After months of speculation, rumors and anticipation Halloween Horror Nights: 20 Years of FEAR finally opened at Universal Orlando Friday. We were invited to take part in the opening night festivities and to finally face FEAR Himself. Along the way we were able to talk to several members of the creative team, including T.J. Mannarino, Patrick Braillard and Mike Aiello. We also got the chance to see just about everything that HHN 20 has to offer. Look for a special podcast, as well as full reviews and pictures of all the houses, scare zones and Bill and Ted below.
First up was the media event itself. It’s always a blast to run into the creative team, and everyone who makes the event possible every year. Just talking to several of the team you could feel the pride of what they’ve accomplished. Twenty years of any event is no small task. Consistently being voted the best and having record breaking attendance year after year somewhat speaks for the event itself. The highlight of the event was the chance to see a lot of the characters in several of the scarezones come through for cast change. Unlike most guests, we were able to see them in a slightly less crowded environment, slightly.
Below are a collection of pictures from the event. To see all of the pictures, make sure to click on the page number below the pictures.
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Also below is a special edition podcast we did on location from Halloween Horror Nights 20.
Onto the house reviews. Keep in mind that we were not permitted to take pictures in the houses, and we were on a RIP tour, so we did not get to see a lot of the themeing in the entrances to most of the houses. The house ranking is simple, no pumpkins, skulls or fancy names, just a simple number system with 1 being not so good, and 5 of course being outfrigginstanding.
Pyschoscarepy: Echoes of Shadybrook
It’s been 15 years since the old asylum has had residents, though the walls echo with the souls of the inmates that have been there.
It’s a throwback house to everyone’s favorite asylum. The familiar entrance is there, and there is a lot going on. Sometimes I feel there was too much going on. No real story or connection, though the inmates were definitely playing the part quite well. The props and scares were decent, but nothing that really stuck out. It’s Shadybrook, same as it ever was. Well, there is one exception. No shit. Yeah, I’m one of the nutjobs that loved that little detail about the original incarnations. Sure the last one “Home for the holidays” didn’t have it either, but it did have an aroma of cookies. It fit the house. Perhaps, the reason is because ghosts don’t shit? Maybe.
2 of 5
Hades: Gates of Ruin
Many high hopes for this house. We had heard so many different things about it, and even had the tease of a lifetime when we heard “there will be fire in one of the houses”. Sadly that was not the case with this house. It was a gorgeous house, and had some potential, but it really kind of fell flat when it came to story, again. You enter through the mouth of Hades, and impressive site. There are gorgons and Medusas and all manners of sickly nightmarish creatures. I had several really good scares, but the one detail that was missing that was a biggie in my eyes. No Hades! Where is the big bad demon himself? Maybe a guy with flaming blue hair? Anything! Still, that aside, the house was well done. One big complaint though…and this was a huge one. It shares the soundstage with Pyschoscarepy, and you could hear the sirens and see the lights as you walked through.
3 of 5
Legendary Truth: the Wyandot Estate
Before I get into the review or story of this house, I have only one bone to pick. The name of the group. Yes I’m one of those nerds, it does matter a bit to me. The name of the house is Legendary Truth, yet the name of the organization doing the investigating is called the Spirit Seekers. Why? Where is the team of Legendary Truth? Why can’t they have the house to themselves? Any rate, on to the review.
The Wyandot Estate was the site of a grisly murder, and is voted the most haunted house in America. The Spirit Seekers have a device that attracts ghosts. Now this is the first time that Universal has ever done a Haunted House before. They’ve done haunted mazes, and they may have been haunted, but this is the first time they’ve done a maze that is a house, that is haunted….with ghosts, not chainsaw wielding maniacs or zombies or even dolls. It’s an honest to goodness haunted house. It makes due with a lot of practical effects, and a lot of really great special effects. It’s all about timing as well. If you don’t get to see everything, go through again and try to walk slower. It’s the best house of two events this year because of the effects and the actors. Most of everything we’ve seen before, but some things we haven’t. There is even a Musion effect of the Storyteller…why she’s in the house I don’t know, but it works and it’s creepy as hell. Hands down favorite of the event.
5 of 5
Six months after “Z Day” the government has taken back the U.S. from the Zombie menace. They have given out licenses to independent contractors to conduct experiments and control the “living impaired”. When you want the best control, you get the best. And then there’s Z.A.P. A cut rate contractor that is about to get a lesson all it’s own. Yellow, the zombies Mellow. Red, you’re dead.
I loved the fun of this house. It started out as a laugh riot, especially the bullhorn guy. Just tasteless and loud mouthed enough to pull off the role. Good job buddy, but personally I think Satan should have made an appearance (hey how’s it goin?) just sayin. The house quickly turns bad but still keeps that fun going for it, especially when they go into the nursery. I don’t really want to spoil anything but, really, (sing along with me in the tune of Franki Valli’s I love you baby) “I love dead babies, when they come back to life, I love dead babies when they eat my wife, dead babies…..okay this last paragraph was pretty tasteless…but moving on.
The house is a blast and done very well. And it ties in greatly to Zombie Gras. Gotta love zombies, a fad I hope never dies…well, as long as they come back to life.
4 of 5
The Orfanage: Ashes to Ashes
Cindy, the daughter of Albert Caine, the Caretaker is finally in the spotlight with this house. Way back when Cindy was originally supposed to be an icon Universal decided to pull the idea and go with her father instead because of some unfortunate incidents going on in the news. Now she shines in her own house, and this time she’s pissed. She has certain powers and can make the kids do…things….she’s also straight out of a Stephen King book and can ignite things with sheer thought.
Maybe it was my timing, but I had no one in this house. It looked good, it smelled good, it even burned like it should…but none of that matters when you have no scares happening. Pictures were littered all over the house and everyone seemed more interested in that than what was going on in the house.
1 of 5
Havoc: Dogs of War
The military has been injecting soldiers with a secret serum for years at Shadow Creek (Shadybrook? I smell a collective thing) creating super soldiers. This time it’s worked too well and the soldiers have gone crazy. The look of the house was great, it was dead on. The execution of the actors was also amazing, I had many good scares in here. The only thing, there were no “Dogs of war”! I got all excited expecting “Dog Soldiers” and then nerded in my pants when I saw the words “mutants” pop up. YES! Captain America is coming out next year, and some of his biggest enemies were the super soldiers that just weren’t right. But instead we get no monsters or mutants, we get just guys going nuts. It was good, it was scary, it worked for what it was, but it just didn’t come across like I had hoped. Still, can’t say enough about how the house really fell together and went for some great surprises.
3 of 5
Catacombs: Black Death Rising
I hear the queue line pulls this house together quite nicely as you get to see little plaques about the plague that killed thousands in France. The dead were just shoved here, and buried without ceremony or cause. Now they’re back to let everyone know they didn’t appreciate it none too much.
Great scares in this house, truly. The bird nosed Doctors were fun, and the house itself just had a great rhythm going. A lot of detail, and I think I saw a few things from a favorite old queue line of mine.
4 of 5
I’ve heard so many stories about what this house was supposed to be. A certain website used to be around and this house was supposed to pay tribute to not only the past of HHN, but a certain safe themed site. Don’t know if that’s true, but what we get instead is nothing short of truly amazing. The scares were light for me but got a lot of people in front of and behind me. This was more or less a museum of years past, and it was massively fun. I couldn’t remember a singular moment when I wasn’t going “OH MAN IT’s…..” insert character from insert year here. It was truly fun to see all the old guys come back and get a chance again. I would have loved to see less from 2008, especially two rooms for one house, but other than that no complaints here. It was a great house full of neat stuff to look at and a fitting homage to the last 20 years.
5 of 5
Bill and Ted
Every year is a challenge to what can be put in the show. Years like last year just wrote themselves, while this year was a little more difficult to manage. There really was nothing fun happening this year, the economy is still shit and celebs are about the only thing in the news that we can make fun at. I can only imagine the overwhelming pressure put on Mike Aiello each and every year as he strives to top himself. But how can you make an ice cream sundae when all you have to work with is shit flavored turds? With lots of sprinkles. And that’s what Aiello’s done this year as both writer and director (for the last time) of the Bill and Ted show. Last year was a phenomenal year and 2008 was also a stellar year, but we had alot going on.
Too many are too harsh on this show and don’t see it for what it is, just a fun romp through the last year, as crappy as it’s been. Sure, some years are better than others, but this year definitely isn’t the worst that I’ve seen. A lot of fun stuff is going on.
Quick run down without too many spoilers….skip ahead if you haven’t seen it.
Still here? Okay, So Bill and Ted are being bought out and replaced by a group younger better and faster and more “hip”. It echoes of today’s brain dead attention span that loves remakes, reboots and re-imaginings of films and T.V. shows. A scummy talent agent is trying to bring on some new talent that just blows. So it’s up to Bill and Ted to stop them by getting the help from this years pop culture best. Sadly, there’s not much to work with. It all works out though, and we all dance for no reason.
Fun show, again, loved it for what it was not for what it isn’t. Unfortunately Universal is extremely strict on filming and even photographing the event (boo hiss) so we don’t get a look at it unless you see it. Shame, too. Some funny stuff and great characters in there this year.
3.5 of 5
There is a lot of action happening on the streets again this year. Unlike last year, it seems like some zones were expanded and just filled with people. Others had amazing props to work with, while others just needed a presence. We took tons of pics in most of these scare zones, and due to the darkness and fog, some came out and others simply did not. We try not to use a flash because it blinds the actors and tends to make washed out looking pictures, so we apologize for the lack of pics in some areas and some dark looking ones in others. We did run a lot of video, but most of it turned out like everyone else’s…dark and not very visible. We may get some video up, but it won’t be the standard “walkthrough” or “what I think” stuff. It’ll be fun!
The giant XX marks this spot where FEAR himself stands guard. Fear has some “lanternettes” hanging around him, and he really is pretty massive and impressive. I like the design, but I wish there was more to this, maybe a show concept.
However, the real stars of the show are the past icons. It really is nothing more than a big photo op, but unlike 16, it’s a fun photo op with great looking characters we care about. Everyone is hear, including some forgotten friends, and they are more than happy to stop for a picture, but even more than happy to run after a scare.
4 of 5
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20 Years of Fear
This was a great great great zone! If Fear Revealed was a collection of past icons, this one was a collection of everyone else. And I’m pretty dead on with EVERYONE else. So much fun was to be had with these guys, from the White Queen and Queen of Hearts even down to the good ole boys in the Chainsaw Drill Team. Memory lane never looked so good.
5 of 5
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Vampires? Check, did that. Zombies? Check did that too. Witches are one aspect of Halloween that hasn’t been touched on too terribly much at HHN, and this year they go about it in a big way. Set in the time of the Pilgrims, witches roam the land and cause all kinds of evil, especially around their obelisks. Very dark and creepy, and just some really good atmosphere. It didn’t seem like too many actors in here though, but it was done well enough that the actors that were there did well enough to keep you occupied.
3 of 5
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Saws And Steam
I was looking forward to this one the least until I saw the props go up. Then I became very interested. I was let down. Perhaps we just got a cast change, but the area was very small and needed to go larger. Also there needed to be more use of the props. The actors were great, as they were all old members of the Chainsaw Drill Team…including the legendary Wolf. I was just hoping for a little more out of this, and I hope it’s one that ends up working the kinks out.
Zone: 1 of 5
Actors: 5 of 5 The actors will save this zone if given more to work with…mark my words.
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Translated in Spanish to “Dead Skeletons” this one was a lot of fun. A Mexican “Day of the Dead” type of celebration with tons of skeletons and lots of blacklight. It was something to behold in the darkness, and one of the more fun zones with just lots to look at.
3 of 5
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Feet don’t fail me now! God I loved that! I was thinking it would be more of a feast for the zombies, nibbling on the revelers, but it turned out to be a parade of zombies! These guys did great trying to dance to the music only to be held back by their “disability”. The trombone player was a favorite as he repeatedly bashed himself in the head trying to play his instrument. This one needs to be bigger, with more floats and beads! Everyone wants the parade back, not because they liked the parade that much, but because they want HHN beads! I would love to see it happen.
5 of 5
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Other things going on in the park were Brian Brushwood (which we didn’t have time to see) and of course a montage in all the queue lines to the previous years. Also on the stage underneath Rockit was a montage of clips and pictures from the past few years.
Our tour guides were flat out great, giving us all kinds of great information and doing a great job at keeping the photo bugs wrangled together. Dave and Katrina, you guys were amazing! Much props for a job well done.
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We also did not get to check out the VIP Lounge that served as a museum full of artifacts and art from past years. That will change every Thursday Night from what I understand, and may have something to do with Legendary Truth, if they get going again.
Overall the event was a step up from last year, in my opinion. Everything kind of pulled together and worked to make the stuff that didn’t work not all that noticeable. The people I’ve talked to haven’t really liked it too much, though they only really complain about things such as crowd levels and price. Unfortunately you’re going to have just that going on when you have an event this big. I thoroughly enjoyed it this year, and hopefully will get to go back several times as things tend to change from opening night to the end of the month.
My only gripe is FEAR. Nothing about him really makes too much sense in the event. He is only in one section, though “he’s actually driving everything and always has!”. He really needs to do more, and have more of an impact in the houses, along with more of the icons, even it if’s just a show.
The front entrance statement was kind of lacking this year, with nothing really cool to look at like in years past such as the theater facade from last year. I like the screen and the video playing, but it could be more…like the Lantern! Where the hell did that go? It’s almost like the lantern, and the Legendary Truth never existed this year outside of the LT house. Perhaps as the event goes on we’ll see more of both.
Now for some tips:
Relax, enjoy the event, and take several nights to soak it all in!
For more information on Halloween Horror Nights including tickets, be sure to check out the official website!