Halloween Horror Nights.
Did a chill run down your spine? It should have- this is the nation’s premier Halloween event.
In its 26th year at Universal Orlando, Halloween Horror Nights has a stellar lineup of houses, both original and intellectual properties, shows and scare zones that will feed your hunger for horror and elicit screams you didn’t know you were capable of.
This year, I was invited to the Halloween Horror Nights 26 Social Media Meet-Up on Thursday, September 29. To say that was an honor would be an understatement, especially since this was my fifth year attending the event. A huge thank you to the Universal Orlando and Halloween Horror Nights teams for that opportunity- you killed it. (See what I did there?)
The meet-up was broken up into three parts- a behind-the-scenes, lights on tour of American Horror Story with Charles Gray (he was the tour guide for my particular group!), the creative mastermind behind the house, a trip through The Repository, the newest add-on attraction at HHN26 and a meet and greet with the mistress of evil herself- Chance. We were also given complimentary passes to the event and express passes, which allowed us to go through every house with time to spare.
Below is my ranking/review of the houses, including a review of The Repository. Feel free to use this as a guide as you plan your trip to #HHN26.
1. American Horror Story-I have been wanting HHN to partner up with AHS for two years now, so imagine my excitement when it was finally announced that an AHS house was coming to HHN26! Maybe it was because I got to see it from a different perspective during the tour, or maybe it’s because it was so incredibly well done, but this was my favorite house of the event. Not only was it true to seasons it was based off of (Murder House, Freak Show and Hotel), but also the use of different elements brought this to life. They projected clips on the walls to differentiate between the different seasons and used audio directly from the shows to really make you feel as though you were stepping inside the world of American Horror Story. The casting was excellent as well. All in all, I was so impressed and delighted at how great this house was.
2. Halloween: Hell Comes To Haddonfield- Two years ago when HHN created the first Halloween house, I was thoroughly impressed. I was shaking walking through that house, and it was one of my favorites of the event. Two years later and the HHN team has managed to do it again, and again it’s toward the top of my list. I walked in and immediately felt terrified walking through a very small hallway filled with shirts on hangers on either side of you. Michael Myers is waiting for you around every turn after that, knife at the ready. At one point he was coming from both sides and I was pushing the person in front of me to go faster if that is any indication of how scared I was. This was a well done sequel house that, for some, may even be better than the original.
3. Tomb of the Ancients- In the five years I have gone to HHN, this is one of the few original houses that has left an impression on me. When I asked Charles Gray what his favorite scare effect was, he said he liked anything that he could dangle from the ceilings. This house was CHOCK FULL of things dangling from the ceilings, and it certainly added to the creepiness factor. You are so concerned with things hitting your face and trying to push them out of the way that you don’t even realize the scare actors until they’re in your face sending chills down your spine. Out of the three original houses this year, this is the one that cannot be missed.
4. Texas Chainsaw Massacre- I have never seen this movie…because I don’t do scary movies. (This is only the second year I’ve gone through every HHN house with my eyes open, so bear with me.) However, chainsaws freak me out, so I knew this house was bound to be good. From what I’ve been told, this house is pretty true to the movie, so if you have seen the movie you’re in for a treat. This house uses a variety of methods to freak you out, including “blood splatter.” I hate when they do this because it never fails to make me feel gross and uncomfortable, which is exactly what they’re going for. The scares are pretty good in this house, so I would put this on your to do list for sure.
5. The Exorcist- Yet again, this is a movie I’ve never seen. However, I understood the gist of it before I went to HHN, so I knew what I would be walking into. I will start off by saying that the creative team did a pretty good job considering the majority of the movie takes place in one room of the house. The use of both animatronics and scare actors was a smart decision and the house reeked of throw up- another well thought out decision. I have to say that, for me, the house was more creepy than scary. There were some good scares from the possessed little girl, and the makeup was phenomenal, but as someone who scares super easy…I was only slightly scared. Still, it was very well done and is definitely worth a walk through.
6. Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch- This is a very interesting concept for a haunted house. There were some decent scares in here and the details were so intricate that I almost wish I could’ve seen it on a tour with the lights on so I could hear more about the story behind it. This house clearly wasn’t my favorite or least favorite- it was just alright. I think with such a killer lineup of houses this year, this original house fell a little flat, especially next to houses such as American Horror Story and Halloween II.
7. The Walking Dead- I am such a huge fan of this show and the only reason I went to HHN for the first time five years ago was because they were doing a Walking Dead house. That being said, this is the first year I wasn’t super excited about the house. I walked through and got excited to see some iconic set pieces and scenes from various seasons of the show, but I realized that I had seen a majority of it before. I know they were going for a ‘best of’ house, but I think Season 6 of the show was so explosive and they could’ve done so much with it. As with Ghost Town, this house fell short in a year with so many good houses in the lineup. It was still well done, and I am always impressed with the walker makeup, but I wanted more than what it was. I hate to say it, but it might be time to end the partnership and explore different IPs.
8. Krampus- The only bright spot of this house, for me, was the smell of Christmas wafting through the air. Other than that, I really wasn’t a fan. The creepy elves were just that- creepy, not scary. I also don’t remember ever seeing ‘Krampus,’ but maybe I’m just forgetting because the house was a bit unforgettable. I don’t recall getting scared very much, which is weird because everything scares me. If you don’t have enough time to get through every house, this is one that can be skipped.
9. Lunatics Playground 3D: You Won’t Stand A Chance- This house was a little disappointing. As the icon for the event this year, I wanted Chance’s house to be on the same level as the Anniversary House last year, which was my favorite and the scariest to me out of the entire event. However, I don’t think this house did her justice at all. I don’t think 3D houses are all that great to begin with, and I wish that Universal would toss this idea and give the ninth slot to either another IP or original idea. I spent so much time trying to keep my 3D glasses on my face because I thought I might miss something, but they took away from the experience rather than adding to it. I can honestly say I was not scared at all walking through this house, and I left feeling like more could’ve been done.
Bonus: The Repository- The Repository is the new add on haunted house that combines virtual reality with actual reality, which allows you to experience a new realm of horror that has never been available to you at HHN. We were among the first people to experience it, and I was super nervous going in. You will work with a team of three other people to solve a puzzle based on information and clues you will be given throughout your journey. The experience is 25-30 minutes long and anything goes. You may touched; you may be yelled at; you may be separated from your party. This is not your average HHN experience, and you will have to pay $49.99 plus tax if you want to experience it. I will say this- it wasn’t as scary as I was expecting, and I imagined it to be a lot more different than what it was.
You will start off by signing a waiver and being put into your teams for your special assignment. There will be things to read and look at while you wait and they could be imperative to your survival once inside, so pay close attention. You will then enter and find yourself in an ancient warehouse with a crazed man and a military-like man. You will be ushered in, one team at a time, and a mental patient will order you to follow him into the next room. Here you will look for a key, for you need a key in order to escape. Instead, you will be given a square covered in symbols with a light on top. This is where your new friend will leave you, as a woman in a lab coat will yell at you to follow her into her laboratory, where another patient is behind her desk. She will tell you what you need to do in order to escape, and from there you will be escorted into a room with one other member of your team and you will be given the virtual reality equipment. The equipment will be placed on for you. Unfortunately, you will need to remove glasses if you wear them because the equipment was, apparently, not designed to be able to fit over them. My roommate had a hard time seeing anything, which took away from her experience.
For some reason, I thought I would be walking around with this equipment on, but you stay in the room and you are supervised. You only have the equipment on for a few minutes, during which time you are looking for clues to help you solve the puzzle. In those few minutes you will experience animals flying at you (and you will feel it too- super cool), fire, a crumbling cliff and an ominous graveyard. While it was a unique experience, it didn’t feel long enough to warrant this house to be marketed as ‘virtual reality.’ Once the few minutes are up, the equipment will be taken off of you and you will then be ushered into a room with the rest of your team. You will have two minutes to solve the puzzle- and it isn’t easy. My team didn’t solve it, and I know many of the other teams, if not all of them, were unable to solve it, too. Thankfully, you’ll still be able to ‘escape’ even if you don’t solve it, and you will be brought to a debriefing area where the other teams are waiting. There are drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, available for purchase and there is a giant TV where you can watch the other teams try to solve the puzzle.
I did like that this house was more interactive than anything HHN regularly offers. You are encouraged to explore, to touch things, to interact with the actors. It may even push you out of your comfort zone a little because these are longer interactions where they are allowed to touch you. However, I wanted more of the virtual reality than what I got. I would highly recommend reading more about this experience elsewhere on the internet before deciding to drop the money, but overall if you are a fan of this sort of thing, it’ll be well worth it.
This is one of the best lineups I’ve seen in the last five years. Even the houses that weren’t scary to me were, in the very least, mildly entertaining. Both shows this year are worth seeing- Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure and Academy of Villains: House of Fear. If you’re skipping a few houses, be sure to check the shows out. Academy of Villains blew me away, it was that good.
The scare zones were all designed significantly well, but my favorite by far is Vamp 55. The interactions and the scenery make you feel like you’ve stepped into the 1950’s. If there weren’t so many good houses to go through this year, I would spend a decent amount of time just photographing in this area.
Good luck to those of you brave enough to face the horrors that await you at Halloween Horror Nights, and bravo to the entire team behind the event. I’m already itching to go again.