Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando has suffered setbacks before. From national tragedy that caused the event to complete change within weeks, to controversy surrounding characters and mazes. The event somehow always prevails. This year was one of the hardest tests for HHN and for Universal Orlando as Hurricane Irma took an expected turn right through Orlando, just days before the scheduled start of the event. While the event did suffer some minor setbacks, the hard work and tireless efforts of the entire team, both in the park and in their personal lives, HHN was able to kick off with only minor setbacks. The end result is a ruthless, and aggressive set of mazes and scare zones with actors who are clearly taking out frustrations by scaring the living hell out of the guests. It’s one of the most intense line ups in years.
We had the chance to walk every single house and scare zone during the event, with a very cool and very fun media event at the park. We’re going to review every house, scare zone and show. We also had the chance to record every house, something that Universal Orlando only allowed us to do on opening night. It’s a rare chance to get inside the mazes of HHN, and not something that guests are normally allowed to do.
Now, we don’t have a set way of reviewing, or a scale to go by. We’re going to simply tell you what we like, what we didn’t like and where we would like to see things improve. We’ll also tell you if it’s worth your time to wait in line or not for. Fair enough?
As we said earlier, Universal Orlando has a very distinct group of mazes this year, in the fact that they each have their own voice. There’s nothing bridging these together, nothing they have in common, and the movies and stories they tell are all very aggressive. There’s not any “things go terribly wrong” or “you’re caught in the middle” kind of stories happening here. As a guest in these haunted houses, you came to the wrong place, at the wrong time and you’re going to be lucky if you make it out alive.
Based on the scare zone, Bayou of Blood from HHN 24, Dead Water takes you into the belly of a dilapidated old river boat, where Mamba and her minions are waiting for anyone fool enough to venture in. Loaded with zombies, witches and soggy ground, it’s clearly one of the most beautiful mazes that Universal Orlando has ever done.
Video-Walk through Dead Water at HHN 27
This is hands down my favorite house of year. It’s very intense, very gorgeous, and unfortunately, very short. That’s the only gripe about this maze, it’s just too short.
We want to stay more in the voodoo world, and want to see more of the Louisiana swamp! The actors in this one were dead on, and just made the house come to life even more. It’s dark, brooding, intense and beautiful…just too damn short!
Taking place in the ruins of some kind of cathedral, The Fallen takes guests into a world inhabited by winged demons. We were told it was a bit of a mash up of “Hades” meets “Gothic”. They weren’t too far off on it. The house is also very beautiful, and very dark. There’s a lot of things going on, but this one is all about timing.
Video-Face the hellspawn in The Fallen
While the house is very beautiful, it’s also very short, and your timing has to be just right to get the great scares…and there are some great scares here. The big props here goes to the design team, who just made this big evil looking cathedral from hell. It’s gorgeous.
There’s demons flying at you from every direction, there’s sacrifice, there’s even a demon flying over head, following you as you walk through. Again, that aggressiveness is felt here, as you are hunted down through the maze, but you may miss it.
American Horror Story: Volume 2
Picking up on three more seasons of the hit horror anthology, American Horror Story covers the Asylum, Coven, and Roanoke Nightmare seasons of the show. Each season is nicely tucked away, and wrapped up before the next season starts. It’s a great mashup of the seasons, and something that fans are sure to love.
If you’re a fan of the show, you are truly going to love it. As a casual fan, I was enthralled with the Asylum and Coven sections, but seeing that I tapered off at Hotel, the Roanoke section was just another group of scary hillbillies in the woods.
The house is beautiful, and it has some great scares that you don’t expect. But if you’re not a fan of the show, you might feel lost in the story.
Oh boy, this is a big one. The movie is based on the Warner Brothers film, directed by Stanley Kubrick. The film doesn’t follow the book very closely, and for that it got the wrath of author, Stephen King. But the real question is, how does Universal do on adapting the film into a maze? Well, it’s definitely a tricky business, but it’s really a damn gorgeous maze.
Video-Take a shot of Redrum in The Shining
The bad: It’s really hard to follow the story of the maze…luckily just about everyone has seen The Shining. The movie is really not that terrifying until the last few minutes. It’s the very definition of “slow burn”, as it spends most of it building the story, and the atmosphere that comes crashing down in the last act of the film. The HHN creators do the best they can to take that last and make it come to life. They do an amazing job, as you walk into the hedge maze and right into the madness of The Overlook Hotel.
Is it completely faithful? Well, there’s a few things that they missed, but what they have they get right. The twins are perfectly creepy, as you see both the butchered versions and the ghostly apparitions. The most iconic scene of the film, the bloody elevator, is also there…and simply put…HOLY SHIT.
There’s no way in hell they should have been able to pull off an elevator that spills blood…but they do. Dear god, they do…and it’s glorious. No, there’s not a huge elevator that pours blood every few minutes, but Universal does an amazing job at making you think there is. It’s all done through practical effects as well, instead of screens. That was something that approaching the scene you kind of worry about, as there are screens on the walls. But as you turn the corner, you see that glorious elevator and the blood seemingly gushing out of it. It’s a scene with no scareactor, but the fact that they actually accomplished it is amazing in and of itself.
The maze also features some very odd choices for the Jack Torrence character, most noticeably in the big prosthetic foreheads…but take that away and add in the scare factor, and it works just fine. The house works, despite itself, and what must have been an impossible task. It’s hands down one of the most innovative houses of the year. Now, if the creative minds can just get Stephen King’s blockbuster hit IT in for next year, we’ll be in heaven.
Horrors of Blumhouse
You may not know it, but there’s a pretty good chance you’re familiar with the movies from Blumhouse Productions. They have made a great name for themselves with some really great, low budget, horror films that take away the glam and glitz and just get down to the nitty gritty with great stories and horror. Enter HHN, and the Horrors of Blumhouse. The maze takes on three of the studios most popular films and puts you right in the middle of them. Guests will walk through Sinister, The Purge and Insidious. As a special added bonus, you’ll see scenes from Insidious 4, which hits theaters in January 2018.
Video-Walk through the Horrors of Blumhouse
This maze is a lot of fun, mostly because of the way that the creative team plays with the characters and scenes. Sinister may not work on it’s own, but sprinkle a little Bagul in with some key scenes from both films and you have a tight scene that scares the living hell out of most guests. Then from there is the least effective of all the properties, The Purge. Maybe it’s because the scare zone is so immersive, but this section of the house just didn’t seem to work for me. It was too rushed through, and how many times do we need to see that plastic smiling lady?
Then comes Inisidious, which is a big mashup of all the movies including the fourth. It’s also the longest section of the maze, with the most interactions and scares. Quite frankly, we have no clue what’s going on in most of it, but it doesn’t matter. When you have a great scare set up, it doesn’t matter what the story is, it just works. It all comes together in a big mashup of all the characters, with many of them attacking you relentlessly. It’s a great end to a maze that’s a lot of fun.
Set in the 80’s in Carey, Ohio is The Hive. It very much feels like a John Carpenter horror film from the 80’s right down to the music. The vampires here are not romantic, they haven’t crossed oceans of time, they can’t control your thoughts, and they don’t sparkle. They just feed, and feed and feed. These are classic bloodthirsty monsters in the vein of Nosferatu.
Video-Survive the feeding frenzy of The Hive
Where to start on this? The hive is full of very aggressive vampires, very intense and very hungry. The same can be said about the actors. You can tell that this house started out as something else, (but that’s another story), but that works to it’s advantage. There’s tons of great props that you can tell the scenic team got halfway through and said “WRECK IT”. That’s exactly what they did. There’s an amazing scene here where there’s a smaller vamp at the bottom of of a hallway, then out of nowhere you hear stomping. The vampire that emerges is FREAKING HUGE!
It’s so unexpected that it really catches you off guard. There’s also a great use of light, as the creatures are truly creatures of the night. Their eyes glow, and they give off this otherworldly glow. It’s freaking fantastic! As the the event goes on, this is going to be a fan favorite. The smells, the feel, the music, everything here is a nod to classic 80’s horror. But it does make one question, What the hell is wrong with Carey Ohio?
Ash vs. Evil Dead
Not based on the iconic cult film, but more the TV series based on the cult film series, Ash vs. Evil Dead takes us through two seasons of the gory, silly show and drenches it in blood, farts and beer. It’s a fun romp through the highlights of the show and hits all the high points.
Video-Groovy, take a ride through Ash vs. Evil Dead
I really wanted to love this one, after all it’s an all time favorite film series. While there are some great moments from the TV show, it’s just not what it could be. That’s not to say at all that it’s bad, it’s just not what I expected from the maze. I guess I wanted more Evil Dead and less Ashy Slashy. Still, it’s the only maze in HHN history to use the term “Hello pussies!”. It’s funny, it’s dark, and it’s demented. It’s Ash, but not a lot of Evil Dead.
That’s the biggest problem for me personally, I think it would have been a much better call to straight up adapt either Evil Dead 2 or Army of Darkness. While Ash vs. Evil Dead is a great show, it just doesn’t have the chops of the original films. After two seasons, it’s kind of silly and the rumor is that the third season will likely be the last. As for the maze? It’s a great effort, and nails the series…you just only have so much that you can do with it.
Scarecrow: The Reaping
Scarecrow takes us to a very dark, and dead place. An abandoned farm on the outskirts of town is the setting, as a depression era farm is left unattended. The farmer and his family have long been gone, but in it’s place is something evil and vengeful. Scarecrows, or rather guardians of the land in the shape of scarecrows, have taken root and they seek revenge for the dust bowl they once called home.
Video-Seek vengeance with The Reaping
This is one of the most intense, and aggressive houses that Universal Orlando has ever done. You walk in through an ominous cornfield, and dilapidated silo. From there you are pushed deeper into the earth with some really massive scarecrows. Seriously, every actor in this houses is 6’2″ or taller. They are meant to tower and intimidate, and they do. While there are some great details in the house, it’s more the scares in this one.
They are tough, mean and never stop. Just when you think it’s over, you go through an actual corn maze and become inundated with these massive creatures. Universal actually planted corn at the beginning of the maze. They did this before in 2004 with Field of Screams, a scare zone between Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. It was destroyed by Hurricanes Frances and Jean. They tempted fate again, and planted corn for this one, and here comes Hurricane Irma. While the corn survived, the curse of the corn was born. Let’s hope they don’t plant corn for a few more years. Still, the house works as it’s all about the actors and the intensity they bring to the characters.
Saw: The Games of Jigsaw
The final maze is the rebirth of a franchise. The Saw series is one of the most successful horror franchises in history, and this year it’s back after almost ten years. While we don’t know too much about the new movie, Universal and Lionsgate have teamed up to once again bring the terrors of Jigsaaw and all his delicious traps to life once again. The last time Universal had Jigsaw visit was 2009 in an amazing maze that saw actual working traps. Does lightning strike twice?
Video-Want to play a game?
Out of the nine houses, on the first go-round this one was the least favorite. The maze had a lot to live up to, and it just didn’t . It wasn’t as aggressive as the other houses, it wasn’t as bold as the first maze and it just seemed to go through the motions. Then, we went the second weekend…and all that changed. The maze got more furious, and the bugs were worked out. It’s very strong, but of all the nine mazes, still the weakest. That says something about the line up, more than Jigsaw.
There’s a moment from the trailer for the new film tucked away in there, as victims have buckets on their heads and are pulled towards spinning blades. It’s a great moment that gets a surprise scare. While the original maze used mostly moving props and traps, the new version uses a lot of static props. You don’t get to see much happening, you see the aftermath. That works better for scenic,and for timing. The first maze was all about timing, which caused huge lines because everyone wanted to see the traps work. This time there’s no worry about timing in most of the maze (a few exceptions here and there), but it also takes away from the cool factor of the house. Again, it’s not a bad maze, it’s just in comparison to the others…it’s not as strong. Still, very much worth seeing as a primer for the new film, which comes out in just a few weeks!
The maze line up is stronger than it’s been in years. Usually there’s a clear dividing line of which is better-the original stories or the properties. This year that line is pretty blurred. Most of the mazes are very strong, and work very well. The clear cut winner for me is Dead Waters, followed by The Shining, Scarecrow and Blumhouse. Those need to be your must see mazes above all else. Again, this year the mood is very aggressive and in your face, and it works to such a degree.
You thought we were done? Oh my friends, we still have a long way to go. The streets of Universal this year took a beating with Hurricane Irma. You can tell there was going to be more, but thanks to the storm things seem to be pushed back a little. That’s fine, because they work with what they got, and it still manages to be fun. It just makes you wonder what it could have been.
Altars of Horror
You have to wonder what this one was going to be like originally. There were streamers in the sky, and by the sound of it, there were to be stages, not unlike Chance’s scare zone last year. But, what’s left is just some of the most iconic characters from the films and mazes walking around getting some great scares.
This one is difficult to judge, because it’s so very crowded with people trying to take pictures. That’s what it’s meant to be, your chance to get a good up close look at the characters from the biggest mazes this year. What’s missing are the characters from the original mazes, like the Voodoo Queen, and the Scarecrows. Still it’s a lot of fun, and your chance to see the Twins from the shining in action.
Festival of the Deadliest
Another one of the “what could have been” scare zones. The Festival of the Deadliest was kind of the overall theme this year, at least that’s what we were told. It was to be this massive party like scare zone with tons of nightmarish creatures.
The biggest problem is that, there was no party. It’s just this aggressive, angry group of characters that are out to get you.
If it’s a festival, it’s a festival for your blood, because that’s what they seem out to get and hungry for. In the following weeks, more stages and floats have been added, and a few more lights, but it’s still far from a huge festival. The actors all do an amazing job here, but again…what could it have been?
This scare zone was so much fun. Aliens have landed, and they are here to take over. There’s some really amazing visuals happening here, though it’s the smallest scare zone of the event.
The only issue here is that it is so small, that the actors aren’t really trying to scare. You don’t get a lot of screams, but that doesn’t really matter because it’s just so damn cool to look at. We’d really like to see this one realized as a maze down the line, and see it fleshed out a lot more.
Universal has done aliens before, but they’ve never done an alien invasion. They’ve also never done a cheesy 50’s alien invasion before. It just works as good, campy fun.
Trick r Treat
Trick r Treat is pretty much essential Halloween viewing at this point. The little film came out in 2007, and took audiences by storm. Unfortunately, it came out in December instead of around Halloween, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a true classic. Whether you realize it or not, the movie has been influencing HHN since 2008, with the Skoolhouse scare zone. That scare zone was heavily influenced by a few scenes in the film, including the trick or treaters, and the pumpkins in the trees. Now, the movie is officially at HHN 27, and more than just a few little nods here and there, the scare zone takes guests inside several key moments of the film.
Who knew the “wrong way” could be so right! The film tells little stories woven together by the simple rules of Halloween. The scare zone tells each of the stories right before your eyes, with several doors. Each door tells a different story, and each story has different characters.
The scare zone gets some good screams, and it’s just absolutely beautiful. It’s the story of Halloween, and it includes Sam…the spirit of Halloween. I love the attention to the details from the movie, including the costumes of the bus riders. They do everything they do in the films…and if you mutter “wrong way”, you’ll get an answer from someone. This one you’ll want to spend time in, and just watch the screams, and wait for the little “show” moments.
For 12 hours every year, all crime is legal, including murder. This year, no one is exempt from the rules of the annual Purge…not even theme park guests. The scare zone takes up the whole of the New York area, and features everything from all three Purge films.
The Purge works extremely well as a scare zone. Maze? Not so much. The property is all about chaos and preying on the weak, and the scare zone at HHN captures that perfectly. It truly does.
I’ve used the word aggressive a lot in the span of this article, but you don’t get more aggressive than The Purge. The actors are having a blast here, and it truly shows. There’s tons of little things to look out for, including rotating characters, individual shows, and tons of stuff happening in the streets and windows.
While it’s not a scare zone, per se, in the Fast Food Boulevard area there is a bonus little scare zone where chainsaw wielding clowns take over. IT has nothing on these guys, as they use a great mix of comedy and terror to bring the frights. Here’s a bit of a personal story. I don’t write full time, but my day time job involves using chainsaws. My daughter HATES chainsaws…after all, with dad running a chainsaw, she tends to see “accidents” when they happen. I’ve had a few. The noise alone sends her running. She’s also not a fan of creepy clowns. So, during our annual trip to HHN I didn’t tell her about the clowns and saws until it was too late. Yes, I’m evil… So, how did she do? See for yourself!
The scare zones were hit and miss this year as a whole. We’ll blame that on the Hurricane, as everything still felt very unfinished. Every night there seems to be more and more things added, so hopefully by the end of the run there will be more in the scare zones that were affected the most. The scare zones that were firing on all cylinders were amazing, that includes the Clowns and saws, The Purge, Invasion and of course Trick r Treat.
The shows at Halloween Horror Nights have seen a huge change over the past decade. The types of shows at the event have evolved over the years, changing from simple magic shows, to gross out body torture, and even a parade. The one constant in all the years of HHN has been Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventures. For 26 years, the duo has been riffing on pop culture and making fun of anything and everyone happening in the world of entertainment, politics and social commentary. This year, that constant is coming to a close as Bill and Ted are on their Farewell Tour.
Video-Bill and Ted invade opening night
So, how was the show? It was appropriate for Bill and Ted. It had the right mix of nostalgia and sadness, all while keeping up with the latest aholes in the news.
Bill and Ted meet up with the Grim Reaper who gets a message from “up stairs” to kill everyone at the super celeb a con and wine and cheese festival. There’s just nothing redeeming about pop culture this year, and there hasn’t been in a few years. It’s a sentiment that is eerily accurate, as pop culture and the world is just slipping into mass chaos. Of course, the boys try to find something worthy, and through a twist they are called back to their own time of 1991. It’s all just a dream we were lucky enough to have.
Despite if you like the show, or think that it’s been lacking in the past few years. It’s Bill and Ted. It’s a Halloween tradition, and that tradition is coming to an end. It’s just not Halloween without Bill and Ted, but somehow we’re going to have to make it work.
Academy of Villains
Last year, HHN broke the mold with the amazing dance troupe, Academy of Villains. The show was so wildly popular, that the dancers came back with an all new show this year. Unfortunately, Hurricane Irma showed up, and completely wrecked the main stage. The crew pushed back the new show “Afterlife” and came up with a shortened “Irma Show”. The first stage was in front of the Horror Make Up Show building, and now another, larger stage has been set up. The show clocks in at 14 minutes, but it’s enough to make the impression that AoV knows what they’re doing, and are extremely dedicated to the show, and their fans. It’s not a huge show, it’s not what they set out to do, but it’s damn good for what it is.
HHN Is Iconic
During the opening night ceremonies, the question came up during a Q&A session about the use of icons. The response? The event itself if iconic. It’s so iconic that they don’t need something to tie the story together. I guess that’s true. Halloween Horror Nights used icons in the past to bring a face to the event, and make people associate it with something terrifying. It doesn’t really need that anymore. When you hear Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando, you know exactly what you’re getting. You know what to expect. It doesn’t really need a face to tie everything to, or sell merchandise. There’s no story at play this year, no overall theme. It’s Horror Nights, and that’s all.
Still…the backstory of the event is what grew the fans, and helped the event grow into what it is today. Of course, you could also argue that the event really took off in 2009 when Universal stopped worrying about a story and instead used legendary horror films to build the event around.
Regardless of your opinion on the matter, HHN is now the icon, so there may not be anymore new faces of horror to tie it to.
Video-See the Q&A with Universal creative
Overall, HHN 27 is an amazing year full of aggressive, and intense mazes and scares. We can show you every single thing there is to see about it, but the only way to truly see what we’re talking about is to see it yourself. With everything happening in the world right now, we all feel the need to scream. It’s the perfect way and time to do it, as you are getting the hell scared out of you.
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The terror is happening now until November 4th on select nights, and tickets are now on sale!
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