Film Review: Eagle Eye
The Sunday Score: Last of the Dogmen (1995)

(Review) Universal Orlando: Halloween Horror Nights 2008

Poster 

There are a few specialized events I try to never take part in willingly: poetry slams, film festivals, food tastings, and especially haunted houses. Horror is easily consumed on the big screen, where the distance between the macabre and the audience is sufficiently tolerable. Take that dosage of terror and lend it a 360 degree atmosphere, and my fraidy cat heart will inform my legs to immediately sprint the opposite way.  

First and foremost, I apologize for the lack of quality photos here. Halloween Horror Nights is, as hinted so cleverly in the name, an evening spectacle, leaving my picture-taking skills in the toilet. Considering the photographic mastery that runs in my family, I was obviously left out during this important ladling of magic DNA. Again, I’m sorry.

Also, some of these pictures were taken during daylight hours the next day for clarity. Just in case anyone gets worried that Earth is rocketing toward the sun.   

Established all the way back in 1991, Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) has blossomed into an institution, with a winding, indefatigable mythology that would make J.R.R. Tolkien blush, and thoroughly blessed with a galaxy of fans who make the pilgrimage to the park every single year out of sheer affection for this convention of the creeps. The adoration for the event is remarkable, leaving me with no other choice but to witness the massive seasonal undertaking for myself. With a ball cap pushed down tight over my face and two pair of underwear sealing me up tight in case I burst out of sheer terror, I was ready to greet the top horror attraction in America.

The Map.

MAP

HHN takes over the Universal Studios (US) side of the resort, transforming an inventive movie-themed distraction into a dark, forbidding path of panic. Things get off to a dubious start upon arrival at the front gate, with guests encountering a huge LCD screen playing a loop of a shrieking Bloody Mary (the mascot of this year’s event) taunting the bewildered crowds to enter. The blaring Mary video resembles an obnoxious YouTube performance, kicking off the evening on a giggly note I wasn’t even remotely expecting. I spend the car ride contorted into multiple stress poses and this is what silliness HHN has to offer?

However, after entering the park, it’s clear the video was just an anomaly. With lighting schemes switched from oh-happy-day to oh-crap and new sinister sets erected to give the area uncharacteristic claustrophobia, the transformation from an innocent movie park to a living nightmare is jaw-dropping. Universal presents one marvelous effort, theming nearly every corner of the property with appropriate and quite thrilling dread.

HHN is traditionally divided into two methods of fright: the “Scare Zones” littering the walkways, and the themed “Houses” that steal space from several of US’s top attractions. Once inside the park, the Zones assume control, blocking safe passage to the sacred Houses with a horde of “Scareacters” heavily made-up into various ghouls and monsters intended to prevent comfortable movement through the streets, goosing the overall tension of the evening even further. With zombies, chainsaw-wielding maniacs, deformed ladies, and a whole assortment of grotesque visions, the Zones are the appetizers of the event. The employees are a real treat to watch as they burst out, fly over (!), and generally spend their time making the journey from House to House pulse-quickening and eventful.

Here are a few that I met.   

SCARE - Zombie  SCARE - Goblin 

The unofficial rule of HHN is to always ask for permission when taking a picture of a Scareacter. I found they’re all more than willing to add themselves to your personal photo collection for the price of a “please.” Nice group of people, those flesh-ripping harbingers of ultraviolence.

The Houses are a whole other situation, and since I didn’t have the optimal amount of time to explore each fright outpost to the fullest extent, I’m unable offer a true assessment of overall quality. Stupid “Eagle Eye” screening! Once again, Shia LeBeouf gets in the way of life’s little gems. 

However, it’s readily apparent that a substantial amount of effort goes into these expansive creations, taking haunted house theming to a whole new level. The premise of this year’s HHN is the aforementioned Bloody Mary and her “Reflections of Fear” conceit that sends the guests off to face their own psychological trauma. It’s the biggest House at HHN, and the most popular as far as I could tell.

Here are the other ones.

Creatures 2  

Interstellar Terror

Body Collectors  

Reflections of Fear  

Dead Exposure  

Hallow 2  

Scary Tales 2  

Doomsday

“Doomsday?” Trying to keep the event fresh, HHN typically themes a House to a recent Universal genre picture. Much like last year’s “Dead Silence” haunt, the HHN masterminds are faced with transforming another box office bomb few outside of the target demo have even heard of into a durable House excursion, and I was curious enough to take part. Without giving away too many spoilers, the encounter was dark, semi-coherent, and, unlike the film itself, impressively constructed. It’s truly an immersive experience.

Doomsday 4  

Doomsday 2  

Doomsday 3  

For more passive entertainment value, there’s a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” song and dance tribute to further encourage the legacy of that awful motion picture, and the perennial “Bill & Ted” variety show, where those lovable time-travelers offer up pop culture and political ridicule (think a live-action “Disaster Movie”) to the drunken hordes at HHN. Yes, drunken. If there’s anything more popular than the scares at HHN it’s the booze, which flows like water at the event. Provided everywhere to loosen up the crowds, the alcohol actually makes the evening into an unofficial game of “avoid the vomit puddle” and “don’t agitate the suburban gangstas.” Around closing time, it’s impossible to tell who’s playing a zombie and who has pounded down 16 of the “Scarrry Marys.”

Booze menu 

Booze 2

I can state with supreme authority that I’ve never encountered anything quite like HHN before, and it sets the standard for Halloween events as far as I’m concerned. It’s an incredible effort put forth by Universal, making the boo season a bona fide event. I now see why so many are devoted to the exhaustive experience. 

More pictures...

SCARE - rat 

Merch.

Merch 

Merch Shirt 

The unofficial sponsor of HHN: smoke machines.

Smoke 2 

Bill and Ted 2  

Rocky 

Fairy Tale Photo girls (note fake cleavage).

Fairy Tale Photo

Fairy Tale Photo 2 

Coffin 

Mels 

Scare Zone Day.

Scare Zone day 

At Night.

Scare Zone 

Scare Zone Flyers. At night, Scareacters swoop down from the ladders and buzz the guests.

Scare Zone Flyers 

Pumpkin Glow 

House 

Pumpkin Statue 

More Daytime Scare Zones.

Maplecroft day

Scare Zone Day 2 

Sign 

Ghoul 

P7150009

Maplecroft

SCARE - Igor

Click here for the 2009 Halloween Horror Nights review!

Comments

Lady A

So cool! It sure would be lucky if you got to walk through the place with a girl who was 10 times as scared by everything and an incredibly easy target for any scareacter that glance her way...yeah, that would be really lucky...

Audrey

EXCELLENT article, very thorough. I'm always on the hunt for detailed pictures and reviews of this event, because I'm TOO CHICKEN to go! haha! I dugg it.

Frank

Nice review,i heard some negative reviews that it wasn't that scary, i guess you have to see past the teenage employees in costumes and picture it as if you entered a haunted city full of real zombies and monsters.Universal tries to be imaginative therefore i believe the park visitors should be too.I live in miami,fl and haven't gone to HHN this will be my first time, thanks for the heads up on what to expect, The prices for alcohol are ridiculous!

kelley

going again this year...its an awesome experience. Take a group of friends and you will have the best time. Last year was a favorite looking forward to whats new this year..I will let you know after tonite..

kelley

going again this year...its an awesome experience. Take a group of friends and you will have the best time. Last year was a favorite looking forward to whats new this year..I will let you know after tonite..

kelley

going again this year...its an awesome experience. Take a group of friends and you will have the best time. Last year was a favorite looking forward to whats new this year..I will let you know after tonite..

BARGAIN BOB

I just went there this Thursday and was very disappointed. There were at least 4 times the normal amount of people there for this time of year. It looked like a sea of people, similar to what you might see of T. V. of some crowded third world country. The lines were so long there must have been well over 1000 people in the regular line for each haunted house at least an hour wait for each line. I finally got in and all it was a bunch of people in rubber masks booing you as you walk through all the while there was black lights and flashing lights. It might be scary for a child or a moron I guess.
I didn't even get booed once, not that it would have scared me.
If you really want to go there you must and I mean must get the express pass.
There were two line workers in each haunted house express line trying to get the express pass holders through and the express lines were still backed up. They would let about a hundred express pass holders through then about 30 regular pass holders through then repeat the cycle.
I went to two more haunted houses but they were just as backed up so I got out of line because of the bad experience with the first crappy haunted house.
All I could see in the entire time I was there was one real crummy haunted house, one Infomercial magic show wanting you to buy his book and T-shirt deal at the shows end. One trip on the M.I.B. ride The only bright spot of the whole time there!. And one bill & ted show which I thought started off OK with Presidential candidates parity but slowly went downhill because I didn't know all the very numerous caractures .
I was so angry with the whole crappy event I left a half hour early.
I wish I could get our money back. I certainly would never go there again.

kaykay

i agree, it was thee worst HHN i ever went to, and i been going every year since 1991. didnt seem liek alot of scareetors ( cant spell) and the lines were crazy!!!! drinks were way over priced and seems like they didnt put alot of effort in it, but the cheesy scarezones. so dispointed

amelia

hmm well im glad that i have an RIP pass for friday so i can go through the back door and avoid all lines, even the express pass lines.

Joseph

I'd do anything to get my money back!!! So terribly disappointing, will never go back again...the lines were ridiculously long, there is no way possible to get to see all the haunted houses, not that I wanted to anyway. They were not scary or even entertaining for that matter. Extremely over priced... no quanity and no quality! Save your money!

Ken

They should be ashamed of themselves. This was the biggest waste of money ever!! The lines are ridiculous and the characters phoned it in. Rubber masks and sloppy work from all. They start closing down an hour before it’s over and guys with flash lights are rushing you through. Plan on an hour at a minimum to get out of the parking lot as apparently everybody from traffic control leaves early. Not only will I never give Universal another chance at this I will no longer be buying my season pass. SAVE YOU’RE MONEY!!! Rent a movie you’ll have a better time.

Jason

I went last night and arrived just before the posted time that the event was to start and they were already letting people in - even though the sun was still shining. So we went for the haunted houses first only to find that the wait time was already 30-45 minutes. As the evening went on the park began to fill up so much that there were THOUSANDS of people walking the streets and nothing was scary. At about 9pm the wait times for the haunted houses was 75-120 minutes! How are you supposed to see everything when you have to wait so long! Even express pass lines were waiting because so many people had bought the pass. The highlight of the event was going on the JAWS ride at night.

ben

hmmm. lets just say four houses and five hours spent their. Two of the houses were over 85 minutes long, and they were horrible. Come on Universal! Rippleys did a better job making a haunted house in SC. They dont have a income each year of over a billion dollars. DONT GO even if you have a super pass or whatever. Not worth it even if you can skip lines. THe houses were horrible. I want my money back. They should have both parks open simultaneously and run it all week to shorten the lines!

jb

So I'm reading allot of bad stuff. One thing I can share is the express pass is worth it, you spend most your time inside the attractions instead of most of your time waiting in line. Sounds like some could plan better and are upset they didn't or someone didn't do the planning for them. I always stay on-site because of the many benefits. Great hotels, your room is your express pass (not for HHN), charging privleges, package delivery from the park to your room. No parking issues - park once and ride the water taxi back and forth. Sorry I sound like their ad. I've always had a great time, but I've always paid a little more and stayed as a VIP. Maybe you should too -

Jackie

Really good review - better than the one I wrote on my blog! - and the comments give a good rounded picture of what to expect. I had never been to a Horror Night before (we don't have this sort of stuff in the UK). I did enjoy the evening, but comments re the queues are right. I didn't notice too many drunks - but again maybe us Brits are a bit too immune or use to that sort of poor behaviour. I will put a link to you on my travel blog - www.tripinspiration.com

MP

Oh my God! You went to a theme parks annual event that is known around the world, runs limited hours each night and is visited by tens of thousands of people each night and are not only pissed off but surprised that you had to wait in lines? C'mon people, get a clue. Number 1, its a theme park, lines should be expected. Number 2, its an after hours special event so you should go in expecting even bigger crowds than usual. Number 3, it is advertised throughout the entire US, in Canada and extensively on the internet so guess what? expect large crowds and long lines.
An incredible amount of time and effort is spent designing the event by a rather small but amazingly talented and devoted team of people working with a strict budget and time constraints. Someone above mentioned that Universal makes over a billion dollars a year so the event should have been better. Guess what, Universal (like all major American corporations) is split up into so many varied sub-divisions that that supposed billion dollars means squat overall. The theme parks are but a small part of the company and they make absolutely no money what so ever from Universal's movies, dvd sales, music sales, etc. The theme parks make their money on theme park ticket sales, theme park merchandise sales and theme park food sales and this past year wasn't exactly the busiest tourism wise thanks to a rapidly declining economy and excrutiatingly high gas prices preventing many people from being able to travel like they have in the past. Less money coming into the parks means less money for events like Horror Nights to use.
Back to the long line issue, poor planning on your part does not mean a failure on Universal's part to put on the event. Yes, purchasing an express pass can help you see more of the event but to be perfectly honest one of the main reasons the lines at the various haunted houses and some rides are so long is because of express. If they didn't have to stop the main line every few minutes to let in the express line people and then keep switching back and forth the large backups would be greatly reduced as there would only be one line that would be constantly moving. Also keep in mind that no where is it written or advertised that you can "do it all" in one night. The event runs on limited hours each night as the park has to be open during the day for regular guests before closing, clearing out the day guests and then re-opening for Horror Nights guests. You have less time to see even more than regular day times guests have available to them and you honestly think you're going to do it all? Use a little common sense people.
The one thing I do heartily agree with that someone mentioned was the pricing. With the economy as it was there was no reason for the price hike other than Universal wanting to try and cash in on their most popular seasonal event to try and make up for a lackluster attendance rate during the summer. So on that item I do agree, they should have left the pricing as it was for the previous year's event.
If you're going to try and visit the event again in 2009 or any year following keep a few things in mind:
1. The earlier in the event's run the lower the crowd volume. They generally start Horror Nights the weekend before October starts (not always, but more often than not) so if you go during the first week or two there will be far less people attending than the last few weeks of the event.
2. There are peak and non-peak nights, guess which ones are less busy? Thats right, non-peak. Shoot for a non-peak night and there should be fewer people in the park and you'll get more done.
3. If you are local or live close enough to the park take part in the Frequent Fear Pass. It lets you go to all of the non-peak nights of the event for the price of a one night admission ticket. Over the course of those 12 or more non-peak nights you'll get to see everything the event has to offer and then some.
4. If you absolutely want to see every haunted house in one night and want to be assured that you will then buy an RIP Tour. It is a guided tour that takes you to every haunted house, the Bill & Ted show and sometimes even a ride or two and you wait in no lines at all. The guide on the tour will take you right to the front of each house and put your group right in, you completely skip the line with no worries of will we see it all.
5. Do your research, there are a variety of Horror Nights fan sites on the internet and Universal's own website (www.halloweenhorrornights.com) that can provide you with useful information about the event and what to expect and how to plan your visit.
6. Expect crowds and expect to wait in line. Again that should be simple common sense.

chris

im 15 and i went when i was 14 and i loved it maybe coz in the uk we dont have this kinda shit but it was a good night apart from drunks but other than that it was good i did 4 houses and loved it so there

luke

cool !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! DUDES

jada

i loveb it i went i was 12 for my bday present

Orlando Vacation Homes

I thoughtthat was a fabulous time last year. Graet pics!

ashley

i must admit, last years scare zones topped any otherf year by far. at night, theyh were fabulous and the actors really went art it! (granted i was there on opening night.)

as for the house though, i've gotta say it was a HUGE disappointed, aside from three that were good quality scares. the main house was ridiculous and the wait even more. 120 minutes to see mary and her house of silver people with mirrored faces. whoo!

the theme was not well thought out, they definitely could've put more thought into that aspect.

so, needless to say, when i left the park and gave input onto what other ideas they could use for the next year (several others around me not happy with the theme either) you'd figure they'd got back to the more original titles that made halloween horror nights fun, scary and not so cheesy. sadly, they struck back with the dumb "ripped from the screen".

i attended last night (second night opened.) and got to say the houses were AWFUL. only one exposed anything scare tactic wise. the scare zolnes weren't well thought out and the actors in the areas were often chatting with themselves as apposed to making the trip enjoyable for the guests. drinks were way overpriced (jesus, take a clue from the economy universial!) and the security checking bags were just plain RUDE.

overall a huge disappointment, aside from the rides. (WHICH, btw, if you think you're going to get the chance to ride the new rip rocket rollercoaster, think again, it isn't open for the hhn attendees!)

i'll definitely be trying my luck at busch gardens next year and that sucks too, i'll stick with the local shit and movies. you'd probably get a better scare from that anyway.

noneya

I went 2 the 08 one last year and really loved it! i see that some people are commenting about the long lined and are not happy about it but when i went i did not have the express passes and yes the lines were long but my opinion is that it was worth it. they were selling express passes there that could only work at 11 till closing time so me and my dad got thoses and the lines were way better. about half way through the night we met up with about 3 friends and i have 2 say itz way better when your in a group. i will deff go this year and im going 2 the chucky saw and wolf man one this friday oct 2nd i hope it will be as good as last year(maybe even better!)so u peoples should go!!!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)