As the approach of autumn brings a chill to the air, Universal Orlando Resort is sending that chill right up your spine. Re-imagining terror for the 23rd year in the row, Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights is a stunning show-case of attention to detail and willingness to terrify. Consisting of haunted houses, mazes, scare zones and other in-depth levels of theming, Halloween Horror Nights 23 is an experience guaranteed to make you scream. Continue reading for a recap of opening night as well as tips for those attending the event.
Contributed by Cristen Curley-Edwards (photos are hers except where noted)
We recently had a chance to attend opening night of Halloween Horror Nights 23. In a pre-event press conference, the Halloween Horror Nights creative team gave an overview of their experiences planning and executing this year’s twenty-third event. The level of detail and planning they put into each event is so in-depth that even on the first official night of the event, the creative team is already planning their 24th year.
In fact, that level of detail is what made one of this year’s haunted houses possible – a house themed after the film An American Werewolf in London. During the panel discussion, the director of the film John Landis shared that the HHN creative team had chased him for many years, but it was finally seeing the creative team’s attention to detail that convinced him to collaborate.
After the discussion, our media group was taken on a R.I.P. tour, allowing us front of the line access to the houses. As someone who has had to take a chicken exit out of a haunted house before, I was definitely nervous about going into the houses and the scares that were waiting within! Trust me, no opportunity is missed to scare you anywhere along the lines, whether the scares come from “scare-actors” that are in the house, lighting effects, bits of scenery clinging to you, or even just standing in the dark, knowing what’s lurking.
Here is an overview of this year’s houses:
- Evil Dead: If you’re a fan of the original Evil Dead series or Sam Rami’s recent remake, you’ll immediately notice how the iconic scenes from the movie have been transformed into real-life horrors. Whether it’s blood and gore terrors that spray you as you walk by, or demons slipping out from the floorboards threatening to swallow your soul, this house is a terrifying experience.
- The Cabin in the Woods: This was the house I was most excited about when it was first announced and Universal definitely did not disappoint with the elaborate theming. While the movie is focused on you as an observer, here you become part of the action under the guise of a “camera repair person” needed to fix up life-feed cameras as each member of a group of friends visiting the cabin is sacrificed to appease the gods. However, you are quickly brought into the action, walking through scenes where the five protagonists cry out for help as murdering red-neck zombies launch themselves at you. Following the plot of the movie, you must pass through the ending scene in the elevators to exit the house, getting caught in the melee of that purge as doors open and glass disappears letting creatures loose. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I high-stepping it to get out of there fast!
- Resident Evil: Escape from Raccoon City: You enter this house in the midst of gun fight between one of the mutated human residents and the hero of the Resident Evil game series, Leon. As you wind through twisty streets or Raccoon City, you come face to face with more of these zombie-like humans and get caught in the cross-fire as villain Nemesis fires down on your group with his Gatling gun. Staying true to the game, the house also highlights items intended to help players “survive” the experience.
- An American Werewolf in London: HHN Creative Director Mike Aiello said they wouldn’t have done this house if they knew they couldn’t do it right and it’s clear they went above and beyond in making this a perfect and terrifying experience. The story begins at the Slaughtered Lamb and continues through a werewolf attack on two friends David and Jack. Afterwards, you travel through David’s nightmares of becoming a werewolf and ultimately his transformation under the full moon. The werewolf puppets used throughout the house are shockingly and frighteningly real and the “scare-act0rs” add to terror happening inside this house as they lunge for you out of the aisles and from behind doors.
- The Walking Dead: No Safe Haven: Even if you’re not a fan of AMC’s series The Walking Dead this house is not to be missed. You enter into the world of the survivors who have been hiding in the West Georgia Correctional Facility. Walkers are everywhere as you make your way through this house, sometimes trailing next to you and sometimes reaching down from above for you. Among the most terrifying moments for me was having to crouch and walk through a fenced scene surrounded by walkers on all sides; I felt incredibly vulnerable because I literally couldn’t watch my back. This house also features a guest-activated effect, so be sure to look for that opportunity to interact.
- Urban Legends: La Llorona: As the story draws on a Mexican folk tale, the area has been themed to resemble a Mexican street with an adobe house on it. As you go through the house, you aren’t just confronted by the horrors of a woman’s acts against her children, but forced to face statues and grave scenes as they come alive. Ultimately you follow along with La Llorona as she drowns herself as retribution for what she has done.
- Afterlife: Death’s Vengeance: This house is where the HHN creative team used 3-D to bring things even more to life. The first scene you happen onto is Bobby “The Blade” Galletta being executed for several murders. The effect of the 3D glasses leaves you feeling disoriented and not quite sure what’s actually reaching for you and what isn’t. As you make your way through a maze of hanging bodies it’s impossible to see a clear way out. It’s important to note that this house contains a lot of visual effects and light play that might be disorienting for some people.
- Havoc 2: Derailed: The original Havoc house focused on super soldiers gone haywire and this house takes it even further – placing you on a train loaded with these soldiers as you have to squeeze by them to make your way through. The bald-headed super soldiers bang on their cages, kicking, grunting and screaming as they try to reach through and grab you. And when the train derails they get to escape those cages.
Our group also visited the show Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure. The show which is a mix of both music and comedy, opens with a dance number featuring women dressed as sexy versions of murdering villains such as Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. The premise of the show is that Taylor Swift, who is dating Ted, has been turned into a blood-thirsty zombie and quickly turns other female celebs into the same, to help her reach her goal of murdering Bill and Ted. Interspersed with this are various references to pop culture moments from this year, whether it’s twerking zombie Miley Cyrus, Paula Deen or the characters from Duck Dynasty, nothing is safe from being mocked here. The show also takes a few jabs at Walt Disney films and theme parks. The show definitely contains some crude language and sexual humor that not everyone may enjoy.
We also made our way through the scare zones. This year, show director Laura Wallace, focused all the scare zones on various seasons of the Walking Dead. One of the zones we stopped in, which draws inspiration from the episode Clear, is dim and heavily flooded with fog. As you walk through the various zombie traps (set up as they were in the show), walkers jump and lunge at you. Through the darkness and fog it can be tough to tell who’s a walker and who isn’t, which makes it all the more scary.
Overall, I had a fantastic time at Halloween Horror Nights 23 and I definitely enjoyed being startled and scared more than I expected! The experience was more than just going through a haunted house, with no detail left unplanned by the creative team; it was an immersion in horror, guts and gore that you couldn’t get away from and I loved every second of it!
Here are some tips for people who are attending or considering attending HHN.
- Be ready to be scared at any possible second. Shops, restaurants and bathrooms are safe areas, but almost every place else is fair game.
- Make sure to read the warning signs for each individual house. Some areas require bending/crawling, others use strobe lighting and there are some heavy fog effects.
- Get there as early as you can before lines get too long! The event starts at 6pm and by 8pm there were already 2 hour long lines for some houses.
- Universal suggests children be over 11 if they are going to attend. Know your children and what might terrify them before making any hard and fast decisions.
So have you attended Halloween Horror Nights 23, or one of Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights in the past? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. Halloween Horror Nights 23 runs on select nights from September 20 – November 2, 2013. For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on Twitter and “like” our Facebook page, too.