UNIVERSAL ORLANDO Resort
Universal Studios Theme Parks
Review by: Lance Hart
HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS 25 (2015)
Welcome to Screamscape’s full Halloween Horror Nights 25 Review!
Twenty-Five years in the making, this year marks a major anniversary for Universal's epic horror-festival. Its almost comical to think that way back in 1991 no one at Universal would have ever believed that the event's humble beginnings under the name "Fright Nights" would grow, transform and evolve over the year's into the world's most well known theme park Halloween event. In fact, "HHN" has grown over the years not only in Orlando, but extended itself out to the other Universal theme parks around the world, where you will find Halloween Horror Nights events in Hollywood, Singapore and Japan.
While each Universal park offers their own custom HHN flavor, one thing that the Orlando event was also known for over the years was the creation of several custom-made home-brewed host characters for the event, not only as the theme for specific haunted houses or scare-zones, but also to become literal icon characters for the entire HHN event itself. They legendary names like Caretaker, The Director, The Storyteller, Usher, Lady Luck, Mary and more... but it all started off back in 2000 with a scary clown known as JACK. While other icons followed over the years, Jack would continue to return from time to time, becoming perhaps more twisted and demonic with each appearance... and growing in power. He went from returning with other icons as part of the HHN Sweet 16 event, to becoming the ringmaster of terror for HHN17 when he brought Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kruger and Leatherface back to HHN with him. It didn't stop there, and while the last few years of HHN have been without an icon, it was only fitting that Jack return once again for the 25th Anniversary.
With that in mind, lets look into what Halloween Horror Nights 25 has to offer, starting off with the live entertainment and scare-zones. This year's event has a nice mixture of dedicated and themed Scare Zones, aided by the use of roaming hordes of chainsaw wielding clowns (male and female this year!) who can seemingly appear virtually anywhere in the park at any time, which makes for a great feeling that there is no "safe zone" to hide from them. There are five different Scare Zones this year:
ICONS - HHN: Set up on the Hollywood strip with themed displays to pay homage to some of the greatest icons from past years: Caretaker, Storyteller, Usher and The Director, along with other fan-favorite characters you'll find roaming the street in the fog from past years.
SCARY TALES-SCREAMPUNK: The street between Shrek and Despicable Me was set up for this, but during the two times I passed down the street I found very few characters.
EVIL'S ROOTS: A walk through central park, full of fog, tons of pumpkins, and lots of creepy characters, all waiting for you. I enjoyed this area myself, and it featured some great creepy costumes and make-up as well.
PHYCHOSCAREAPY-UNLEASHED: The insane inmates from Shadybrook Asylum have escaped into the streets of New York City just in time to interrupt a block party in progress. Carnage: Yes please!
ALL NITE DIE-IN: The smallest of the scare zones, set up outside the old Disaster attraction. It seemed like an interesting idea, as I'm told the scare-zone has two modes, depending on when you visit... a Black & White era of movie monsters and a Color Era, but when I passed through it just seemed a bit too small and unfocused to tell what was going on.
There are also two live entertainment options to choose from this year:
Jack has his own show with his companion Chance called THE CARNAGE RETURNS, but unfortunately I wasn't able to catch this show on my visit. The good news is that I've heard from others who did see it that it's a great show worth taking in, especially if you are a fan of Jack, as they put on a bloody display of carnage and mayhem for all to see.
Of course it wouldn't be Halloween without another edition of BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT HALLOWEEN ADVENTURE. Without giving too much away, the show starts off in epic fashion as the most righteous duo appear with a bang, driven into 2015 by Doc Brown in the Delorian time-machine. It seems that Kanye West has stolen Bill & Ted's time traveling phone booth and has been hard at work changing the timeline to take over the world. Yep... that sounds about right doesn't it?
And while I'm always down for some good parody and humorous social commentary, not to mention some epic Disney jokes while even poking fun of themselves and the use of Bill & Ted in a show for almost 25 years, there was just something a little off about this year's show. Don't get me wrong... I still laughed and enjoyed it, but something was just "off"... almost like they weren't trying as hard as they had in the past. While the main characters still looked the part, many of the minor cast members either just failed to quite look right for the part they were playing, or their costumes were just lacking being anything close to authentic looking, and there was almost no character vs character combat. In a way, I guess you could say that Bill & Ted kind of just 'phoned it in' this year compared to some previous year's shows.
Now I know you all want to know about the Haunts this year, and for the first time ever there were NINE of them. I'm also happy to report that Universal Orlando has extended the hours of HHN this year as well, staying open until at least 1am on each night, to give you more time to see and do it all. (And speaking of which, I'm also happy to report that Diagon Alley is also open for your entertainment during HHN, though it is a haunt-free zone). Now lets get to the haunts!
THE WALKING DEAD: THE LIVING AND THE DEAD - For the forth year in a row The Walking Dead have been used as the theme for a haunt at HHN in Orlando. The nice thing is that each year they have used The Walking Dead, they have created a new haunt experience and story that tries to let you relive the events of the past season. This year's haunt starts things off with a trip into the horror-show that was Terminus, then through flooded basements, past Gabriel's boarded up church, in the barn during the storm with the walkers outside, hospital rooms, revolving door walkers and even booby-trapped trucks loaded with the undead. Speaking as someone who loves The Walking Dead, while this was a greatest hits series of lovingly crafted moments from last season, I think the public may becoming a little "numb" to the threat of walkers. Much like the cast of the show... where over the past few seasons, it isn't the walkers that have been the biggest threat, but rather the remains of what passes off for human can be so much worse.
Story-3, Atmosfear-4, FearFactor-3
THE PURGE - Stuffed into one of the two "tent mazes", The Purge has a great setup outside as you walk-in, and actually has some great sets and scare moments as you pass through. While waiting to enter you get to listen to the signature alert message from the films, signaling the start of The Purge, where all emergency services are suspended for 12 hours, and all crime is legal. In fact, I was loving the entire Purge house until maybe the last quarter of it, where the tone changed from run-ins people in masking taking part in The Purge, to repeated run-ins with Anti-Purge Resistance Fighters.
Story-2, Atmosfear-3, FearFactor-4
INSIDIOUS - Time to venture into "The Further" and encounter the ghosts and demons from all three Insidious films, as you balance between the world of the living and the worlds of the dead, avoiding those seeking to cross over by any means. The themeing in this haunt is fantastic, and the scares are really top notch from start to finish. Easily, this one is probably the most frightening haunt of them all this year, made even more impressive when you realize the entire experience was tucked away into one of the tent structures.
Story-5, Atmosfear-5, FearFactor-5
RUN: BLOOD, SWEAT, AND FEARS - The RUN maze experience returns again... themed as an 80's style game show, with a nod towards the Schwarznegger action film, The Running Man, where players are encouraged to try and escape from a maze filled with assassins dying to turn your death into ratings gold. This year's version of run is made even more fun by taking place in another famous old HHN location... Hellgate Prison. The final result, while noting being that scary, is full of great fun moments as you pass through the differently themed assassin zones, each looking to dispatch you in their own unique style.
Story-2, Atmosfear-4, FearFactor-2
ASYLUM IN WONDERLAND 3D - This is the annual black-light 3D haunt, which sets up shop in an all new location this year... inside one of the old Shrek 4D theater rooms which has been transformed into an epic new maze experience. It starts off being very disorienting and quickly cranks the visual effects up to 11 by even throwing you through the vortex tunnel as you travel to a crazy mixed-up world where the Alice in Wonderland myths have been twisted by a dark asylum. Unfortunately, the visuals that started off great at the start started to just get more confusing towards the end to the point were I was almost temped to take my glasses off to get a good look at what was going on. So I'm sorry to say that I didn't enjoy this one that much myself, and I didn't find it scary at all, though I know others really did enjoy the bright and crazy visual eye-candy.
Story-2, Atmosfear-3, FearFactor-2
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON - The final four mazes were all in the soundstages, and were able to feature some excellent large sets and themeing. In this case, AMERICAN WEREWOLF was the first time that the HHN crew set out to rebuild the exact same maze that they built two years ago in 2013, though with the goal of making the wolf puppets even more incredible by using some of the molds used to create the original effects for the groundbreaking 1981 film. If you missed this maze back in 2013, you will want to see it this year. The wolves are epic and provide some great scares, though if you are pressed for time and saw it two years ago, you can be forgiven if you opt to skip it this year... but only if you run out of time. It is still one of the better mazes they have ever built.
Story-4, Atmosfear-4, FearFactor-4
FREDDY VS JASON - Time for an epic showdown between two of the biggest horror movie icons of all time.... Freddy and Jason. You'll start things off when you find yourself entering Camp Crystal Lake and come face to face with the imposing Jason. The HHN crew took great care in casting their army of Jason scareactors to terrorize you this year by casting only huge 6'6" or taller individuals who are just imposing as all hell when they step out of the shadows and look down on you like the puny ant you are. Just when you think you may have escaped from Jason, it's time to enter the world of Freddy Kruger who is ready to take over your nightmares. For the third act, the two decide that the world isn't big enough for both of them and they decide to battle it out to see who is the toughest. While this maze had some epic moments... it also unfortunately had some major flaws. For example, by constantly attacking you with Jason around each corner, you were bound to encounter what I did, when you have the awkward moment of seeing two Jason or Freddy clones in your frame of view at the same time, which has the unfortunate side-effect of yanking you right out of your "suspension of disbelief" mindset. The other flawed moments take place in the final segment of the maze, where the battle between the two characters is put on display through the use of some video projection scenes. Unfortunately, the "security" members working this part of the house ruined each of these moments, by constantly yelling at those who pause to watch the action take place to keep moving. It kind of breaks the moment when security is yelling at groups of people in the haunt to "Do not stop to watch the movie! Keep walking!". Hopefully this issue will be addressed over the coming weeks.
Story-3, Atmosfear-3, FearFactor-3
BODY COLLECTORS: RECOLLECTIONS - The creepy Body Collectors have returned, but this time they have set up shop in the Shadybrook Asylum in the middle of a snow storm. The entrance to this awesome haunt, which gets my vote for being the most gory haunt of the year, is themed as the frozen entrance to the asylum, as gentle snowflakes are falling from the sky, but you can hear the sound of 'thundersnow' in the distance as a bad storm is approaching. Inside the already creepy asylum you will witness the Body Collectors do their job by appearing out of the thin air to grab and kill the Shadybrook inhabitants right in front of your eyes, in their quest to collect the various body parts they need. Do not miss this one, you'll thank me later.
Story-4, Atmosfear-5, FearFactor-4
Last up is JACK PRESENTS 25 YEARS of MONSTERS AND MAYHEM - which is perhaps the most exciting maze of them all. It starts off with one hell of an entry portal with a huge mural of Jack himself, and some great revolving signs themed to the various famous icon characters from years past. Inside you will find an incredible mix of scenes from famous classic horror films of the past, mixed with returning scenes from past HHN mazes from years past as well. One in particular I really liked was the return of the Gargoyle's belltower scene which has an awesome optical illusion that makes it look like you are several stories high instead of being safe on the ground in a soundstage. Mixed in with all this is the event present threat of Jack himself, as the clown prince of carnage. Don't miss this maze which serves as the perfect 25th Anniversary experience for your night, especially if you have come to visit HHN several times over the past 25 years, full of both fun moment and very scary ones.
Story-4, Atmosfear-5, FearFactor-4
PS - Stay tuned over the coming days for some great photos from the event (if you missed seeing them on our Twitter, Facebook or Instagram feeds the night of, as well as some POV video footage of the houses I hope to finish editing some of the great clips very soon!