Evil has taken root at Universal Studios Orlando, and this year it’s full of Walking Dead zombies, cabins in the woods, and Werewolves…in London! The Nation’s premiere haunted theme park attraction opened Friday with huge crowds, and even bigger scares. Each year Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida brings something new, and this year’s eclectic mix of movie properties, original ideas and urban legends is no exception. Big name film properties make up the majority of the houses, and even a 32 year old classic makes an appearance. The Walking Dead returns not only as house once again, but also as an entire street experience. We were on hand to get a look at every house, and every street zone. We’ll take you through each area, tell you what worked for us, what didn’t, and we’ll also take you into each and every single house!
Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando has become a tradition for many, including myself. HHN 23 is my tenth year going to the event. It’s become a tradition that we’ve passed on to our kids, and to our friends. In fact, if it had to be described, I would say that in our lives that Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando has become a plague that spreads from person to person, until we are all zombies craving not flesh…but horror, mazes filled with screams, chainsaws and fog. It’s a fitting way to describe the event any year, but this year it rings louder than ever. The Walking Dead is once again back at Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando, and this year they’ve infected everything. This year is also a huge year for several Intellectual properties (IP’s) that have houses based on everything from The Walking Dead, to Cabin in the Woods, Evil Dead, Resident Evil and an American Werewolf in London.
So how was the event? Let’s go through every single house and area…but first.
During the annual Media Event, we were treated to Assistant Director of Creative Development Mike Aiello and Show Director Lora Wallace showing us videos of employees testing the houses out and going through each scare zone, house and show. However, the big moment came when Brand Marketing Manager from Capcom games John Diamonon and Legendary film director John Landis came out on stage for a Q&A session with the media guests.
The Q&A session was absolutely hilarious as Landis stole the show, and Diamonon exclaimed to all of us geeks in the audience “I’m geeking out here! I’M SITTING NEXT TO JOHN LANDIS!”
American Werewolf in London was a passion project that the creative team had tried to get in the park three times, with Landis being the hold out each time. It wasn’t until he came to the event, that he was convinced of not only the terror that the team could induce, but also the level of detail they could bring out in the house that would do the film justice.
“They really passionate geeks” Landis said of the creative team “They love what they do. I was walking past Cabin in the Woods with Mike (Aiello) and a girl came out screaming. He was beaming at it! You can’t buy that level of enthusiasm, it makes it special.”
See the entire Q&A with the creative team and John Landis below! It’s one of the funniest, and honest things you’ll see all haunt season:
Let’s talk about houses now. The event features eight all new houses, each with a different theme. Unlike in past years, there is nothing linking these houses together, with the exception of Evil. Evil has taken root in each of these houses, and it’s up to you to survive that evil. There is no Icon, no backstory, just evil.
There is no ranking or level, just pure enjoyment or not. It’s simple! And to make things even better, we’ll go with our least favorite houses to the favorite houses, all building up to the number one house. Now let’s keep in mind that there are really no “bad” houses this year, each house is pretty strong. These are just ranked on our level of enjoyment. Each house will also be accompanied by a POV Walkthrough Video of the house, recorded during a special event, during normal operating hours.
To know Havoc:Derailed, you have to know the original house. Dogs of War dealt with super soldiers experimented on by the government, and driven crazy. They overthrow the facility, and they are insane. Six weeks later, the soldiers are being moved by top secret train when something goes wrong. You go through the train from launch, all the way to derailment.
What worked: The first half of the house flows along great, giving you a feeling of being on a train, and surrounded by people who really want to mess you up. The actors are hulking, and mean. They all shaved their heads for the role.
What didn’t: The Train wreck just didn’t seem to flow right. The actors in this area seemed all too scattered, and not really coherent. It was decent, but maybe a little more of a lead up to the train wreck and some more wreckage would have helped. Still a great house.
Get derailed in our POV Walkthrough of Havoc:Derailed
Resident Evil:Escape From Raccoon City
This was an odd choice for a house. Resident Evil is based off of the video game series, but games 2 and 3 in the series. Those games are at least ten years old. Audiences going in either loved the characters, or they had no clue what the hell was going on. It started off in Raccoon City, and while the movies focus more on zombies..this maze had zombies, but it had more creatures like Lickers and Nemesis
What Worked: Stunning attention to detail, and the Pause Room were very cool touches here. It was a great nod to the classic games.
What didn’t: If you weren’t a fan of the series, you really had no clue what was going on. The maze also ended abruptly with a “You’re Dead” scene..which meant that you lost the game. While it’s great for gamers, non gamers have no clue. Not really a bad thing, but add that with the short length of the maze and you’re just left wanting more.
Now get ready to Escape Raccoon City in this full POV of the house:
After Life:Death’s Vengeance
In the town of Carey Ohio, a serial killer named Bobby The Blade has been terrorizing the town for years. He is set to be put to death for deaths of 22 towns folk, and that’s where we catch up with him..as he’s about to get a ride on old Sparky. But his pain doesn’t end there, we go into the afterlife as his victims are waiting for him to take their vengeance.
What Worked: The house is a 3D house that is very sinister and demented. You see lots of great colors that pop out and mix really well with the anger that seems to be coming from the house. The costumes are great and work really well with the effects. Carey Ohio is the creative team’s McGuffin, their catalyst for many houses. Many fictional events have taken place in Halloweeen Horror Nights lore. Its great to return to the sleepy little town that has more mysteries than Twin Peaks.
What Didn’t: You get the sense that even in death, The Blade has no suffering or remorse. We see him in demin form, in bat form and the victims are still victims. Would have been cool to see more anger from them and see Bobby The Blade be the victim here. Stikk a fun, sinister house.
Get ready to ride the lightning with Bobby the Blade in this full POV Walkthrough of Afterlife!
Urban Legends:La Llorona
La Llorona (pronounced La Ya row na) tells the Mexican urban legend of Maria, a woman with three children who falls in love with a rich nobleman, who doesn’t love her back, because she has children. So Maria does what every woman in love would do…she drowns her children. When she tells her love what she has done to be with him, he is disgusted and tells her he will never be with her. Broken hearted, she drowns herself. Once she gets to heaven, Saint Peter tells her she can enter heaven if she brings her children. Naturally her children can’t be found, so she roams the earth in search of children to replace hers..drowning them like her own. The house follows Maria from her descent from a woman to a monster and shows her drowning many children, and those who try to enter her crypt.
What worked: La Llorona was adopted by HHN Hollywood, but they’ve taken the house and made it their own with a simply beautiful setting. The house takes place in a church, in a Mexican village and in the watery afterlife. It’s all brought to life perfectly here in amazing detail. The scenery brings this stage to life, as the scares drive it home.
What didn’t:The only problem with the house is that it’s very dark, and foggy. That’s not always a bad thing, but here it is. The other thing here is that there weren’t enough victims, and you felt more sorry for La Llorona than afraid of her. It’s a sympathetic tale of regret and woe iver bad decisions. Still makes for an unreal experience.
Stay away from the weeping woman as we take you into the watery realm of La Llorona!
The Walking Dead:No Safe Haven
Last year, The Walking Dead felt like a misfire, with many things that just didn’t work. This year, they learned from last year and amped everything up with.No Safe Haven. The details and sets were great, and lent themselves to some good scares. There are faimilar characters in the house this year, but not in their living state. Fans of the show should love it.
What worked:The detail in Walking Dead is amazing. The story goes from Woodbury to the prison in a very neat way. It flows amazingly.
What didn’t: If you’re not a fan of the show, and have never watched an episode, you will have no idea what was going on. Would have been nice to more make up used, instead of masks. Also would like to actually see more characters from the show instead of zombified versions of dead characters. Still, the house was much better than it’s predecessor.
Walk from Woodbury to the Prison with some of your favorite scenes in this POV Walkthrough of The Walking Dead:No Safe Haven
Based on the 2013 remake/reboot of the same name, the house tells the story of five friends that go into a cabin in the woods to help a friend recovering from heroine. What they do instead is accidentally unleash a demonic force that is bent on taking over the world, and plunging it into darkness by swallowing each one of their souls one by one. The house, like the movie is very visceral, unforgiving and gory.
What Worked: The designers were not afraid to show the gory aspects of the movie. The movie was very graphic, and the house follows suit. If we’re talking Evil Dead, let’s be adults here and say that the scene depicting Tree Rape is in it. “Certain acts with a tree” doesn’t cut it. While you see nothing terrible, the implied and practical horror of the maze is here.
What Didn’t: When we went through, there were a few things that had not yet been working. The Blood rain scene was one of them, and while it didn’t completely take away from the experience, it was definitely one point that was missed.
I can smell your filthy soul! And it wants to watch the full POV Walkthrough of Evil Dead!
The Cabin in the Woods
The house is based on the 2012 film of the same name. It’s about five friends who go to a cabin…in the woods. Wait a minute? This sounds familiar! While it is a very familiar premise, the story takes a decidedly different turn with the narrative. It’s really difficult to say anything about the house without spoiling the movie, but if you haven’t seen it at this point..well…spoilers be warned. The house picks up right in the middle of the movie. We are put in the middle of the scenes as camera repair techs. The facility is experiencing some difficulties, and if things don’t go just right, it’s the end of the world..by way of some really fierce and ancient gods. The sacrifices must be met…and we have to make sure that’s possible. What we meet here are some really amazing visuals, and the movie brought to life. It’s amazing to see the level of detail that the house goes into, and how they really pull it off.
What Worked: Surprisingly, just about everything. The attention to detail here is amazing, and all of the favorite visuals from the film are here. There are little details like the Unicorn, and yes..the merman. If you look closely in the beast area, you can see several creatures from Halloween Horror Nights past as well.
What Didn’t: Like the Evil Dead, there were some effects that didn’t work. And that’s about it. Also, would have liked to see more than just hidden Easter Eggs nodding to past HHN Characters, it would have been great to see the characters living and breathing…but that’s just the fan boy in me!
Get ready to make out with a moose in our full POV Walkthrough of Cabin in the Woods!
An American Werewolf in London
In 1981, John Landis released An American Werewolf in London as a comedy…but it was a horrific film. The house mirrors the film identically. It tells the story of two friends backpacking across Europe when they come to a small pub that is less than friendly to foreigners. After pretty much being thrown out, they are told to stay away from the moors…which they find themselves walking on. They are attacked, one is killed..another is a werewolf. It was the reason that there are now Academy Awards for visual effects. The house is almost identical to the film.
What Worked:The wolves are so fluid and full of motion. They are puppets, and work better than anything you could get out of a suit. The transformation scene, where David turns into a wolf for the first time is amazing…yet simple. The whole house is a work of art, all the way down to the porn theater. The scares are there, and it works in a way that you just wouldn’t expect a 32 year old film to work.
What Didn’t: There really isn’t anything to nitpick, unless you’re being nitpicky. An American Werewolf in London gets our “Mary Poppins” Award…Practically perfect in every way.
I’ve got some bad news David…Go to London with this full POV Walkthrough of An American Werewolf in London!
This year instead of the random roaming hordes of creatures, scattered among random props, every single scare zone is back with tons of props. Only this year, it’s all based on the hit AMC Show The Walking Dead. Every season so far is represented. From Season 1 where the Walkers are all fresh and a little faster, to season three where they are roaming around trying to find people to munch on. It’s a very eclectic mix of make up, masks and really great props.
Here’s a rundown.
For the most part, each scare zone deals with a different season or episode of The Walking Dead. however, there are some that ripped right from the shows and they work throughout the entire run of the park.
One of our favorites was the zombie bomb, in which The Governor’s gang takes a gang of biters and packs them in a van and unleashes them on the crowds. It makes for a fun scene, and a great photo op.
Watch a Van Attack as The Governors gang brings in a crew of biters!
You might also see some very familiar Walkers ambling around the streets in very non descript areas, and roles. You may find the “Bunny Girl” Walker walking around the front of the park. Another one of our favorite scenes is the attack on the front gate. You can see a horde of walkers ambling down Hollywood before the event, on their way to the front of the park.
Taken from the Season Three episode of the same name, CLEAR shows the handy work of Morgan, from the first season, who is setting up traps around the area, and clearing out the town. This area has lots of great Walker moments, and some really ingenious effects.
One of my favorites is the pole Walker that literally has a pole sticking out of her. She also has one bloody nub that looks like someone chewed on. It’s a great effect as they are laying there waiting for someone to come by. But just as they are ready to snap a picture, the Walker springs to life and gets the scare.
This is one of the coolest areas in the park. It features Hershel’s Farm, complete with his barn full of Walkers. No, there is no Sophia that we saw, but there are some others, and a very smelly well walkers. You walk through the barn while it’s on fire, and can smell the fire and hear the crackle while you’re attacked by Walkers.
Another amazing area is the The Woodlands. This has the infamous Bicycle Walker, the one from the first season that crawls on the ground, and heads in the general direction that Rick left. Here it’s created brilliantly by one amazing actor. We won’t tell you how it’s done, but it’s something you really need to check out.
Down a little ways you can see other walkers, as well as one feasting on a fresh kill full of arrows.
The Survivor Camp
This is a high traffic area, in a very tight space, so it’s very hard to get some really good scares, but you can still see some really great details, such as a walker in a tent munching on a very abusive camper. This scene from season one is one of the many little touches that makes the streets come to life.
The Fall of Atlanta
The Fall of Atlanta is one of the most active, and fun areas in the park. It smells like rotting flesh, and not just a little bit. The smell is so overpowering in some areas that you are more concentrated on that then the Walker creeping up behind you. There are so many things going on, from abandoned military vehicles, to walkers and yes…they have a tank.
An amazing touch is the survivors. They blend right in with guests, that you start to question why that pretty blond girl is climbing on the tank, screaming. Is she that scared? Then the walkers come..and it’s not until then that you realize that she’s part of the cast.
Watch a survivor get eaten alive in Atlanta!
Get a look at even more pictures from Halloween Horror Nights 23 at Universal Studios Florida!
This year offers two great shows, of course Bill and Ted and the return of Rocky Horror Picture Show:The Tribute. Both are great shows, and need to be experienced. If you’re a fan of Rocky Horror, you’ll love this condensed version. If you’ve never been, well…you better prepare for a virgin hunt!
Bill and Ted actually takes us on a Halloween Adventure during the show, starting with ultra sexy versions of your favorite horror icons. The show is always a little hit and miss, but this year it’s more hit than miss. The boys riff on Duck Dynasty, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Star Wars at Disney, George Lucas…and the list goes on. It’s always a fun time. Fans are always the harshest critics, but criticisms aside, it’s always Bill and Ted. The same essence that started 22 years ago still exists, and it still makes Halloween all the better.
Overall this year is a very well rounded event. The houses at Halloween Horror Nights take the films that most of the houses are based on and pushes them to the very limit. An American Werewolf in London is terrifying, as it is visually stunning and could very well be the new standard that all houses are held to. The creative team always jokes how they paint themselves into a corner, and they’ve done it again this year. It’s going to be hard to top the experience in years to come at Halloween Horror Nights, not to mention by any other haunted attractions. The street experience is very well rounded, and executes the Walking Dead very well. However, you have to wonder just how much longer the Zombie bubble is going to last before everyone is as tired of zombies as they are sparkling vampires.
Halloween Horror Nights is not a family friendly event, and is geared for those over 13. The event is not included with daily theme park admission, and is a separate ticket event. Halloween Horror Nights runs select nights until November 2nd!
For much more HHN goodness coming your way, be sure to follow along with us on Twitter @BehindThrills for the latest info!