UNIVERSAL ORLANDO Resort
Universal Studios Theme Parks
Review by: Keith Trotter
Halloween Horror Nights 21 (2011)
Halloween is one of my favorite times of year, and I always look forward to Halloween Horror Nights. This year was enjoyable, but nothing radically different than the past few years as far as the overall structure to the event. All the scarezones are pretty much in the same places they always are with a few minor exceptions. Bill and Ted's is in the same theater with the same format. All the haunts are in the same places as the past few years as well. With that being said, the content is definitely better. While most of the scarezones are fairly predictable, for the first time there are no chainsaws running around the park, and the very few that are in one of the haunts aren't real. Before I get into the specific reviews, I am going to complain about one thing... they have gone completely overboard with crew members every five feet in the haunted houses dressed in pants, tee shirts with nametags with a flashlight to hurry you along. I realize they have to move thousands of people through these houses safely and quickly to keep the lines down, but I have an idea. Why can't these cast members be in some sort of generic costume that goes along with the theme of the haunt with their faces covered, no nametag and stand still creepily in the corner and only interfere with the experience if there's actually a problem? PLEASE. These people are the biggest buzzkillingtons of the whole event and it really grinds my gears.
ACID ASSAULT- Universal invested heavily and is very proud of their Acid Assault scarezone. All-new digital projection systems give the illusion that the buildings on New York Street are crumbling in an acid assault exposing the framework of the building which consequently crumbles to the ground leaving only a cloud of dust. They are cool effects and are similar to the projection system used at the Magic Kingdom for the nightly castle show. The possibilities are going to be endless in the years to come as the animation can be changed for anything they can dream up. I would expect to see these projection systems used at other events throughout the year as well. Get ready to see this scarezone use this technology for years to come.
YOUR LUCK HAS RUN OUT- This scare zone is located in the alley of the buildings in-between New York and San Francisco. Lady Luck and about ten of her clones have taken over this area, thrown roulette wheels all over the place, ripped the casino apart waiting for you to come along. As in the teaser campaign, you see different faces of lady luck, is she pretty? Or, is she a hideous wreck hidden in the shadows? You never know till you get up close.
7- The seven deadly sins are featured here in this scare zone, although that is not how they are described in the brochure. Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride are the seven themes of each of the temptresses that stand on one of seven platforms throughout the Hollywood street. The setup is elegant and tempts you to come closer for a better look. Be careful when you do!
NIGHTMAZE- I can tell you what this maze is supposed to be like, because it was raining every time I went through it, and I never got the full experience. there are black walls that can be shifted around all night and even as you are walking down the street leaving you confused about which direction you are going in. There are black-hole shaped characters that roam the street as well. This area has almost no lighting and is fogged out. Sounds a little better in the concept than the execution.
GROWN EVIL- This is the best one in my opinion. Towards the back right of the park as you go through the pathway lined with trees in front of the Garden of Allah is always my favorite area because the trees completely cover the pathway and it just seems creepy to me at night anyway. This year the area has been themed to an overgrown garden with lots of brush and creepy giant birds. The area is very dark, fogged out and seems inherently evil by design.
CANYON OF DARK SOULS- This is a short scarezone with one type of grim reaper type scareactor. There are special lighting effects of the masks that are cool. The area has black walls on either side with fire effects and grim reaper statues that line the walkway. Nothing spectacular about this area, but it serves its purpose of providing atmosphere to the event.
Before I review the houses individually, I wanted to comment on my overall observations of the thematical improvements. Last year we were promised that we were seeing the direction Halloween Horror Nights was going. Fear was last year's theme, and you were supposed to be the victim in each house with very little to no victims on display. Wrong answer. They quickly turned against that concept and have gotten back to blood, guts, torture, and all that is unsettling. Thank you. Overall, I think the theming and attention to detail is probably the best it's ever been. Whether the crowds feel it's the "scariest" or not, I feel this is the best ever from a set decoration standpoint. If you take an RIP tour of the event, you can find out about all the back stories for each house, and learn how each theme is about a someone who made a bad choice that led to the premise of the storyline.
THE FORSAKEN- There were actually four ships that set sail for America, but unfortunately one didn't make it. Those aboard were, the forsaken. The Forsaken takes you aboard the ill-fated ship and its crew members. There are parts of the ship that are very cool, especially when you go up on deck. This haunt also has a walkway that is angled which gives you a feeling of imbalance, and is unique to the event this year. They employ lots of wind effects which you of course you would have experienced on such a treacherous journey.
Story-5, Atmosfear-5, FearFactor-3
THE IN BETWEEN- The In Between has a very interesting premise. A red-headed teacher has some sort of dark-sided object stolen from her by one of her students (something along the lines of a ouija board). She threatens that if it isn't returned, the boy will be stuck in the in between, and that's just where he ends up. This is an visually stunning house with 3D fluorescent effects throughout. This has been done before, but this is by far the best use of this technology that has ever been attempted. The use of the different colors and the dimensions they create are amazing. The orange color always stands out the most. One of the characters in the maze is solid black with bright blue outlining of the body and face, but with orange eyes that pop out further than the blue giving a creepy effect that was very well thought out. At the end there is a room that has mirrors on the floor and ceiling and fluorescent string all over the place in every direction giving you a sense of vertigo and the actors blend in with the unusual setting making for an awesome thrill.
Story-4, Atmosfear-5, Fear Factor-5
NEVERMORE- Edgar Allen Poe's works are the theme of this haunt. We get to visit The Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven, The Masque of the Red Death, The Tell Tale Heart, and finally witness the maddening of Edgar himself. The house is visually stunning, however this one in particular we were hurried through, so I didn't get to take a lot in.
Story-4, Atmosfear-4, Fear Factor-3
SAWS AND STEAM- This one is based on a city where everything is run by steam in a Jules Verne type version of the future, however the oceans have dried and up and there's only one place to extract water... you guessed it, humans. As you enter you are greeted by two walls of saws coming towards you to grind you up so you'll fit in the compressing machines later on. This is a very raw and real house. Lots of gore and a very unsettling atmosphere if you buy into the premise. By the end you may have gotten wet a little bit and might be electrocuted by the power generators at the end that are now running because they now have the water that they need to run.
Story-5, Atmosfear-5, Fear Factor-5
THE THING- Based on the upcoming PREQUEL (not a remake). Although you don't know which ones, you are promised actual scenes, props, masks, figures from the actual movie set. Since you are in Antarctica, they set you will with temperatures to make you feel you are actually there. COLD!!!!!! SNOWY!!!!!!! You go though the base of operations there where you come in contact with the victims of the Thing in various stages of transformation. You eventually get to see the Thing in alien form. Very exciting and disturbing house with tremendous attention to detail, you actually feel like you're at the base, except for the costumed, name tagged, cast members every three feet which completely ruin the potential atmosphere.
Story-5, Atmosfear-4, FearFactor-4
NIGHTINGALES BLOOD PREY- I actually like this one a lot. It takes place in WWI war trenches and camps. In the middle of the bloody battle field, the soldiers have more to worry about than just the enemy. The watchful caring nurses are slowing turning into cannibal creatures with bird-like beaked mouths with sharp teeth watching over their prey like evil nightingales ready for a meal.
Story-5, Atmosfear-5, Fear Factor-5
WINTER'S NIGHT- Believe it or not, this is the first graveyard haunted house Universal has done in the 21 years of HHN. As far as pure atmosphere goes, this is the best one. Again, they have turned the temperature way down to give you the feeling you are going through and graveyard in the dead of winter. You enter the building and see the ominous gates of the graveyard with snow adorning the trees, the lanterns with blue lights, and the Victorian era stagecoach. Everything looks and feels so crisp. The blue lights from the lanterns help keep the ghosts and undead away, but once the blue lights are gone, you've got a problem. You see everything you would expect to see in a graveyard, ghosts, graves, mausoleum, caskets. At one point you see a few bricks have been knocked out of a wall and you can peek through and see a gorgeous view of the entire graveyard similar to a shadowbox, but be forewarned, there is something behind the wall waiting for you to look in!
Story-4, Atmosfear-5, Fear Factor-5
H.R. BLOODENGUTZ HOLIDAYS OF HORROR- Your host for this house is H.R. Bloodengutz who is a campy B-horror movie host just like Elvira. For the first time ever, there is a thirty minute pre-show movie that shows on the outside of the queue hosted by Bloodengutz himself previewing the horror movies that take place on every holiday imaginable. Before each different room in this house, there is a fifties style television set playing a static broadcast of H.R. Bloodengutz intro to the movie you are about to walk in to. The holidays you get to experience are: Valentines Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Fourth of July, President's Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and of course Christmas complete with a beheaded Santa Claus, a murdered Mrs. Claus and rabid elves with guns!
Story-5, Atmosfear-5, Fear Factor-5