Written by Joe Lane
Published: October 11, 2004 at 9:52 AM
I've never been to Universal's annual Halloween event. People who know me know I don't like being scared. So it took every last bit of courage and a great deal intrigue to make the trip to Orlando this month and experience Halloween Horror Nights for the first time. As most folks know, this is a big year for the Orlando-based resort which is holding the event at both Universal Studios AND Islands of Adventure for the first time.
Seven houses. Four scare zones. A parade, a live show, and about a dozen attractions (not to mention all the vendors selling alcoholic beverages). Although the event is held in both parks, only about half of each park was used. At IOA, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park and half of The Lost Continent are closed. At the Studios, the park is closed from Earthquake around the lagoon, through World Expo to the front side of Mel's Diner and down Hollywood Boulevard, Rodeo Drive and Nickelodeon Way. While it is in some light a sensible move to close off portions of the park, the closure of Dueling Dragons and Men In Black: Alien Attack, two E-Ticket attractions, hardly makes sense in my mind.
Despite the fact, our group was still pressed for time to see and do everything on our list from open to close (and this is early in the month, too--imagine what the crowds will be like come Halloween!) Even on this peak night, we were early enough in the month to avoid long waits. Our longest wait was 45 minutes, although some houses went on to feature hour long waits later in the night.
We arrived at the park around the 6:30 opening time. A lot of extra precautions are being taken to ensure the safety of guests and scareactors. Metal detectors have been set up and extra security in the form of Orlando P.D. are present at the event. Haunting music fills the air and a pair of demonic temptresses invite the unknowing victims into the Point of Evil, the focal point for years of horror and fear inspired by past Horror Nights. Universal does an excellent job in setting up the atmosphere for the evening.
Instead of traveling in a counter-clockwise route as the universal map and tour videos suggest, our group decided to do the park in a clockwise form, so we traveled up through Seuss Landing and the Lost Continent to our first stop for the evening.
As in previous years, monitors and large screens play videos explaining a little of the backstory for each house. Hellgate Prison tells the story of notorious warden Robert L. Strickland and his unusual methods for punishing criminals. We then learn the inmates have overpowered the guards and taken over the facility. The criminals run around the complex, screaming and making rude comments to both female and male alike (how flattering). The climax of the attraction is a very convincing execution by electric chair.
Next up is the Fright Yard scare zone. Two warring gangs, The Demented and The Twisted, populate this industrial area. Chainsaws and flamethrowers are present. Lots of loud noises make for an unnerving experience--the sound of roaring ATVs and helicopters fill the air, along with heavy rock music.
Exiting the Fright Yard takes you into the Studios and the entrance to Castle Vampyr. The vampire-themed hosue has a very convincing set design--gothic-style architecture on the soundstage makes it look like you're inside an ancient castle. This is also where you'll see the now popular vampire dance club scene, as well as some great flying vampire effects. Many of these elements make Vampyr one of the more popular houses this year. At midnight, while most houses sported a fifteen or thirty minute wait, Vampyr held an hour.
Horror Nights Nightmares revisits HHNs past in a documentary style before taking you to meet the icons, including The Director, Jack, The Caretaker and Eddie. This house was both convincingly scary and interesting, especially to see all these characters from years past in one place. The house seems a little short, but there are still plenty of scares.
The dead end along the Embarcadero humorously enough marks the entrance to Deadtropolis, a zombie-themed haunted house in the vein of Resident Evil or 28 Days Later. A strange virus has been unleashed upon the city, bringing the dead to life. This is an instance where the pre-house queue video was more disturbing and scary than the actual house itself. One of the major highlights of Deadtropolis is the vomiting zombie which reportedly actually smells of vomit. Otherwise, you'll hardly smell the stench.
Midway of the Bizarre and the Festival of the Dead Parade act like one big scare zone. Although the Midway appears rather small in size, the scareactors and the themeing are both done well. The parade floats are stored here in the midway and at parade time, one entrance/exit of the scarezone is closes to bring the floats out for the parade. They head up the main road, past the Mummy and down to the lagoon where the floats take a right. They follow the road to Mel's 'Die-In' then take a right to go back to the Midway. Red, silver and gold beads are thrown from the floats, along with red HHN14 coins.
Ghost Town was our longest wait of the evening at 45 minutes. Upon entering the soundstage, the detail and design of the abandoned western town Lightning Gulch is incredible. The pre-house video paints a vision of a violent town caught up in a gold rush and destroyed by a freak electrical storm. Don't let the western theme fool you; the long gone inhabitants of this small town are just as scary as the next scareactor (tip of the hat to the sheriff, who responded to my greeting with a low, grumbled, "I wouldn't be puttin' down roots here if I were you cause you won't be stayin' for long!")
Horror In Wax is an obvious idea--take a wax museum that features classic Universal movie monsters and sprinkle heavily with gore and scareactors. Trying to determine between wax prop and scareactor makes for a rather creepy experience. The melted wax scareactors were especially disturbing.
Field of Screams was nothing like I expected. When I first heard Universal was growing a corn field behind Seuss Landing, I imagined guests and scareactors walking through enclosed rows of corn, but this isn't the case. In order to maintain safety standards, paved paths have been placed in the field. Scarecrows and walking cornstalks were the least of our worries--country farmers with chainsaws walk menacingly through the crowd. Universal did a nice job with the themeing for this one.
Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure was more bogus than excellent. Word is the show has gotten progressively dumber over the years, replacing a convincing storyline with a song and dance number at the end. This year was no exception. Although the choice of villain was nicely received, some of the chosen characters just didn't fit the bill. Next year Universal, focus less on the choreography, and more on the story--despite the jokes and jabs to pop culture, I still left the show feeling like my intelligence had been insulted.
Disorientorium can be found on Marvel Super Hero Island in the old Carnage building and it was our groups last house of the night. This is basically a twisted fun house with scareactors hidden throughout. The Inkblots and some of the Treaks and Foons from last year make appearances in this house. There's heavy use of strobes as well. You'll either be very scared, very disoriented, or just get a real bad headache.
Was HHN14 worth the trip (and the cash)? I'd like to think I got my money's worth, but bear in mind I'm a Horror Nights newbie--I can't really compare this event to anything else, including Knott's Scary Farm or Howl-O-Scream. If you need help deciding for yourself whether to go or not, I encourage it--and the sooner, the better! If you're easily scared, like me, and you're still not sure, here's another personal revelation--it's not as bad as you think. Sometimes, our own imaginations can be downright horrifying--don't let yours fool you into thinking HHN is the most disturbing thing ever.
So, if you're still planning a trip to Universal Orlando this month to check this event out, what do you need to know? First, show up early--yes, I know, it's no fun when it's daylight out, but the sooner you get there and start doing houses the better--plus, since your in some of the earlier guests, the scareactors will focus directly on you to give you the best scares.
Also, if you can make the investment, get yourself a Halloween Horror Nights Express booklet--it'll get you express passes for each haunted house, most of the attractions in the park (with the exception of Shrek 4-D), and a way in for only the FIRST Bill & Ted show. You can save yourself some time by purchasing them in advance online.
As soon as you enter, be aware that the majority of the houses are to your right. Whether you go up through the Lost Continent or through Seuss Landing is up to you, either way, on your way back through to IOA, you'll deal with some longer wait times either at Castle Vampyr or Ghost Town. Disorientorium was easy for our group to see by 1:00 am, although I can't say it'll be the same the closer we get to Halloween. Plan accordingly.
If you have a weak stomach, don't eat before you go into Deadtropolis.
Scareactors are people too, y'know. Don't do anything stupid to the monster that jumps out at you. The best you can do for them is be scared, and let them know when they do get you. It's encouraging for them, especially scaring in the same house at the same spot of hours. Yeah, it's their job, but what's the harm in letting them know they're doing a good one?
That's about it for this trip report. For more information on the event, you can check out the official Halloween Horror Nights website. Don't hesitate to post your questions here on TPI, also, I'll do my best to answer them for you--and if I can't, I'm sure our viewers may be able to. So until next time, keep on ridin'!