Not even monster storm Hurricane Irma could take away the shine from this year’s Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando, an outstanding night of chills and thrills spanning nine horrifying mazes and five scare zones. This annual event is open on select nights from Sept. 15 – Nov 4, 2017 at Universal Studios, Orlando. During the event, guests can also enjoy short lines at classic rides like Rockit Rollercoaster, Transformers, Men in Black, Minions and The Mummy as well as enjoy the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Diagon Alley and ride Escape From Gringotts.
Halloween Horror Nights combines a mix of scare zones and themed “haunted houses” or mazes to provide a fun-filled night of screams of laughter and fright. While the most highly anticipated intellectual property (indicating it is based on a movie or TV show) maze this year is The Shining, there is a strong supporting cast of screams with Saw: The Puzzles of Jigsaw; American Horror Story, Vol 2; The Horrors of Blumhouse; and Ash vs Evil Dead. As if those aren’t terrifyingly enticing enough, the original mazes this year include Dead Waters; The Fallen; Scarecrow: The Reaping; and Hive. Scare zones create areas between the mazes where guests can roam and and interact with scareactors and watch horrifying staged scenes. This year, scare zones include The Purge and Trick ‘r Treat, but there are other gems of fear as well.
Whether you are a hard core horror fan or just looking for a night of on the “Wyld” side, buckle up for a non-stop rush of fear and fun. This year’s Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando is one of the best yet.
Q and A With The Creators
This year’s media reception featured a chance to chat with the masters of mayhem that put HHN 2017 together: Charles Gray, Blake Braswell and Patrick Braillard. The team discussed how HHN manages to grow and evolve over time and two important themes emerged: Teamwork and Trust. In order to expand and include new and exciting intellectual properties in mazes and scare zones, the Universal team must build a tremendous level of trust with the production community. This trust leads to new partnerships and opportunities, such as this year’s featured maze The Shining and the ability to preview two not-yet-released sequels in the Saw and Blumhouse mazes. But to move these terrifying visions to even more terrifying reality involves every team member at Universal working to meet the challenges of this yearly labor of love.
One question the team skillfully evaded was which mazes were their favorites. And after our tour was over, their unified statement that they didn’t have a favorite yet was understandable. There are that many exceptional mazes this year.
HHN 2017 features five IP mazes based on TV and film and four original mazes. Let’s begin with the IP mazes. Four of the five are very good, with one outshining the others. The fifth has good parts, but some unevenness. Let’s start at the top!
Stanley Kubrik’s psychological thriller could be one of the most challenging mazes Universal has tackled. Faithfully delivering iconic scenes seared in the memories of horror enthusiasts is one ingredient. But equally critical is illustrating Jack Torrance’s descent into madness amid the supernatural influences of a possessed hotel. Universal has delivered both dimensions with terrifying beauty. You begin near the end – with a light snow falling on the hedge maze of the Overlook Hotel, signaling that Jack is already unhinged. As you pass through the interior scenes of the hotel, the hairs on the back of your neck will stand as you feel Jack’s madness spiraling out of control. The iconic scenes are all there to support the growing insanity: the old woman in the tub (my personal nightmare from both the book and the film!), the Grady twins, the bloody hallway, the Gold Room bar, and of course the spine-chilling shouts of, “Here’s Johnny!” Finally, we reenter the fully frozen maze and complete our journey – and Jack’s.
This maze is beautiful and terrifying, satisfying both your need for psychological terror and iconic scenes.
Ash vs Evil Dead
This maze combines gore, rock and roll and snappy witticisms into campy, fun scares! Fans of chainsaw-handed Ash Williams will delight in seeing their hero brought back to battle the Deadites, who are waiting around every corner. Even before you enter the maze, you’ll see the infamous Delta 88 outside, and once inside you’ll find yourself in Ash’s silver bullet trailer. Soon the Necronomicon, a trail of blood, and the sound of Ash’s chainsaw pull you into the middle of the battle between good and evil. You can sum up this maze with one word – Groovy!
American Horror Story, Vol 2
Last year Universal presented Vol 1 of the AHS house, featuring scenes from Murder House, Freak Show and Hotel. This year, we get the sequel, with scenes from Asylum, Coven and Roanoke. Each section is titled as you enter, which helps in the transitioning between storylines.
The maze begins in Briarcliff Manor, where you are greeted by the “crying nun”, a stunning character that, interestingly, was only used in promotional materials and is not in any episode. Still, she is an iconic image for the Asylum season and immediately sets the stage for what is to come. And what’s coming is the horrors of this asylum for the insane. Patients beckon you to play with them or jump out to pull you into padded cells creating a creepy obstacle course that makes you very happy you’re not an inmate…yet.
In the Coven section, beautiful tall witches welcome you to Miss Robichaux’s Academy. Perhaps you will pass the test of the seven wonders to see if you are the next supreme… although if these classic scenes from the third season are any indication, you’re in for a rough time! A highlight is seeing a levitating Marie Laveau and meeting Papa Legba.
Then you depart for Roanoke Island, where you travel through the swamp then into the house on Roanoke. Here, characters create a surreal sense of insanity and you will meet the Butcher and the first lady of the Roanoke Colony. She just may be the last person you ever meet.
Saw: The Games of Jigsaw
Billy the puppet greets you with an eerie refrain of, “I want to play a game” as John Kramer (Jigsaw) provides a chilling display of his infamous games and traps. This maze is an intense, rapid fire sequence of scenes from eight Saw movies. Yes – eight. The final scene is a live action trailer of a scene from the upcoming Jigsaw movie to be released in October, 2017. Most of Kramer’s greatest hits are here – the reverse bear trap, the scalping machine, dueling drills, and more. Watching live scareactors caught in the horrendously ingenious traps creates a visceral reaction in the viewer, punctuated by additional scareactors in pig masks always threatening to pull you into the action next. The one weakness of this maze is too much, too fast of a horrifying thing. It’s hard to take in what you’re seeing before you’re whisked along to another scene. This maze will take more than one trip through if you want to fully experience Kramer’s puzzles – if you’re game!
The Horrors of Blumhouse
The movies of Blumhouse productions provide the foundation for this house, specifically Sinister, The Purge and Insidious. As in AHS, there are signs helping you transition from story to story as you pass through the anthology. We begin with the house in Sinister, you immediately see the super 8 projector flickering murderous footage on a screen. Long bloody trails on the walls lead you through the horrors as you twist and turn through the house. Bughuul, (or Mr. Boogie) makes regular appearances, ready to include your soul in his collection! Of the three sections of this maze, this was my favorite.
Next up was a room from The Purge, a wonderfully graphic and terrifying scene. But as fantastic as the details of this single scene are, it is simply not enough to create a satisfying experience.
Insidious was a very long segment of the maze and felt repetitive, so was not as interesting or as fun as the first two. This created an overall uneven experience of highs and lows for this maze.
The four original mazes represent some of the true highlights of this year’s Halloween Horror Nights and are some of the best I’ve ever experienced. While I am listing them in the order in which I would rank them, they are all extremely good. If you combine the IP and original mazes in a comparison list, Dead Waters would be first overall, The Shining second, and Scarecrow: The Reaping third. The rest are an even mix in the middle and become a matter of personal choice as to favorites.
Set deep in a bayou, this maze is based on a former scare zone featuring the Voodoo Queen, and it is a masterpiece. Every detail is perfection, from amazing sets with stunning details, to great scares and a storyline that develops as you pass through. You begin on a partially sunken riverboat. Angled walkways reinforce your sense of imbalance on the listing, dilapidated boat. Swamp people try to drag you into their realm as the Voodoo Queen’s voice invites you to enter her dead kingdom, her dead waters… Moving deeper into her lair, you enter an area so detailed with sacrificial artifacts you could spend hours, yet move along you must or you really will become a permanent exhibit! In fact, the final room is likely those people that dallied a little too long, as many sacrifices surround the voodoo queen herself. This is simply a gorgeous zone of scares and thrills and is easily one of my all-time favorites!
Scarecrow: The Reaping
Traveling back in time to the dustbowl of the 1930’s, man’s careless destruction of the land has not gone unnoticed. Natural forces of plants, earth and wind have decided to reclaim the land – and solve the problem of mankind for good. This is another stunning maze where no scareactor is less than 6’2”! Before entering, the ambience is set with actual cornstalks (grown right in place!) and an old windmill. Once inside, you are surrounded by incredible devastation including dead bodies encased in plants. Suddenly you realize you are in what’s left of a depression-era house being reclaimed by the earth – along with its inhabitants. Roots hang through the roof above you and creatures reach through what’s left of walls attempting to add you to the collection. Working your way outside of the old farmhouse, the war of the elements continues as wind tears at you, deformed pigs try to add you to their slaughterhouse, and scarecrow horrors await you in a cornfield. This house is filled with unique and interesting scares, and it’s guaranteed to take root in your heart!
Enter 19 Hemingway Lane, Ohio, a house where something has gone very, very wrong. In this house, the trappings of normalcy – a dartboard, trophies, children’s toys, and more – are juxtaposed with coffins, piles of dirt and vampires around every corner. The mix of the normal and the horrifying create a freakish and unnerving atmosphere, punctuated by near misses from fanged fiends. They are even hanging from the rafters, feeding on those not so lucky to escape their clutches. This maze finishes in the heart of the Hive, where the master himself has a special message just for you. You’ll be lucky to get out alive from The Hive!
The final original maze is an ageless battle of good vs evil raging between the Eternals (the good) and The Fallen (the evil). Enter the very embodiment of a red, glowing hell where a huge, winged devil is ruling over him many demons from his rocky post. Lava-like glowing walls and outcroppings create an inferno maze populated by denizens of the Fallen ready to include you in their ranks. Some of the best effects happen overhead – so look up, especially during the second half!
There are five scare zones plus a roaming area of clowns with chainsaws near The Simpsons. Of these, three are particularly scare-worthy:
Trick ‘r Treat
This zone is the real treat, and that’s no trick. Imaginatively conceived and perfectly executed, this area is based on the movie of the same name. With his burlap-covered pumpkin head, Sam wanders the zone to make sure you follow the rules of Trick or Treat. Witness what happens when you take your decorations down before midnight, or take more than your share of candy. Every mini-story within the film is represented as you stroll underneath more than 450 hand-carved pumpkins glowing from the trees. Finally, a scare zone that rivals 2015’s Root of All Evil!
Mayhem and murder rule the streets of New York as the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) initiate the annual Purge. A huge school bus from Founding Fathers Middle School surrounded by scaffolding serves as a platform for a politician with a megaphone reminding you to follow the rules of the purge. The streets are filled with many of your favorite masked menaces – Washington, Lincoln, the Statue of Liberty, the Kiss Me girl, and more – all wielding weapons of various sorts, chasing the unsuspecting, and interacting with guests foolish enough to be out of doors. Strolling back and forth in this zone will provide endless fun as you laugh at guests screaming from the frights. And – just maybe – you might just scream a time or two yourself!
Go back in time to the 1960’s and witness a crashed alien spaceship glowing ominously in the wharf of San Francisco. Aliens of various sorts surround it and military personnel are running helter skelter as one of their own is currently being dissected for all to see. In this clever but all-too-short zone, there are some fun and creative moments. It doesn’t quite rise to the level of the Dead Man’s Wharf scare zone last year (which was also far too small), but is still good fun.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure: The Farewell Tour
Finally it was time to walk on the “Wyld” side. The Wyld Stallyn side, that is. Everyone has an opinion about the end of the Bill and Ted era at Halloween Horror nights. Some include tears, some include cheers over the conclusion of this 26-year Halloween comedy show. But no matter how you feel about the time traveling duo, this really is a show you must see. First – it’s the last one! You can’t miss it. But second – and more importantly – it’s FUNNY this year! Most of the laughs are brought by a Sean Spicer impersonation clearly inspired by Melissa McCarthy’s appearances on Saturday Night Live. It is hilarious. Brilliant appearances by Moana, the Avatar dude and the Grim Reaper make this the best Bill and Ted show in years. Even the hardest of hearts will be a little touched as our heroes say goodbye. So, Bill and Ted – thanks for a bodacious time, party on, and be excellent to each other as you return to 1991.
Academy of Villains: Afterlife
We didn’t get to see this new show from the acrobatic troupe that delivered thrills last year. I’m hoping to catch this on a future trip.
Surviving Your Night
If you only have one night to sacrifice for fun and thrills, your best value is an RIP Tour. You will get an amazing experience with wonderfully trained guides and see all the houses in one night with VIP…er…RIP access! http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/rip-tours.php
If you want to spread the fear across multiple nights, consider a Rush of Fear, Frequent Fear, or Frequent Fear Plus pass. Then you can plan to do a few mazes on each visit, slowly working your way through all the goose bumps that await. http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/tickets.php
And don’t forget – Annual Passholders get discounted pricing! http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/annual-pass-holder.php
Thanks to Universal Orlando and the RIP Tour Guides for providing a fantastic night.