UNIVERSAL ORLANDO Resort
Universal Studios Theme Parks
Review by: Lance Hart
HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS 26 (2016)
Welcome to Screamscape’s full Halloween Horror Nights 26 Review!
The Halloween gurus at Universal Orlando had their work cut out for them this year, as they strove to come up with new ideas as a follow up to the celebration that was Halloween Horror Nights 25. Fortunately they are always working on new ideas for the next HHN, and the plans were already forming for HHN26 before HHN25 even opened to the public last year.
Despite some self imposed restrictions placed upon the event this year in light of the recent tragedy in Orlando, they event lineup this year was a classic mix-up of some locally created story concepts mixed with a collection of some of horror’s greatest tales, some of which have never been brought to life in Haunt form before. Plus the event features two live shows (more on those later) as well as five new scare zones… and we can’t forget this year’s host icon… Chance. While Jack’s away… Chance has been unleashed upon us to show us she is much more than just a sidekick. Give the video below a watch as Chance introduces herself to us and tells us what she has in store for us all.
In addition to random roaming hordes of chainsaw maniacs (each group with their own theme as well… including the very interesting looking all-female Geisha Girl themed chainsaw maniacs. The five official scare zones include Vamp ‘55 (Think of Happy Days with Vampires), A Chance in Hell (a small series of stages with Chance and her minions between Shrek 4D and Despicable Me), Dead Man’s Wharf (Fog and a beached ship plus the vengeful spirits of those who died at sea), Lair of the Banshee (the dark side of the forest where evil spirits and creatures reign), and Survive or Die Apocalypse (a war zone in action on the streets of New York as three rival gangs battle to control the last machine able to make clean air).
On the show front we have a newcomer this year called Academy of Villains: House of Fear. This is a new high-energy dance group performing as the inmates of the Shadybrook Asylum. Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to see Academy of Villains, but I’ve heard that the show on their outdoor stage across from Mel’s is quite spectacular. I was able to take in this year’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure show which was celebrating the show’s own 25th anniversary this year. So hard to believe that Bill & Ted have been spreading the message of “Be Excellent to each other!” for a quarter century. While this was an election year, I was happy to see that the show’s story did not dive neck deep into a political heavy satire this year. Based on the election year shows from the past, I always felt they were a little too political and not enough on the social and pop-culture satire, but this year’s show really took a different tack. Lots of pop-culture characters, funny social references, a hint of political humor here and there, and of course some “Excellent” well places jabs at Disney too, all made for a quite enjoyable show. Plus the big musical ending even included some well timed homages to David Bowie and Prince which was greatly appreciated by the crowd.
But what about the haunts you ask? They were plentiful and had perhaps some of the best overall themeing I’ve seen, with an all-star lineup that was quite impressive. If I did have one overall nit-pick this year however is that for some reason, as spectacular as the haunts were visually and environmentally, I felt like the scares were slightly subdued over some of the previous years. This isn’t to say that no one “got me” good in the haunts… as it did happen several times, especially early on in the evening, but meanwhile some of the others felt more like I was watching a performance play out before me. Of course, timing is always key… and what is scary for one person, may just not time out well for another. Now on to the haunts!!
Halloween: Hell Comes To Haddonfield - Much like how the first Halloween maze from 2014 was a loving tribue to John Carpenter’s 1978 classic horror films, now the 1981 sequel, Halloween 2, gets the same treatment. Like like the film, your adventure begins by reliving the last two scenes of the 2014 maze as as Loomis shoots Michael Myers six times in the chest, only to have the monster get up and walk away. From here your new adventure begins and soon leads into a new world of terror inside the Haddonfield Memorial Hospital.
Story-4, Atmosfear-3, FearFactor-3
Tomb of the Ancients - Universal sets a new bar here by creating some fantastic scenry as you venture down into the Tomb of the Ancients, a cap of sorts covering a hellmouth that has broken open and begin to leak all sorts of ancient evil spirits, demons and monsters back onto the mortal world. The haunt features tight corridors, aged stone looking carvings across the walls as you pull back the vines and roots hanging above you to venture deeper into the tomb… and towards your doom.
Story-3, Atmosfear-5, FearFactor-3
Texas Chainsaw Massacre - This time Universal applies the same reverence they did for the first two Halloween films to the 1974 gore-fest, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You’ll find yourself entering the Texas farm house of cannibals, the creepy atmosphere and musty smell surround you as you realize something just isn’t quite right in there. It doesn’t take long before Leatherface shows up to claim his first victim… and the next… and the next… in a harvest of fresh meat to feed the family. I found this one to have some great scare moments as you walked through, and due to the more diverse cast of characters involved, the maze didn’t suffer from the one flaw of the Halloween themed mazes where you could find yourself staring at two Michael Myers in the same field of view. That never seemed to be a problem in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, plus I really enjoyed the very creepy atmosphere as we journeyed through the family home of Leatherface. Now I’m just hoping they give the same treatment to Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 in the near future.
Story-4, Atmosfear-5, FearFactor-4
American Horror Story - Perhaps one of the most highly anticipated and requested new horror properties has finally come to Halloween Horror Nights at last and it did not disappoint. For those who may have never seen the TV show (now starting Season 6), each season of American Horror Story tells a self contained story with unique characters that (for the most part) do not cross over from one season to the next, all the while most of the cast members do return in future seasons to play new unique roles.
Due to the unique nature of the show, it was decided to only bring the world and characters from select seasons of the show to life for the haunt: Season 1 (Murderhouse), Season 4 (Freak Show) and Season 5 (Hotel). You enter the maze to the show’s creepy opening credit theme and some projected visuals and go through the seasons one at a time. The maze did not disapoint, bringing many of these characters and iconic moments to life, while maintaining the right atmosphere and even bringing the scares right to you. This is one maze where I would have liked to have gone through a second time because there is just so much going on inside, and so many interesting things to look at and enjoy as a fan of the show.
Story-5, Atmosfear-5, FearFactor-4
The Walking Dead - While some may be growing a bit tired of The Walking Dead having a haunt every year, I think the true fear is that the experience may get old or tired. I’m happy to report that this year’s The Walking Dead experience was not tired in any way. It was a great example of bringing some of your favorite scenes, locations, and walker moments all together, collected from the entire run of the series and not just a single season. In anything, this freedom to bring new scenes to life and even expand upon scenes they may have previously tried to show, really seemed to allow them to bring The Walking Dead to life like never before. Again… a lot of fan service was played here, and fans of the show would certainly enjoy taking a second trip through the maze just to take in all the details.
Story-5, Atmosfear-5, FearFactor-4
The Exorcist - Some believe this may be the scariest movie of all time, but bringing it to life in haunt form presented some serious challenges for the design crew as 90% of the movie took place in a little girl’s bedroom. They worked hard to try and expand the world of The Exorcist beyond just the bedroom, and put you right into the thick of things as a young girl is possessed and priests work to exorcise the demon and save her soul. While I had my reservations as to how well this would work, I was pleasantly surprised by how it was all presented so well, including a very cool introduction scene as you entire the home that really sets the mood for the rest of the haunt.
Story-4, Atmosfear-4, FearFactor-3
Lunatics Playground 3D - With the demise of the Disaster attraction, Universal had to come up with a new haunt location this year, and opted to set up a series of portable structures into a new haunt building behind the Men In Black attraction’s outdoor queue. This is where Chance comes out to shine, as we enter the asylum where she was locked away just to time to witness her turn the other inmates to her cause and take over the asylum… all in glorious 3D. Due to the 3D effects and bright lighting, this maze may not be the most scary, as it has an almost cartoon like quality to the decor, but visually it really stands out as you entire the almost funhouse style world of Chance’s mind.
Story-3, Atmosfear-3, FearFactor-3
Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch - Another unique story make created just for HHN26, you’ll enter the ghost town of Lightning Gulch. The inhabitants died long ago… but they never really left, as the curse gold they found drove them all mad with a lust for gold that was burned into their very souls for all eternity. While the setting here were fantastic, walking through an old west ghost town in the middle of a storm, this was one of the haunts where I kind of felt almost like a ghost myself, walking through the middle of their story, as various characters would seem to be caught up in feuds with each other rather than be bothered by my presence.
Story-2, Atmosfear-3, FearFactor-2
Krampus - It has horror, it has a Christmas theme, comedy and torment… what’s not to like about the concept of a Krampus haunt? We know Universal’s haunt gurus have a long standing love of making Christmas and winter themed haunts in the past, so it wasn’t a matter of IF, it was simply a matter of when Krampus would be used. This may end up being one of the smaller haunts of the season, tucked away in the backup Shrek 4D theater space, but they really did a great job of creating a Christmas decorated home ready for the arrival of the anti-Santa… The Krampus, who has come to punish those who are bad. While the atmosphere was very creepy, much like the film, the minions of evil are almost too cute to be too scary however, especially the gingerbread men.
Story-3, Atmosfear-4, FearFactor-2
So there you have it… Halloween Horror Nights 26 has officially kicked off and is ready to take you on another hell of a ride as the King of theme park Halloween events lives up to the past 25 years, and begins to build legends for the next 25.