As a horror fan, Halloween Horror Nights has been on my wish list of places to visit for a few years now. Every Halloween, Universal Studios designs haunted mazes based on major horror properties that would make any horror fan drool. In the past few years some of the haunted attractions included: Halloween, Ash vs The Evil Dead, Insidious, The Exorcist, The Walking Dead, and more. These well designed, high budgeted sets immerse the visitors into the world of their favorite horror properties and who (as a horror fan) wouldn’t want that?
Last year, I was finally able to make it to Orlando and experience Horror Nights for two nights with my lovely fiancée Brandy. She has been several times over the past few years and was excited to take me, knowing that I would love being amongst some of my favorite entertainment settings.
The park was laid out with several scare zones (areas of the park where costumed actors and props exist to be walked through) and mazes (a more traditional haunted house affair with pre-determined jump scares and a fully immersed set).
The Scare Zones:
Anarch-cade – A street with giant arcade machines surrounded by futuristic neon lit thugs.
Zombieland: Double Tap – By far my favorite scare zone, the Zombieland scarezone featured vehicles from the movie, a large Zombie Kill of the Week Stage, actors cast as characters from the film, as well as dozens of zombies of various origins.
Rob Zombie: Hellbilly Deluxe – This is exactly what you’d imagine. There was fire, half naked girls dancing, strange creates wandering, and an electric chair being managed by a dominatrix.
Vikings Undead – As far as atmosphere, Vikings Undead stole the show. It was set in a dark park setting were fog isolated you from the rest of the park and made you feel like you were someplace unique and haunted.
Vanity Ball – An over the top plastic surgeon modeling exhibit gone bad. I couldn’t help but think of Bruce Campbell’s character in Escape from LA while walking through this.
Ghostbusters – Our first walkthrough was disappointing, but we just missed all the jump scares. The second time it was much better! The set design was amazing with it beginning in the New York library, going through the firehouse, and ended up on the rooftop with Gozar. It was a complete Ghostbusters experience, with Janine, the boys, and New York City all on display. It wasn’t very scary, but very cool to see in person. ****
Stranger Things – Our first maze of the trip, The Stranger Things was obviously one of the most popular and it was really neat. The rooms covered scenes from the complete series, although it seemed to focus mainly on the first season. It wasn’t very scary, but it was neat to walk through. ***
Nightingales: Blood Pit – This maze was an original maze featuring strange clicking Gladiators fighting creatures. The creatures looked very creepy, but the maze was lame. **
Universal Monsters – This maze featured all of the classic Universal Monsters such as Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Phantom of the Opera, etc. It was a neat maze to walk through and the jumps were quite adequate. ***
Depths of Fear – Umm… so this was a weird underwater fish cloning/creature science lab gone wrong. *
Us – I was really disappointed in Us last year (I was so disappointed, I chose not to post my review because it was so negative.), so this was one of our last houses to walk through. The lines were long and I just didn’t want to waste any more time on a franchise that let me down so badly. Luckily for us (no pun intended), the Us maze was one of the best. It was brilliantly designed and covered all the major spots from the movie and the use of clones in the simple jumpsuits really worked out well. ****
Killers Klowns from Outer Space – Next to Ghostbusters, this was my most anticipated maze and it didn’t disappoint. Killer Klowns featured a ton of clowns and all the iconic scenes from the film. There was a great use of shadows, cotton candy cocoons and oversized Killer Klowns who loved to get super close to you. ****
Graveyard Games – Not based on a major property, Graveyard Games was one of the original mazes and was very interesting. It was essentially walking through a graveyard with various ghosts and missing teenagers. I think the story that was told via a projector on the side of the building was one of the best parts, because it showed texts and social media that discussed the haunted origins of the graveyard and the children who went missing. ***
House of 1,000 Corpses – House of 1,000 Corpses was one of my most disappointing movie theater experiences and so I went in with low expectations and they were met. This was like walking through hillbilly torture porn and I’m sure it delighted all of the Rob Zombie fans. Like the movie it was named after, this was a bust for me. **
Yeti: Terror in the Yukon – This original maze was by far my favorite. The atmosphere was amazing as you walked into a cabin in the snowy woods and were then forced outside to be stalked by several yetis. The use of different levels, cold air, and some great sound effects made you feel isolated in this cold, scary environment. I loved this maze and it was one we went through twice and enjoyed both times. *****
The Live Shows:
Academy of Villains: Altered States – A choreographed dance routine that featured a very cool contortionist and a few stunts. ***
Halloween: Marathon of Mayhem – A water display that featured lasers and video broadcast onto the buildings as well as various timed walls of water. The event covered all of the attractions featured in the park which was very neat to see, especially when Stay Puft was projected on massive buildings in the background. ****
Transformers: The Ride 3-D – My first ride of the day and I found myself smiling through the entire event. It was a neat on the rails ride that did hurt my neck, but was fun nonetheless. ***
Revenge of the Mummy – I hate rollercoasters and this terrified the crap out of me. I don’t like not being able to see and I absolutely hated this ride. However, a few days later (and a few other smaller rollercoasters inbetween) I rode Revenge of the Mummy again and enjoyed it. It wasn’t my favorite thing in the world, but it wasn’t as bad as that first ride. ***
Fast and Furious: Supercharged – This was a letdown. A very boring ride featuring badly CGI Vin Diesel. *
Men in Black: Alien Attack – A fun shooter that I enjoyed riding on. It definitely made me remember the good ole days of Men in Black. **
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts – The Harry Potter portion of the park, the Butter Beer, and the walkthrough Gringotts was better than the actual ride. The ride was decent, but you really felt like you were in the world of Harry Potter prior to stepping onto the ride. I loved that and it was one of my favorite parts of the park. *** for the ride, ***** for the atmosphere
The Simpsons Ride – Last time I was at Universal Studios this was Back to the Future, a ride I really enjoyed. Luckily, The Simpsons Ride was quite fun too. I actually rode this twice and found myself smiling and enjoying Homer’s antics both times. ****
Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit – I already mentioned that I don’t do rollercoasters. I hate being strapped down and set hurtling at high speeds. I decided to stand in line with Brandy since the line for the biggest, baddest rollercoaster in the park was quite long.
As we approached the loading platform I began to talk myself into just riding it. I felt bad leaving her to ride alone and I don’t know, maybe I was just drunk on love, so I ended up hopping in the seat next to her and faced my fears head on.
This wasn’t one of those epic moments where my fears all went away and I realized that they were unfounded. No, this ride just confirmed that I hate rollercoasters and I will NEVER, EVER ride one like that again. Fuck that.
Walking around Universal during Horror Nights is a very unique experience. It’s dark and creepy, but feels totally safe. The park does a great job of promoting all the various movies they use for mazes as the gift shops are crammed with various merchandise for those movies. Even the few carnival games had a few movie related items. I’ll just stop right here to brag about winning Brandy a large Stay Puft marshmallow man in a bean bag tossing game.
Horror Nights is a blast, but it’s exhausting. It’s a lot of standing, a lot of waiting, and a lot of walking. Luckily, the park is large enough to give you distractions such as food, shows, rides, and so on, if you need to get away from some of the 2 hour plus wait times for certain mazes.
I’d definitely recommend not going on a Friday or Saturday, and prepare to be there all night to get your money’s worth. We were able to do all but two of the mazes the first night and a few of the rides. So the second night we were able to see those mazes, revisit some other ones, and ride any other rides that we wanted to and just take it a lot easier around the park. I loved the way we spread it over two days and it was some brilliant planning on Brandy’s part.
Below are some more pictures from my time at Horror Nights. I totally recommend any horror fan making the trek to Universal one Halloween to experience this for yourselves.