What do walkers, demented rock stars, hell on earth, and insane illusionists have in common? Nothing, except that they are all the main attraction at Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 22. Universal Studios Florida has launched their annual event this past Friday. This year’s event centers around not one singular icon, like in years past, but around the four huge names that make up some of the haunted houses. AMC’s The Walking Dead, Silent Hill, Alice Cooper, and Penn&Teller are the focus of this year’s biggest house. While there isn’t one centralized theme, there is one centralized feel. Once you’re in….there’s no getting out.
This year has been unique so far in quite a few ways for the event. The biggest is that for the first time, both Hollywood and Orlando share many of the same houses. The Walking Dead and Silent Hill are shared by both parks, while Alice Cooper’s Welcome to my Nightmare was in Hollywood last year. This year Hollywood is getting another Alice Cooper house with “Alice goes to Hell”. Also both parks are paying homage to Universal’s legacy of horror with a version of the classic monsters. While Hollywood is taking things to a whole new level with Monsters Remixed, Orlando is taking things a little more to the classic feel with House of Horrors.
For the past few years, Universal has done a smaller intimate opening for media. This year things were a little bit bigger with the addition of Penn&Teller. The two flew in from Las Vegas to talk about their all new house “Penn&Teller Newk’d Las Vegas” which is a 3D house and uses comedy mixed with scares.
While no dates have been confirmed, Penn&Teller will be appearing in their house at certain times during the event. In fact, their show “Consider Yourself Warned” in Las Vegas is dark for most of October, giving them ample time to come in and perform.
More event pictures:
This year is one of the most diverse and at the same time intense events to happen to Halloween Horror Nights in a while. I will try to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t been yet, but we’ll talk what worked, what didn’t work and what could have worked. We won’t get too critical, or praise it too much either, we’ll just try to throw out information and overall feeling for the whole event.
This year is a mixed bag of houses in terms of strength. There were no real bad houses, but there were some that worked much more than the others. Remember that horror is subjective and what scares one person may not scare the next.
The Walking Dead:Dead Inside-Based off of the hit television show, Dead Inside literally rips scenes from the first two seasons of the show and throws them together in a mish-mash that takes you from scene to scene and puts you in the heart of the hit show.
What works-This house has literal tons of scareactors which interact and use the amazing scenery very well.
What doesn’t-The pacing of this house seems to throw things off a little bit, and while you do have some great actors, they are all in masks. This is a zombie show, and HHN does zombies better than any other event that I’ve seen. It’s a shame to hide all of the great make-up skills and unique features of the actors behind the masks. While the masks are done for practical purposes (more actors than just about any other house/scare area) it would be nice to see some make up and more realistic monsters.
Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare-Based off of the album of the same name, the house tells the story of Stephen who goes through various stages of insanity and redemption. We see Alice Cooper in several scenes as the sinister ringmaster.
What works-The house has a lot of really creepy images, and the songs keep things moving along at a great pace.
What doesn’t-The music is very loud, and it’s hard to determine which songs are being played. It makes the scenes feel very out of place, and hard to distinguish what’s going on.
Universal’s House of Horrors-What happens when you take the classic movies out of their films and put them in the real world just as they were originally filmed? A run about through some of the most famous films in horror history. From Dracula, Nosferatu, Wolfman, Mummy and Creature from the Black Lagoon, the house sees you adjusting your eyes as you fade in and out of lightning crashes.
What works-This house is supposed to be in black and white, and it accomplishes that in a pretty good way. The scares are steady, and the actors really seemed on their games, taking the roles for what they are…guys in suits scaring people.
What doesn’t-While the black and white works, it’s not really black and white. It’s really a tough call to make, and it doesn’t really make a huge difference on the house as a whole, it’s just a nitpick. A lot of the scenes feel dead with tons of props in one area, and none in others. The house seems like it was rushed together and not really detailed as well as we’ve seen Universal do monsters in the past, but that doesn’t make it a bad house.
Penn&Teller Newk’d Las Vegas 3D-Penn&Teller are famed illusionists who have an amazing trick in which they fire bullets into each other’s mouths. But like everything else these days, they wanted to step it up a notch, so they brought out Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM’s or BM’s for short). The key here is that they want to catch these giant death bombs, so they try to get the BM’s in each others mouths…yes, it’s written that way for a reason. What happens is that they blow up Las Vegas, and what’s left is a Las Vegas like you’ve never seen.
What works-This house is the comedy relief house, and it works from just about every standpoint. The story is that Penn&Teller put Vegas in a giant tent…well it just happens that this is one of the “tent houses”. The gags are great, and this one even has tons of great buttons to push, ropes to pull and ways to screw with other guests as they go through the house. It even has a great tribute to their friends Sigfried and Roy.
What doesn’t-Not enough of triple boob! As Penn himself said “If you love breasts, then more is always better.” Some of the effects feel cheap, though it’s kind of made to feel that way. Also the house feels kind of short. It would be amazing to see just one or two more scenes.
Silent Hill-One of the most demented video games of all times, and a film that is getting a sequel in just a few weeks, Silent Hill takes the violent imagery and hellish off the screens and into the real world. You enter the town of Silent Hill and face demented demons, Pyrmaid Head and Robbie the Rabbit.
What Works-This house is sick in every sense of the word. It’s gross, it smells terrible, and is just the right side of Hell. The nurses seem to have a great way of jumping out getting great scares. I’ve never been a huge fan of the games, so I’m not anal about how nurses move or what characters weren’t featured.
What doesn’t-There just seemed to be a lot of static figures in areas where really great scares could have been. More actors in a lot of areas make for more scares. Something I have heard, maybe a big boss actor would have been great to come across. Just a huge gnarly, tentacled monster.
Dead End-An Original Universal creation. Based on the Philip Experiment, Dead End is the house of an old man and woman who lived rather ordinary lives, who died at ripe old ages. But what happens when rumors are whispered, and the stories go from being just stories to being beliefs? Sometimes, just sometimes, when you believe in something strong enough it happens….even if you don’t want it to.
What works-This house is a classic haunted house in every sense of the word. It uses great practical effects with well timed actors, and just flat out amazing visuals. There are nods here and there in this house to past characters, but we won’t tell you where they are. This house takes you into your own insanity and spits you out on the other end.
What doesn’t-For some effects and scares you have to go looking into nooks and crannies. There is an amazing effect involving a floating ghost, but location combined with timing will ensure that you probably won’t see it. This is another one of those houses that relies utterly on timing to make sure you see everything you need to see. Again, it doesn’t make it a bad house, and it does give you an excuse to experience it again and again.
Gothic-Another classic Universal house made in house. This house tells the story of the creatures who guard a cathedral that bares a striking resemblance to the Notre Dame Cathedral. In this cathedral lives creatures who protect this sanctuary, and keep it from harm. While the cathedral is under construction, the creatures are stirring about and want you to leave.
What works-This house is amazing to look at, amazing to be in. It has some incredible scenes that challenge your sense, and your bravery. The costumes are top notch, and extremely detailed. I’m not one to get very scared in houses at all, with maybe a jump or two. This house had me screaming “HOLY F*#K!!” in several scenes, a rarity.
What doesn’t-This house is almost perfect in every way. Suck on that Mary Poppins.
Instead of having traditional scare zones, the park has opted to go with roaming hordes. The concept always has fans shuddering, because it rarely works the way it should. This time it tends to work a little better than expected, though that’s not to say it’s without flaw. This year no place is safe, and while it’s one thing to say that, it’s quite another to actually do it. The hordes do it though, chasing guests into stores, restaurants, and yes…even into bathrooms.
The major downside is that there are fewer props on the streets this year. This is in large part due to the construction and the daily Superstar Parade. This makes it almost impossible to keep large amounts of props out, but the park does well with what they have. Leaving the actors less places to hide does two things, 1-it keeps them out in the open making them work harder for the scares. 2-it opens up the actors for more picture opportunities. Make of that what you will.
Some people will take issue with the lack of places to hide, but it’s the amount of actors that are out that makes the big difference. This year feels like it’s more populated than any other year with actors in the streets. You’re going to see a wide group of different characters as well. The Legion of Horror is made up of five different groups:
- Prisoners-the first ever chainsaw drill team
The biggest question we’ve been asked, is the scare really everywhere? Yes..it is. Essentially it works like this (though I may be wrong) the actors are stationed in certain areas for an amount of time. You may have chainsaw ladies in New York for one set with the sounds of chainsaws revving all around you. In that same area just a short time later, you’ll have warriors with big long spears roaming the streets. Over on the other side of the park you could find those same chainsaw ladies…you just never know where you’re going to see what. If you’re in an area near a prop, there will be creatures in that area, and they have free reign throughout that whole area.
The Walking Dead is the only exception to the roaming rule. There is a virtual army of walkers stationed just outside of the Walking Dead house as you exit. You’re thrown right from the house, to the highway as a bus and car make up some of the props.
The biggest problem with this area is the walkers. They are in too concentrated of an area, and while it’s known that this version isn’t extremely fast, they are too slow. Of course, there’s once again the make up issue, these guys need make up and not masks! It’s got great potential, and can be great as the event wears on.
20 Penny Circus-They dub themselves as magic for people with questionable taste. It kinds of lives up to that expectation. While not exactly magic, and bordering more on the gross the show seems like a perfect fit for HHN.
Partial nudity, beer drinking, and putting stuff up and pulling it out of your nose…it’s gross, but damn is it fun. Something with this show struck a chord with me, that only seemed to resonate deeper as the night went on. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
Lagoon Show:Tribute to Horror-Universal takes their Cinematic Spectacular and aims it in a completely different direction. Instead of being a full scheduled show, you’re going to have to pay attention to this one.
Once you hear thunder go running to the waters edge to see one of the four shows! It’s really a good touch to the whole event to have this going on in the background, instead of a show that stops everything for a half hour to 45 minutes. It does make it tough to experience all of it though, as we were waiting around the lagoon to try and catch all the shows instead of searching through houses.
Bill and Ted
Every year people either like or hate this show. Bill and Ted takes the characters from the original film, and their phone booth. Besides those two things…that’s where the similarities end. The show is in it’s 21st year and hasn’t really changed a lot in that time. This year, however, that changes as the show take a whole new approach. The opening song pretty much says it all “Tonight…we are dumb”.
It rings out pretty true. The show is not only dumb (not in the bad way) but it’s also just weird. Seriously, some weird crap happens throughout the show. It’s always a good time, and it’s always fun…this year it’s just a very odd collection, and done in a way that those of us who have been long time fans aren’t really used to. It’s okay, change is good. And the show is pretty good too. As for being dumb, it’s not dumb in the sense of quality (like oh man this show is dumb, don’t see it). It’s dumb in the sense that the characters do not have any intelligence (honey boo boo anyone?) whatsoever. We won’t tell you anything about it except that I volunteer…..oh, and SAN DIMAS HIGH FOOTBALL RULES!
There is no way out
Longtime fans of the event will be happy to know that this year has the strongest, most intense feeling that it’s had in years. The lights are minimal, and the fog is EVERYWHERE. It’s very much a nod back to the way things used to be, when the streets were so thick with fog you’d literally choke. Back to 20 Penny Circus for a minute…that show did strike a chord. For a few years now, it seemed as if Universal was kind of watering down the event. It’s never really been for kids, but in the past they’ve done things like base a scare zone off of a movie aimed at kids. Even things like Deathdrums, while great, seemed to have more party and less scary. It seemed for a split second that Universal was going the way of less scary, and more for everyone…not family friendly, just not family UNfriendly.That’s gone this year. I knew it the second I went into 20 Penny Circus, and felt it even more when I walked through the houses. This year is not for kids. It’s a grown up party, and you little guys can stay at home. There is a high energy level in the air, and there is more to be scared of this year than ever.
Every year can be broken down into either house years, or street years. Either the houses are really strong, and the streets are really weak, or vice versa. This year you can’t say that, because everything kind of works out. It finds a good middle ground for all levels and sticks to it. Houses are solid, streets are solid and the shows are entertaining.
So what do you need to know to make sure you get a great experience? Here are a few tips to help you make the most out of your Halloween Horror Nights experience.
- Get to the park early-Universal has several options that allow you to enter the park before HHN starts, use those to get a jump on the crowds
- Leave your kids at home. This event is not for kids. It’s not for older kids, it’s not for bigger kids…it’s not for kids. At all. The feeling is very intense this year, and unless your child can watch films like Evil Dead, alone, in the dark without crawling into bed with you later, it’s best to leave them home.
- Buy Express-Not an option I’m really fond of, but this is going to be a very popular year for HHN.
- See all the Legions-If you want to see all the legions, and have a night to just hang out, then stay in one spot. If you look for the tombstones, you’ll see the Legions rotate in and out throughout the night
- Keep your eyes open-Look everywhere for little hidden nods to the past in Dead End. In Gothic, make sure you take in ALL your surroundings by slowing down just a little. The house is gorgeous and has lots of details (and scares) that you might miss if you go running through it
- Listen for Thunder-As we said before, if you hear thunder (recorded not real) run to the lagoon. It signals the start of the show
- No Flashing-When it comes to taking pictures, try to use the manual settings on your camera if you can. With so much fog, many of your pictures end up coming out blurry and washed out with a flash. And always ask if you can take a picture
- Push the buttons-In Penn&Teller there are several buttons and levers and ropes to push, pull and poke. Even if it says “do not pull” pull it! If you’re not supposed to pull it, it will most likely be heavily surrounded by security
- Get your merchandise early-If you want a t-shirt in a certain size, or that hoodie, you’re better getting it first thing. By the end of the night a lot is sold out, and the lines are huge