anchor IP, obviously Universal is serving up waffles galore. In the age of Instagram Foodies, it should be an easy hit, but also give fans a chance to have a little bit of fun, gluttonous enjoyment. Hopefully, Universal continues on with specialty menus and expands on it in the years to come.
Crowds over the weekend were, to put simply, insane. This is a year where we’re just going to recommend to invest in Express. If you can’t swing Express, try to spread out attending the event over 2 nights. Stranger Things is such a huge get for Universal Orlando, and in my opinion, the biggest name they’ve ever had in their line-up; in terms of popularity. While the Walking Dead was just as big, Universal lucked out with how much the series viewership grew between Horror Nights 22 – the Walking Dead’s first year – and Horror Nights 23. Stranger Things enters Horror Nights as an established cultural phenomenon – especially as the demographics for the show appeal to a wider base.
Opening weekend saw 7 houses absolutely bring it, where fan’s house rankings differed from list to list; but as history shows us, things can change by the end of the event’s run. The first weekend also tends to have that “new car smell” when it comes to rankings, and hyperbole finds its way into the discussion. Last year after opening weekend, we had Fallen as our #1 house and the Horrors of Blumhouse was near the bottom. By the event’s end, rankings were reversed. Could we be victims of it? Maybe, but we had a damn good time this weekend, with some of the houses being possible all-timers in our opinion.
This is a year where we honestly have had a hard time ranking each house and zone. While some are definitely stronger than others, Horror Nights 28 is initially shaping up to have the best house line-up from top to bottom. It’s very possible, and very much likely, this could change; but after opening weekend, here’s where we stand: (Some Spoilers)
An absolute knock out. As it stands now, the best IP Universal has ever translated into a house since American Werewolf in London. The creative liberties that were taken once we “go into the light” really offers some unique scares, and something original while still being inspired by the movie. From the entrance into the graveyard pool to all the encounters with the Beast, just a perfect representation of the classic Horror film.
Scary Tales: Dead Ever After (∗∗∗∗ ½)
Another great entry in the Scary Tales franchise, making them 4 for 4. The Wicked Witch castle facade is the best of the line-up this year, really helped by the Witch by flying around from turret to turret. The house features some great rooms with a good amount of scaring opportunities, especially the Wicked Witch finale. It was also great to see some new takes to a few returning favorites as well, including the return of HHN Bear!
Seeds of Extinction (∗∗∗∗ ½)
The house seems to be divided amongst fans, either loving or hating it. We loved it. It’s creepy. It’s tight. It’s one of the most creative houses Universal has ever done. The house is essentially all foilage, and the actors blend very well with their surroundings. There are some drawbacks, however; with some brightly lit areas, you can pick out where the actors are hiding. Also, the walk entering/exiting the house is quite the hike.
Carnival Graveyard (∗∗∗∗ ¼)
The house, while great, falls a bit short of the hype. It’s one of the most ambitious haunts Universal has ever created, using old props and junk as the set pieces and walls. From a scare perspective, it offers some really fun moments, including the clown and the barrel man, but there seems to be a lot of dead space. Keep your eyes sharp, as there are a lot of easter eggs of Universal past.
Trick ‘r Treat (∗∗∗∗ ¼)
After a hit scare zone, Universal follows up with a love letter of a house. It’s not overly scary, but it is very atmospheric; capturing the tone of the film perfectly. The house also featuring some pretty impressive sets, including the finale which takes place in the Quarry.
Dead Exposure: Patient Zero (∗∗∗∗ ¼)
The scariest house of the event, hands down. The disorientating strobe lights offers the cast to really sneak up on you good. Scenic-wise, it doesn’t offer a lot – but that’s not what this house aims for. It’s all about the darkness and how they can scare you.
Stranger Things (∗∗∗∗)
Universal really nailed the tone of the first season, and for a series that’s more suspense than scary – there are plenty of good scares here. In an effort to match the series, Universal nailed the cast, with many of the characters looking pretty damn close to the characters. The Upside Down effects are killer, and walking through each set with the soundtrack blaring should satisfy all Stranger fans.
Slaughter Sinema (∗∗∗∗)
A homage to all the cheesy Horror schlock movies of the 80’s, the house offers some good laughs along with the frights. Some of the scenes don’t work as well as others, but there are some standouts – including Swamp Yeti and Schittie’s Kids. Also, the transition rooms used as you move from scene-to-scene, though necessary, dampers the flow, in our opinion.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (∗∗∗ ½)
The 3rd entry follows in the footsteps of 2 great Halloween houses, so it had a lot of hype to live up to. While it doesn’t live up to those expectations, mostly due to the source material being weaker than the previous films – it’s still Michael Myers coming after you with the iconic theme and sounds we’ve grown to love.
Horrors of Blumhouse: Chapter 2 (∗ ½)
The only real blemish this year. I know the cast is giving their all, especially after last year’s surprise favorite was reliant on their efforts – but this year, it’s just not the same. The problem is Purge fatigue, as it’s rather stale at this point. Happy Death Day does bring some freshness, but the movie’s repetitive plot seems to not translate well into a house. Kudos does go out to the construction team for bringing some well-done set work inside that tent, though.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space (∗∗∗∗)
They may not be as scary as their namesake suggests, but they are fun! The costumes and masks are fantastic, the cast appears to be enjoying themselves, and the ambiance is perfect as Universal brings to life one of the most iconic B-films of the 80’s. The only problem is the location. South Street is very cramped and narrow, and the Klowns need their space, especially as they seem to very popular with the crowd.
Vamp 85 (∗∗∗∗)
Like its predecessor, the scare zone thrives on the performance of the cast, especially when Universal introduces some great characters to the mix – like WHHN News Reporter, Trisha White. The ball drop/dance numbers offer a great distraction for scares, but also some great entertainment in general. The only drawback is a bulk of the action takes place in such a small section of New York, but it is the event’s largest zone – therefore feeling empty in certain areas.
Twisted Tradition (∗∗∗∗)
While offering nothing new in the grand scheme of things, sometimes the easy route is the best route. The pumpkins in Central Park work, and have become part of the HHN tradition. What makes this different than year’s past is the wonderful mask work done by the Creative team, allowing for some pretty interesting characters to roam the zone. We also have to give some love to the return of huge set pieces, as the abandoned church adds another fantastical element to the zone.
Revenge of Chucky (∗∗∗)
We must admit, we know this zone is incomplete, as some of the sets haven’t made their way out for whatever reason; but the zone is OK. There are some characters here that shine, including the monkeys and other twisted toys; but in comparison to the fun over in Vamp and Klowns, they have to play a bit of catch up.
They’re fine and serve their purpose. The back half of the park truly needs all the help it can get as it can feel empty, so roaming hoardes it is! The chainsaw clowns always deliver. I’m personally over them, but people do enjoy their schtick. The last-minute emergency hoarde of chainsaw mechanics, however, miss the mark.
The front of the park used to lend itself to some pretty creative zones in the past – Containment, Path of the Wicked, Esqueleto Muerte. However, with the event being as large as it is now, this area can no longer handle any crowd flow impediments. Due to the logistics of all that, I cannot be as harsh on this zone in comparison to other scare zones. With that said, I have to knock off several points due to the zone’s somewhat similar nature to Twisted Tradition, as well as some rather simple “Man as Hay” suits.
Rounding out the event is the Academy of Villains: Cyberpunk. The Villains have a lot going against them this year, not only becoming the main show but also replacing the long-running, and fan-favorite Bill & Ted Halloween Adventure. Bill & Ted is definitely a tough act to follow, so does the Villains act translate well enough to carry the crowds as Bill & Ted did?
Academy of Villains: Cyberpunk (∗∗∗½)
The performers are fantastic, and truly give their all to a high-energy performance, but it does feel like a step down compared to their previous 2 shows. It was never going to replace Bill & Ted, nor should it have ever been expected to; I just don’t see the show pulling in the repeat viewings, let alone the same crowds, as Bill & Ted did. The soundtrack to the show is pretty killer, though.
After attending 5 nights, this year’s Halloween Horror Nights seems to be ready to take on the hype that was given to it by fans. With some great houses, fun zones, and a infectious atmosphere – it truly may be a Horror Nights that may be used a measuring stick going forward. No matter where you rank the houses or how you feel about the event, it’s always a good time at Horror Nights. There’s a different vibe in the air, where a lot of awesome memories are made. Remember, it’s all in good fun, so enjoy the Horrah!