The mysterious Iniquitus have risen from the cemetery and brought the legions of horror with them. These dark creatures have emerged from their graves to guide you to yours. Can you survive the streets now that nowhere is safe? Halloween Horror Nights Orlando is back and not only has it brought The Walking Dead, but Silent Hill has appeared through the fog within its limits as well.
This was the real test for Halloween Horror Nights this year. As someone who has been going for years, I’ve grown accustomed to the scare zones. When I want to truly see just how much effort Universal has decided to put into the costumes this year, I’ll check out the scare zones. Since, you know, I can actually see everything outside. This year there are no scare zones. Nowhere is safe from the roaming bands of scareactors.
At first, I really missed the scare zones. While I do miss having, essentially, hallways of terror to wander through, or around if I want to skip the crowds, what I really miss is the more ornate scenery that accompanied them. Now there are only pieces here and there. I first thought that they might be going for some sort of weird, dimensional convergence, and that these pieces are bits of the creatures land poking through, but then I realized that I was overthinking Halloween Horror Nights. So yeah, go ahead and steal that idea Universal, it’s on me.
I like the new street experience. I’m not sure if I like it better than scare zones, but it’s different. There’s something about waiting in line for a house, only to see one of the scareactors sneaking through the line to make an unsuspecting group of sorority girls wet themselves that makes laughing my ass off in public oh so socially acceptable. We’ll see if it’s still good next year, but it’s definitely a plus this year.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure
This seems to be a big point of contention for Halloween Horror Nights visitors. I have almost always enjoyed Bill and Ted’s latest romp through the year’s pop culture, but it is incredibly stupid. In fact, as with every year, when they introduce the show with the ‘rules,’ this time it was in a parody of F.U.N.’s “Tonight” and it has a chorus of “We’ll get dumb.” Of course, humor is entirely subjective, but I do try to keep an open mind for these things.
If anything, the problem with this year’s performance was repetition. Yes, the Katniss joke was funny, the first time. Repeating it every other scene just makes it annoying. I also didn’t find the numerous Don Draper jokes funny at all. They just fell flat and felt like low rent Family Guy jokes. Though, perhaps it’s just because this year’s pop culture sucked. Bill and Ted is a Halloween Horror Nights tradition, but I couldn’t recommend it this year if you’re pressed for time.
20 Penny Circus: Fully Exposed
This was the wild card of Halloween Horror Nights XXII. I had no idea who the 20 Penny Circus was and I figured it was a Halloween show with a bunch of creepy clowns. I was oh so wrong. 20 Penny Circus is, as they say: “Entertainment for questionable tastes.” It’s less jokes and magic tricks and more walking on broken glass, then, that being too tame, laying your head on the glass and having an audience member stand on you.
I went in with no expectations and absolutely loved the show. The hosts had excellent stage presence and their show and for a performance that hinged on shock value and humor, I thought it excelled in both categories. It served as an incredibly enjoyable break between the houses and I can’t recommend that you see it enough if you’re already there.
Strangely enough, Dead End was the house I was most looking forward too and, as usual, the house I’m most excited about is the most disappointing. Dead End is a haunted house in every sense of the term, you’re supposed to be walking through a haunted house up on a hill at the edge of Carey, Ohio. Maybe it’s from when I used to watch Ghost Hunters or my deep love of Supernatural that just draws me to ghosts, but HHN has done that before and better.
There’s nothing innately bad about Dead End. It’s just every scare was incredibly predictable. There were also some cool effects, like the ghost on the staircase at the start, but that’s all they were, effects. Those rooms had either no scareactors or one you could plainly see. There was a really cool garden section, but it didn’t really make up for the mediocrity of the rest of the house. Out of all the houses, this should be at the bottom of your to do list.
Since my joke about celebrity voiced gargoyles went over the head of the friend I went with, I’ll just say that apparently those rapscallions planning this years event have been digging into the old Disney Gargoyles show, because that’s what you’re facing in Gothic. This house definitely ended up surprising me the most, but it does come with a caveat. I went through it twice and all of my complaints were somehow addressed by the second walk through.
There were two sections in particular, the night scene and the room with the candles were cool, but empty the first time and had scare actors the second time. I don’t know if the first was during a changing of the actors or what, but that second walk through was incredible. Even the time first was still great, those rooms were visually stimulating, but unlike Dead End, those two rooms were not indicative of the whole house.
Overall, the Gothic has a great sense of place and the theme was well executed. It’s definitely one of the best houses this year. The dark, dank sense of foreboding you assume spooky, gothic castle posses are well represented. That and there are plenty of ‘flying’ gargoyles and I love when the put people up on wires to swoop at you. I’m usually not expecting it and it gives a good jump scare.
Alice Cooper: Welcome to My Nightmare
This house was great, but I’m not exactly a treasure trove of Alice Cooper knowledge. Beyond just knowing some of his music, my only experience is through Salvador Dali and The Muppets, so when I retrospectively realized that this is based on the album of the same name, it really framed the house in a fascinating light. Walking through the rooms was like walking through album covers of the era, but based on each song.
Even without the knowledge, the house was still really interesting. I wasn’t sure what I was in for, but when one of the first rooms is nurses with metallic spider mouths, you definitely have my attention. Welcome to My Nightmare was a great house, but it lays in that middle ground. It’s not the best, but it’s definitely not the worst. Check it out if you have time for a fascinating look into the mind of Alice Cooper.
Universal’s House of Horrors
House of Horrors is my second favorite house this year. This was also the first year I didn’t heavily research the theme before attending, instead opting to just figure out the basic premise of the houses, with this being the classic movie monsters. Going in, I had no idea that the intended effect was to transport you into a black and white film, and discovering that on my own was a good feeling. This house has a style that I haven’t seen before and I loved it.
The black and white is incredibly stylistic, utilizing lightning flashes to highlight glow paint. It really worked and made it one of the most unique houses I’ve seen. There were some fantastic scares here as well. In particular, one in the Frankenstein section uses the darkness in between the lightning flashes to give a teleporting effect. The Creature from the Black Lagoon section also simulated a swamp in a really interesting way.
It has such a unified vision that is carried throughout the entire house and unifies all of these different movies into one world. Even the final room, which is a total monster mash, is incredibly clever. It’s a wide open room that funnels you to the exit in a clever way. I’m not sure about others, but this is a house I will remember and hold up as an example for future houses.
Penn and Teller’s Newkd Vegas
Penn and Teller’s Newkd Vegas was the house I was most skeptical of and is easily my favorite house. Of course, I’m just a sucker for houses with gimmicks, I loved the hard hats in Terror Mines and People Under the Stairs: Under Construction, and the 3D effects in Jack’s Funhouse and The In Between. Newkd Vegas uses the 3D glasses, which are you radiation shields to keep your journey through New Vegas safe.
In an effort to one up catching bullets in each other’s mouths, Penn and Teller try the trick with ICBMs and accidentally nuke Las Vegas. New(kd) Vegas is Penn and Teller’s glorious resort that is completely and totally safe and FDA approved. It’s also the only house this year that is clinging to my favorite tradition of having a video playing in the line that tells the backstory. You walk through the irradiated, mutant filled, glowing nightmare.
Not only does the 3D make the house incredibly disorienting, making scares more frequent and so much easier to come by, but there is so much more to the house. This is one of the only houses I have been in that has a heavy interactive element. It’s littered with buttons and switches that directly cause events in the house. There’s even a section where you can annoy other guests, but it comes only after you realize that the people ahead of you already did it to you.
I may just be a sucker for gimmicks, but Newkd Vegas was one of the only houses that I was scared multiple times in. I think it’s the goofy premise and disarming video that help set your expectations for fun, only to shock you into another feeling all together. If you can only see one house this year, make it this one.
Welcome to Silent Hill
The fog has settled over Universal Studios and the pathway to Silent Hill is open. Pyramid Head, the Boogeyman, the nurses and maybe even a certain animal of the fluffy variety are all emerging from the fog to stalk you. This is the first time there has ever been a house or anything at Halloween Horror Nights based on a video game property. Just as with every Silent Hill game since 4, this has just as equal chance to be a complete and total train wreck as good.
This was incredibly exciting for me, since I got into SIlent Hill in the past few years. If you were going to pick a video game series to make a house out of, Silent Hill would be the perfect one. The house itself is a strange blend of those spectacular Silent Hill games and those less spectacular latter ones. There is a spectacular blend of creatures from all of the games and the scares are plentiful.
There was a good sense of unease throughout the house, though it was curious that they chose to make the Boogeyman from Silent Hill Downpour the repeated evil instead of Pyramid Head. When Pyramid Head does show up, it was incredibly anticlimactic. He is behind a fence and just walks by. They didn’t even give him the giant sword or anything to give him something to do. Regardless, the nurses and Robbie the Rabbit definitely had their time to shine.
The Walking Dead: Dead Inside
Clearly the most marketed and anticipated house has to be awesome, right? I certainly did not think so. If anything, my problem with Dead Inside is that it was so unremarkable. Mostly, it is an incredibly long house with not enough scareactors. It’s especially noticeable at the end, when you have to walk through an incredibly long hallway that I only noticed two scareactors in when around four would be effective.
Dead Inside just felt like it was trying too hard. It had scenes ripped directly from the show and comics, but the thing about the show and comics is, they’re not scary. They are incredibly intense dramas. Even though it totally should work, The Walking Dead theme didn’t seem to fit as a haunted house.
Overall, this was a spectacular year for Halloween Horror Nights. If you can, you definitely should attend this year. I’m already excited to see what they bring to the table next year.