It’s October, the season of fall clothes, apple cider, and pumpkin flavored everything. It’s also of course, the month of Halloween. The time of the year where everyone gets in the spooky spirit, dressing up in costumes, hosting ghoulish parties, trick or treating w/ the kids, and watching of horror movie marathons. October also marks the emergence of local scare parks. Every town/city across the globe has local haunts that roll around each fall season aiming to scare guests with frightful mazes and other horror themed attractions. Some are good and well established (Like “Knotts Scary Farm” in Buena Park, California, or New England’s “Spooky World”) and others, well, not so much. For the brave souls that endure the parks, the thrill seekers, there is one scary destination that raises a severed limb above the rest. That would be…Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. Odd to think an amusement park known for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter would be synonymous with horror but during select nights in September – October, the daytime fun phases out and what emerges in its place is an evening full of insidious horrors.
What exactly is HHN, what’s all the hubbub, is it worth it? All these questions and more are addressed below the jump.
Halloween Horror Nights, now in its 26th year, is a world-class Horror attraction that takes place in both Universal Studios Hollywood and Orlando amusement parks, as while as their parks overseas. For sake of reference and time, this overview article will exclusively refer to HHN in Orlando. Ultimately the Parks do the same thing, but each location offers varied catalogs of horror, based on popular properties and franchises. The parks operate as normal during the day but when night rolls in, the parks transform into a place that Rob Zombie or Clive Barker would happily call home. A multitude of award-winning horror mazes, creature-filled scare zones, and shows are laid out throughout the park; all developed and decked out with top Hollywood level production and effects.
This year at Halloween Horror Nights 2016 in Orlando, brings iconic horror franchise American Horror Story, Krampus, Michael Myers, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist, The Walking Dead, as well as original content mazes like Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch and Lunatics Playground 3D.
Each of these themed mazes are parsed throughout the back-lot production studios at Universal Studios (areas of the parks not many get to see). Each attraction varies in length and scares, but all offer life-like recreations and familiar imagery from horror properties in which their inspired. The attention to detail cannot be understated. Park attendees are literally transported into these worlds of horror, as seen in TV and Movies. Imagine coming face to face with a horde of Walkers from The Walking Dead, or Michael Myers from Halloween in your face with a machete or a half-naked Lady Gaga from American Horror Story. It’s very unsettling. It’s not just the characters that are scary and imposing, it is the environments. Each house is very much like a very short horror game in that way, with a premise, a “story,” conveyed through set pieces and main characters, and interaction. Coupled with faithfully crafted sets, familiar music + soundtracks played throughout, and the intense lighting, it all creates an adrenaline-fueled terror experience that puts you in a very real horror-survival experience straight outta the movies.
As for the scares themselves. Universal are true masters of horror. They understand the psychology and methods in getting the most scares out of guests. They are maestros at getting people when their guard is down, specifically designing their mazes and elaborate set pieces to exploit every opportunity. In other words, screams and scares are guaranteed!
THE SCARE ZONES
Keeping guests on their toes, are multiple “Scare Zones” that permeate all areas of the Park, each with a different theme. In the zones are elaborate structures to go along with the theme – this year for example: A Ghost ship w/ dreadfully dead seaman in “Dead Man’s Wharf” , a flame bursting Mad Max-esque station with Apocalyptic psychos in “Survive or Die”or haunted tombs with hounding ghouls in “Banshees Lair” . Plenty of maniacs, ghosts, and chainsaw wielding bastards run rampant terrorizing passerby’s. Without them, the streets would be boring to walk-through, they livening up the joint and at worst make great selfie opportunities.
REGULAR PARK RIDES + SHOWS
As a refuge from all the chest grabbing scares, Universal runs a lot of its regular rides, such as Revenge of The Mummy, Rip Rocket Coaster, Transformers The Ride: 3D Men In Black Alien Attack, and The Simpson Ride. The wait times for these are almost always minimal, maybe 5 or 10 minutes. Definitely, a great way to enjoy some popular rides multiple times that would be otherwise much busier during normal park hours.
Also is access to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley – possibly the most richly detailed fictional area in any theme park in the world – where most of, if not all the shops are open (Butterbeer, anyone?). Here guests can also ride the relatively still new Escape From Gringotts, an indoor coaster and 3D multi-dimensional ride!
For further decompression and much-needed laughs, there is the Bill and Ted Excellent Halloween Adventure. This a30 minutes skit and dance show takes two of pop cultures’ most beloved characters and takes them on a truly outrageous journey – featuring sexy dancing girls (and guys), pyrotechnics, and an assault of laughs poking fun at the year in popular culture. Movies, Television, Politics, Music, Sports… nothing is left unscathed. From the Chewbacca Mom getting frozen in Carbonite, Batman Vs Superman Vs Wonder Woman in a game of Cards Against Humanity, Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton pouring hot sauce of her bewbs, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure is the most obscene, craziest, and funniest, adult themed dance and comedy specials this side of the time stream.
There’s also Academy of Villains stage show, that puts on a high-energy mixed media performance with dancing, acrobatics, and other wild antics.
At no fault of the park or the horror masters who’ve designed the attractions, the scares do admittedly become less scary as the night goes on. Moving around the park, hitting up each maze, things start to become redundant. The biggest thing with horror, what makes things truly scary, is not knowing what to expect – “fear of the unknown” as it were. 3 or 4 mazes in, and the same scare tactics and formula start to get noticed, resulting in increasing acclimation. Also taking away slightly from the murderous themed mazes, are security personnel inside the mazes who are there to protect the actors and guests. While dressed in black and placed in off-center areas, spotting one is an instant alert that there is an upcoming freight. Keeping park attendees in a constant state of “fight or flight” is not something Universal is able to maintain for the whole of the evening but it’s not for lack of trying, and boy, do they try. Hard. Even if one’s braveness meter grows throughout the night, the visceral imagery is lasting and provides nightmare fuel for days to come.
(typical HHN line queue)
Long lines and ticket pricing are certainly not targeted to the patient or the frugal. The lines, without a FastPass, can be upwards to 90 minutes (sometimes longer), particularly if it’s a more popular maze/house like The Walking Dead of American Horror Story. That’s the average length of a movie, that can extremely tough to endure, and a big time suck. Park is open 7pm – 2am. Waiting in regular line queues makes it almost impossible to see every maze, scare zone, show, and regular park rides. Getting a FastPast is not a requirement but it is almost a necessity. A General Admission Ticket cost of $104.99 is not too unreasonable for all the haunts and rides an attendee has access to. However, adding an additional $89.99 to $139.99 atop of that (depending on the night. dates in October get increasingly more expensive, particularly on the weekends) and for one person, it’s a wallop on the wallet. Jacking up the price even further are the optional Behind-The-Scene Tour and Private/VIP Tours which well exceed $100.00 on their own. There’s also a Virtual Reality Experience and evening a ScareActor Dining Experience both priced at $50.00 each. These are really cool things, they absolutely are, but unless your parents are oil barons, it’s all, cumulatively, un-affordable for the average person.
(Having a few “Blood Shots” will turn anyone into a demon)
Halloween Horror Nights is specifically targeted to older audiences, which allows for such intense visuals and gory displays. It’s a Rated R experience. So no kids is a good thing but having children around usually makes grown-ups act, well, grown up. With HHN attracting a very adult crowd, alcohol being readily available, long lines, and shenanigans going on well until 2am, things can get pretty rowdy at times. Drunk people will be encountered. There will be people screaming… for the wrong reasons. It’s not egregiously bad by any means, the people acting stupid are few and far between, but it can be unsettling thinking how different the vibe and attitudes are compared to the family-friendly nature when the park runs during normal hours.
IS IT WORTH IT?
Halloween Horror Nights is the very best thing that happens in a theme park, and it is *the* reason to go to Orlando in the fall. It’s a perfect encapsulation of what a higher end theme park should be: all the cheesy goodness of an amusement park, with the wildly ambitious creative vision that a big old’ budget can bring in. It’s spooky and goofy and ridiculously fun, best experienced with a few people who you like and feel comfortable clutching in fear and delight, and a hell of a way to spend a weekend.
For dates, rates, and more information head on to the official Halloween Horror Nights website HERE