Traveling 2000 miles for haunted attractions sounds reasonable to me. Harknell and I had the opportunity to go to Universal Studios Orlando and attend Halloween Horror Nights 21 on October 6, 7, 8, & 9th.
Yeah, you read that right. 4 days. There are 2 reasons for this:
– HHN is freaking awesome. I wanted to do each house at least twice.
– It’s so crowded and Express pass is so popular that you need at least 2 days to see everything. We purchased their special “Rush of Fear” pass that allowed us to go so many days with one purchase.
Let’s establish something up front: Only a haunt fan that ate too much Count Crackula would ever advise you to not attend the biggest and most high budget Halloween event in the world. They use the same type of budget they’d use on a horror film, and really try to terrify the shit out of you. HHN’s reputation is well deserved. The set pieces are amazing, the actors are top-notch, and the creative team is really on the ball. Once you go to HHN, everything you know and expect about haunted houses will change.
The theme this year is Lady Luck / gambling. Lady Luck is a woman who turns into some type of monster and kills men. This person has an infra red video of the event and Lady Luck’s scarezone:
If 2011 is your first time at HHN, most likely all you’ll notice is how absolutely crowded and scary it is.
Now that we have established HHN’s quality, I’m gonna tell you the superfan things I’d like to critique.
Express pass is really oversold and wait times are almost always listed as less than what they really are. They seemed to be letting all Express pass people straight in and freezing the regular line for long periods of time. Ideally, I’d like to see these 2 lines pulsed in an alternating fashion. Its cool if they even weight it toward Express Pass, but freezing the normal line for so long really affected morale for the regular guests. I know this happens, so I knew multiple days (or paying a large sum for Express Pass) were necessary. It still can be quite frustrating. If you can only go for one night, sadly, I’d have to recommend getting the Express Pass, or else you’ll probably miss out on some of the houses.
The theme didn’t seem to affect much. This could just be a super fan thing, but I’d like to see the theme referenced throughout the houses like they used to do. Lady Luck didn’t even have her own house-she had a scarezone. To be fair the scare zone was pretty cool, but HHN used to do more than this. It kinda felt like a bolted on thing. Like they felt the needed to do something for it being the 21st event, and just picked the easiest idea of gambling and let it go at that.
The scarezones were great conceptual pieces, but some of them were boring. Grown Evil (a scare zone in a garden with large bat and bird creatures) was really awesome. I really loved the concept of Nightmaze. This maze would change paths as you walked through it. Still, the end result was a really great concept that didn’t inspire that many repeat visits. The other scarezones were great set pieces – 7 changed from temptresses during the day to the 7 Deadly Sins at night. The end result was some girls to look at with screaming guys walking around in it. I felt sorry for them having to listen to the same Marilyn Manson song on repeat all night (The Beautiful People). Acid Attack had some cool projections, but they again fell back on the “just put a bunch of people with chainsaws in it” thing. Conceptually, there is a lot to love, but I’m not sure it all ended up being the best they ever did.
The houses were all really good except for 1 that was just OK. The Nevermore (Poe) house didn’t seem to be much more than pretty to look at. I have to say that there were some great scares from the dancer room, and the room with people on the ceiling was really amazing but that was about it. I still can’t figure out if we just ended up missing all of the scares due to poor timing in the 2 times we went through. It seemed that there was supposed to be a big scene at the end with Poe, but from talking with others that doesn’t appear to be true. If you are going to HHN and need a house to skip, I’d say this should be the one.
The other houses were all evenly good, but very based on timing. This is why we went through at least twice. If you are off on the timing you could miss everything.
I tend to be skeptical of movie tie-ins, but The Thing was very good. You go through the arctic base, (and I presume) see some scenes that take place in the movie. They did some similar stuff to their Wolfman house from a previous year, where you get saved by someone from being attacked by the monster. Overall the sets were exceptionally good and really creepy.
H.R. Bloodenguts was the comedy house for this year. A late night horror show host gets fired and takes over the TV station with his haunted holiday specials. We liked it a lot. I heard the are some hidden things in this house that we didn’t get to see. The Feaster Bunny nearly ate us, Santa Claus was dead and the toys almost shot us…you get the idea.
I’m not usually big into 3D houses but The In-Between was one of my favorites. All of the custom-built rooms and effects played tricks with your eyes and could even hide monsters that were standing right in front of you.
The Forsaken is Harknell’s favorite house. This is the story of the (made up) ship that sank during Christopher Columbus’ journey. They use water in this house, uneven flooring, and you really feel like you are traveling through a sunken ship during a terrible storm. The green, glowing eyes of the dead guys on the ship are pretty creepy.
Winter’s Night actually had a snow machine at the beginning and end of it as well as really cold air inside. It should be noted that the snow wasn’t working for 3 of the 4 days that I attended the event. There was a nod toward Doctor Who at the beginning (hmm, what would that be in a cemetery?) and a corpse crawling up out of the dirt and other great corpse scares. This was a very good house, but we thought it wasn’t as good as last year’s Legendary Truth house (ghost in the floor and ceiling FTW).
Nightingales was my favorite house. It was WWII-themed. Banshees dressed as nurses had taken over an American military base. There were some great scenes where soldiers rescued me from being eaten, banshees eating people or animals, dead bodies, and soldiers getting eaten while trying to shoot them. I just plain liked the flow of the house and the theme. I normally hate military houses, but 1940s theming is an exception to that.
Saws n’ Steam has been said to be themed after the Bioshock game with a steampunk feel. This was many people’s favorite house this year. It was a good house based on a distopian alternate past where people were being processed for meat. It had the most consistent storyline of any of the houses and really tried to get you to understand the history and backstory of the events.
The merchandise (as always) missed the mark, but it was still much better than in years past–though still, none of the designs really appealed to me. The staff shirts did (which we saw as many walked past), but they weren’t for sale, which was a shame.
They finally made the oft-requested hoodies, but they just had a boring text-only thing on the front and no art on the back. It sold out, so i guess the superfans bought them, but it makes me wonder if they only ordered a limited number of them. They were boring as hell.
They did offer a girly shirt this year with a text slogan, “The House Always Wins”. The catch is that it was done on a transparent racerback tank top that doesn’t flatter most female body types or play nice with most bras. Unlike a regular tank top, if you have any boobs whatsoever this shirt can quickly look trashy. I passed. Racerbacks are ASS. The Lady Luck shirt was OK, but only on a man’s shirt. The bright spot was the hat. Harknell bought one of those ASAP. I hope that they continue to expand their merch line and stock a more flattering girly top.
HHN is great as always, but the scarezones seemed to lag a bit this year. The theme was much better than the past 2 years, but still not back to the storyline days of Bloody Mary from 2008. The houses were almost equally good with the exception of Nevermore. There were no moments when we got totally obliterated like we had in years past, though, just a generally good level of fun. The scares seemed evenly paced rather than brutal. The merchandise seemed to be a little bit improved, but somewhat off with still huge room for improvement.
As always, we highly recommend HHN to every haunt fan, but keep wishing for the Bloody Mary days of 2008 to return.
Oni Hartstein is a Los Angeles-based CMO and entrepreneur that is obsessed with progressive rock / metal, marketing, and nightlife. Please direct all business inquiries or review requests to the "Contact" tab on the top nav bar.
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