September 22, 2014
Halloween Horror Nights 24: A Brief Review
Greetings!! I still feel like I am soaking wet from Friday night's debut of Halloween Horror Nights 24 at Universal Studios Florida.
Thanks again to the Universal team for their hospitality and helping keep the night from being a washout for not just me and other members of the media -- but for all who attended.
A few quick thoughts. The art direction this year, to me, is really outstanding. A shame I couldn't see all of the scare zones in action due to the rain, but there are really interesting environments in even the smallest part of this year's event. The exception being "The Purge" scare zone. But that's kind of appropriate since the Purge takes place in ordinary America. Considering HHN is a limited time event, it is amazing to think of all of the work that goes into bringing many of these environments to life.
This year there are 8 Mazes/Houses to scare you. Four are in the permanent soundstages. The rest are in tents, the overflow queue for Disaster!, and the parade warehouse. Here are my spoiler-free thoughts on each ranked in order of my preference.
Aliens vs. Predator
This was my favorite of all of the immersive environments. It wasn't the scariest of the mazes, but I think it did the overall best job of taking me somewhere new in three dimensions. The puppetry, sets, scareactors, makeup and special effects all came together to really feel like I was in the middle of a battle between the two legendary movie monster species. A+
For fans of the original John Carpenter movie classic, it will be hard to top this maze. I was even given special permission to take a few pictures in this house.
The layout is pretty much a perfect recreation of the Michael Myers house and the iconic scenes from the movie are brought chillingly to life. And this guy is everywhere. Sometimes you can't tell when he is a real scareactor -- a dummy -- or something else.
For me this was the scariest house, and it has something in common with AVP: I think the creators used a lot of what they learned in last year's American Werewolf in London in really immersing guests into the movies. A+
Dollhouse of the Damned is my number 3 pick. It is an original idea, and probably was the most unexpected surprise. The idea is that living dolls have made their house out of other dolls and are now looking to turn you into parts too. Creepy and unique.
Really interesting costume designs, not to mention a Teddy Ruxpin head stuffed and mounted on the wall.
I knew almost nothing about From Dusk till Dawn until I went through the maze. It apparently, faithfully recreates both the movie and tv series. Secret tip: if you google the password and tell it to the barker drawing crowds to the vampire nightclub. You could get a reward. Really effective special effects, lighting and set work here, and some downright gruesome scenes that are different than you might expect. Somehow, though gruesome doesn't translate into really scary. Though the scareactors are mostly convincing and sink their teeth into their parts.
The walkers are back and this year you are on the road to Terminus. For fans of the show, this house will be much higher in the rankings. One member of my party drooled over the details from Season 4 brought to life, starting with the exterior.
This is the longest maze in Halloween Horror Nights history, and yet -- as someone who barely knows the show -- last year's was more effective for me. That said, it is worth seeing (on opening night wait times topped 90 minutes in the rain!). This maze also features one of my favorite effects in HHN History. A pretty simple trick done with mirrors -- a sled-- and well, I don't want to spoil it, but you think the walkers are really coming for you.
Based on a real legend of 1700's settlers who turned canibals, even sometimes eating their own lips, mixed with the legend of an evil spririt, this house has a real sense of atmosphere about it. I know I was inside a building -- but it really felt like an outdoor walk through a troubled town. That's it's stength, along with the staging of some of the scenes. Grade: B-
Dracula Untold: Reign of Blood
This is based on an upcoming Universal movie that rethinks the legend of Dracula and how he went from being an ordinary man to an evil force of death. Some really great sets and lighting, one nice effect involving bats, and not much else. It felt underpopulated. If this wasn't Halloween Horror Nights it would probably earn an A- or a B. But at the premiere scarefest in the U.S., I grade it a C-.
Giggles & Gore Inc.
Well - it lives up to its name. The idea is that clowns are made -- and they are making more out of humans -- and people traveling through this maze.
Yep. Gross. And not a lot of fun. There are a few clever effects and gags, including Universal's mascot, Woody Woodpecker, being used to torture. The exterior is really interesting. The inside felt disjointed to me. But kudos, still, to Universal for continuing to try new ideas, instead of just licensing movies. Grade: D
Those are my thoughts. Your mileage may vary. Let me know your thoughts on what you like and don't like about this year's Halloween Horror Nights. The design team is already gearing up for next year's 25th anniversary. Halloween Horror Nights runs select nights through November 1st. Here is a link to the schedule, some discounts, and a closer look at the mazes and scare zones.