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Universal Orlando Halloween Horror Nights Review

DSC05155Universal Orlando’s annual fright fest kicked off this past weekend to huge crowds, big scares, and the return of the event’s most recognizable icon, Jack the Clown. When Halloween Horror Nights wrapped last year, we received a message from Jack that gave the initial clue that he would have a special purpose in this year’s event. Following that message, we’ve seen multiple commercials and an online social media strategy aimed at “Jack’s Maniacs” to bring focus to the fact that Jack would serve as the overall host of HHN25 as well as playing a large part in the recurring greatest hits/remix theme.

This year’s offering includes the largest house line up to date (9) and the most scare zones (5 + 2 roaming hordes). The question is, is bigger actually better? The answer….mostly yes.

As in any year, the house offerings can be hit or miss, with a few exceptional standouts. This year, there are 4 houses way above the rest: Freddy vs. Jason, Jack Presents: 25 Years of Monsters and Mayhem, Insidious, and Body Collectors. I think the staff of VFTCS could debate all night about which house they would choose as our overall favorite, as each house has so much going for it.

Freddy vs. Jason is a horror movie fan’s dream come true as the house takes you through each property’s home base with highlights from each franchise’s movies. However, the house reaches a fever pitch once the 2 horror icons are embattled with you in the middle of their fight. While both characters are intent on destroying each other, they are also equally enthralled with the thought of ending you as well. This house progressed well from previews through our last run through on Saturday night (with a seemingly equal amount of Jasons and Freddys) and we’ve seen both icons demonstrated as “winners” at the end of the house run.

IMG_9683Jack Presents: 25 Years of Monsters and Mayhem is a Halloween Horror Nights fan’s dream house with highlights of 15 previous fan favorites represented in the largest overall house ever produced by the HHN staff. There are equal amounts of scares and eye candy within this house, including classic monsters and multiple representations of Jack himself. Pro tip, be aware the house may not be over when you think it is.

Insidious is creepy. Insidious is scary. In my years of attending HHN, I’ve rarely had a house that I was nervous about entering as much as I am when it comes to Insidious. Since I first saw this house during the media preview event (reviewed on Ideology of Madness), I have yet to see all scareactor spots filled (or hit) while I’ve walked through. Having said that, I’m actually glad because there are multiple rooms with scares coming from varying directions. All 3 Insidious movies are represented in this house and despite the long lines, it’s well worth the wait.

The facade of Body Collectors is among the best that the HHN team has ever created. It’s simply awe inspiring and sets the tone for the remainder of the house. This house is chock full of actors with some of the most violent kill scenes presented this year. There is so much to look at, which is usually my downfall as the actors scare incredibly well with these aesthetic diversions.

While the remaining 5 houses are well worth checking out at least once, none command your time as much as the initial 4 noted above. Of the remaining houses, Asylum in Wonderland is a standout as the 3-D house offering this year. Asylum features the most effective spinning room that I’ve been in to date as well as a lot of (non-scary) eye candy based on Alice in Wonderland. The VFTCS crew was very much looking forward to the return of American Werewolf in London as well, but the house has yet to deliver the same punch as it did in it’s HHN23 debut. This is the first time that Universal Orlando has repeated a house in its entirety and I’m not sure if it works as well as intended as some of the scares from the first iteration are either missing completely now or not working as well as they once did.

Run, The Walking Dead, and The Purge are all well intended, but for seasoned HHN attendees, these will most likely serve as people eaters for the event. Run is well intended with a great story behind it, but unless you are a well read HHN attendee, you would be lost on anything outside of what you are seeing in the house, which is honestly, pretty confusing. The Walking Dead is back for the 4th time this year in a house based on season 5 of the AMC television show. While the house isn’t necessary bad, it doesn’t bring anything new to the table that we haven’t seen in the prior 3 versions. Actually, some of the same props from prior years are reused in the house this year, which lends to the house seeming to be an after thought. Hardcore Halloween Horror Nights fans recognize that The Purge was not the initial choice as the 9th house for this year, but was instead a late replacement for another IP house. While the scareactor use and repurposing is effective, the late makeover that the house received to support The Purge IP doesn’t work well. You can still see traces of the former property included in the house and other areas are masked with heavy graffiti and strobe light use.

HHN25 offers 5 set scare zones in addition to 2 roaming hordes, which basically means there are no safe areas within the park once the event starts. The VFTCS crew was extremely impressed with 4 of the 5 scare zones so far, with the 5th being a potential work in progress.

IMG_6051All Nite Die-In is simply amazing. This zone employs 2 sets of scareactors, representing horror movies that are either classic (black & white) or modern (color). The grey scale coloring and monster representation of the classic version of this scare zone is absolutely delightful and the actors do a fantastic job, most notably, the good Dr. Frankenstein. The color version of this zone is almost equally impressive with standout Carrie, completely soaked in blood with a terrifying look in her eyes. There is really remarkable work in this zone and it commands time spent in it and not just a breeze through. We’re not at all regretful that we’ve spent hours in this zone already and looking forward to spending even more time there through the event.

IMG_5911The HHN Icons scare zone is a nod to past fan favorites and is chock full of awesomeness. The 4 main icons (Storyteller, Director, Caretaker, and Usher) are all tied to set pieces representing their characters and will perform kill highlights (at seemingly random times) to demonstrate how their characters came to be. In addition to these main icons, many other characters (sub icons) can be found in the zone as well (Cindy, Voodoo Queen, Lady Luck, et al) and all are looking to provide scares in addition to photo ops. This is a great zone to hit while the Jack show The Carnage Returns is in progress as the zone clears a bit with folks being pulled into the show.

IMG_6003PsychoScareapy – Unleashed is an absolute pleasure to roam through as the actors look like they are having a blast portraying escaped patients from Shadybrook. The fire effect in the zone works like a lightning rod in pulling people into the zone and the zealous acting of the patients keeps you there as you never know what you will see next. The costume contest is wonderfully zany and the variety of costumed characters in the zone will have you laughing in between jumping from being scared.

The atmosphere in Evil’s Roots is absolutely gorgeous as well as eerie with bats, scarecrows, and faeries all ready to attack as you navigate the narrow pathway.

The only set zone that falls a bit short this year (so far) is Scary Tales: Screampunk. This zone is set in the front of the park and suffers a bit from the lack of space. The characters are all based on fairy tale stories (despite the folks crying “Disney”), but none seem to really deliver any scares as they all seem to be on set patterns to march around the zone. We are hoping this zone improves a bit by amping up scares as the event goes on as it has potential to be a very good area.

HHN25 also includes 2 shows this year in the returning Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure and The Carnage Returns (Jack’s show). Bill & Ted’s usually takes a couple of viewings to settle in for judgment, and as of this writing, we’ve seen the show only once. While the show is funny and also includes some of the best dancing around, it doesn’t seem to live up to prior years with regard to story and included characters or jokes. We are hoping the show continues to develop through the event and hits the same stride as last year’s version.

DSC05121On the other hand, The Carnage Returns is an absolute can’t miss show. This show is in an awkward location (outside of the entrance to Central Park) but is barricaded off with team members helping in routing people through the walkways. That said, the location is a necessarily evil as the other show venues in Universal Studios would be too small to contain the crowds that we’ve seen throughout opening weekend. The Carnage Returns is a pure gore fest with loud music, tons of pyro, lots of skin, colorful language, aerialists and is hosted by Jack and Chance. This is a can’t miss show and is an awesome cherry on top of every HHN fan’s wish list.

IMG_9834Additionally, Universal Orlando is offering a scareactor dining experience this year. While the meal was a bit pricey ($50 per person), it offered one free pro picture with an icon, wandering scareactors for interactions/photos, and one of the best buffets we’ve ever had. We’re hoping Universal Orlando refines this offering in both price and additional benefits (limited express or additional characters) for the future as it was a good idea that could be made great.

Halloween Horror Nights runs until November 1st, and additional information, including pricing and specific dates can be found at the Halloween Horror Nights website.

Our Halloween Horror Nights videos can be found on the VFTCS YouTube page, or through our HHN25 playlist:

The following are pictures from opening weekend:

Halloween Horror NightsHHNHHN25Universal OrlandoUniversal Studios

viewfromthecheapseats • September 22, 2015

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