On September 19, the gates of hell opened a little wider as Universal Orlando Resort ushered in the 2014 Halloween season with the opening of the twenty fourth edition of Halloween Horror Nights. Thousands of screaming fans scampered through the gates of Universal Studios Florida in search of the best combination of fear and fun that can be found anywhere in the state, the country, and perhaps the world.
Whether you’ve been to HHN or not, I’m sure that most of you have some preconceived notions about the event. First, let’s say what it isn’t. Halloween Horror Nights is definitely not Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (check back on Thursday for that review)! The normally family friendly park is transformed into a haven of hellfire and damnation the likes of which you probably have never seen; done in the spirit of fun and mischief that have become the hallmarks of modern Halloween.
On other sites, it has been referred to as walking directly into a live action horror movie, and implied that if you don’t enjoy that particular gene of film, you won’t enjoy HHN. Personally, I LOVE Halloween Horror Nights, but am not a big fan of horror. The best part of the night is the elaborate costuming, staging, and special effects, with the scares providing an added bonus.
Scantily clad actors and actresses can be seen on virtually every corner, and some of them even peddle adult beverages for your drinking enjoyment. Hoardes of zombies and chainsaw wielding madmen search you out and try to kill you; or act like it, anyway. (Un)willing victims are tortured and killed on the street, while poncho clad tourists walk by with their heads planted in their cellphones as if it’s something that happens all the time!
This year, visitors are able to experience eight hauntingly themed mazes, four scarezones, and two live shows, as well as a handful of theme park rides during the evening. I was lucky enough to experience the show on it’s first rain soaked night, and made it through all of the houses and scarezones before Universal security announced that the witching hour had come, and everyone was to make their way to the exits.
For this piece, I’ve rated each section based on its level of theming, and general scare factor. The ranking is based on a scale of 1-10.
(Descriptions courtesy of HalloweenHorrorNights.com and Universal Creative)
The Walking Dead: The End of the Line
This year’s bone-chilling maze is the largest maze ever created at Halloween Horror Nights and places guests at the heart of a harrowing journey to seek sanctuary at Terminus, an elusive destination that promises community for all. Mirroring the terror that befell the residents of the West Georgia Correctional Facility, now overrun by savage walkers, the experience sends guests fleeing from the fallen prison into unknown territory as they once again stage a desperate battle for survival against flesh-eating walkers and ruthless humans.
This is one of the soundstage houses, and as such you’d expect it to be big and well themed. The costuming is very well done, and the storyline seemd to parallel the shows progression. Not my favorite house of the evening, but it was pretty good.
Scare Factor: 8.5
From Dusk Till Dawn
This all-new maze, inspired by the critically acclaimed movie and television series, thrusts guests into the deviant world of “From Dusk Till Dawn,” where they encounter sordid mythological creatures known as “Culebras,” serpent-like vampires who have tormented the earth for centuries. Residing within the elusive and sinister nightclub, “The Twister,” located just over the Mexican border and above cursed ancient ruins, the “Culebras” prove to be a band of immoral and depraved beasts with a deadly agenda. As guests navigate the maze and venture deep within the bowels of “The Twister,” they find themselves face to face with a cast of perverse characters, including exotic dancer, Santanico Pandemonium, a mysterious and irresistible “Culebras” femme fatale and Queen Vampire.”
“Robert Rodriguez’s vision of ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ has translated so well into a maze experience,” said Michael Aiello, Director of Entertainment – Creative Development, Universal Orlando Resort. “We will feature the over-the-top gore that the show does so well and our guests will come face-to-face with Robert’s unique and wickedly cool take on the vampire mythos that is completely authentic to the show. From the Nightclub interiors to the inner sanctum of its tombs, these bloodthirsty beasts will be everywhere and have a thirst that can’t be quenched.”
This is yet another of the soundstage houses, and the storyline goes along with the film. It was my favorite house of the night, and provided a few scares along the way.
Scare Factor: 9
Dracula Untold: Reign of Blood
Guests will witness the harrowing transformation of Vlad the Impaler to the monstrous Dracula. We know how the story ends, but what terrifying blood drenched journey brought Vlad into the darkness that is Dracula? This is it — every visceral and feral scare will grab guests by the jugular.
This house, though well laid out, seemed to leave a little to be desired. It did flow from the historical character of Vlad the Impaler, and ended up in the Hollywood version of the immortal Dracula. However, it needed something else to tie it together better.
Scare Factor: 6.5
AVP: Alien vs. Predator
To mark the 35th anniversary celebration of Alien, and the 10th anniversary of AVP: Alien vs. Predator, “Halloween Horror Nights” guests and fans of these celebrated films have a chance to live the horror of these diabolical beasts as they come face to face with the terror of Aliens and Predators.
“When attempting to bring two of the most iconic creatures ever put on film to ‘Halloween Horror Nights,’ you need to rely on everything you’ve learned up to this point” said Michael Aiello, Director of Entertainment – Creative Development, Universal Orlando Resort. “We’re employing our full arsenal of tricks and techniques in translating the AVP: Alien vs. Predator brand into an authentic and horrific maze experience. Puppetry, elaborate costumes and unique environments have all been created in close collaboration with Twentieth Century Fox. Our guests are going to be thrown head first into this epic battle where only the strong will survive. This is truly going to be an out-of-this-world maze experience that the fans have been waiting for.”
In Universal Orlando’s spine-chilling maze, guests find themselves thrust right into the middle of the primordial battle between the Aliens and Predators as they visit one of Weyland-Yutani’s secret facilities to assist with a situation that has surfaced. Communication has been lost with a bio-weapons research facility in Central America which houses many divisions dealing in extra-terrestrial technologies, specifically the Alien Xenomorph species. Pieces of transmissions were received detailing that the facility has become compromised and another alien species called Yautja – commonly known as Predators – are hunting both the Xenomorphs and any human presence found. Guests navigate through the labyrinth of destruction within the facility as they struggle to survive the ancient feud between these two deadly species.
This house is one of the most hyped of the year, and the puppets and general layout of the house have an amazing sci-fi theme. However, it was not scary at all, in my humble opinion, and was simply an homage to some of the greatest sci-fi franchises of the late 20th century.
Scare Factor: 5.5
Based on the classic 1978 slasher film, the all-new haunted house follows the story of Michael Myers, a deranged boy from Haddonfield, Il. It is Halloween night and no one is safe as the psychotic killer embarks on a murderous rampage. With his iconic mask to hide his identity, Michael sets out for new blood and will stop at nothing as he stalks his victims. Every scene tells the tale of a different kill and if you’re not careful, you could be next.
My experience watching this film growing up is as vivid now as it was years ago. The team and I are beyond thrilled to bring one of the most iconic horror films and characters to life at Halloween Horror Nights.” said Michael Aiello, Director of Entertainment – Creative Development, Universal Orlando Resort. “Halloween, began what would become the slasher film genre and still represents the genre as its horrific crown jewel. Guests will come face to face with Michael Myers as we recreate the kills committed on the night He came home.
Halloween was my second favorite house of the night. The experience begins outside the tent, where the facade of the Myers home is recreated in detail, complete with Michael hacking a victim to death in the upstairs window. The maze attempts to recreate some of the greatest scenes in the history of the franchise, and is basically wall to wall Micheal Myers. If that’s your kind of thing, you’ll be in cult classic heaven!
Scare Factor: 8.5
Dollhouse of the Damned
Dollhouse of the Damned will terrify guests with its original characters and visually unsettling environments. Within its decaying walls lay the remnants of an old evil. The devious denizens of the house pull apart and remake the unfortunate souls that stumble through the doorway of the Dollhouse, as they become the Damned that will never escape.
This was not high on my list of scares, although the costuming and theming were out of this world. The actors were really into their roles, which made for an awesome experience.
Scare Factor: 6
Giggles and Gore Inc.
Evil clowns are not born…they are made. People are stretched, smashed, and eviscerated. Faces are peeled off, voice boxes are torn out, and bodies are stuffed with…other bodies.
This house has it’s ups and downs, but is overall a great glimpse into the world of the demented clowns we all know and love! Although the infamous Jack does not appear in the maze, his spirit can be almost felt inside.
Keep an eye out for the original Islands of Adventure icon, Woody Woodpecker, as he plays a pivotal role in the dementing of a clown’s mind!
Scare Factor: 8
Roanoke: Cannibal Colony
Guests will walk into the actual settlement of Roanoke and experience the terror of a community in cannibalistic turmoil. The cannibal colonists attack any fresh meat that stumbles near them. It’s a feast of destruction, carnage and gnashing of teeth.
Any house that is based, however loosely, on historical events should be held to a higher standard. Unfortunately, this house falls short on a number of levels.
First off, it is too short. The theme is an interesting one, but there isn’t enough time to devlop the storyline. Some of the props used are OBVIOUSLY fake, which also takes away from the house. It could be great, but it, like the ill-fated colony it is based on, needs help!
Scare Factor: 4
Face Off – In the Flesh
Ten different character creations inspired by the acclaimed Syfy series “Face Off,” including a look designed by season 5 “Face Off” winner and Universal Orlando make-up artist, Laura Tyler, inhabit five unique and immersive environments within the scare zone, from eerie scarecrows that go to great lengths to protect a spine-chilling farmland to ghoulish brutes that haunt dilapidated castle ruins.
“The gruesome creatures imagined on Face Off are the perfect fit for the streets of Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights,” said Michael Aiello, Director of Entertainment – Creative Development, Universal Orlando Resort. “Our goal is to bring to life the macabre artistry displayed in the characters seen week after week. We are also very excited to be featured in a season 7 episode of Face Off, and to include that episode’s winning makeup in the maze. For our guests, I know it will be a uniquely terrifying opportunity to come face to face with these creations for the very first time now “In the Flesh.”
The wet and dreary conditions made this scarezone more of a ghost town until later in the evening, but it finally got into it’s stride after 10:00 p.m. It is amazing to see what the twisted genious of Face Off can come up with, and the make-up definitely adds to the story.
Scare Factor: 6
The Purge: Anarchy
“The Purge: Anarchy” scarezone will greet guests with pure unadulterated fear, bringing to life the turmoil and pandemonium that awaits those vulnerable to masked vigilantes in search of new victims. Like civilians in the movie fighting to survive, guests will be at the mercy of cunning wit, luck and speed as they attempt to outsmart and outlive the anarchy brought about by those who believe in an “eye for an eye.”
This scarezone might be one of the few that actually looks more detailed during the daytime. That fact takes away a little of the unbridled fear that Purge:Anarchy is supposed to bring out, but does help to make the zone a bit more interesting to wander through.
Scare Factor: 6
At first glance, this may seem like a normal ballroom, but guests will be terrified when they see human heads inside oversized candles, appendages dangling in the streets and human faces ripped right from skulls with bloody remains still intact.
No real scare factor here, but the costuming and rhythnic movements of the scareactors makes it a must see!
Scare Factor: 4
Bayou of Blood
The trees are illuminated with candles, voodoo practitioners fill the snake and spider-infested bayou, and the alter is set, as the legendary ‘Mamba’ prepares to flood the bayou with blood.
I suppose that this zone might be a bit scarier if you’re able to witness the hourly human sacrifice. Still, the theming is amazing, and the scareactors are out for blood!
Scare Factor: 6
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure
Party on as those two most excellent dudes return to skewer the biggest stories of the past year with the biggest names in pop culture.
This show offers up what it has bcome famous for; lots of sexy humor and a lambasting of some of the personalities that have been in the news for the past year. At it’s heart, it is a song and dance show, and though most of the humor is so sophomoric that it borders on the totally lame, the gnarly nature of Bill and Ted somehow manage to pull it all together!
Rocky Horror Picture Show – A Tribute
Let’s do the Time Warp again! Rock out to clips from the classic cult film with your favorite Transvestite, live tribute performers, and audience participants.
Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 24 takes place on select nights from now until Nov. 1. During its twenty-four year history, Halloween Horror Nights has become an iconic event for horror fans from around the world, and the event has been known to sell out. Guests can secure their scares at this wildly popular event by booking now at HalloweenHorrorNights.com/Orlando. Offers include Florida Resident event tickets, a Frequent Fear Pass that allows guests to experience 16 nights of pure terror for less than the price of one, and a Halloween Horror Nights hotel and ticket package that includes event tickets, park-to-park tickets and accommodations at a Universal Orlando hotel so you can stay right in the midst of all the action.
Updates on Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights are available on Facebook at Halloween Horror Nights – Universal Orlando and on Instagram at @HorrorNightsORL. Plus, fans can get exclusive updates from Creative Development Director Mike Aiello on Twitter at @HorrorNightsORL.
This sojourn into the world of the undead is one of many that is available for your enjoyment during this season of scares. Stay tuned for a review of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, as well as other macabre gatherings that are planned throughout the scary season.
Remember that Halloween is a time for fun and frivolity. It is a time to come out of your shell, and to acknowledge the mischievous spirit that resides within all of us.
If you’d like to visit Halloween Horror Nights but would like to do so with fellow MiceChat readers, please join us on October 23rd as we take on the monsters of the night. Event details HERE.