UNIVERSAL ORLANDO Resort
Universal Studios Theme Parks
HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS 29 (2019)
Screamscape was invited to attend the opening night of Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights 29 on Friday night (Sept. 6, 2019) and I’m happy to report that the great spooky 80’s era fun that everyone enjoyed so much last year is back once again in 2019 along with a fantastic mix of extra gory horror goodness, all mixed together from a collection of licensed IPs and custom created haunts from the twisted minds of Universal Orlando's dedicated Halloween Entertainment team.
This year’s Halloween Horror Nights is the biggest ever, with a whopping 10 different haunted mazes, five scare zones, the Academy of Villains live show and the brand new Halloween Marathon of Mayhem nighttime spectacular show performing in the park’s lagoon. With so many things to see you are going to be hard pressed to do everything in one night, so you may want to seriously consider taking a special R.I.P. Tour Group if you only have one night to visit or upgrading your pass to include HHN Express Passes to cut to the front of the lines. If you are planning on visiting several times over the season you also may want to consider buying a Rush of Fear Pass (good for the September dates) or one of the Frequent Fear Pass options that cover most or all of the entire season, depending on which pass you choose.
Before I go into the detailed coverage of it all, I want to bring up something I feel is worthy of note. In past years it was typically easy to point out one of two favorite haunts, or perhaps even rank them all in order from top to bottom. So if you ran out of time while visiting, it was easy to point to the last couple of haunts on the list as being the ones you could miss and not feel too bad about. With that in mind… Halloween Horror Nights 29 breaks the mold here, as I really could not find anything you could skip out on. Every maze and every show is a unique experience worth seeing, feeling and fully experiencing! Every maze has people talking… every haunt has someone saying it was their favorite of the night… every single thing at HHN29 is worthy of your full attention! Simply put… Halloween Horror Nights 29 is a beautiful thing and the only way you can go wrong is if you miss it entirely.
So let's get down to the nitty gritty and I'll start off by talking a bit about the two shows you are not going to want to miss. First, lets address the new kid on the block this year… the massive nighttime spectacular show that takes up the park’s lagoon… Halloween Marathon of Mayhem. This is a 10-minute show you watch while standing around the side of the lagoon, with the best viewing to be found along the lagoon edge in the Central Park area so you can properly view the fountains, water screens and projection mapping taking place across the buildings in the background.
To put it mildly, this show is simply LOADED, ready shove an interwoven explosion of visual and audio datastreams up into your frontal lobe that will both delight you in the moment, as well as bringing fond memories of the past to the surface once again. Marathon of Mayhem featuring an aggressive soundtrack that mixes classic tracks from your favorite IPs along with fun remixes along with it’s own hardcore score, all the while painting the landscape and waters with a visually stunning palet of bright colors mixed with projected imagery from Ghostbusters, Stranger Things, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Universal Monsters and more! The finished product is just stunning and if I had just one thing to lament about, it would be the fact that this show was designed just for Halloween Horror Nights 29 only and will never be seen again! So do yourself a favor and catch this limited time performance while you can.
On the live action side of things, the Academy of Villains performance group is back once again, and while I’ve been to HHN almost every year in the past, I’ve never had to the time to catch one of their shows until now. This year’s AOV show is called Altered States and takes place inside the Fear Factor Live show stadium which has been transformed into a stunning background to tell their story. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from AOV, other than from brief clips I had caught of other performances in the past which featured a lot dancing, but this show was so much more. It was a mix of dancing mixed with special performance segments featuring some dark and creepy Cirque style acts like an amazing contortionist, a silk aerial act, a ball balancing act and much more, with the threads all tied together with a unique Jeckle & Hyde inspired storyline. Add in a great selection of audio tracks heavily featuring Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”, Marilyn Manson’s “Beautiful People” and “Sweet Dreams”, She Wants Revenge’s “Tear You Apart”, Billie Eilish’s “Bury a Friend”, Flyleaf’s “I’m So Sick” and many more! Great corrigraphy, costuming, production… all around I was floored by this amazing show that lasted about 22 minutes and left me wanting even more.
With the live shows out of the way, let me quickly go over this year’s five Scare Zones, which was a mix of themed properties and custom creations. Depending on how you enter the park and which path you will take, you’ll run into one of two scare zones where the goal is really about setting the mood rather than being too gory or frightening. Take the straight path into the park, lured in by the neon and laser lighting of Anarch-cade and you’ll find yourself surrounded by giant video game arcade machines that are quick to point out that it’s “GAME OVER”, along with some strolling Tron-esk stilt-walker girls and neon lit masked chainsaw game warriors wandering through the crowd looking to give a good scare to those too busy watching the bright lights. Instead of taking the straight path, if you bank right after entering the park you’ll run straight into the Vanity Ball where those obsessed with physically beauty transformation have taken things a bit too far. Rather than try to have plastic surgery to improve their features, they’re now simply looking to steal the features and body parts they like from anyone they meet on the streets of Hollywood. They're so proud of their handiwork, they’ve even set up a fashion runaway in the middle of the street to flaunt it all for everyone to see.
Beyond the Vanity Ball you’ll enter the dark woods of Vikings Undead, where the violent and brutal tendencies of these legendary warriors has no limits. My only complaint here was that we passed through a bit too quickly, and this was the darkest of all the scare zones, which made the details a bit harder to see. I would have liked to have had more time to spend here as well as in the scaze zone across the lagoon in the old San Francisco wharf area which was themed to Rob Zombie: Hellbilly Deluxe. If you are a Rob Zombie fan (and I am) you will be in heaven here as all the great tunes are blasting complete with awesome visuals like the Living Dead Girl performance stange, a Rob Zombie throne you can sit in, the Dragula car along with a healthy mixture of black leather clad Go-Go Dancer girls on stages and tower platforms. The area draws a big crowd for sure, so plan ahead if you want to spend some quality time here, perhaps on your way to see the nearby AOV show.
The New York area features the largest scare zone of them all, this one themed to the upcoming Zombieland Double Tap movie, and features a huge variety of zombie characters is crazy outfits wandering through the fog with you. There are so many different zombie types in here, you often can’t tell the zombies from your fellow guests until they are right in front of you, hungry maw open wide! Also keep an eye out for one special zombie wandering through the fog that I heard about, but unfortunately I was unable to find myself! If the rumors are true, there may be a “Bill Murray” looking zombie in the crowd, pretending to be a zombie just to fit in. Again, just a rumor, but I’m hoping this one is true!
For those counting there is actually an unofficial 6th scare zone at the park along the pathway that runs past the Simpsons area that features chainsaw maniacs, but they’ve decorated their chainsaws and masks with flashing lights this time. While the chainsaws are always good for a scare and to create the sound of screams, I think they need to modify the chainsaws only to light up when they rev them, because the constant flashing of the chainsaws gives their presence away in the crowd from a good distance.
Now it's time to get to the meat and potatoes of the Halloween Horror Nights experience… the ten haunted mazes. As I previously said, their game is strong this year, and they come in a wide variety of flavors so that each experience feels unique and entirely different from the last.
Stranger Things - The hit Netflix show is back for a second year as the theme to this year’s biggest maze. While last year’s maze detailed the story as told from Season 1 of the show, this year’s maze shows off all the major scenes from Season 2 and 3, starting off with a replay of the final scene from Season 1 when Eleven defeats the Demogorgon, and then jumps right into the highlights of Season 2 as you enter the Arcade. You’ll enter the maze of tunnels under Hawkins with Hopper that lead to the pit under Hawkins National Lab, find Dart, see what happens to Dustin’s cat, encounter the Demodogs in the junkyard and more before you enter Season 3 with the Mind Flayer, attack on the cabin, encounter Billy, and of course take a trip into the Starcourt Mall before all is said and done. Fantastic fan service was paid here to bring the hit show to life once again, from start to finish.
Story - 4, AtmosFear - 4, FearFactor - 3
US - Based on the recent film by Jordan Peele, the US maze experience is like a walk-through retelling of all the major moments and scenes from the film, where a family is attacked by a group of cloned doppelgangers known as The Tethered. Fans of the film were reporting that this one really hit home for them, while unfortunately I had not yet seen the film and and went through knowing the basic premise only and left feeling just slightly confused. But the overall look and theme of the maze was fill with enough detail that any confusion I had left me wanting more, and with a plan to watch the film soon to fill in the blanks.
Story - 4, AtmosFear - 3, FearFactor - 2
Universal Monsters - No movie studio has as long a history with the horror/monster movie genre than Universal Studios and while Universal has dabbled a bit with their characters on and off over the years the result has never been as intense and thrilling as it was this year when the entire slate was joined together as a force against humanity. All the classic monsters are here, and even some you may have forgotten about, as your encounters range from The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Wolfman, the Mummy, Dracula, the Frankenstein monster and his Bride, the Phantom of the Opera, the Invisible Man and probably a couple more I’m forgetting. The sets are fantastic in here as are the costumes as these legendary Monsters are brought to life once again to take on the humans of modern world! Dracula puts their mission statement quite well in one scene as he commands, “Devour them! Devour them all!”
Story - 4, AtmosFear - 4, FearFactor - 4
Killer Klowns from Outer Space - While the alien Klowns arrived at Halloween Horror Nights in the form of last year’s most popular Scare Zone, they were brought back as a full haunted maze experience this year. All your favorite Klowns from the movie are back, along with some brand new creations, as you experience the Klown invasion and soon find yourself abord their starship avoiding the Popcorn monsters, lurking through a den of sweet smelling cotton candy cocoons, and even encounter the massive Klownzilla. Beautiful colors and an assortment of crazy scents also help bring this zanny and creepy maze to life as the Killer Klowns are out to get you from every direction. The funny thing is as silly as this maze can be, I think I got some my biggest scares in here, which was really strange for me as standard “Clown” mazes don’t frighten me in the slightest. So Kudos to the Klowns here, as they got me good about 3 or 4 times along the way.
Story - 3, AtmosFear - 5, FearFactor - 5
House of 1000 Corpses - Rob Zombie’s gore-fest film has been brought to life here in incredible fashion. Your trip begins with a trip to Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen which evolves just a little too quickly right into the Firefly family home of horrors, full of mutilated bodies, remains of countless other victims as well as a few still awaiting their horrific fate. Before long you end up in the underground catacombs of Dr. Satan and the victims of his wicked experiments. This maze is dark, gory as all hell, reeks of the dead and dying, and is probably the best haunt I’ve seen Universal put into this newer haunt location next to the Men In Black attraction.
Story - 3, AtmosFear - 5, FearFactor - 4
Depths of Fear - I think one of my favorite genres of horror that seems to be seldom used would be the one that involves humans trapped underwater, usually fighting for their lives against some kind of creature, monster or alien as seen in films like Leviathan, Deep Star Six or Deep Rising. It many ways it is similar to the SciFi alien monster concept, as even the environment is harsh enough to kill you instantly, so it creates a feeling of isolation and dread as well as those trapped know that help from outside is simply never going to come. Tapping into this vein comes Depths of Fear, as custom haunt from Universal Creative that I really enjoyed. Here you find yourself aboard an undersea mining station that has come under assault from a parasitic race of fish-headed creatures known as the Mouthbrooders. If the Mouthbrooders don’t tear you apart directly, they can infect you by spitting acidic egg goo on you. You quickly realize that the infected crew of the station are just as deadly as the Mouthbrooders as they have gone utterly mad from the infection as the eggs are growing within their flesh. A fantastic combination of set pieces combined with video projection screens and audio engineering combine to make it look, feel and sound as if you really are at the bottom of the ocean, with the base computer slowly counting down towards the inevitable self-destruct sequence designed to make sure that the Mouthbrooders and their infection never reach the surface world… no matter the cost.
Story - 3, AtmosFear - 5, FearFactor - 5
Nightingales: Blood Pit - It’s always a fun thing when Universal’s dark thoughts reflect upon their own past creations and find a way to bring one of their popular concepts back to life for a sequel… or rather a prequel in this case. The Nightingales creature were first created for a haunt at HHN21 in 2011, themed around creatures drawn to feast on the blood of the dying at epic world conflicts. In the first tale they were drawn to the battlefields of World War II, but in this story we go back much further to Ancient Rome where the Emperor has decreed that a series of bloody gladiatorial games will take place in the Colosseum until the gods are satisfied and allow the rain to return to end a lengthy drought. The non-stop blood flowing has awoken the ravenous Nightingales and led them in for an epic feast on the Gladiators… and now you as well. Amazing set creation is featured here as you are led into the pits under the floor of the Colosseum where the Gladiators battle against the invading Nightingales who are in a blood lust from the carnage that is all around you. Blood, bile, fleshy bits and other assorted retch inducing nastiness is all around you as if the wet sludge from a slaughterhouse above you had seeped into the very ground, oozing down various disposal chutes into the claustrophobic catacombs where you find yourself trapped in a dungeon of darkness and despair.
Story - 4, AtmosFear - 5, FearFactor - 5
Graveyard Games - Another original tale is told here, as a couple of wicked kids decide to trash a local but very old graveyard of a small town. The graveyard was often used as a place for the local kids to play various harmless games over the years like Hide and Seek, but the graves were always treated with respect… until today. Now the resting souls have been awoken and angered, and they are ready to take out their frustrations on anyone trespassing amongst their graves… and unfortunately this means you!
Story - 3, AtmosFear - 4, FearFactor - 3
Yeti: Terror of the Yukon - This one is sure to be one of the most popular mazes this year, which is always fantastic news for the Universal team. Set inside one of the park's massive soundstages, the set work is fantastic as you enter the frigid Yukon territory (and yes, it is cold and slightly snowing inside) where the local frontiersmen have come under assault from a tribe bloodthirsty of Yetis, who don’t take kindly to finding humans in their woods. The beasts are massive and fighting, and come at you from all directions as no one is safe from their wrath. The kills are plentiful even result in what may be the single best special-effects kill-scenes in all of HHN29.
Story - 4, AtmosFear - 5, FearFactor - 5
Ghostbusters - While the return of Stranger Things was a huge draw for Halloween Horror Nights, the announcement that Ghostbusters was coming as well took things to entirely another level. While Ghostbusters was hardly a ‘horror’ film due to the comedic talents of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson and Rick Moranis, the world of the Ghostbusters certainly does fit the bill and Universal has taken the time and painstaking effort to allow us to walk-through the world of the film and relive all of the classic scenes in persion, from start to finish. I’m talking about the discovery of the first ghost in the Library, a trip through the Ghostbusters HQ as Janine answers the phones, the fight to capture Slimer in the hotel, Dana getting attacked in her apartment. There is a spectacular scene of Dana, possessed as the Gatekeeper lounged on the edge of her skyscraper home, the sky crimson red, giving the classic line, “There is no Dana, only Zuul”, before she is quickly joined by the Keymaster. Before you know it you’re dealing with angry Terror Dogs, the appearance of Gozer (“Are you gods?!”) and even the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The sets are on point and the special effects here are top notch as they create free floating full torso vaporous apparitions before your very eyes, along with the use of heavy practical effects and projection effects, all the while managing to deliver all the right dialog lines you need to hear to feel like you are part of the movie itself, and end it all by walking out smiling ear-to-ear to the Ghostbusters theme song. Scary? Not too much, but damn if it wasn’t the funnest maze that Universal has created in all 29 years.
Story - 5, AtmosFear - 5, FearFactor - 3
All said and done, Halloween Horror Nights 29 just might go down in the record books are being the strongest event of the entire series, with an unprecedented mixture of popular content of interest to all groups. They hit the bullseye of current pop-culture with Stranger Things while tapping the vein of ultimate nostalgia in bringing the Ghostbusters so accurately to life. Mix in right amounts of disgusting gore, freaky harsh environments, musical fun, and wacky 80’s inspired chaos and I really think they nailed it this year as possibly being the perfect event that can appeal to nearly everyone in some fashion.
If only the fun could last forever…
Stay tuned, because if you enjoyed this review, I've got some video coverage of the event that I'll get posted later this week that will give you a great taste of what it was like! In the meantime you can also see more fun photos from the event posted below while you plan your own trip to see it yourself.