Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Let's Go To There: Halloween Horror Nights 2019

Halloween Horror Nights 2019
When Halloween comes around, it's time go to Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights.

This year, my sister and I snagged Frequent Fear Passes. Instead of packing all of Universe Orlando's haunted houses into one night, we attended the event over and over again to face our fears (and there were quite a few of them). It's been a real treat to scream our hearts out over and over again.

Halloween Horror Nights 2019 scarezones

HHN Scarezones

Along with the haunted houses, Universal Orlando also creates scare zones - areas of walkways in the park decorated with certain themes. This year included Vanity Ball, Vikings Undead, Rob Zombie Hillbilly Deluxe, Zombieland, and Anarch-Cade.

If I had to rank them, Zombieland would be at the top of the list and everything else underneath. Vikings Undead (not pictured as it was too dark) was like a sacrificial ceremony with kids burning at the stake and demonic rituals hidden in the trees. It was gory but a lot of fun. Vanity Ball featured a twisted fashion show of plastic surgery victims walking a runway and trying to get you to join them. I hope it becomes a haunted house in the future. The rest of the houses were okay - no real thrills to speak of at the Rob Zombie Hillbilly Deluxe, and I didn't quite get the point of the Anarchade because it was just a row of big video games and not a lot of twisted or scary characters.

Halloween Horror Nights 2019 zombieland
The Zombieland scare zone was incredible. Set up in the San Francisco / New York City area of Universal Orlando, the streets were filled with props, displays, and a lot of scare actors to walk around and jump out at us. No matter what time of the day or night, you couldn't tell who was a zombie, a survivor, or another person just like you.

Halloween Horror Nights 2019 zombieland
The scarezone included props from the movie like Tallahassee's prized Hummer, the group's black Escalade, the carnival prize shop, the freedrop ride at Pacific Playland, AND BILL FREAKIN' MURPHY. Some of the survivors would come to you and give you warnings about where to hide and fight the zombies, which included celebrity impersonations just like the characters see wandering at the Grauman's Chinese Theater.

Halloween Horror Nights 2019 zombieland
At night, certain scare actors dressed up like Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, and Little Rock and hid in Waylon's Pacific Treasures. At intermittent times, the noisemaker would go off signalling zombies towards the box, and the actor would use blanks to shoot them off and escape. It was cool seeing them act out scenes from the movie and their own original moments. The soundtrack was also playing throughout the night.

Halloween Horror Nights 2019 ghostbusters
Halloween Horror Nights 2019 ghostbusters
Other areas of the park had awesome themed areas too. At the Tribute Store, different rooms were decorated as the featured houses like Ghostbusters and Stranger Things. I finally got to answer Janine's phone because 'we got one', and clean the trap. 

Halloween Horror Nights 2019 stranger things
Halloween Horror Nights 2019 stranger things
Another store had an interactive Stranger Things game where it was decorated like the Russian government facility. Through the contamination door and two-way walkie talkie, you guided a Nancy-like character to safety in the Upside Down and killing a few demagorgons. 

Halloween Horror Nights 2019 killer klowns
Halloween Horror Nights 2019 us movie
Halloween Horror Nights 2019 universal monsters

Ranking the Houses

As far as visiting all the houses goes, we managed to hit nine out of ten. The only one we didn't visit was House of 1000 Corpses - my sister hadn't seen the movie, and I have been traumatized ever since I was saw it as a teenager. I couldn't even watch a video on youtube to see what it looked like, so I didn't miss out on not going to this one.

The production design for all of the houses is absolutely incredible. Unfortunately, no one is allowed to take videos or photos because the lines have to continuously flow to let the crowds through. I linked videos that people have taken in case you want to see them. The list below is how I'd rank everything from favorite to least favorite.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space. I hate clowns, but reading IT earlier this summer and watching the movies has brought a subtle challenge in me to face all things clowns. Like everything at Universal's HHN, the attention to detail is insane. The clowns truly felt like the characters from the movie - which I haven't even seen. The house itself was a wacky combination of walking through the city as the clowns attacked you to getting sucked up into their spaceship. It was corny but also terrifying at the same time.

Universal Monsters. Some houses you only need to walk through once to get the gist of and maybe visit again if you feel up to it. Universal Monsters had something new to discover every single time we went through it. This house brought all of the classic monsters - Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein Hunchback of Notre Dame, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Wolfman, Phantom from Phantom of the Opera, Dracula - to life where they are itching to devour and attack you. There wasn't one corner of the house that didn't scare me at some point.

Us wasn't a movie I was crazy about the first time I watched it, at least not as much as Jordan Peele's Get Out. After watching the movie again in preparation for HHN, my love for it has definitely grown. This house was AMAZING. From the amusement park on the beach with the creepy Jeremiah 11:11 straggler to the underground lair, every element of Peele's original vision came alive. This house wasn't so much as being scared by the actors, but being scared of the overall environment you were in. I'm so excited that Peele has signed a larger deal with Universal Pictures. I hope we get more houses like this in the future.

Graveyard Games. This was one of the original houses not based on a movie or show. A group of kids in a small town desecrate a graveyard, and you get trapped by the ghosts coming back to haunt you. The outside of the house had a social media feed playing on the wall where you could see how the characters were desecrating the tombs. This was a lot of fun because it had its own backstory. It truly was like walking through a graveyard, although there was a random room with dolls that I didn't quite understand but it scared me nonetheless.

Ghostbusters is celebrating its 35th Anniversary this year. Like Us it more of a celebration of the film. From utilizing screens to show the green goblins to making the "dogs" come to life in Dana's apartment, the effects in this was the most impressive of all the houses. And because we already love the characters, it was so much fun to see the actors reciting our favorite quotes and moments. Next to actually being on the set of the filming, I don't think there'll be another experience of getting this close to the "sets" except for the real filming locations.

Nightingales: Blood Pit was not the hot fest of muscley men I thought it was going to be. Instead it was like being thrown into the pits of ancient Rome where hell had opened up and you were trying not to be devoured by rabid pigs and diseased shop owners. By far, this is the house I will need therapy for because it was so gory - violent enough to be disgusting and make your stomach churn, but a little too gory to be scary on its own.

Stranger Things was the house we looked forward to the most. We had high hopes that it would be similar to last year's experience exploring Hawkins throughout the first season. But this year, covering season two and three, was disappointing.

The theming wasn't cohesive to the actual show. A huge portion of the "maze" was the Upside Down - one long hallway steeped in darkness that made it hard to explore. A few of the big sets were cool like Hopper and Eleven shutting the portal, Eleven/Nancy/Mike scaring the demagorgon in Hopper's cabin, and Lucas using the fireworkers in the Starcourt Mall. But the smaller sets were pretty forgettable. All of the sets were also very dark or used a lot of strobe lights to the point that it left myself and others with a headache or dizzy. And it was surprising how much they didn't use otherwise - no Joyce or Will, Scoops Ahoy shop, the Russians, Murray, etc. I don't even like Billy on the series, but even in this house he shouldn't have been just pacing and screaming in random corners for no reason.  My sister only went through it twice this year because the long lines of 70+ minutes weren't worth it.

Depths of Fear was the house I looked forward to the least. I can't technically grade this house because I didn't see a thing. I have a crippling fear of the ocean and anything boat-related, and this house, where an ocean mining crew on the ocean has been attacked by acidic creatures, was something I swore I wasn't going to do. But feeling up to the challenge, and having watched the video online, I thought it looked too corny to get scared. WRONG. About 30 feet into the maze, I just dove into my sister's back, held her hands, and let her guide me out of there with my eyes closed. I had never truly experienced claustrophobia before, but somewhere through the maze, I realized I was too far into the maze to go back or forward, and had to stick out. And, it was fun in the sense of how panicked I was and to have survived....but what I did see of the theming was pretty cool. Realistic enough to almost cause me a meltdown.

Yeti: Terror of the Yukon was the most awkward(?) house. Despite the fact that it was dressed exactly as if you were in the Artic and encountering Yetis decimating hunters in their cabins, there wasn't a lot to look at or get scared by. Most of the maze felt like it was missing actors or elements to scare you. There was a few rooms where a hunter was on one side and a Yeti on the other, but they weren't interacting with each other. I'd scream 'What are you doing? Shoot it, get it!", so it felt like the timing was off between the effects. This house had the best air conditioning, so....

If there was one area of improvement I hope the houses make next year, it would be to sharpen the timing of the actors or fill up the houses with more actors. Depending on the time we went through certain houses (Yeti and Graveyard Games in particular), we could tell actors were missing to pop out and scare us or just felt like we were walking through empty hallways that didn't design actors to appear. Even though it only takes a few minutes to walk through, it could feel a little lackluster. I'm grateful we got tickets that let us go more than one night.

Overall, we had an absolute blast at Halloween Horror Nights. We can't wait until next year's announcements of houses, and until then, it's kind of hard to not think about the different kinds of horrors I'd love to survive.

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