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'!
1) It's tough to do it all in one night, especially if you spend the day running around Islands of Adventure and exhaust yourself (as we did). Be sure to get some rest beforehand.
2) If a member of your party needs a wheelchair, bear in mind that you can't ride one of those electric carts in a maze. When we were there, we had to wait until a regular chair was available (which was quite a wait at one maze because some jerks had taken off with one of the maze's two assigned chairs). So, rent (or bring) a regular wheelchair (not an electric cart). Universal's chair rental is located in the parking garage (about halfway to City Walk).
Nice report. Makes me want to go again this year.
There might be rules against wheelchair guests enterting the houses--many portions involve tight corridors and sharp corners--I wonder if a standard wheelchair could navigate the attraction safely.
I typically alternate between Howl-O-Scream (Busch Gardens Tampa)and HHN yearly and this year is HOS.
From recent years, one of the big differences that sets HHN a notch higher than HOS is that they continue to push the envelope of creativity trying new things each year. For example, when HHN did Islands of Fear, it was a phenomenal presentation. BUT, the very next year they changed completely even though Islands of Fear was such a success. That seems to be where HOS loses some ground to HHN. Typically at least half of the houses are the SAME houses as the year before (and in some cases, the year before that, and the year before that, ... etc.). Same for the shows AND the scare zones. They tend to have a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy. However, I enjoy going to HHN just for the pure creativity and new concepts. That may be where they are going wrong with Bill and Ted's - they are beating a dead horse - doing the same old thing over and over but with new pop icons - BORING.
Come on Universal - we expect better than that!
So, tell me more about this "famous" vampire scene and "flying" vampires?
Horror Nights is not intended for younger audiences, not in terms of horror or gore so much as the mature themes--the beautiful vampires and demon temptresses at the entrance of the park. Then there's the Bill & Ted show, which strives to be extreme and over the top with light swearing and innuendo--something you generally wouldn't want your young child to see.
And I'm trying my darnedest to find the time in my busy schedule to get over and review this event as well. The year prior to last, Haunt World magazine, I believe it was, gave BGT the number one ranking in the country, which beat out Knott's. No word on whether BGT beat out Knott's last year, but Busch Gardens is looking VERY intimidating. For information on their event, check out www.howl-o-scream.com/tampa.
On a positive note, one nice touch was that their maps glowed under a blacklite showing you where things were. then they posted blacklights throughout the park so that you could read your map but without going into the light. Nice touch Busch!
As for everything else, I couldn't tell you. All I know is what 10,000 smelly, drunk or high teenagers make? A bad time for old farts like myself at HOS I guess!
During the Parade is a good time to hit up a House or Ride since many people will gravitate towards the parade rather then skipping it over attractions. This is good for you since you can always catch the second parade and do Mummy in 10 minutes flat (at least Thrus-Sun).
On a personal level I was very dissapointed with the selection of attractions open to the public, as well as the lay-out. It's a flow control nightmare in the flesh but on the less crowded nights I'm sure it works very well. The problem is that the houses are to closely togther which leaves a lot of dead space and downtime. I'd rather have someone in my face and riding me hard for a reaction then large zones of...nothing!
As every year the houses get better as the season keeps moving and your actors improve on methods. I'd defidently reccomnd Ghost Town and Horrors in Wax as "Do not miss!". Also just take a few minutes and look at the sets and props, like always universal puts togther an amazing show. The Frequent Fear pass is a good addition, I believe it was $10 more then a one night ticket which allows repet visits during the run of HHN. It's only good Thusrdays threw Sundays thought (less crowds!).
when you're as small as i am, and you are jumping out at large people, when they get violent, it's scary for ME. many times i was very intimidated because people would surround me or hit me or throw things at me.
it's no fun for us and it's not fair to us. we're just doing our jobs. at 7.15 per hour...i'm not going to accept a punch in the face by a 6 foot 250 lb man as part of my job description.
so thanks again for sticking up for us in your post. and i'm glad you enjoyed yourself at HHN. i loved working it.
Speaking of opening Toon Lagoon and JP, can anybody share any information on the additional scare zone? Was there any theme to the area at all? My visit was early in the month, so I had no opportunity to see it for myself.
I'd also be interested in hearing from someone who went to the event in its final days--someone who would be able to compare it to last year's HHN at IOA by itself--how bad were the crowds and wait times this year compared to last year?
"Scareactors are people too, y'know."
This will be my 6th straight year going to HHN, and you won't believe how many times I've wanted to convey this message to other people attending the event, though probably not as eloquently as Mr. Lane put it.
Let me just say these few things; kind of like an attender's guide to Horror Nights:
-Don't sneak up behind scareactors and try to scare THEM. It isn't funny, you're not impressing anyone and you're not the first person to ever think of it.
-Put out that cigarette BEFORE you get in line. No, Universal doesn't provide smoking areas like WDW does, but that's not an excuse for you to make everyone around you uncomfortable with your own personal vice. (And I'm a smoker, people.)
-We know it's crowded, we know you're trying to see everything before the night is out. If you absolutely feel like you have to run, remember that it's NIGHT and DARK. Don't trample over people that are in your way.
That's all I can think of for now. Maybe other attendees can chime in with their personal observations. I'm going next week, can't wait.