This past weekend began the 24th year of Universal Studios Florida’s annual Halloween Horror Nights event. Of course, I attended, and like last year I’m going to give my thoughts on the event. Now, this year was a bit of an odd one, with a somewhat unusual lineup of houses and a return to proper scarezones for the first time since 2011. That said, I had a great time, and overall the event felt like a huge improvement from the past two years.
So let’s begin with this year’s houses, the bread and butter of the event. As has been the case as of late, most were based on movies or other IPs, while three were completely original.
From Dusk Till Dawn is, unfortunately, not based on the movie… instead, it’s based on the TV series which I didn’t even know existed until they announced they were turning it into a haunted house. Regardless, this one was great, with intense scares and great scenery, and one of the better houses this year. However, it did feel a bit empty when I went through, but I may have just had poor timing. Still, that’s all moot; the house featured Chet Pussy outside the bar, and that’s all that matters. A.
The Walking Dead returned yet AGAIN, once again getting top billing because people are stupid. This time, thankfully, it was only a single house as opposed to dominating the street experience as it did last year. The house stood out by being the largest they’ve ever done, but it ultimately felt like a huge waste. The Walking Dead just doesn’t lend itself well to haunted houses… ultimately, the series is more about human drama, and as a haunted house you may as well just have a generic zombie-themed maze. Zombies aren’t scary anymore, and there’s very little you can do with them. Ultimately, all the scenic design in the world can’t save a boring house, and The Walking Dead gets a D. Hopefully this truly is the End of the Line for the franchise at HHN.
Alien vs. Predator had a lot of potential. And while the house was still very good, it didn’t quite live up to what it could have been. Despite the title, never do you actually see the two creatures fight, nor were there nearly enough of either throughout the house. The Xenomorph puppets were nowhere near as good as those in last year’s American Werewolf in London, and they were all just kind of leaning out from the walls in the same way. Still, the house was intense and quite fun, and overall was worth it. Despite its flaws, AVP gets a B.
Dracula Untold was a hard sell from the get-go, as not only does the upcoming film seem pretty mediocre, but it definitely seems to be more action than horror. Now, Dracula can definitely be done right, as it was in 2009’s Dracula house… but this one fell flat. There were a few decent scares to be had, but the house just felt very short and lacked a proper finale. Plus, as the movie isn’t even out yet, half the time you can’t even tell what’s supposed to be going on. Still, at least it didn’t bore me, so I give Dracula Untold a C-.
It was hard to be enthusiastic about Giggles & Gore Inc... I love clowns, but the seemingly rushed nature of it (including using stock images in the house logo and atrocious queue video), as well as the seemingly short length, left a very poor first impression. Thankfully, it proved to be a pleasant surprise… quite a bit of content was crammed into a rather small area, and it actually felt longer than even Dracula Untold. There were plenty of scares to be had, and the factory setting provided a unique twist on the usual evil clown theme. It was nothing groundbreaking, but Giggles & Gore Inc. gets a B-.
Roanoke: Cannibal Colony is based on the famous Lost Colony of Roanoke Island. In this house, the colonists become possessed by the spirit of the Wendigo and turn into insane cannibals. The house had quite a bit of gore, and a fair number of scares… that said, there was nothing particularly amazing about it either. I give Roanoke a C+… a solid house, but very middle-of-the-road.
Dollhouse of the Damned was a house I wasn’t expecting much out of, given its extremely standard title. However, the house proved to be not only quite scary, but thoroughly disturbing as well. Genuinely distressing, even. From giant babies to human-doll hybrids, there was an ever-present feeling of unease and wrongness throughout the house, and it ended up being the most memorable of the evening. Dollhouse of the Damned gets an A+, quite possibly being the most disturbing house Halloween Horror Nights has ever done.
Halloween, thankfully, was based on the original series as opposed to the Rob Zombie remake. Drawing from many of the most memorable scenes throughout the series, and even paying homage to the in-name-only Halloween III, this house was like a big love letter to the franchise… and scary as hell, too. Halloween provided some of the best scares out of any of the houses, and was overall just amazing. There’s only so much I can say without providing spoilers, so I’ll just give Halloween an A.
Though I unfortunately missed the shows this year, we’re not done yet. HHN 24 also marked the return of scarezones, themed areas populated by scareactors. There were only four this time, and unfortunately they were all kind of clumped together, as often tends to be the case. Also, there were few places for actors to hide, which, combined with the fact it was opening weekend, made things pretty rough. Still, here are my unscored thoughts…
Maskerade: Unstitched takes up the space between Despicable Me and Shrek 4D, and was a rather small scarezone, as ones in that spot generally are. There wasn’t a whole lot to look at, nor was it particularly scary, but I actually liked it quite a bit. The actors were very into their roles as masqueraders, and the costumes, music, and atmosphere were great.
The Purge: Anarchy was a rather large scarezone, taking up a huge chunk of the New York Streets area. This one was far more intense than the others, with chainsaw-wielding maniacs, deranged killers, and even a victim auction. There were quite a lot of props throughout the zone too, and it was easily the most elaborate of the bunch. Lots of fun!
Not quite sure what I expected from FaceOff: In the Flesh, but certainly not this. Featuring several of the winning designs from the show, there really wasn’t a whole lot going on here; the theming was limited to small platforms on wheels, upon which a “leader” monster would pose for photos and not do much else. Each monster had extremely plain-looking minions that would actually do the scaring, with absolutely no scenic elements for them to work with. Honestly, I’m hard-pressed to call it a scarezone… a series of photo ops would be a more apt description. Also, the pumpkinheaded creature used in promo shots was nowhere to be seen.
The voodoo-themed Bayou of Blood was probably my most anticipated scarezone, but unfortunately fell a bit short of expectations. Aside from the cool hut, upon which there would be the occasional sacrifice, there wasn’t a whole lot going on here. There were only a few scareactors lurking about the area, and none of them seemed to have gotten a handle on things yet. Hopefully it will improve over time, but at the moment the Bayou of Blood is a bit dull.
Despite its shortcomings, Halloween Horror Nights is great this year. It’s definitely worth going, and I’m sure many of the problems will be ironed out as the event goes on. As for me… I’ll be busy with Enigma Haunt.