ORLANDO, Fla. - Central Florida's favorite Halloween tradition has returned, and News 6 is giving you an inside look at Universal's Halloween Horror Nights this year.
Traditions turned upside down
It’s the night you have been waiting for, and the gates are now open. As you step into this year’s Halloween Horror Nights, you’ll sense something is not as it seems. In fact, somebody is watching you. The event this year is Universal Orlando’s most ambitious year ever. With 36 days of fear, and more than 1,200 actors working inside, the theme park is sure to deliver an event that will leave you scared and wanting more.
News 6 producer Landon McReynolds and morning reporter Ezzy Castro had the opportunity to experience the event, hear from the show creators and rank their favorite houses.
Since then, they put together this guide of everything you need to know about this year's event, including where each house stands on their "must do" lists.
See their full reviews and rankings below.
Dead Exposure: Patient Zero
Landon's ranking: No. 2 | Ezzy's ranking: No. 6
Sitting near the back of the park, this original content house transports you to Paris circa 1982. A pandemic has taken over, and now the undead are taking over the streets. Is there any hope? The military is forcing you and everyone in your group to get vaccinated in order to survive. Don’t worry though -- no shot is needed. Instead, it’s a spray. But there is one big problem: there are major side effects, including blindness.
“We have taken an entire maze, decorated it as if it was Paris, painted it completely black, and then gone back and touched it up with UV responded paint. That means when it (the lights) strobes … you see what we exactly want you to see,” said Patrick Braillard, the show director.
From the beginning, the house lives up to its theme, McReynolds said.
You walk through a pre-maze and get the “vaccination” where you see a military camp housing the sick. A body lays on a gurney inside. Warning lights are going off. Once inside, you are greeted by the undead. The house is loud, very dark and thrives off strobe lights. Some may feel disoriented after going through this.
"As a scare factor, this house is excellent," McReynolds said. "Nothing is as scary as walking through a maze where there is little light to no light, and you don’t know what’s around the corner."
Landon's ranking: No. 6 | Ezzy's ranking: No. 9
Also near the back of the park, Slaughter Cinema is opening the door to the drive-in and unleashing characters that did not make the cut on the big screen. Before entering the maze, guests can take a look at trailers for some of the films about to come to life. Once inside you’re greeted by an angry ticket taker … and what McReynolds said he thought was the smell of popcorn. Before entering each scene from the movie, a poster will explain the film. The house moves very quick, and is packed with werewolf bikers, barbers looking for an extra slice, demonized children and near the end, a swamp yeti.
"Yes, you heard that right," McReynolds said. "If you look near the bottom, you may see a few Universal Easter eggs at the bottom of each poster."
McReynolds said the house wasn't too scary, but that it did have some great moments.
Scary Tales: Deadly Ever After
Landon's ranking: No. 9 | Ezzy's ranking: No. 7
Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore. In fact, we have crossed over the rainbow, and the Wicked Witch of the West has blown the rainbow and the yellow brick road up on the other side. The Wicked Witch of the West is back in this house, and has taken over the realm of the fairies. Some of your favorite fairy tale creatures have now taken a dark turn. As you walk in, you look up and see a castle cascading over you.
"This is the highlight of this house, a real castle right in front of you," McReynolds said.
The wicked witch stands at the top, and even flies over as she casts a spell. You are quickly transported into each tale. Hansel and Gretel are immersed in the smell of baked goods, but they’re not looking for candy and sweets anymore. Instead, they are looking to eat others. The Itsy Bitsy Spider is looking to capture you in the web, and Humpty Dumpty is no more.
One of the most shocking moments was Rapunzel," McReynolds said. "She is clearly having a bad hair day."
As you venture through this scene, look closely. Her prince charming is hanging out somewhere, and the things you are combing through are her hair.
"The house is a great addition, but I found myself laughing and reminiscing about old tales I was told as a child," McReynolds said.
Seeds of Extinction
Landon's ranking: No. 4 | Ezzy's ranking: No. 10
Near the back of the park by the "Men in Black" ride is Seeds of Extinction. The house has a lot of hype and is feeding on fear. The original concept house takes you to the desert out west. A meteor comes crashing down and humanity is quickly wiped out and plants begin to take over. You are taken straight into a mall that is covered in vines and plants that come to life right next to your face. You may get wet at times, as water drips down to feed the vegetation living inside.
The house takes the film "Little Shop of Horrors" to a new level. Since green is the color taking over the house, actors are very hard to see, which makes it very scary. Some scares may be located right next to you, and before you know it -- it’s too late. The house is located in Universal Orlando’s parade float building, and it’s the first time the building was used as a house.
"For those brave souls that make their way through the houses by closing their eyes, and holding onto others, beware," McReynolds warned. "This house does have a portion of the floor that is tilted up."
Overall, McReynolds said the house was so detailed and a great experience.
Carnival Graveyard: Rust in Pieces
Landon's ranking: No. 10 | Ezzy's ranking: No. 3
The carnival has come to its final grave, and those working it are not happy about it. Trespassers will pay with their lives. Carnival Graveyard has brought the pieces of the carnival to one spot -- to rot. Ride parts have now become instruments of torture. The love shack is now a twisted scene from your nightmares. The house is packed with pieces of carnival equipment. Clowns and old performers fall and tease you from above, and the mechanics of old rides are alive and making noise from above.
"This was another house that was creative and detailed. It was just cool to look at," McReynolds said.
According to McReynolds' tour guide, the creators used every piece of scrap metal they could find.
McReynolds said it wasn't his favorite, but he wouldn't skip out on the chance to go again.
"For me, the scares were not there, but could definitely improve over this season," McReynolds said. "I would go into this one again just to see what I missed."
'Poltergeist' -- *Landon's No. 1 pick
Landon's ranking: No. 1 | Ezzy's ranking: No. 2
Get ready to be sucked right into Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg’s hit horror classic from 1982, because they’re there. "Poltergeist" opens the door to the small California home that looks like every other house on the block, but is actually haunted by what appears to be some friendly ghosts. That energy though, quickly turns terrifying.
"This has to be my absolute favorite house of the season," McReynolds said.
In the beginning, you walk straight into the film's dramatic scene, when Diane discovers skeletons in the pool. You quickly learn this house is built on a cemetery, and the tombstones were simply removed. Caskets line the walls with hands coming from the sides. Minutes later, you walk into the kitchen scene where a steak begins to move on its own. You see the moment Carol Ann is sucked into the other side, and you, too, will see what lies there.
"I’m done spoiling things because I could keep going," McReynolds said. "This house is simply incredible!"
McReynolds said that out of his large group that night, 80 percent of them said the house was their favorite.
"This one has to be near the top things to do first," he said. “'Now clear your minds. It knows what scares you.'
'Halloween 4: the Returns of Michael Myers' -- *Ezzy's No. 1 pick
Landon's ranking: No. 5 | Ezzy's ranking: No. 1
The soundtrack is chilling in itself, and this year, Michael Myers returns for its 30th anniversary. Michael is back in Haddonfield to take a slash at guests. Just like last year, you need to make sure you know what’s hiding around the corner, and exit. "Halloween 4" focuses on the estranged killer in 1988 that escapes and goes on a killing spree under the cover of darkness. This time around, Dr. Sam Loomis is trying to stop Michael as he tries to hunt down his niece, Jamie, on Halloween night.
This house, which is located in the "Shrek" building, was Ezzy’s favorite, according to McReynolds.
The house is packed with a few good scares as you venture through it.
"Since this is located near the front of the park, prepare for some longer lines near the beginning of the night," McReynolds warned.
Trick ‘r Treat
Landon's ranking: No. 7 | Ezzy's ranking: No. 5
"Respect the Halloween traditions in this house or you won’t live to see tomorrow," McReynolds said.
The 2007 colt film "Trick ‘r Treat" returns as a full house after living up to a scare zone last year. The maze takes you through Halloween night, as the pumpkin head creature Sam watches over those who are mad, disturbed, or somewhat forgetful of the true meaning of the holiday.
McReynolds said their guide mentioned that when the film was originally released, nobody thought anything of it, but it’s gained a following over the years.
"You will walk through Mr. Creed’s house, you go through Wilken’s house, you will see the school bus massacre in the quarry, and you will face Sam and all the other characters,” said Patrick Braillard, the show director.
In this house, five stories are woven throughout each other. Universal teamed up with Legendary Pictures and writer-director Michael Dougherty to help bring the film to life.
"I personally loved the walk through," McReynolds said. "The home facades inside the maze that are lit up by jack-o’-lanterns are amazing, and the school bus scene before and after near the end completes the maze."
The Horrors of Blumhouse
Landon's ranking: No. 8 | Ezzy's ranking: No. 8
In a traditional 1980s double feature, the Horrors of Blumhouse brings two recent movies into one. Last year, the house featured three films from the horror studio. This year, 2017’s "Happy Death Day" and 2018’s "The First Purge" are showcased. Both films are completely different, with two different tones. In "Happy Death Day," you will walk through as a college student is murdered on her birthday. She begins to relive the day over and over again in a "Groundhog Day" fashion. She eventually sets out to find the person killing her and why. In "The First Purge," guests will venture into the country that is set into mayhem as all police, fire and emergency responders are suspended for 12 hours. "The Purge" franchise now has four movies, with many of them used during Halloween Horror Nights. The house begins with "Happy Death Day."
"Over time it gets a little repetitive, but for good reason," McReynolds said.
Will the baby face killer be in the closet, or behind the door? You are quickly thrust into "The Purge." The urgent warning is projected on screens, and your sense of safety is gone. Streets and shops are now in chaos.
"The house is not horrible, but lacked some of the scares from last year," McReynolds said. "This house is also located next to the Academy of Villains, and could be a busy house once the show gets out."
Landon's ranking: No. 3 | Ezzy's ranking: No. 4
It’s one of the most highly anticipated houses of the year, and for good reason. Netflix’s "Stranger Things" maze takes guests through the entire first season. Every major character from the show is represented as a Demogorgon hunts you down.
"Let me tell you, the characters inside were cast so well, I had to do a double take sometimes," McReynolds said in his review. "Having watched the first and second seasons, this maze was excellent! A true fan will love it!"
The show creators said Netflix provided them with video and audio content, and even the blueprints to the home used in the show to make sure every detail was exact. You will see the town of Hawkins, the National Laboratory, Will’s bedroom and house, and even the upside down.
McReynolds said the most impressive scene happens near the end when the character Eleven takes on the Demogorgon.
"The use of special effects completes the house and leaves fans beyond happy," McReynolds said. "Since this house is near the front, it will be busy, so plan accordingly."
"Rating the houses based on scare levels was difficult, but here is what we came up with," McReynolds said about the lists below.
Landon’s favorite houses:
2) Dead Exposure: Patient Zero
3) Stranger Things
4) Seeds of Extinction
5) Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
6) Slaughter Cinema
7) Trick ‘r Treat
8) The Horrors of Blumhouse
9) Scary Tales: Deadly Ever After
10) Carnival Graveyard
Ezzy’s favorite houses:
1) Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
3) Carnival Graveyard
4) Stranger Things
5) Trick ‘r Treat
6) Dead Exposure: Patient Zero
7) Scary Tales: Deadly Ever After
8) The Horrors of Blumhouse
9) Slaughter Cinema
10) Seeds of Extinction
Click here for a complete breakdown of each scare zone and show featured in this year's event.
Halloween Horror Nights runs Sept. 14 to Nov. 3.
Discounts are available for the event. Ordering a single-day ticket online saves about $52 for select nights. A multi-night ticket costs less than a single-night ticket at the gate and can be used more than once on specific dates. Annual pass holders can save about $8 for a single-night ticket and up to $11 for multi-night tickets. Click here for more ticket information.
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