Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights 2008 changed my life. It was what actually got me into doing this on the blog and inspired me to realize that there was more to haunted houses than “boogity boogity”. Every year HHN is the one major thing that we look forward to attending. I normally spend between 2-4 days at Universal Studios Florida specifically for this event. It used to take that long to take in all of the awesome.
Unfortunately my experience this year was not as good as I hoped.
Entering the Park:
To attend HHN you have to go through 2 security checks which are done by the nastiest security guards I’ve ever dealt with. Do you have a bottle of water in the 95 degree Florida heat? They’ll snatch it and throw it away for you so that you have to buy more water inside. They’ll snarl at you and generally make you feel like you are very unwelcome.
Then you have to go through a 2nd security check. This time the guy snarled at me and almost made me take my boots off. I’ve had major surgery on my feet and ankles and the security guard grabbed me so forcefully to look inside my boots that I saw stars. By the time you get through these security checks you are pushed into a cattle call area full of people who are just as annoyed as you are that they were treated in such a disrespectful manner.
I fully support security to ensure the actor’s safety – but there really is no need for the over-the-top hostility that comes from these guys every year. It’s not getting better. It was the worst this year that I have ever experienced. I’ve since found out that these people are from an outside company that Universal hires to do this event–they should really start looking elsewhere.
The front gate had the barest of minimal decor. No scare actors, no monitors, no spider webs – just this:
The Purge: Anarchy Show at the Gate:
This year they had a show at the gate which was based on the movie The Purge: Anarchy. The sound was poorly set up so I couldn’t hear anything that was said. I know someone came out on a balcony with a mask and then an explosion went off. like this:
I really appreciate the fact that they tried to do a show at the gate, but it was not executed in a way that more than a handful of people could hear or see. It seemed that the actor was addressing the other side of the park where the bulk of the park guests were not able to see/hear.
General Scarezones and Park Atmosphere:
HHN delivered more than in many past years with the Scarezones, but didn’t come close to their offerings in 2008. Over time it seems like Scarezones have deteriorated somewhat in design and spectacle.
The Purge: Anarchy:
I’ve actually seen dummies that looked better than this at small farm haunts in PA:
Still, this was the most enjoyable Scarezone for me. It had a stage show, roving vehicles, and was set up in a way that I enjoyed. They captured a plant (i.e. people who looked like attendees but were actors) or 2 and chased them around before the actors descended on the park guests.
Face Off: In the Flesh:
This one had amazing costumes and makeup and was a great photo op.
Bayou of Blood:
Bayou of Blood seemed interesting. I can’t comment on it because my understanding is that it was built around a stage show that was pulled off of the program due to complaints of it being too violent. Only if you attended during the first day or so would you have seen the actual intended product.
This was another one that had amazing costumes and makeup – also a great photo op with some really passionate actors.
Overall HHN delivered some great photo-ops with some inspired craftsmanship. The set pieces felt sparse in every Scarezone except for Bayou of Blood. I really appreciated many aspects of what they did even though they are not of the quality level that I originally came to love HHN by.
The Haunted Houses:
In past years Universal Studios had icons like Bloody Mary, The Usher, Fear, and Lady Luck. The first 2 were actually integrated into the haunted houses which inspired multiple trips through. You had to go through more than once in order to catch all of the detail. Fear and Lady Luck seemed to be more like afterthoughts in the later years but I appreciated that they were there. They haven’t done this at all in a couple years. The theming at the front gate this year was the most minimal I have ever seen. In previous years they had actors out front, or some structures to make you anticipate things within, but now only hanging signs.
The houses this year were also the lowest in detail that I have ever seen from Universal Studios. Many had nothing at their building entrances – you’d just enter through a warehouse and then SURPRISE you are inside Roanoke or something. We went through the houses twice hoping that we had missed something but a second trip through didn’t reveal anything further. It’s important to know that your timing inside the houses will affect what you think of each house. That’s why we go through twice. It is very possible to miss scares or entire scenes.
Unfortunately the actors inside didn’t appear to be trained to scare. The only move they seemed to be allowed to do is to hit a button that makes a scream sound and lunge out – nothing more. Some of the actor’s timing was so bad that they were lunging out at nobody 11 feet ahead of us and then not coming out at all when we arrived–which makes me wonder if the actors are on timers and not actually allowed to plan their scares.
Each room has the ever-present rude security guard who will get in your face and start waving their hands if you aren’t going through the house fast enough – regardless of crowd level, HHN’s attitude is to conga line you through as fast as possible like a Japanese subway. Many of the guards are standing there waving at you with a flashlight from the get-go. It’s incredibly distracting and irritating, especially for someone who is vision-impaired like myself. Since timing is so important to actually see the show they are essentially not giving a shit what you see–they just want you in and out fast. Maybe Universal shouldn’t push drinking as a huge part of their event, then they wouldn’t need security everywhere to stop the inevitable chaos.
This last bit of criticism above holds true for every one of the houses outlined below.
Halloween was AWESOME. This house was the strongest house of the night. The execution was perfect. They incorporated narrative into several rooms. The scares were perfect. You basically get to be chased through the house from the Halloween movie by Michael Myers, but the house also starts temporally from his childhood and moves to the present day. This is one of the few houses that they did things outside of the building. For example, the front of the house has a great projection of him as a child killing his sister on the top floor. They aced it in every way possible and made this a can’t miss house.
The Walking Dead: End of the Line:
This house was the longest house they’ve ever done. It’s a montage of sorts of scenes starting in the prison and leading up to Terminus. If you are a big fan of the show you will probably like this house.
AVP: Alien vs. Predator:
I have to admit that this house could have been stronger but I loved it because I love Alien. There, I said it. You could just sit an Alien puppet on a table and I would run and scream and laugh. That said, this house was decent and has some great scares if you are not an Alien fan. I did notice that the head crabs were extremely cheap-looking and wondered why they seemed to resemble cheap toys. That was weird in contrast with the phenomenal Alien puppets.
From Dusk Till Dawn:
This house is a vampire stripper bar that culminates in a gun battle. The scares were weak and ill-timed both times we went through. This house is basically about boobs with many “stripper” vampires throughout.
Dracula Untold: Reign of Blood:
This house left us flat with the exception of 1 room that had a battle with “arrows” flying past you (neat air/sound effect) and another room that had a guy being jacked up and eaten.
Dollhouse of the Damned:
I LOVED this house. The exterior reminded me of Waldameer Park’s Whacky Shack.
The contents of the house were both disturbing, funny, and scary. You basically get attacked by all manner of dolls. I felt bad for the actors in the baby doll room because it smelled like poop and baby powder. This was intentional. They did a great job with every aspect of this house.
Giggles and Gore Inc:
This clown house was supposed to be the comedy house this year. They had GATs in here (Guest Activated Triggers) which are buttons that activate certain things. The scares were weak and the house bored us even with the GATs. This is the weakest house of the event.
Roanoke: Cannibal Colony:
This one I appreciated more than my friends. Most of the house wasn’t the best but I did love the wendigo room at the end. Most of it did feel like a copy paste generic maze with random screamers.
HHN’s houses are basically pretty sets with lunge and screamers on timers. If you expect this you will not be disappointed. I think they should re-think how they are designing their haunted houses since they seem to not be able to budge from a fast conga line scenario. I understand why. They have a lot of people to get through each night. Still – it’s quite upsetting when you are pushed through a house off beat such that you miss it all after waiting in a hellish line and paying all of that money. I feel that they need to look at this as an opportunity to innovate their designs so there is some payoff in every room regardless of timing rather than to shove people through like a gyn exam. The Forsaken a couple of years ago nailed this because of the lush scenes they created. Nothing came close to that this year.
HHN feels like an event targeted to drunk frat boys and not actual haunted house fans. There is nothing wrong with that by itself. I get it. Booze makes money. The problem is that the haunted houses themselves have seemed to be more of an afterthought each year under the keg-party.
I was incredibly turned off by the Bill and Ted stage show making fun of gay people in 2013. In 2014 they hired a larger woman to play Queen Elsa and tasked her with making fun of how fat she was (the joke being “she let herself go”) in front of an entire theme park multiple times a night. The stage show was set INSIDE a frat house. I rest my case.
I guess this is supposed to be funny, but to me it’s just really mean. I am sure there are many people working for this event who are doing a fabulous job and have a genuine love of Halloween, but it’s marred by an undercurrent of hostility. This yields a park that just isn’t pleasant to be inside.
I am not saying you shouldn’t go to HHN. You should go to HHN to see the pretty sets, but 2014 is the last year that I buy a ticket for more than 1 day. ExpressPass is required if you want to see everything in one night – and it really is in your best interest to get the hell out of the park as fast as possible.
Universal Studios Florida’s Halloween Horror Nights operates select nights until Nov 1. General admission ticket prices range from $42 to $72.99 depending on what day you attend not including Express Pass. You cannot see everything in one day without Express Pass.
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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