Halloween Horror Nights Delivers Again at Universal Orlando

September 3, 2022, 1:02 AM · With its 31st edition starting tonight, Universal Orlando demonstrates once again why its Halloween Horror Nights earned the honor of being voted Theme Park Insider readers' top theme park Halloween event.

The line-up of 10 new houses generally impresses, with its very best efforts setting the standard for what theme park Halloween events can accomplish.

"Tradition is a key word, because that's our overall theme this year. It's our 31st year, leaning into the 31st of October to celebrate traditions of Halloween," Charles Gray, Senior Show Director for Entertainment Creative Development at Universal Orlando Resort, said. "That's what you will see throughout. Pumpkins, scarecrows, witches - all those kind of things. We even have a giant black cat head going through New York, so we're really excited about this year."

Celebrating the traditions of Halloween is another way of saying, "we're light on IP this year." Halloween Horror Nights offers just four IP houses in 2022, and one of them is from Universal's own Monsters franchise. The other three are the stalwarts Halloween and Blumhouse, joined by what is by far Universal's "get" of the year - chart-topping music artist The Weeknd.

But it's Universal's original-concept houses that again lead the way for Halloween Horror Nights.

Dead Man's Pier: Winter's Wake

Inspired by a 2016 scare zone, Dead Man's Wharf, Dead Man's Pier tells the story of a captain's widow who plays the violin on the pier each evening, in hope that her husband's ship will return. Unfortunately, his was the sunken ship whose crew populated that Dead Man's Wharf scare zone all those years ago, so the widow has decided now to join her husband in the watery depths... and her husband's crew will be trying to bring us along, too.

Every year, it seems that Universal's creative team for Halloween Horror Nights goes hard on one house for artistic design. This year, that house is Dead Man's Pier. And it sets a new standard for stop-in-your-tracks, mournful beauty. The climax of the house, with the ghostly widow playing her violin on the bow of the sinking ship stunned every person on my media RIP Tour of the houses this evening. We are a jaded bunch sometimes, but this stage design exceeded any effort I have seen in any haunted house before. It is visual art, and a sight to behold.

And, clearly, violin music simply makes anything better - including a Horror Nights house. Now, if we could just get one of the set designers to have a word with our friends over at Violinist.com about the arm and hand position on that violinist statue in the house's otherwise impressive first scene.

If Dead Man's Pier aspired to art, then my second-favorite house at this year's Halloween Horror Nights is just good, fun entertainment. Hold on to your lunch, because that is...

Bugs: Eaten Alive

There's not a great big beautiful tomorrow waiting at the end of the day after this 1950s world's fair-type exhibition of the Extermin-Air, a new inspect exterminating system that might just have a few - wait for it - bugs of its own. (Rimshot!)

Turns out that the Extermin-Air does not kill the bugs. It multiplies them - in quantity and in size. Decorated with thousands of roaches, ants, and spiders, Bugs: Eaten Alive triggers Floridians' fears of what their homes will look like if they let up for a single moment in their eternal battle against the bugs that thrive in this state.

This house leans into 1950s kitsch, from commercials to monster movies, to create an infestation that's as delightful as it is repulsive.

Stressed by that concept? Then relax and step over to the club for some music. Ladies and gentlemen, it's...

The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare

How does a music artist fit into Halloween Horror Nights? The Weeknd isn't the first - Slash has been collaborating with Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood for years, providing original music for the houses there. But anyone who's seen The Weeknd's music videos for his 2020 "After Hours" album should have guessed his affinity for the horror genre.

The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare leans into visual themes established in his music videos and concerts, beginning with a scene of The Weeknd strapped to a chair, with tubes and cables extracting nightmares from his brain to come alive in this house.

It's creepy, it's fun, and it's always engaging. Put me back into that mirror room and let me dance the Horror Nights away.

Next up, it's...

Universal Monsters: Legends Collide­

I'll let Universal Orlando's creative team of Charles Gray and Lora Sauls set this one up.

Charles: "We have Universal Monsters: Legends Collide playing on both coasts - in Hollywood and here - but we're telling different parts of the story. It's a cyclical story. So you could start Hollywood end up here, or go here and then go to Hollywood."

Lora: "Larry Talbot is tired of the curse of the Wolf Man. He wants the curse listed because he is tired of killing his loved ones, the people he cares about. So he's thinking about this, and his benefactor knows that he's been searching for this cure. He gets a note from this benefactor that says, I know where you can find the cure. It's in the hills of the Jackal in Egypt. There is the Kharis mummy that holds an amulet of sun. If you retrieve this amulet of the sun, it will cure you of the curse of the moon."

"Once Larry Talbot gets to the excavation site in the hills of the Jackal, the full moon rises, and Mr. Talbot turns into the Wolf Man. Then he goes into that tomb and anything in there gets ripped to shreds. While this is happening, the high priest in the tomb is raising Kharis - Kharis who protects the amulet of the sun."

Charles: "Now you have the Wolf Man versus the Mummy, and as you go through the adventure, we find out the guest who wrote that note? Count Dracula himself. He's trying to get that amulet to become a daywalker, so he can walk in the day and the night to become all-powerful."

Lora: "So now it's a battle royale of monsters - Wolf Man, Mummy, Dracula - all going after this amulet. The cool thing about this house? One of those monsters is going to win, but it's going to change nightly, and no one's going to know who it is on a nightly basis."

Having seen both coasts' versions of this house now, I don't see how one can flow into the other, especially with Orlando set on killing off one of the protagonists each night. It's more like two competing visions of the same concept. But they're both entertaining and well worth your time.

Rounding out the top half of this year's houses is...

Fiesta de Chupacabras

It's Día de la Sangre - the day of the blood - in this Latin American mountain village. And the residents seem so welcoming to strangers like us, inviting us to join their party. Of course, that's because we are to be their blood sacrifice to the legendary chupacabras - the "goat suckers" of countless myths and stories told across Latin America.

No one's actually seen one of these chupacabras in real life, but you will see them here - up close and very personal, as they try to rip you to shreds... as they have done to what appears to be your predecessors in the conga line of HHN houses, too. Decorated with more hanging meat than a butcher's shop, Fiesta de Chupacabras brings this legend to life and sears it into your memory with some of the most intense set design in recent Horror Nights.

Completing the houses line-up, Spirits of the Coven starts strong with its 1920s speakeasy and its flapper girls luring you deeper inside. Turns out that those girls are actually witches, trying to drain your blood for the witches' brew they need to preserve their youthful appearance while they live forever. It's gets ugly real fast after that, both for the witches needing that brew and the poor souls who will be harvested to make it.

Halloween recreates the story beats of the 1978 original John Carpenter film, from Michael Myers' escape from Smith's Grove Sanitarium to his face-off with Laurie Strode. And yes, it ends with a mirror room. This would be a great house to introduce Halloween to anyone who's not already overwhelmed with this horror staple. Or a solid house for a Michael Myers fan who had not happened to see one of the many previous Halloween houses that Universal has staged. But for long-time HHN fans, fresher concepts might hold more appeal. [You can see a POV video of this house on our TikTok and Instagram.]

The Horrors of Blumhouse offers "Freaky" and "The Black Phone" in a two-fer house located in a new Halloween Horror Nights location, in The Fast and the Furious: Supercharged queue. Having previewed Hollywood's version of the same house, I lean toward preferring Hollywood's version of Freaky and Florida's version of Black Phone. But mostly, I can't get over the latest step from Universal toward giving up on this Fast and Furious attraction, by sacrificing its queue for more HHN space.

As for the last two houses, Hellblock Horror offers a classic, old-school vibe of monsters and jump scares in a dilapidated setting. And frankly, I and my RIP Tour companions pretty much forgot about Descendants of Destruction as soon as we exited the house.

Beyond the houses, Universal Orlando offers five scares zones this year. I have posted a walk-through video of Sweet Revenge, which was my favorite, on our TikTok and Instagram. I did not get the chance to see either of the new shows, Halloween Nightmare Fuel Wildfire or Ghoulish! A Halloween Tale, the replacement for Marathon of Mayhem.

Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights continues on select nights through October 31.

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Replies (4)

September 3, 2022 at 6:02 PM

the set design of dead man's pier is absolutely spectacular. looks like another great event.

September 4, 2022 at 12:29 PM

I'm surprised you didn't care for Descendants of Destruction, Robert. In a year where house rankings I've read are all over the place (aside from putting Dead Man's Pier and The Weeknd at the top), that seems to be one of the upper-tier houses.

And I'm not sure I understand what you mean by not getting over Universal using the Fast and Furious queue for Blumhouse. The sooner they distance themselves from that ride, the better.

September 4, 2022 at 5:59 PM

To clarify, what I keep thinking about is how quickly Universal pivoted from defending F&F to throwing it under the (party) bus at every opportunity, starting with Thierry Coup calling it out at IAAPA last year. (See https://www.themeparkinsider.com/flume/202111/8620/ )

At this rate, I would not be surprised to see Supercharged soon removed to become an extension of USF's New York area to accommodate an east coast installation of Hollywood's The Secret Life of Pets ride.

Yes, that is just wishful thinking, but speak it into reality with me, will you?

September 9, 2022 at 2:07 PM

Aw, I actually would have liked to have read something about Hellblock Horror and Descendants of Destruction. I can't go to HHN so I'm living vicariously.

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