The dark veil of Halloween Horror Nights has descended yet again on Universal Studios in Orlando. For the past twenty-four years around Halloween time, Universal has turned their parks into nightmare fuel to scare, shock and disturb their guests. This year is no exception. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to let you know that it was raining pretty heavily throughout the night when we visited on press night. This is important information because Universal cuts the staff in the scare zones and outside locations in the rain. Stilt walkers are not allowed out due to the slippery conditions. Please keep this in mind as you read the reviews of the scare zones as any information posted about them should improve with better weather.
We were greeted and put into small groups with other media outlets as we arrived. We were then walked through the park to the Pantages theater, normally the location of the Horror and Makeup show at Universal Orlando. The lobby had been transformed into a sinister buffet, featuring excellent treats to fill us up for our hike around the park. Once we had our fill, Creative Director Mike Aiello gave a quick introduction to the houses and showed why he is the best in the business when it comes to the creative direction of Halloween attractions. He thanked the team involved with creating the event and made sure everyone knew the hard work they put in to make the creative team’s vision into reality. After that, we were matched up with our groups and away we went to tour the park, ponchos and all.
For those of you on the West Coast, In Orlando, we call the “Mazes” here “Houses.”
The houses this year did not fail to impress, with every house featuring something that makes it worth it to visit. There were no houses I would skip and I plan to visit them all again before the haunt season ends. From awe-inspiring scene work to some of the most disturbing visuals to ever grace the park, there was something for everyone.
Follow in Michael Myers’ footsteps as he begins his historic night of horror. John Carpenter’s classic original film comes to life – just as yours is coming to an end.
This was the first house we toured and a house we toured during the preview a few weeks ago. If I had to describe this house in one word, it would be authentic. Scenes from the original John Carpenter classic are painstakingly re-created and the jump scares abound. Despite it being a tent-house, it felt very long with a lot of different environments included. Do not miss this house, it’s a perfect 10 out of 10.
The Walking Dead: End of the Line
In the largest haunted house Universal Orlando® has ever created, you’ll journey through the most recent season of AMC’s The Walking Dead from the prison on your way to Terminus, dodging flesh-eating walkers every step of the way.
Being featured for the third year in a row, Universal knew they had to pull out all the stops to keep people’s interests up for this house. This was another very authentic house, walking you through scenes that depict events throughout season 4 of the Walking Dead. Featuring more scareactors at one time than any house in history, this one sets some records. You start off in the prison of season 3 and end up at Terminus, a sanctuary for all, or so you think… Fans of the series will be amazed at the attention to detail and non-fans will still be pleasantly surprised at the quality of the house. Be sure to watch out for Herschel’s cameo! 10/10
AVP: Alien Vs. Predator
Avoid becoming collateral damage in a violent and savage battle between two horrific extraterrestrial species. Whoever wins… we lose.
This house takes place in a jungle research facility that has been descended upon by both Alien and Predator. . The same animatronic technology featured in last year’s ‘An American Werewolf in London’ is used to bring the Xenomorphs of Aliens to life. Incredibly intricate sets and the chance to come face to face with both the Xenomorphs and Predators, despite a lack of scares, make this house a must-see. 9/10
From Dusk Till Dawn
Based on the hit TV series, chaos reigns inside this remote biker bar as you discover it’s filled with an ancient race of bloodthirsty creatures. The ordeal will leave you drained – in more ways than one.
With another house pulled right from the screen, Universal has shown that they know how to replicate the events of a TV show or film and bring it to life with amazing accuracy. Depicting events from the first season of show, this house is very impressive in making sure all the characters and major events are given their time in the spotlight. Some very effective jump scares as well. 9/10
Dracula Untold – Reign of Blood
Your demise could come from bloodthirsty vampires or the attacking Turks as you attempt to survive the terrifying journey that turned the one-time hero into Dracula.
While not the best house in the lineup, Dracula Untold – Reign of Blood brings a strong performance with many effects demanding a lot of the scareactors. With unique effects like air bursters replicating flying arrows and scents replicating burning wood during a siege scene, there are many reasons to call this a quality house. With plenty of jump scares and mini-scenes playing out, this extensive house will both introduce you to and get you excited for the upcoming film. 8/10
Dollhouse of the Damned
Those who enter risk becoming one of the unfortunate souls with no hope of escape. Surviving the malicious dolls who wait inside will be anything but child’s play.
In one of the most disturbing houses in Halloween Horror Nights history, Dollhouse of the Damned brings out some of your favorite childhood toys and then turns them against you. If you were to look closely at the sets that make up this house, you would find at least one toy you grew up playing with, be it Teddy Ruxpin or everyone’s favorite Good Guy, Chucky, but the fact of the matter is, you won’t want to. I went into this house thinking that it just featured some creepy porcelain dolls, boy was I wrong. I won’t give away any specific scenes because I want you to be just as disturbed as I was. Just be sure to hold your nose when you enter the Crib Room. 10/10
Giggles & Gore Inc.
Evil clowns are not born…they’re made. The joke’s on you as you explore an abandoned factory where body parts fly and evil clowns are assembled from what’s left.
Another disturbing foray into the twisted minds of Universal Creative, this house is a factory where evil clowns build… evil clowns. Clowns are pounded, smashed and ripped apart to be made into the evil clowns we know and hate. One particular scene shows a clown using a dead body as a ventriloquist dummy with scareactors playing both parts. You walk through the factory and are greeted at the end by The Rejected, evil clowns too evil to be unleashed. If you are one of the many that are terrified of clowns, be warned that this house will terrify you to no end. 8/10
Roanoke – Cannibal Colony
The inhabitants of this lost Virginia colony have resorted to cannibalism to survive. Take a trip back in time and explore the remains of this settlement where you’ll get a history lesson you’ll never forget.
I would call this house the sleeper hit of HHN 24. Featuring one of the largest sets in recent memory, this house really envelops you in its story. The sets are gigantic, with some towering over 15 feet above you. Depicting scenes of cannibalism and evil spirits, you watch the story of a town, influenced by evil spirts, turn against themselves and descend into chaos. Some people may overlook this house, don’t be one of those people. 10/10
No duds. The mazes were ALL solid this year and worth a trip!
Let’s see if the Scare Zones are as good as the mazes.
The Purge: Anarchy
Once you enter The Purge: Anarchy you’ll be lucky to just survive the night. In this unique experience inspired by Universal Pictures’ new thriller, turmoil and pandemonium awaits those vulnerable to masked vigilantes in search of new victims.
This scare zone is very large, covering the entire New York Backlot section of the park. Due to the rain of the evening, there were not as many scare actors out but this area shows great potential and was still effective as you can only tell who’s a scareactor if you see their masked face. From the back, it could be any park-goer. This is very effective in keeping you on your toes . . . don’t trust anyone . . . which is a big theme of the films as well. Make sure to visit this scare zones a few times if you can, as there are some events that happen in area from time to time such as a human auction and motorbikes.
Face Off – In the Flesh
You’ll be surrounded by the most terrifying creatures from the minds of some of Hollywood’s most talented Special effects make-up artists in this gruesome, immersive experience.
Are you a fan of SyFy’s hit show Face-Off? If you are, you will get extra excitement out of this scare zone as you come face to face with some of the best character designs from the show’s 7 season history. The main characters went through an extensive makeup process much longer than your average scareactor treatment and are featured on elevated float-like stationary scenes and are accompanied by appropriate Universal-created scareactors that fit with the theme of each makeup to get you while you are staring in awe at the more elaborate designs. Make sure to hit the Hollywood area of the park to see these characters and take some pictures!
Bayou of Blood
Venture into the Louisiana bayou where practitioners of voodoo are seeking unwilling victims for the night’s ritual sacrifice. Will you make it out alive, or will your blood be spilled on the sacrificial altar?
This scarezone located in the Central Park area of Universal combines eerie lighting effects with a voodoo theme that will be very effective. This area will also feature a live sacrifice every hour – unfortunately, due to weather, was not happening on the night I visited. A solid zone with some very nice set design.
A glamorous masquerade ball is revealed to be a macabre dance of death. When the masks come off and the stitches are ripped away you’ll find that beauty may be skin deep, but horror oozes much deeper
While this zone was one of the most underwhelming of the scare zones, it has a lot of potential. I think this was another case of limited actors due to the weather. The concept was supposed to be a masquerade ball, but no one was dancing and the few actors in the area made it a quick walk through. I expect to see this zone evolve over the event and be much more effective when the weather is better.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: A Tribute
Let’s do the Time Warp again! Rock out to clips from the classic cult film with live tribute performers and plenty of audience participation.
We did not get the opportunity to view this show during the media event, but it is essentially a supercut of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. You will see your favorite characters and scenes played out and the audience interaction is amazing every year. This show is always a hit. If you have the time, I wouldn’t miss it!
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure
Party on as those two most excellent dudes return to skewer the biggest names in politics, show business and pop culture.
This year’s show is based in a frat house where celebrities are dying and Bill and Ted are sent in, 21 Jump Street style, to figure out who the killer is before more celebs are offed. The mode of death? Magic bands everyone wears so that the campus can keep track of them. Yes, this year skewers Disney more than ever before. I don’t want to give away the big scene, but expect a visit from Anna and Elsa in one of the most hilarious parodies I have ever seen. With the fears that this show may be pulled (as it was in Hollywood), I’m glad that they were able to pull out all the stops and prove that this is a show not to be missed!
In conclusion, I would say that this is a very strong year for Halloween Horror Nights. I would definitely encourage anyone to attend based on the houses alone, but the return of traditional scare zones and a solid Bill and Ted show really push this event over the top. The event runs on select weekend nights from 9/19 to 11/1. Tickets can be purchased at halloweenhorrornights.com and on-site at main ticketing locations.