As some of my friends probably know, I like things a bit scary — something that’s also well known by clowns lurking around UNF and whoever keeps leaving garden gnomes by my front door.
Seriously, can you not?
For this reason, Halloween — particularly Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights — is my favorite time of the year. This is my fifth consecutive year going and it was one of the best yet.
Here’s a review of every house and the show at HHN26.
The Exorcist is often regarded as one of the best and scariest horror movies ever made with some unforgettable iconic imagery, but the house disappointingly had little of that. That was made up for in the special effects department with Regan floating over the bed and an especially effective vomit room. Bed sheets and comforters hung from the ceiling covered in wet green stains. Something sprayed from the walls at you and the room was noticeably more humid with a smell that actually made me feel nauseous. It was easily the best room in an otherwise spooky house.
An original house, this is essentially a remake of a house done many HHN’s ago. It’s a simple premise: old western ghost town in the middle of the storm. The storm was the coolest part. Lightning and rain effects were effective but the cowboys and girls shooting off their guns were more funny than scary. An entertaining house with a consistently short line.
Tomb of the Ancients
This was probably the worst house of the night, though far from the worst house ever. Tomb of the Ancients, with its part-Egyptian, part-Mayan theme was just kind of boring. It felt like a filler house made to extend the lineup this year. The lines were certainly short, so it won’t waste your time, but don’t expect much more than some neat Egyptian visuals going into this one.
Lunatics Playground 3D
Lunatics Playground 3D is much like the 3D house from last year’s Horror Nights, in fact it’s pretty much the same exact house. It opens up with the same spinning room that makes you feel like you’re rolling down a hill in a giant toilet paper roll. From there, it’s just people in neon suits saying “boogity woogity woo.” The 3D effect still works pretty well, even though it feels dated in the age of virtual reality. There isn’t much here to warrant the long wait times.
I was looking forward to the winter aesthetic of the house based on a Christmas horror film. It was neat how they made it colder inside, and the snow effects were nice, but the scares were few and far between. I liked seeing the titular monster on top of the roof, but it would have been cool for the house to actually end up on the roof where some of the creepiest imagery of the film took place.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
After a while, it’s hard to make chainsaws scary. Every single year that I’ve been to Horror Nights there were scare zones throughout the house with chainsaw maniacs relying on that loud revving sound to scare people, but in the TCM house, it got old before I even got in. The house itself was expertly crafted inside and out. The outside was an exact replica of the farmhouse from the movie, and the interior even better. Every room had more layers of filth than the last, with one room sticking out to me in particular. The lights were slowly flickering on and off with old Leatherface “masks” strewn about and candles lighting the various bloodstains. It was the quietest room of the house, and the most effective.
American Horror Story
I’ll admit right off the bat that I’ve never seen an episode of American Horror Story, but that makes it even more impressive that I came out of this house so satisfied. By far the longest house in the park, AHS delivered iconic scenes from the various seasons of the show like the black body-suited people and strange pig man swinging a big knife (that oink is forever etched into my brain). Since the seasons of the show vary so greatly, this felt like several houses combined into one and yet they all flowed together very well. The standout room here was in the hotel part of the house. There was nothing but a bed with a conspicuous hole in the middle of it. It was a large room and I stopped to see if something would happen. Lo and behold the lights started strobing and a hand followed by a head and then an entire torso climbed out of the hole and the girls behind me were so scared one actually leaped onto my back. Be sure to hit this one early though, as the lines got up to three hours by the end of the night.
The Walking Dead
I feel like I say the same thing about The Walking Dead whether I’m talking about the comics, the show or indeed the houses and Horror Nights. This is the fifth year in a row that they’ve had a TWD house and they’ve all started to blend together at this point. This is made even worse by the fact that this year’s house was sort of a “greatest hits” of the past seasons. It felt like there were old props sitting around that they wanted to use one more time before tossing. It wasn’t the worst house in the park, but unless you’re the world’s biggest fan of the show, I would skip it.
Two years after the original, Halloween returns to HHN with a house based on the second movie. The first Halloween house, which was a perfect recreation of the scenes from the movie, was the highlight of that year’s HHN, and Halloween II has done it again. This year Horror Nights took the idea a step further and recreated the entire hospital setting of Halloween II with every death scene and chase recreated in obsessive detail. Everything from the hot tub death (yes that really happened in the movie) to the fiery explosion at the end, and the end is the best part. A toasty Michael Myers reached through the walls of the burning hospital with his mask grotesquely melted to his face was legitimately scary. It was easily the coolest SFX design of any house this year and maybe of any HHN house ever. You can’t skip this one bitch.
Academy of Villains
This was by far the most surprising part about this year’s event. I’ve largely skipped the shows that occur every hour or so in the middle of the park every year as they are rarely better than mediocre. This year, however, a killer dance number mixed with trippy dream sequences made for easily the best show at Horror Nights yet. Performers pulled off incredible acrobatic stunts to famous songs like Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The middle of the performance was the best part. A white screen was pulled across the stage and the whole number was done in shadows. Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life,” which has become a bit of a meme lately, was expertly used here. When you go, be sure to make time for this incredible spectacle.
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