Halloween Horror Nights 21 frightens, delights


A new era of scares began this year at Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 21.

This year’s event centers around Lady Luck, a malevolent entity that shows up just in time for some poorly made choices.

“When Lady Luck shows up, that’s pretty much the end for you,” said T.J. Mannarino, director of art and design for Universal Orlando’s entertainment department.

Mannarino said many of the houses and scare zones explore what happens when choice and chance come into the picture.

While many of the characters and approaches are entirely new this year, fervent fans of the fright-fest may recognize some shadows of the event’s classic scares. That said, Universal is doing a respectable job bringing those shadows to life with new fury.

Here’s a breakdown of Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights XXI.


H.R. Bloodengutz Presents: Holidays of Horror
Representing the newest edition of Universal’s yearly dark-comedy house, it’s more clever than scary. With horrific holidays like “Dead President’s Day” and “Ho Ho Homocide,” guests can look forward to psychotic weapon-wielding presidents and elves that dance the line between Christmas and Scarface.

The Thing
This year’s creature-feature house is The Thing. Based on the soon-to-be-released remake of the 1982 gross-out film, The Thing is a creature unearthed in Antarctica with the capacity to transform into any creature it chooses. With phlegm-spewing creatures snatching at guests, this house develops some impressive effects and creates a nightmare for the hypochondriac in everyone.

The In-Between
It’s packed full of discombobulating 3-D visual effects — Universal provides the glasses while guests provide the screams in this trippy house. From a swirling vortex that knocks guests literally off balance to laser beams they’ll swear they can feel, this house is mentally jarring.

Winter’s Night- The Haunting of Hawthorne Cemetery
The simplest of all the houses, Winter’s Night takes place in a graveyard where the spirits are frustrated with containment. Setting a stark contrast to Central Florida heat, the house is kept at a frosty 65 degrees while snow machines pump out the white fake fluffy stuff. Disarming guests by changing physical conditions and putting them in an already eerie place — like a graveyard — the house catches its guests off guard and takes that opportunity for a good scare.

Saws ‘N’ Steam: Into The Machine
For the first time, Universal transformed its ever-popular chainsaw scare zone into this “gore of the year” haunted house. Set in a futuristic society devoid of water, the thirsty people turn to their fellow humans for sustenance. Spinning blades, whirring pistons and the delicious sound of crunching bones fill every corner of this gnarly house.

A beauty in terms of its execution, Forsaken is the story of the fourth ship in Columbus’ voyage to the new world. The crew places faith in Lady Luck and mutinies but meets a soggy end when the ship sinks and the crew is all but forgotten. This house takes place in a Spanish fort where the cursed crew is alive and haunting. Members of the undead Forsaken crew are a little too low-key but an overall intimidating bunch with their glowing green eyes and grasping hands.


Nevermore: The Madness of Poe
Yep. Poe. Though this house wasn’t heavy on the big, gory scares, it wins for artistry. As one might infer, this house is dedicated to literary genius and madman Edgar Allan Poe. From a hall of ravens to a gravity-defying scene repeated on every dimension of a single room, this house must be experienced to be believed.

Nightingales: Blood Prey
Nightingales are vicious shape-shifting creatures feeding on the injured in the trenches of WWI. The gritty walls and floors, unidentifiable smells and chaotic sounds of carnage make for a startling environment fitting the Nightingales. From one groping for an ankle to another flying overhead, they’re found in all dimensions throughout. This won the favorite of the night.

Scare Zones

Acid Assault
With the decaying projections upon Universal’s New York buildings and its post-apocalyptic streets populated with repulsive, acid-burned survivors, Acid Assault is frightening and fun.

Your Luck Has Run Out
Entirely dedicated to this year’s host, this scare zone is cleverly set in an alley where the beautiful Lady Luck stands on high ground to lure guests in. Meanwhile, the ugly side of Lady Luck waits below in the shadows to show guests what happens when the chips are down.

Seven women represent the seven deadly sins, each with their own entourage of male company. The idea was creative, intriguingly executed and the scare-actors did an excellent job of removing any and all personal space between guests to get a good scream.

Grown Evil
Who’d have thought organics could be eerie? This zone featured scary troll-like creatures, giant bird-goblins and nameless creepy critters in an overgrown garden. Though it felt slightly out of place with the event theme, this scare zone was well done by its performers and earned a few solid screams.

Beware the snarling hooded creatures. This unusual, but clever zone plays upon the fear of being lost in the dark, as the walls change around guests in this darkened maze. Keeps your eyes open for people in odd spots of darkness.

Canyon of Dark Souls
The least effective of the scare zones, it seemed more like a game of cloaked Red Rover on stilts. It was quite small and didn’t seem to have the available manpower to effectively reach enough of the crowd. Something in the ratio of crowds to scare-actors took away from its fear factor. But keep a weather eye. Just when guests least expect it, things get spooky.


Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure
While many parts of this HHN staple were enjoyable and entirely laugh-worthy, there was an element missing from the show overall. Though the show played on the fact that 2011 didn’t have much to set it apart pop-culturally, the choices made in terms of references and humor left something to be desired. Its performers were on their game and kept the audience entertained, but as always, the best part was the big dance finale.

Death Drums
Equal parts Stomp, fetish and rock ‘n’ roll, this street show was great fun to watch but seemed to have precious little to do with the overall theme. However, its dancers and drummers were impressive and kept the environment lively.