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Review of Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 21

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Published: September 26, 2011 at 10:27 AM
This weekend was the beginning of the haunting season for many of the larger Halloween events held at parks across the country, including what is being called "the nations premiere Halloween event." Halloween Horror Nights 21 at Universal Studios Florida has finally begun its terror for the 2011 haunting season. On Wednesday I got a sneak peak and tweeted along about everything we saw that night. Friday night I got to see the houses again and am glad to report that there really are not any houses that I'd say to skip. As always, the detail in every single house is just astounding and Universal Creative really has outdone themselves.

Universal Orlando's strong point always has been its ability to create its own content and stories without having to borrow intellectual property. This year is no different with the exception of Universal Creative working together with Universal Pictures to bring the prequel of "The Thing" to life. So knowing the backstories to each house really helps make the experience that much better.

TJ Mannarino, Director of Art and Design, gave us a rundown of the stories behind each of the houses. Missing just one, H.R. Bloodengutz Presents: Holidays of Horror, but you can find out more about that one below.

So before I begin reviewing the houses, this year I will give each house two ratings. The first will be for detail and eye-candy of the house design and costumes. The second will be for how scary the house is on the scare-meter.

Nevermore

We started off the night with Nevermore: The Madness of Poe. It really pays off having read Edgar Allen Poe's greatest works because the house really brings those writings to life. Trust me, you'll appreciate the house a lot more if you are familiar with the works. Each scene in the house pays tribute to a different story. In the beginning, you see Poe starting on his drinking binge and beginning his works. As you continue through the house, the stories in each of the rooms get more intense as Poe gets crazier and more drunk. The detail and presentation in each room of this house were amazing. This is truthfully more of an eye candy, awe-inspiring house than it is scary. Though there are a few good spots for scares in the house, overall it is not that scary - unless, of course, your timing is perfect and you happen to grab the attention of all the scare actors in the house. I'd give this house a 4.5 out of 5 for detail and a 2 out of 5 on the scare-meter.

The Forsaken

Next up we visited The Forsaken. This house takes place when Columbus made his first voyage to America. We know only knew about three ships that made the journey until now. As we enter this house we discover the lost fourth ship that has been brought up from the bottom of the sea and thrown onto a Spanish fort. Walking through the house we discover that there is a war going on between the Spanish soldiers and the Forsaken crew. In the house we stroll through the captain's quarters, head into the ship's chapel, get to see the courtyard, and end up under deck of the ship. There were two scenes that I absolutely loved in this house. First was the gigantic recreation of a Spanish fort's courtyard and ship with its giant sail in the middle of the courtyard. The second one was the under-the-deck scene where you end up walking on a slanted path that makes you feel like you are truly under deck and testing your sea legs. A fun fact about the courtyard scene: The bell hanging in the bell tower is the same bell that hung in the schoolhouse a few years back. I'd give this house a 4 out of 5 for detail and a 3 out of 5 on the scare-meter.

The In-Between

Next we visited The In-Between. The In-Between involves a couple of college students, Louis and Bubba, who got their hands on a "supernatural" game. This house is done in 3D and is this year's fun house. The house is done in bright neon colors that pop off the wall and props that really make it feel like you are walking into another dimension, especially in the last room. This house is loaded with well-timed and cool effects that leave lots of openings for some great scares. Be on the lookout because the 3D... may feel 4D at times as strands of fishing line hanging from the ceiling graze across your face. I'd give this house a 4 out of 5 for detail and a 4 out of 5 on the scare-meter.

Winter's Night

Following those houses we headed to the houses near the front of the park, with the first house on the list: Winter's Night: The Haunting of Hawthorne Cemetery. Now one would think that after 20 years of running this event Universal would have done a house based on a haunted cemetery. It is surprising, but this is the first year that Universal Orlando has done a house like this. Winter's Night takes place on a cold, haunted cemetery. The dead have risen again in here and are coming out all around you. Be sure to pay attention to the names on the tombstones, you might recognize a few like the Brady Bunch and some of the creators of Halloween Horror Nights. I'd give this house a 4 out of 5 for detail and a 3.5 out of 5 on the scare-meter.

Next up is the house based on the upcoming prequel movie: The Thing. Universal Creative worked closely together with Universal Pictures to create this house and make it as accurate as possible to the movie. The creatures' molds are the exact same ones that were used to create the creatures for the film. Right as you walk into the house you can tell it is taking place at an isolated Antarctic outpost. In each room the creatures take over more of the scare actors in the house. The Thing house has lots of corners where creatures are hiding out to catch guests off guard. A little spoiler for the house and movie: the ending of the house gives away the ending of the prequel coming out on October 14. I'd give this house a 4.5 out of 5 for detail and a 4 out of 5 on the scare-meter.

Nightingales

Next house on our tour is Nightingales: Blood Prey. This house plays in World War I-era trenches and you are literally walking through those trenches. Nightingales have swamped the area and are lurking behind every corner. As you enter the house, you enter into the trenches. In this house be sure to look up. Nightingales will be coming from above you and from each side of you. The details in this house are amazing. The feeling that you are actually walking through theses trenches is astounding. The house design and detail lends itself to having lots of scare points. Nightingales is a very well rounded house. I'd give this house a 4.5 out of 5 on detail and a 4.5 out of 5 on the scare-meter.

Saws N'Steam

Next on the list we have Saws N'Steam: Into The Machine. This is another Universal Orlando first, a scare zone turned into a house. At the end of last year, Universal added a scare zone in the middle of the event and this year brought it back and expanded on the idea. In the beginning you are told the lie that you are about to enter a utopian society, the Horizon. It turns out that going into the Horizon really means you are going into the machine. The machine squeezes out every ounce of liquid out of its victims so they can turn that into steam to power the machine. This is a very wet house and you will get at least a little wet if not a little bit more. Everywhere you go inside this house there are machines that squeeze out liquid, cut up people, or create steam. Even though this house had lots of cool water effects, I was not the most impressed with it. I can only give it a 2.5 out of 5 on detail and a 2 on the scare-meter.

H.R. Bloodengutz

Lastly we visited H.R. Bloodengutz Presents: Holidays of Horror. In this house you join television host, H.R. Bloodengutz, in his final televised broadcast. You'll walk through many different holidays, but they weren't quite the way we remember them being. In here you will encounter the Feaster Bunny, Thankskilling, Valentines Day, Arbor Day, Christmas, and the Luck of the Irish. This is a an interesting house that is more funny and wrong than scary. Pay attention to the Thanksgiving meal, it's not a turkey, Gobble-Gobble, though I wonder what they used for a stuffing in this man-feast. I'd give this house a 3 out of 5 on detail and a 2.5 out of 5 on the scare-meter.

This year's scare zones offer a share of innovative ideas and great areas for scares.

Grown Evil

Grown Evil is a very fog heavy scare zone in which nature seems to play tricks on us, making trees and other creatures come to life. The haze in this area is so thick you can barely see in front of you, let alone see what's about scare the crap out of you. I'd give this scare zone a 4 out of 5 for detail and a 4 out of 5 on the scare-meter.

Canyon of Dark Souls

Canyon of Dark Souls makes you walk through a dark canyon filled with the dead. Adding to the canyon experience are the fire effects that go off high above your head to help create a feeling like you are about to visit Hell. I'd give this scare zone a 3.5 out of 5 for detail and a 4 out of 5 on the scare-meter.

Your Luck Just Ran Out is where you will run into Lady Luck. You will see her in both her normal form and her creepy, messed up form. This area presents a great opportunity to get your picture taken with the icon of the event. I'd give this scare zone a 3.5 out of 5 for detail and a 4.5 out of 5 on the scare-meter.

7 is where you will encounter seven temptresses that morph into their true colors as the night progresses. This is the first scare zone to transform as the night goes on. In the beginning of the night the seven temptresses will still be in all their beauty, but by the end of the night their true, evil, hideous colors are shining. I'd give this scare zone a 3.5 out of 5 for detail and a 3 out of 5 on the scare-meter.

Nightmaze is another innovative scare zone. This is the first scare zone that will shift as guests are walking through it. The set up is a simple, plain black maze with lighting effects and fog effects making it hard to see. As you walk through this maze the walls will shift and move. Every time you walk through it the maze will be set up differently. I'm not going to rate the detail for this scare zone since it is just plain black, but I'd give it a 3 out of 5 on the scare-meter.

Acid Assault is the most impressive innovative undertaking to date at Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights. In this apocalyptic looking scare zone, Universal is using building projection to make it appear as though acid rain is literally making the buildings crumble before your eyes. The effect is impressive and will definitely be a great distraction for guests leaving them vulnerable for some great scares. I'd give this scare zone a 4 out of 5 for detail and a 3.5 out of 5 on the scare-meter.

This year at Halloween Horror Nights there is a new show in the park called Death Drums. It is a seductive, hard-hitting and raw, extreme drumming experience that has three different shows each night of HHN. I do have to say the first performance I saw during Team Member preview was disappointing and seemed unorganized. Though after seeing them perform a different set on opening night, they seemed much more organized, the performance was energetic, interesting, and fun to watch.

A Halloween Horror Nights classic, those wild stallions are back again for the 20th annual Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure. Again making fun of this past year's pop culture, Bill and Ted's have a decent show this year. Though I did not like the choice of the main villain, I enjoyed the show still for the most part. After having seen the show twice now, once on preview night and once opening night, the show has definitely gotten better over the first time I saw it. I can't say it is the best Bill and Ted's show I have seen, but it is also definitely not the worst.

Here's some video from inside the Houses and scare zones:

Are you in?

Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nigths 21 will run select nights from September 23-October 31. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando.

Readers' Opinions

From Andy Milito on September 26, 2011 at 12:57 PM
Great review! I'm never going to go to one of these, there's a 99.99% chance I'll pee my pants.
From luis gonzalez on September 26, 2011 at 2:42 PM
gonna be there sunday, i really like what ive seen so far from previews. I really hope that people got on them about last year, and they decided to make it about more than just grabing money.
From Domenik Jost on September 28, 2011 at 10:52 AM
I just realized YouTube failed to process my video properly. So here is the inside the haunted house video:

From Doug Jenkins on September 30, 2011 at 1:17 PM
I'm a season pass holder. Curious about the lines. I went a few years back and every house had a 1.5 to 2 hour wait. The park was the most crowded I have ever seen it. I won't do that again. Any better?

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