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Halloween update: Review of Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights XX

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Published: September 25, 2010 at 5:30 PM

So last night was finally the opening of the 20th year of Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights. This year's opening night has definitely the best one I have ever seen at Halloween Horror Nights over the past eight years. It was a near-perfect event and much improved over what I saw during Wednesday night's preview rehearsal.

In case you haven't seen it, here is the video Universal Orlando allowed me to shoot inside of this year's event - including the haunted houses, which normally is a huge "No-No."

We began our night by getting to talk to some of the creators of Halloween Horror Nights and we will share some of those interviews later. But let's get right to what this update is all about, a full review of Twenty Years of Fear.

Universal Orlando give all the media R.I.P. Tours to see the entire event after the night's opening celebrations. Never having been on an R.I.P. Tour before, it was the most pleasant way I have ever enjoyed for seeing Halloween Horror Nights. Our tour guide took us in through back entrances and we'd be doing three houses back to back, and she also got us seats front and center for the Bill and Ted Show. I would definitely recommend to anyone doing one of these tours. They are definitely worth the cost.

We started our tour by heading to the Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure. On the way to the show we walked through one of my favorite areas, the pumpkin patch. This year they added icons from the past years and other references to the event on the face of the pumpkins. (Universal's version of Hidden Mickeys?)

This year's Bill and Ted show isn't one of the best, but for what they had to work with this year, well done. One thing I can tell you about the show is that Bill and Ted face possible replacement. I'll leave it at that.

Following the show we headed out to walk through the houses. This year I found to be the toughest year I have ever had in rating each of the houses because they were all just that good. Every one of the houses scared me at least once and I have to give major props to the scareactors because in past years I have sort of been able to anticipate where someone will jump out and try to get me.

First up on the list was the 'Havoc: Dogs of War' house. The house is set up to be the Shadowcreek Enterprise who was tasked with developing an elite corp of soldiers. Well they succeeded, but not exactly the way things were planned. The side effects turned these soldiers into raging killing machines. The entire house is set up as a very highly secured armored facility and is a very fast paced house. This was definitely the loudest house of the entire night with gunfire here and there and a very loud creepy soundtrack. Fun fact: Universal hired 10 females that shaved their heads to be in this house.

Next we hit the 'Catacombs: Black Death Rising' house. The setting is Paris and Marseilles in 1534 during the plague. The infected were quarantined and trapped beneath the city and now almost 500 years later the dead are seeking vengeance. You will come face to face with the "beaked" plague doctors and some of the plague victims. This house's detail is dead on with that time period. What many may not understand is why the doctors are wearing beaks. During the time of the plague doctors would stuff flowers into the cone of the beak to dampen the stench of the dead and dying.

Next we went to the 'Horror Nights: Hallow'd Past' house.

The name of the house says it all - it's all about Horror Nights. As you walk into this house you are just welcomed by props from all the years of Horror Nights. The house is set up like a warehouse and you'll see a bunch of Horror Nights classics return. There really isn't much more I can say about this house without including spoilers. So let's just leave it at if you are a fan of Horror Nights you'll have a fan-gasm in this house, and if you are new to Horror Nights, it's a great way to catch up on the last twenty terrifying years.

After a short break we continued our tour taking on some of the scare zones beginning with 'Fear Revealed.'

I would call this area "Meet the Icons and Fear" and that is basically what it boils down to. Fear and his minions stand in front of the two giant X's that have flames shooting off the top of them. Along with Fear you'll see all the icons in this scarezone: Jack, Chance, The Director, Eddie, Caretaker, Cindy, The Storyteller, and The Usher. While this scarezone has turned into more of a photo opportunity, you do see some of the icons trying to get some scares in here and there.

Next up was 'The Coven' scarezone. The Cult of the Raven has taken over this area of the park. As you enter the street you see a pilgrim being burned alive. Witches, Sirens, and unsettled spirits roam this fog filled nightmare. After that we went through 'Esqueleto Muerte' a scarezone filled with glowing skeletons. I always consider this the harmless welcome scarezone because I truly haven't seen any good scares in this zone. The way I see it, that scarezone gives you a false feel of comfort for the rest of the event.

Now we started another set of three back to back houses starting with 'Legendary Truth: The Wyandot Estate' house.

Spirit Seekers have come up with a machine that actually gathers spirits toward it and wanted to do a live broadcast from inside of this truly haunted house. This house has been rumored to be one of the most "haunted" sites in the United States ever since Malcolm Wyandot brutally killed 13 dinner guests and his wife before committing suicide on October 30, 1929. There are ghosts literally everywhere in this house and appear in the floor underneath and the walls right beside you. This house has to be one of the most remarkable of all the houses at this year's event and is truly taking techniques and scare tactics to the next level.

Next up was the 'PsychoScareapy: Echoes of Shadybrook' house. The doors to Shadybrook's Halls have been close for fifteen years, but the place is still inhabited by the souls of the criminally insane that walked in it's halls. The PsychoScareapy houses have always been fun houses to go through in the past and well it's not as fun anymore. The entire house is much darker and gloomier than it has been in the past. As you walk in there is the recognizable facade from Shadybrook but it is much darker and gloomier. The entire house is loud, dark, and violent without any sense of humor like previous PsychoScareapy's brought. It is definitely a whole new Shadybrook experience.

After that we went through the 'Hades: The Gates of Ruin' house. The setting brings you to the Gates of Ruin, the entrance to the Underworld in this myth and legend filled cave. This house was one of my favorites when I first went through hit Wednesday night and it just got better last night. The amount of detail is again just amazing. This is house is Universal Orlando's rendition of some of the most terrifying creatures of myths and legends. There are some really excellent scares in this house and it got me more than any of the other houses. It's just another beautiful piece of work by the Horror Nights creative team.

Before hitting the next house we hit two more scarezones. First we saw the return of the 'Chainsaw Drillteam' in the New York streets and then went through 'Saws 'n Steam'. Steam power is essential in to the inhabitants of this New Yorkshire, but diminishing oceans have put the city in jeopardy. Now the water in your body have become a coveted resource and the citizens will stop at nothing to get it. This is a very well executed scarezone with lots of water effects and so much steam that you can hardly see in front of you. It makes for some great scares.

Next up was 'Zombie Gras'. The Mardi Gras Parade is back with that same old annoying tune... but wait a minute, this is not what I remember Mardi Gras to be like. Zombies have infested and have over run the parade grounds in search of their next meal. The zombies walk among you and you never know whether that person next to you is still human or has turned into one of the walking dead.

Now on to the last two houses starting with 'Zombiegeddon'. The setting is that North America had been taken over by a zombie infestation. Thankfully the government has not regained control and is actively clearing the remaining invested areas. Companies have been contracted to provide training using "un-live" subjects. This house was a lot of fun to go through. It kind of reminded me of Zombieland and all those first shooter zombie games out there. The scares build as you go on through and remember zombie babies are still zombies.

Last but not least we finally went through 'The Orfanage: Ashes to Ashes' house. This burned out shell of the Good Harvest Orphanage contains the souls of the forgotten and the lost who all scream one name: Cindy. This house is just eerie and absolutely creepy with a bunch of children running around singing in the dark. Smoke and the smell of burning wood fill the air of what remains of the Orphanage. There is some really cool new effects in this house including an open flame.

Lastly we caught the remaining scarezone, 'HHN: 20 Years of Fear'. The name of this one again says it all. It's all about the last twenty years of this magnificent annual event. The area is set up as the prop warehouse and you'll find all sorts of characters from past years walking through this street.

Unfortunately we did not get a chance Wednesday night or last night to go see Brian Brushwood's two new shows Menace and Malice. We already know from him that of the two shows Menace will feature some repeats from the 2008 show as well as some new stuff, but Malice is a 100-percent new show. We'll be sure to catch both of them next weekend and try to catch an interview with Brian Brushwood as well.

I gave all of the houses a 4.5 out of 5 stars rating. The houses this year are just that surprisingly good and none of them deserved anything lower. I also did not give any of them a full 5 out of 5 rating because I don't believe any of them were 100% perfect, but they were all the closest I have ever seen them to perfection at any Halloween Horror Nights event I've been to over the past eight years.

Readers' Opinions

From 205.188.116.66 on September 25, 2010 at 6:39 PM
This is my 4th year going and I among everyone I went with agree that this year the houses was not near as scary or detailed as the past three that we went to the new affects like the fire in Cindy's house was cool the best house was Legendary Truth the rest was real weak this year. The scarezones were way better with the exception of Esqueleto Murte, The Coven, and Zombie gras the rest were awesome and the chainsaw drill team were great don't know about the shows we did not watch.
From 75.102.128.163 on September 26, 2010 at 7:31 AM
I have to agree with Domenik on his review. I had the privilege to go both opening night and the employee preview night, and while preview night was great, some of the houses and scarezones didn't have the same "spirit" that houses in the past have had. But that all changed come opening night. When I went through the houses opening night, some of them seemed like they had caught a second breath of life, and not a single on of them disappointed me. Domenik is absolutely right when he claims that none of the houses are below a 4.5 in rating, they are spectacular. Each of the houses seems to be trying something new, and the originality and theming is superb. I think this is a great way to throw a 20th birthday party for the event, I look forward to going back multiple times this season. This year not only celebrates the past and but also heralds in the future of HHN, a future I look forward to with vigor.
From Pyra-Danny V on September 26, 2010 at 10:43 AM
AWESOME REVIEW DOMENIK!!!

with all your stuff in mind, I can't wait for my soon-to-be HHN visit!!!! This realy hyped me up!

If anyone sees a big group of college-aged Asians, look for me!!!!!

From 174.54.237.14 on September 27, 2010 at 6:52 AM
I am not sure if opening night was different from the second night, but this is by far the weakest Horror Nights I have been to and this is my seventh one. The scare zones were truly awful. The houses were just ok. There was less detail then normal and far less scaractors. I did not see the main character of the event in any of the houses which was an utter dissappointment. The Bill and Ted show was the saving grace for the night as that was one of the better ones in my seven years.
From Joshua Counsil on September 28, 2010 at 12:26 PM
Sounds amazing. Some great shots in there, too. I really wish I could make my way to HHN.
From 70.154.80.198 on September 28, 2010 at 1:04 PM
I totally agree Bill and Ted was better than it has been for several years.
Perhaps they had less to work with but I think this years
Bill and Ted have a chemistry that makes the jokes work.

It was the highlight of the evening for my friends and me.

Replace - NO - don't ruin a good thing !!

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