Okay, so I just went to Halloween Horror Nights Team Member preview last night. It was a fabulous event. The new houses were extremely well done. The Walking Dead theme infiltrates every area of the park. In fact they are even piping in the smell of rotting flesh in front of Revenge of the Mummy. I was able to experience all the houses and the Bill and Ted show. This review contains many spoilers. If that's not your cup of tea, you should turn away now.
The set up of the event:
This year there are eight houses. The new Harry Potter construction of London has removed the house that was formally in the Jaws queue. Last year we were down one house and we only had seven. This year, we are back up to eight houses. In order to accommodate eight houses, four houses this year are in the sound stages. This is more than any year before and provided a logistical challenge. I'm happy to announce that they accomplished this challenge. However, due to the nature of the houses and the requirement to not cross queues, the exit is all the way down near The New York library facade for all four houses.
Like usual there are also two houses in the sprung tents, one house in the parade storage facility, and one house in the Disaster extended queue.
This year also marks the return of the Rocky Horror Picture Show Tribute, which is showing in the Beetlejuice Graveyard Reveue Theater.
First we'll talk about the overall theme of the event. The overall theme is "evil takes root". This is really just a marketing slogan and nothing in the park would lead you to believe that this is an overall theme. The overall theme of the event is truly everything is AMC's The Walking Dead when you're walking around the park. Some people have tried to say that the evil takes root theme applies with all of the houses, but all I found is that most houses happened to have zombies. Each house has a different take on zombies however, and that's kind of interesting. Let's talk about the houses.
Upon entering the park, the first house you'll see on the left is the Cabin in the Woods. Having seen the film myself, I found it to be very well done. However, they couldn't actually build elevators like in the film, so they have elevator themed rooms to take you from different place to place. Also there are some references to unicorns, and fans of the film will love that. The detail is incredible. They even have the deer that she made out with in the film. The only strange thing about the house is that the queue wraps around from the entrance of Despicable Me, goes behind Rip Ride Rock It, and then heads all the way back toward Islands of Adventure then turns around and goes back into the soundstage. It's an extremely long queue but very well hidden. Just like all the up onstage houses this house also exits all the way down at the New York public library facade.
The second house that you will encounter upon entering the park on the left is the Resident Evil: Raccoon City house. This was actually my favorite house of the entire event. It was extremely well done and a lot of fun. Upon entering the soundstage, you actually see the full city right in front of you. It's one of the most elaborate faades for a city I've ever seen inside a soundstage. If you're a fan of the video games, every single element is present in this. Here's a spoiler: they even have a part of the house where the game is paused. And by the way, you die at the end, sorry, what did you expect? It's Horror Nights. The only bad part about this house is that it wasn't long enough. I wanted more.
The third house on the left that you encounter after walking in is an American Werewolf in London. The entrance for this house is actually inside Twister's entrance. This house was extremely well themed and they actually made me feel like I was in London. Also if you're a fan of Dr. Who, you might find a certain Police Call Box that's present inside the house. Although officially Universal denies any similarities with a certain TV series on the BBC, you can kind of get the idea that the creators were huge Dr. Who fans. We also noticed a hidden Mickey in the house. Even without those cool references, it's a great house. The werewolves are kind of unique... they went with a live puppet approach and the werewolves are very well done.
The final house on the left was themed to Evil Dead. We found this to be the weakest house so far the year, however it was still preview night when we saw the house so please reserve judgment until you see it for yourself. Also no one in my party was an Evil Dead fan, so that might've played a role in why we didn't really enjoy the house. Not to mention the movie didn't do all that well this year.
The next house that you encounter upon going clockwise around the park would be Havoc 2: Derailed. This house was themed very very well. It's an original house and it's a sequel to a previous house at Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando. The story of this house is very simple: they're transporting some genetically altered people from one facility to another via train. The train crashes while you're aboard and havoc gets unleashed. What made us love this house though, wasn't necessarily the story, but the theme of walking into a train that's moving. The movement that is simulated on this train via creative lighting and gusts of air almost makes us think that this is a test to see how well they can pull off the Hogwarts Express next year. We shall see. One thing is certain though, this is one of the best houses ever created for the space known as the Disaster extended queue. The reason we say this is because the Disaster queue is a very complicated area to build a house. They are not allowed to remove the props in the queue, plus this is an outdoor location. The previous houses in this area were very weak. Not so this time.
Afterlife: Death's Vengeance was the next house, with its entrance near Men in Black. This is the 3-D house once again (Penn & Teller was here last year with a 3-D Vegas House). This is the most disorienting 3-D house I've ever been inside. It actually made me dizzy. A heck of a lot of fun.
The next house was La Llorona, a house imported from California. If you're not familiar with the story, you should look it up. The first half of the house is the same as California's version, but the 2nd half is quite different. You will find yourself drowning and then underwater, trying to escape the weeping woman witch. Great effects are present in this house, including a neat pepper's ghost effect.
The final house was the Walking Dead house. I didn't find it as good as last year's Walking Dead house, and certainly not as good as California's. It's not a bad house mind you, I just don't think it really delivers all that much. If you're fans of the TV Series, I'm sure you'll recognize some scenes in the house, as they even built the entire prison. (Which in itself is cool) I just feel they could have done more with this house... especially since the entire event is themed to The Walking Dead.
Finally, we saw Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure. This is still the ultimate Halloween show, and this year delivers more than last year by far. It's not the best show they've done... (Check out the 2006 show on youtube if you can find it) but it's darn good. From Captain Jack Tonto to George Lucas welding Walt Disney's Frozen Head in a Futurerama-like container, with JJ Abrams mixing Star Wars and Star Trek to jokes about Avatarland coming in 2065 to a theme park near you, they really outdid themselves this year with parts of the show. The overall story of the show is too weak to really give them a lot of credit for, but if you take each piece of the show individually, it's pretty funny. Defiantly a "Don't Miss" this year.
So, some other notes about the park...
There's a "mini house" across from Mel's DIE IN. It's the barn from Walking Dead. There are walkers inside this little barn and it's cute. Not much to it, but a nice attempt.
The rotting flesh smell is not pleasant. It's downright disgusting. I predict it will only last through the first weekend, and when drink sales aren't as high as last year, the smell will be removed or lessened. So, if you want to smell the rotting flesh, go the first night or two.
There are so many ways to get a discounted ticket this year, there is no way in heck you should be paying full price to enter. Just so you know.
Remember, this review was based on a preview night, and therefore anything can change before the event opens officially.