It’s been an interesting couple of years, to say the least. No one expected that the last night of Halloween Horror Nights 29 would be our last bit of Horrah for nearly 2 years. After 672 days, Halloween Horror Nights is back to celebrate 30 years and 30 fears!
It’s still hard to imagine, too. Even though I was amped for this year, there was a part of me that refused to believe it was Horror Nights season. It wasn’t until I first stepped into Universal Studios where it finally hit me. The sound of horror-appropriate rock music mixed in with revving chainsaws, the smell of the fog and fried foods, the sight of Jack the Clown running down the street to welcome the first guests. It was a real “pinch me” moment where I realized my favorite event had indeed returned.
The event as a whole is truly is a celebration of the past 30 years, from in-your-face nods to really deep-cut easter eggs. Of course, the big presence this year is Horror Nights’ beloved icon – Jack the Clown. Universal is touting that the demented clown will be featured everywhere. On Opening Night, Jack the Clown welcomed members of the media and guests anxiously awaiting at the gates of Universal before officially kicking off Horror Nights 30. During event nights, you can find Jack randomly walking around gathering more maniacs. The Jack’d Up Experience at Cabana Bay Beach Resort offers some great photo ops for guests staying on property.
So what were our first impressions of this year’s event? The first weekend tends to have that “new car smell” when it comes to rankings, and hyperbole finds its way into the discussion. Another thing to keep in mind is that unless outright stated, none of these issues fall on the actors and are not a reflection of their performances. They are the heartbeat of the event and give their all night in and night out.
It’s very possible, and very much likely, this could change; but after opening weekend, here’s where we stand: (Some Spoilers)
A true stand-out during Opening Weekend, with the potential to be an all-timer by the end of the run. This would’ve been 5 stars had our first run not been impacted by a cast change with empty scenes… but our second run – HOLY CRAP! It was that good! The house captures the spirit of Halloween perfectly, with some clever scares and really unique set pieces, especially the grand finale. Also – the smells! One of the best smelling in recent memory.
A Horror Nights fan dream! This love letter to our favorite Icons features some really great scenes and scares, including an awesome facade. We have a few nitpicks, as some Icons get a little more time to shine than others, and wish Fear had a little more than a cameo, but otherwise – fans will be most pleased with this haunt. The Storyteller’s scene, although short, will have most fans talking.
Despite it being a “repeat” from last year, this house still is a banger. A quasi-sequel of both HHN 29’s Universal Monsters house and the film The Bride of Frankenstein, the plot is very easy to follow, and features impressive sets; with a lot of opportunities for the cast to scare the crap out of you. If the cast really finds their groove, this could rank higher by the event’s end.
One of the most creative haunts in recent memory, the house has killer set design – especially the facade of the crumbled theater. The sets are so impressive in some areas, that you forget you’re in a tent. As far as the scares, the house features some real clever tactics and definitely encapsulates the creepiness of the gimmick pretty damn well. Our only gripe is that not every scene lands the scare, but that’s a minor nitpick.
A creepy experience that is a pretty true representation of the show’s essence. The house legitimately feels haunted and filled with ghosts, with the Tall Man giving the best scares. It has potential but part of the problem is it can get a little repetitive. Either way, fans of the show will definitely love it.
The house is the “in-between” story between the first and second films and does a good job bridging the gap. It features a lot of the grit, grime, and gore you come to love from the Chainsaw franchise – and love that we get some Chop Top and Nubbins appearances. The issue is whether or not you’re able to experience the Leatherface scares as the house is a little dependent on it. If you miss it, the house may not land.
One of the deepest dives into Horror Nights lore in HHN history. The most impressive thing is the set pieces featured – most notably the Kitty Kat Club/Delancy Street scene, and realizing it’s constructed inside a Shrek theater. Fans shouldn’t have to worry about knowing any history, as the house features some good scares regardless. Some of the monsters land better than others. Admittedly, we know the love of this house depends on how much of an uber-fan you truly are.
Another love letter to HHN history. This house is the weakest of the “Best of” houses. A major issue is that it feels very short and the house gets off to a slow start. Despite the length, it’s great to see some fan-favorites return, such as Leave it to Cleaver and HR Bloodengutz – although we wish his scene was a bit more than one room and brought back one of the holidays scenes from the popular HHN 21 house.
Another “repeat” that was open last year. The facade is the highlight, as it is one of the most creative and visually stunning facades in recent memory. The house itself has some good scares and exceptional storytelling. We understand it is for actor safety but the vinyl sheeting is noticeable in this house the most due to lighting, so some of the scares get telegraphed.
Fans of the movie will undoubtedly love this house and it’s a good start for new fans looking to dip their toe into the Horror Nights waters to see if they’re brave enough – which is also its problem. It’s not scary at all. It’s definitely fun and captures the tone of the “Ghost with the Most” really well; but as an actual haunt, it misses the mark. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.
A true celebration of Horror Night’s past presented in a fresh way. The scare zone feels alive and full of actors ready to pounce. Even though it features a lot of things we’ve seen, it’s definitely one of the better zones in Hollywood of the past few years.
Although it’s great to have the Terra Queen back, something seems off with the zone. The highlight is definitely the red glow of the trees, which is noticeable from everywhere around the lagoon. Outside of that, the zone can feel a little repetitive, and we wish the Queen made her presence felt more.
Scarezones in Production Central are tough to pull off in the modern era of HHN crowds and have advocated that they need to go for more atmospheric zones. This zone finally nails that concept! Even though this zone is pretty light on themeing and characters, it really sets the tone for the event perfectly. The fire tower, the neon HHN sign glowing, the spotlights. We need more zones like this in this area going forward.
To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of the shorts but thought the designs of some of the creatures are really incredible which could help those unaware of CryptTV’s line-up – and ultimately that’s what works. The uniqueness and individuality of the characters will help any non-fan to enjoy their time in the zone. The Look-See should be a crowd favorite due to his look alone.
Another year in New York where the biggest area of the park doesn’t take advantage of the size. The actors are doing their best but something isn’t clicking. There was a ton of potential with propaganda for the Controller and didn’t capitalize on that gimmick enough (For example, there are only 3 banners hanging around the same general area.) While I understand the point of the costumes was showing conformity; if you’ve seen one, you’ve pretty much seen them all – and the cleanliness of the white doesn’t help either with that repetitive feeling. Maybe if they added more blood to the costumes so the red can contrast off the white? There’s something there, just what was presented so far isn’t it.
Marathon of Mayhem was a tough act to follow, and while this doesn’t reach the heights of the first show, it still kicks ass. Where Marathon of Mayhem was a celebration to the nostalgia of 80’s horror, Carnage Factory is a horror rock opera. Definitely do not skip it.
It’s Cirque de Soliel meets S&M. It fits into Horror Nights perfectly, with sexy dancing, hard rock music, and some truly amazing performances and magic tricks.
Food & Drink
With the increase of focus on food & drink, Universal has really amped up the offerings – even going as far as having themed food tents around the park. We’ll highlight our thoughts on some of the most notable offerings.
Of the two special drinks, Ghoul Juice was our favorite, as the mango and cherry make it a very refreshing drink to have, especially with the humid nights of Orlando. Poison Tea Party was good, too but we’re not really fans of the alcoholic tea beverages (unless they’re from Long Island) so this is all just personal preference.
The Severed Ribs from Texas Chainsaw Booth was very straightforward in a good way, with a very sweet, tasty BBQ sauce.
The Flammkuchen is a Crispy flatbread, and we mean flatbread, topped with crème fraiche, thinly sliced onions, and smoked bacon. A good snack that’s not too heavy on thes stomach.
Jack’d Donut Slider missed the mark for us which sucks because it was one of our highly-anticipated options. While the sweetness of the donut and the saltiness of the burger and bacon jam should work, we think the bourbon icing may have been the culprit of our non-enjoyment. Another miss was the Bourbon Candied Pork Belly. While the pork belly itself was tasty and cooked well, the bourbon candy shell wasn’t a great experience, especially trying to bite into it.
Our favorite options actually came from the Wicked Growth booth, with the Field of Screams Gyoza being our favorite dishes of them all. The dumplings are filled with spicy ground turkey and butternut squash that are quite tasty, and also not too filling. The Pumpkin Guts was our 2nd favorite of the night, and yes, it is a vegan option. The dish comes with sautéed zucchini and butternut squash noodles with hazelnut “brown butter,” sage, parsley, and toasted hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds.
As we say every year – the most important part of Halloween Horror Nights is the fun you have with your friends and family.
We’ve been lucky to have 30 Years of Horror Nights, and I’m glad I’ve been able to experience 19 of them. This year’s event is a solid salute to the past, but here’s hoping Halloween Horror Nights 31 kicks off a new era of Horrah!
We’ll have more in-depth specific coverage of all the Horror Nights options that can be experienced this year. Until then, we’ll see you all in the fog!