We’re back for another season of Horror Nights! The 32nd event is back and better than ever, with BIG heavy hitters featured in the line-up – with the returning Stranger Things and the popular game franchise, The Last of Us.
The event has also grown to the point where it is no longer contained within the boundaries of Universal Studios. From Cabana Bay’s Chucky photo experience to Revenge of the Dead Coconut Club lounge in CityWalk, you’ll need a weekend (and maybe more) to really enjoy all that Halloween Horror Nights has to offer this year.
This year, the event uses iconography and visuals to great effect. Oddfellow’s presence can be felt throughout. As you enter each zone, there’ll be a reference to either Oddfellow, himself, or the Zodiac. You’ll see symbolism used in the storytelling for Blood Moon, The Darkest Deal, Stranger Things, The Last of Us…etc.
Fun Fact: Oddfellow is featured in every zone, as he can shapeshift to other creatures. Be on the lookout for the scar on his face.
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 it their all night in and night out.
It’s very possible, and very likely, this could change; but after opening weekend, here’s where we stand: (Some Spoilers. Video links to each house and zone are included in the title.)
A great concept that was translated to near perfection. To those who don’t know, this is Universal’s version of “The Devil went down to Georgia” – which comes from the Crossroads legend. The house has some great visual storytelling, though it gets a bit muddled in the middle portion. The highlight is the presence of the devil throughout the house, not only stalking Pinestraw, but us, the guest. The devil’s design is also unsettling scary. A definite must-do this year.
Another year of the Monsters brings another year of one of the best houses of the event. All monsters get their time to shine, though it does seem more Phantom heavy. What makes this year’s house so unique is the monsters featured come from tragic backstories, but we’re entering the story after they’ve accepted the role of the “Monster”. The house features great set pieces, and the Invisible Man definitely has the best scare of the year.
The Yetis are back for campy carnage. This year’s, the Bigfoot (Bigfeet?) are bringing some laughs with their ferocity as Campground Kills is this year’s “Dark Humor” house – and there is a lot of “dark humor”. From Billy mocking a dead baby yeti, and proceeding to get yeeted by Mama Yeti, to poor little Fifi meeting her demise to an annoyed yeti – there’s a lot to appreciate in Round 3 of the Yeti Saga, including the return of our beloved HHN Bear.
A love letter to the 1999 attraction. This is a tough house to rate, because it’s so wonderful, and hits some new highs with set design, costumes, and special effects – but it’s more fantasy than horror. There are still scares, and Universal does a good job adapting the story to fit in the new “warlock” backstory. The positives outweigh the negatives by a wide margin, though as it’s definitely a must-do.
Horor Night fans are going to love the history behind the house, as it tells the origins of not only Oddfellow, but Jack the Clown. While circus houses have been done before, Twisted Origins feels fresh, with a lot of weird, demented costumes and scenes. A perfect mix of sick and twisted, with a little bit of that carnival humor. Shoutout to the Minotaur in a tutu.
The “scenic” house of the year. Bloodmoon features impressive sets and maze design, as it truly feels you’re walking through a small village. It’s also the most bloody of the mazes, unsurprisingly. The scares in this house are put to use a little differently, as it seems it gets more intense as it builds up to the finale. However, it can get a bit repetitive as the aggressors are the townfolk. Regardless, it’s a great house full of harvesting carnage.
The surprise sleeper hit so far! We don’t have much to go on as the film has yet to be released but good grief this house is scary! What holds it back from being so great is that it’s very clearly a “teaser” house – so there is no true ending; so, as everything starts to ramp up and tensions start to rise, the house ends. Nevertheless, if you were a fan of the 2016 house, you’re going to absolutely love this version.
The house recreates the Pittsburgh chapter to a tee and is hands-down THE BEST house adaption of a video game that Horror Nights has ever done. The Clickers are the star here, with effective costumes and wonderful use of sound (especially put to good use in one scene). With that said, the house feels more theatrical in some scenes instead of scary. A minor nitpick but a nitpick nonetheless.
Vecna is the star of the show here, for better or worse. We know there are fans that wished there was some Hopper/Russia representation, but personally – we STAN the Vecna. The house features impressive sets from some of Season 4’s iconic scenes – including Max escaping Vecna and Eddie & Dustin fighting Demobats. It strikes a great balance of bringing the show to life while also bringing the scares.
Universal did a great job of populating a house with a believable murderous doll, especially the initial Chucky puppet – which is DAMN impressive. But Chucky just doesn’t do it for us. There are some fun scenes, and we appreciate the meta humor – but we just couldn’t connect.
The most fun scarezone of the year! Every actor was having a good ol’ time with their role, filling the zone with an energy similar to what made Vamp 55 work so well in 2016. Of course, we have to mention the killer soundtrack, too. Our only gripe is that the big stage seems to only be used for an occasional “kill”.
A bit of camp (no pun intended) with a bit of horror and a splash of adventure. This year, the trees glow red from the eyes of watchful bats. The zone is packed to the brim with props, which helps make the unique creatures utilize clever hiding spots for an impactful scare.
This zone carries a different energy than the others, as it’s more of a “brooding/uneasy calm” feel. What it lacks in props, it definitely makes up for in costume design – with some of Universal’s most impressive creations in recent memory; but more importantly, the actors were great during our few walk-throughs.
The biggest issue with this zone is the crowd flow, which causes a lot of congestion – so we can’t get really enjoy the atmosphere. There are some familiar monsters and creatures around, and the Crane/Crashed box is a well-done set piece – but there’s too much traffic to get our full enjoyment out of it.
Universal has tried something new and shifted the scarezone from the usual area in Production Central (Now Minion Land) a bit to the right and near the Today Cafe, which had made an already small zone even smaller. So what works? The neon sign is back, so that’s always a plus – but Dr. Oddfellow himself carries the zone, with his mini stage show and crowd interactions.
SHOWS & ENTERTAINMENT
With so much to do, we tried to catch the show TWICE! – and both times were full. Based on others who have seen the show, it’s a fantastic show; and obviously will be very popular – but since we didn’t see the show, we can’t properly rate it.
A group of MThreeGans randomly appears throughout the park to do that little dance that was so popular in the trailer. You know the one. It’s a nice change of pace from the horror and they do a quick meet & greet afterward.
The Death Eaters have made their way into Diagon Alley, blending a traditional scarezone with live entertainment. With Diagon having more space than Hogsmeade, the Death Eaters have more room to flourish. It’s a definite must-visit for Potter fans!
Of course, Horror Nights has also become a “foodie” event, as there is a lot of awesome food & drink there is to enjoy – and then there’s the Carn-Evil Dog.
We appreciate unique and out-of-the-norm offerings, but Kool-Aid pickles and bubblegum mustard is a step too far for us.
As far as the good stuff… highlights this year:
Cheddar Jalapeño Hellfire Club – $13.99 – Jalapeño cheddar bread with shaved pork shoulder, crispy potato sticks, spicy mayo, pineapple chutney, and Muenster cheese
The sandwich has just the right amount of kick, with just enough sweet from the pineapple. It’s cheesy, meaty, and the perfect handheld snack for the late nights at the event.
Yuri’s Favorite – $5.99 – Chocolate cake with peanut butter mousse and Reese’s Pieces
This isn’t a hard sell. Do you love chocolate? Do you love chocolate and peanut butter mixed? Get this. You’ll be thanking us.
Cordyceps Corndog – $11.49 – Korean cheese dog with cordyceps, crispy potato sticks, truffle cream sauce and daikon sprouts
It looks like a lot, but it’s essentially a “sour cream and onion”-coated corn dog.
Left Behind Ravioli – $9.99 – Mini cheese ravioli with marinara, truffle cream, garlic bread, and tempura fried enoki mushrooms
A simple dish sometimes is all you need, and the ravioli is pretty straightforward – but the selling point is the awesome FEDRA can its served in.
Peanut Blooder Burger – $13.49 – Smash burger with peanut sauce, raspberry jelly, cheddar cheese, shaved onions, jalapeño bacon, and cherry peppers on a vampire bun
A good mix of sweet & savory, where the ingredients all come together to complement one another instead of overpowering each other.
This year’s is shaping up to be one of the best in the modern era, maybe rivaled by 2019’s event. It was really tough to rank the houses because they are all so strong in their own right – as our Top 5 changed each night. That’s a good problem to have. With strong IPs anchored by an impressive original lineup and a charismatic icon, you have the recipes for success.
Yes, while we spend time ranking houses and discussing the minutiae of which scare is best, or what sets look incredible – it ultimately doesn’t matter unless you’re having fun and that’s why we keep coming back every year.
Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights runs select nights through November 4.
Until then, we’ll see you all in the fog!