Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios just got a whole lot Stranger… Universal Orlando’s annual spookfest featuring “haunted houses” (mazes), scare zones, live performances, and over 1200 “scareactors” rips a hole into another realm with their featured house Stranger Things, based on the Netflix original series. On select nights from September 14 – November 3, you can turn your world Upside-Down with more houses than ever before – TEN, including Poltergeist, Trick R Treat, and Stranger Things – while enjoying cooler nights, great food and drinks, and shorter lines for rides like Rock-it Roller Coaster and Escape from Gringotts.

Hey – friends don’t lie! Grab your Eggos and your walkie-talkies get ready for the strangest Halloween Horror Nights yet!

The Houses

Not only are there more houses this year, but the quality of the screams is higher than ever.

There are five houses based on Intellectual Properties (IP) – Stranger Things, Poltergeist, Halloween 4, Trick R Treat, and The Horrors of Blumhouse – and five original content houses – Carnival Graveyard: Rust In Pieces, Scary Tales: Deadly Ever After, Dead Exposure: Patient Zero, Seeds of Extermination, and Slaughter Sinema.  Starting at the top is difficult as four of them vie for the top spot. But I have to start with…

Stranger Things

Stepping into this house is like stepping into the show itself. It is one of the most immersive experiences Universal has ever put together.  Alarms blaring in Hawkins Lab and the scary chirping of the Demogorgon immediately let you know that you’re in trouble.  And you are. The Demogorgon lurks around every corner! Entering the Byers house with Christmas lights blinking madly pulls you deeper into the thrills and then – we go through the gate and enter the Upside-Down! The eerie floating debris surrounds us as Nancy searches for Barb, and Hop and Joyce call frantically for Will. And still, we are hunted by the Demogorgon at every turn – until Eleven saves the day!

You’ll see all the main characters, carefully cast to look amazingly like the onscreen actors. The set is incredibly faithful to the show, as Netflix shared actual blueprints of the sets with HHN creators. And nothing in the house – no prop or decoration – dates after 1984!

Still wondering if you should go to this house? Let me spell it out for you in Christmas lights… R – U – N to see it!

Poltergeist

The home of Stephen and Diane Freeling was built on a former cemetery. The problem is – the bodies were never moved! So begins the story of a supernatural haunting that pulls their youngest daughter Carol Anne into an alternate dimension.

This is another expertly created house, but rather than just show us what we already know from the 1982 film, we get to experience other dimensions of the story. As you enter, you’ll see the outside of the Freeling house, already firmly in the grips of the Poltergeist, as Stephen is shouting about the bodies never being removed from the cemetery. Then we go UNDER the house and meet the corpses! We finally emerge and Carol Anne is staring at the TV, letting us know – They’re Here! Inside the house, mayhem is everywhere and of course – the scariest room belongs to son Robbie. The clown…the clown… NOOOOOOOO!

Tangina appears warning us not to go into the light – but what do we do?? We…go…into…the…light. Again showing us content not in the film, these scenes are cool and eerie, and if you didn’t like the clown in Robbie’s room…well buckle up.

Will this house ever be clean? Face the Poltergeists and find out for yourself.

Scary Tales: Deadly Ever After

Next on my wicked count down is an original house (not based on TV or movie). This house is simply STUNNING. Remember – these first four houses could ALL be #1, and when you see this house you’ll know why.

The plot behind this delight is that the Wicked Witch of the West has cursed the land of fairy tales. Good characters have become bad…bad characters have become worse.

The first setting is so amazing you’ll want to stand there all night. A castle looms before you and the Wicked Witch of the West is flying overhead, shouting her warnings and her curses! You head into the dungeon, and poor Dorothy has certainly seen better days. We’re DEFINITELY not in Kansas – or even OZ – anymore.

You’ve never seen fairy tale characters like these. The three pigs have exacted a little revenge on the big bad wolf, but they don’t seem to be making distinctions on who might be next on the chopping block. Rapunzel, Goldilocks, Humpty Dumpty and more are all there to remind you that in this house, there IS NO happily ever after.

Carnival Graveyard: Rust in Pieces

Rounding out the four-way tie for best house is Carnival Graveyard. It’s hard to capture in words the mix of rusted and busted rides, creepy amusement park signs and dead bodies that make this house a visual feast. Show creators Charles Gray, Blake Braswell and Patrick Braillard told us that they emptied the warehouses to fill this maze – NO KIDDING.

This carnival may have once hosted happy fun-seekers, but not anymore. FUN IS DEAD. And this place might be abandoned – but it’s not empty. What is left inhabiting this rotting house of horrors does NOT want you here. The scares really get  you in this house because you’re so distracted by the sheer amount of stuff to look at, you don’t see them coming!

You’ll want to go through this house over and over again just to see all the stuff Universal has packed in there. (Including, we were told, a Dueling Dragons sign! Sorry…too soon? I’ll be back to look for it!)

Trick R Treat

Based on the 2007 film, this house is a follow up to a scare zone from last year’s Halloween Horror Nights event. While not in my first place rankings, it is definitely a very good house but how much you enjoy it may depend on whether you’ve seen the movie. The scenes may appear disjointed and unconnected if you don’t know the story.

The premise of Trick R Treat is that you must follow the rules of Halloween, or pay the price – exacted by pumpkin-headed goblin Sam.  What are the rules?

  1. Wear a costume
  2. Hand out treats
  3. Never blow out a jack o lantern
  4. Always check your candy

As we enter the maze, we are transported to Warren Valley, Ohio. It is Halloween night and we see a house decorated with lit pumpkins. It is the house of Mr. Kreeg, who likes to scare kids away and take their candy! Only, Sam doesn’t like it when you break the rules. And Mr. Kreeg is about to have a very bad night.

Moving on to Principal Wilkins place, a boy named Charlie has broken another rule. He didn’t check his candy, which turns out to be poisoned. We see him sick on the steps of the principal’s house, then after he dies, his head will become the newest jack-o-lantern.

We meet a group of werewolves in the forest who have mastered rule #1 – wear a costume so you blend in. And – one of the coolest recreations of this house – we see the school bus that crashed and sank in the old rock quarry.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know these storylines eventually tie together. If you haven’t, you may wonder why the house seems to jump from place to place. But either way, this house is a real TREAT. So let’s add a 5th rule to Halloween – Go see this house (or Sam will be VERY unhappy!)

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

Michael Myers has been comatose in an insane asylum for 10 years, but awakens to stalk his 7-year-old niece. While we don’t see much of the niece, you will hardly walk 5 steps between various incarnations of the man in the mask!

You enter in the asylum, and hear someone talking about how he ended up there in a coma after being shot 6 times and set on fire. The other inmates have a creepy welcome for you so be warned! But Michael has awoken and is beginning his bloody breakout. From there he leaves a trail of carnage looking for his niece. One of the best scares comes when you are most distracted! I won’t give it away, but let’s just say someone next to me screamed!

We’re left with a final bloody showdown before we escape. But don’t worry – if he can survive up to this point, we’re sure there will be yet another return of Michael Myers.

The Horrors of Blumhouse

Based on two movies – Happy Death Day and The First Purge – this house has some sweet surprises – although I wouldn’t eat the cupcake if I were you.

Happy Death Day is often described as Groundhog Day meets Scream, and that is apt. A girl called Tree (Theresa) is murdered on her birthday, but keeps waking the next morning to the exact same scene as she tries to figure out who is killing her.

 

The first part of this house is set up to give you that same déjà vu sensation, as you walk into the same dorm room over and over again to find Tree killed in different ways each time. Her killer – hidden behind a baby mask – stalks you too as you relive Tree’s birthday – or death day – over and over. It is a fun and gruesome and you’ll definitely feel the experience of the time loop!

The second – though significantly shorter – part of the Blumhouse is based on The First Purge. While it’s good with lots of scares, it felt that it ended just as it was beginning.

Dead Exposure: Patient Zero

An original house, this is a follow up to the maze Dead Exposure from 2008. The concept is excellent and the team has achieved some awesome and disorienting effects.

The scene is Paris, 1982. The military has quarantined the area against a zombie invasion – but luckily there IS a vaccine that can save you! You just have to inhale the mist. There is one TINY side effect…you will temporarily go blind. Lost in the darkness, the dead will hunt you and fear WILL infect you.  This house gives a whole new meaning to the term blind terror!

As you approach this maze, you can see the strobe lights illuminating the medical tents and the warning signs that the inoculation is required. You are encouraged to breathe deeply as you past through this mist – but then your vision starts to go in and out. Everything turns to black and white and strobe lights allow you to only see in spurts. It’s an amazing effect, but very disorienting. You pass through wonderfully recreated sections of Paris – the catacombs and beautiful Paris streets – all beset by zombies. Hopefully, your inoculation is working. Finally, color begins to return to your vision – but will you still escape Patient Zero? Time will tell.

The extreme lighting in this house is both blessing and curse. It truly serves the story line and creates an effect like no other. But if you’re light sensitive, you may have to give this one a pass.

Slaughter Sinema

This original house is based on a drive-in movie concept, where you become part of a series of B-slasher flicks! Each setting is preceded by a movie poster setting up the scene you will enter. Films like Cult of the Beast Baby, Amazon Cannibals from Planet Hell, Pumpkin Guts, and more jump off the silver screen and into your nightmares. My favorites? Midnight Snack and Barber Chop!

Filled with loads of 80’s references, this maze is a ton of fun and delivers as many laughs as it does screams. This is a don’t-miss house.

Seeds of Extinction

A cataclysmic meteor has struck the Earth and all human life has been destroyed. In the span of just a few days, something monstrous has taken root. Plants are everywhere and have turned into devouring monsters. Your mom may have told you to eat your veggies – but did she ever tell you what to do when they try to eat you?

This house is good, but unfortunately wilts in comparison to last year’s Scarecrow: The Reaping, which is in many ways similar.  Scarecrow was such a powerhouse experience, I was expecting more from this one and left entertained but a little disappointed.

 

Scare Zones

One of the highlights of any Halloween Horror Nights event is just walking the streets of Universal Studios and soaking up the ambience of the scare zones.

If you haven’t caught the theme yet, there is a distinctive 80’s vibe to HHN28. With Stranger Things anchoring this year’s haunt-fest, the 80’s show up in many houses and scare zones, with the most fun zone being:

Vamp ’85

It’s December 31, 1984 and the ball is dropping at midnight. Vampires descend on the party creating bloody mayhem while 80’s music pulses like it’s Studio 54. And trust me – it’s been a rough night at the disco! If you thought punk looked bad in the 80’s wait until you see it now!

All your favorite 80’s stars – Prince, Madonna and more – are now night-walking vampires, looking to add you to their legion of fans. But the best moment is when a vampire dance crew gets on stage and dances to Thriller!  This zone with its high energy music and lights, punctuated by the frequent screams, is a place you could party all night! At least until the sun rises…

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Let’s face it – clowns are creepy. But these Klowns will wrap you in a cocoon of cotton candy and eat you! Beware as you walk through this zone, filled with zany props, ice cream trucks and oversize clowns. If you love the movie, you’ll love this zone. If you hate clowns…you have been warned!

 

Revenge of Chucky

The Good Guys dolls smile down at you, inviting you to play. They just want to be your best friends! Until Chucky possesses the toys! Now the toys walk the streets, terrorizing everyone in their path.

Chucky also regularly appears, heckling the crowd and then performing an ancient curse that will add you to his legions of minions. It doesn’t hurt…much…so jump right in and join the crowd!

My favorite? The Saf-T-Bake (think Easy Bake Oven), which is apparently NOT so safe anymore… Super fun and clever, this zone is a bloody good time!

 

Twisted Tradition and The Harvest

These two zones kind of run together and work well next to each other.

The giant, stilt-walking jack-o-lantern will make you gasp from afar as he glows menacingly among a street is lined with hundreds and hundreds of lit pumpkins. Beautiful and creepy, every tradition of Halloween has been turned inside out by an ancient evil. Twisted Tradition is a twisted delight.

A creepy old barn…bales of hay…what could go wrong in The Harvest? A lot.  The barn itself is a thing of beauty, with an old rusted truck out front. The Harvest might be looking to collect more than hay…maybe a soul or two is on the line.

 

Academy of Villains: Cyberpunk

No review of Halloween Horror Nights 2018 would be complete without a standing ovation to Academy of Villains. Last year, their show was seriously hampered by damage from Hurricane Irma. This year, they have roared back to reclaim their throne.

Now utilizing the Fear Factor stage, they finally have a setting where everyone can really see their theatrics, and they have the space and time to tell a well-developed storyline through their dancing and acrobatics.

A post-apocalyptic world is the setting, with cybers vs. humans. The battle is on as humans reclaim the world. Amazing energy, lasers, tightropes and pyrotechnics – Academy of Villains are my heroes! This is a show you’ll want to visit every time you come to Halloween Horror Nights.

How To Face Your Fears

If you only have one life – I mean one NIGHT – to give, don’t kill yourself waiting in line. Consider the RIP tour or an express pass. https://orlando.halloweenhorrornights.com/site/hhn/products/extras

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.https://orlando.halloweenhorrornights.com/site/hhn/products/event-tickets

And don’t forget – Annual Passholders get discounted pricing!  https://orlando.halloweenhorrornights.com/site/hhn/products/uoap-offers

So – don’t be a Stranger! See you at Halloween Horror Nights 2018!