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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
The unofficial sponsor of HHN: smoke machines.
Fairy Tale Photo girls (note fake cleavage).
Scare Zone Day.
Scare Zone Flyers. At night, Scareacters swoop down from the ladders and buzz the guests.
More Daytime Scare Zones.