Universal Orlando Halloween Horror Nights 26 Begins Now!
It’s beginning to look a LOT like Christma…er, Halloween. It’s our favorite time of year, and that means that Universal Orlando had their opening weekend of the frequently voted best haunted event, Halloween Horror Nights. Universal’s HHN26 event is jam packed with 9 haunted houses (mazes), 5 set scare zones, 4 roaming hordes of monsters and 2 stage show productions, all headlined by our featured icon (stepping out of the shadows of Jack), Chance. We attended every night of the opening weekend (as well as employee preview night) and the following is our review.
Of the 9 haunted houses this year, Universal has loaded up with 6 licensed properties and 3 ground up original houses. Headlining the licensed properties is the first ever American Horror Story house, which spans 3 seasons of the hit FX show. Likewise, the returning AMC’s The Walking Dead covers a lot of ground, spanning all of their previous seasons. Rounding out the licensed properties for this year are horror fan favorites, The Exorcist, Halloween 2 (Hell Comes To Haddonfield), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Krampus. HHN26 original houses include Lunatics Playground 3D (Chance’s house), Tomb Of The Ancients, and Ghost Town: The Curse Of The Lightning Gulch.
Our week one rankings round up is as follows:
Krampus (5/5) We really did not care for this movie when it was in theaters, but thought it would make for a fun haunted experience based on the characters and storyline. The Krampus haunted experience is amazing as it feels like you are part of the movie, down to the evil gingerbread men, wicked elves, and huge Jack in the box. The house is aesthetically awesome and chock full of scares. There has not been a time going through this house where our party has not been scared multiple times.
Tomb Of The Ancients (4.5/5) The facade of this house is a great indication about how intricate the house is. There is plenty of eye candy and very narrow and winding pathways, which allow for great jump scares. Crocolion at the end of the house is amazing when fully working. On employee preview night, Crocolion sent members of our party in the opposite wall with fear and it was amazing. By Sunday night, it seemed like Crocolion was either tired or damaged, or both. Of note, this house could stand for a little brighter lighting so that the scenics can be appreciated better.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (4.5/5) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of my favorite movies of all time. The original 1974 movie is a psychological thriller, with equally demented family members contributing to unbelievable horror. The Universal creative team did an amazing job at making this house immersive from the exterior and interior details, down to the inclusion of all of the family members. While there is a healthy helping of Leatherface within the house, the biggest scares may come from the other family members. The last couple of scare experiences from the house are unexpected and are a big payoff.
Halloween: Hell Comes To Haddonfield (4/5) Michael Myers is an icon to every horror fan. However, Halloween 2 the movie is probably not held in the same esteem as the film’s anti-hero. That said, this house does a great job at picking up exactly where the first Halloween house left off and telling the story of Michael Myers throughout the second film. There’s a lot of Mike to go around in this house too, including a bizarre “Dumpster Mike” only to be followed up by an equally bizarre “Locker Mike” as you walk through the hospital. The end scenes of the house are extremely creative and have us wanting to come back for more.
American Horror Story (4/5) I have to admit that I’ve never seen a full episode of this show, and adjusted my review upwards based on feedback from our other Cheap Seaters, Mary and Jessie. American Horror Story spans 3 seasons of the hit show: Murder House, Freak Show, and Hotel. The sets included in this house are expansive and gorgeous. The actors are amazing at portraying their on screen counterparts and there are plenty of scares to go around. Even without watching the show, the house is awesome to walk through. I’d expect American Horror Story to replace The Walking Dead as the repeating franchise from next year forward based on the response we’ve seen so far during week one.
The Walking Dead (3.5/5) I think I may have been one of the few folks that were genuinely excited to see The Walking Dead return to Halloween Horror Nights this year. This year’s offering is a greatest hits of sorts and includes a lot of fan favorite moments from prior houses, including the well walker, the Governor’s fish tank o’ heads and Hershel’s barn. As a fan, this was a joy to walk through. Here’s to hoping that Universal Orlando retires this yearly property now and gives us a full time TWD attraction within the park next year instead.
Ghost Town: The Curse Of The Lightning Gulch (3.5/5) I need to go through this house a few more times to be completely fair in my review. To date, I can say that this is easily the most aesthetically pleasing house of the year with incredibly set design and a fun story. There’s just not something that is working for me with this house though, and it could be what seems to be a sparse use of scareactors. I haven’t really found a good scare in the house yet either, which is a shame as this was on the top of my “must see” list for the year.
The Exorcist (3.5/5) When Universal announced that we would have a house experience based on the most scary movie of all time, The Exorcist, excitement was at an all time high. However, that excitement was tempered by the fear that we would have a house full of the bedroom scene over and over. The result is mixed in that we have the bedroom scene presented multiple times, but we also get some assorted Regans in other places as well as the priests. The pea soup hallway doesn’t work well and the blackened hallway of arms (seemingly just lifted from Insidious last year) doesn’t contribute anything to the experience.
Lunatics Playground 3D (2/5) As an Icon, Chance seems to have received the short end of the stick this year with a very bland 3D house and a limited front of the park scare zone. The house location is in the far part of the park, beyond Men In Black, almost as if Universal themselves didn’t have much confidence in the house. We get the vortex in the house as per norm for 3D offerings, but the story and characters seem a bit overlooked. The actors in the house are awesome, but the content just isn’t there.
One of our favorite, if not equally loved pieces of Halloween Horror Nights are scare zones. We love scare zones, because we are not rushed through them and it allows the actors to improv a bit with guest interaction. After a stellar lineup of scare zones in 2015 for HHN25, we were anxious to see how this year’s offerings would pan out. The following are this year’s zones in order of our ranking to date:
Vamp ’55 – This Hollywood based zone is simple and more than effective. Vampires have invaded the homecoming and all Hell has broken lose. This zone contains minimal eye candy (2 floats), but is over the top with guest interaction. The scareactors in this zone absolutely kill it (pun intended) every night. Highlights include a greaser killing his girlfriend (?) at the top of a float, a vampire ice cream man, and an unbelievable performance from the Principal.
Lair Of The Banshees – I made fun of the hovels/pods for the banshees prior to the event going live as they reminded me of the pods from Spinal Tap. That said, these pods are proving to be an amazing asset for the scareactors to use while performing jump scares. The characters in this zone are diverse and wonderfully designed. I sat for almost an hour during one session watching guest after guest get scared by the same duo.
Survive Or Die Apocalypse – This zone heavily borrows heavily from Mad Max, or is it Water World, or any other apocalyptic property done to date. As you walk the streets of the New York section of the park, you are accosted by three teams all looking for you to make the right choice to continue to live. All teams are fighting for clean air and have a great battle scene as their shift change happens.
A Chance In Hell – This zone is designed to be what is happening with our icon, Chance, after her house experience (though you’ll most likely experience the zone first). The scareactors in the zone are minions of Chance and the visuals include stages featuring Chance’s victims. Guests can interact with Chance here and the conversations can get very PG-13, which adds a great touch to the zone.
Dead Man’s Wharf – Initially viewed as the must see zone of the year, this has been a bit of a letdown to date. The characters and set design are visually stunning, but the outfits that the actors use look to be weighty and as a result, they seem limited in scaring ability. The zone is also a nightmare (pun intended) to get through when trying to traverse between Bill & Ted and the front section of the park.
This year’s roaming hordes include Cheerleaders, Geishas, Pumpkin Men/Scarecrows and Rednecks. The Cheerleaders seem to be the standout of the pack with the Geishas a close second. Unlike last year, these hordes seem a bit thinned out quantity wise. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to spend more time watching the roamers during week two.
As usual, Universal Orlando offers 2 production shows during Halloween Horror Nights:
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure – This year’s Bill & Ted offering seemed to start out right up our alley, featuring a gorgeous set and Star Wars references. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there with outdated (Leroy Jenkins) references, old songs (Extreme’s “Do You Want To Play”), and jokes that either didn’t land or were booed (Hillary Clinton). This year marks the first time I’ve seen guests leaving the show in packs well before it was over.
Academy Of Villains: House Of Fear – While the masses expected Universal Orlando to bring us a sequel to Jack’s Carnival of Carnage from last year, the team pulled a surprise and brought us the Academy of Villains House of Fear show instead. This extremely talented troupe received their break on America’s Got Talent and provides a show full of dancing, juggling, shadow acting and more. I don’t think I’ve ever been as impressed with a HHN show as this. This is a can’t miss event for anyone attending this year’s Halloween Horror Nights.
Later this month, Halloween Horror Nights will also open their 10th house, which is a paid extra experience called The Repository. We do not have a date yet scheduled to attempt this add-on, but look forward to other’s reviews. Likewise, Universal also brought back their popular Scareactor Dining Experience this year. We attended this horror dinner over the weekend and had an absolutely great time.
Halloween Horror Nights runs through October 31st, operating on most nights Wednesdays – Sundays. Tickets, dates and prices can be found here.
The following is our HHN26 YouTube playlist with video highlights of the event: