Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando is “bustin’” out with another amazing season of thrills and chills, continuing the strong 1980’s theme that began last year. Featured houses include the 1984 film Ghostbusters, Stranger Things (seasons 2 and 3), and the zany 1988 cult classic Killer Klowns from Outer Space.  But it’s not all nostalgia and neon! Ghosts, ghouls, and monsters ranging from the icy Yukon to the murky depths of the ocean and across the Upside Down are prepared to take you on a journey of fear. So grab a proton pack, make sure you know Planck’s Constant, and watch out for cotton candy cocoons!

With 10 houses, 5 scare zones and 2 shows, this year Halloween Horror Nights 29 is bigger than ever. Enjoy cool nights, great food and drinks, and shorter lines for attractions such as Transformers, The Mummy, Escape from Gringotts and more!  With so much to see and do, your best bet is to get a Frequent Fear pass and soak in the screams all season on select nights from September 6 – November 2, 2019.

The Houses

There are six houses based on movies or TV shows, referred to as Intellectual Properties (IP): Ghostbusters; Stranger Things (Seasons 2 and 3); Us; Universal Monsters; Killer Klowns from Outer Space; and House of 1000 Corpses.

Four houses are based on original content: Graveyard Games; Depths of Fear; Yeti; and Nightingale: Blood Pit.

While all the houses have good moments, two really outshine the others this year. Original house Graveyard Games gets my vote for best all-around house, while Ghostbusters wins for most fun.

Intellectual Property Houses

Ghostbusters

If “bustin’ makes you feel good”, so will this house! Universal went the extra mile on this maze, bringing in the original costume designers and set designers to authentically place you in the middle of the 1984 classic film.

Even before you enter the maze, the vibe is contagious – people in line everywhere are dancing and singing along with the Ghostubusters theme song.

As in the movie, you begin in the New York Public Library. Shelves and shelves of old books create a twisting warren until you come face to face with a beautiful recreation of the ghostly librarian motioning for you to hush.  But there’s no time for reading ghost stories…the phone is ringing off the hook at Ghostbusters headquarters! This room is a treasure trove of Ghostbuster paraphernalia and you’ll wish you could just grab a proton pack off the wall and join the team as they head to the Sedgewick Hotel. Arriving at the hotel, you have a date with the legendary Slimer! This is one of my favorite moments in this maze – the visual effect of Slimer caught in the proton stream is a great mix of live action characters and clever set design.

But Gozer is approaching and the Ghostbusters now have their hands full as all sorts of paranormal activity is on the rise throughout the streets of New York.  All the mayhem leads to the Temple of Gozer and a beautiful recreation of Gozer herself. But it’s not quite Miller time because this chick ain’t toast yet! Terror Dogs spring into action and finally you have to choose the form of your destruction – The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man!  Don’t forget to cross your streams to bring about the final, gooey ending (in which you can SMELL the marshmallow!)

There aren’t many “scares” in this maze, but it is a beautiful and fun tribute to the iconic movie.

 

Stranger Things

Following on the heels of the wildly successful Stranger Things house from last year, this maze takes on both seasons 2 and 3. While the house is still a good one with great sets that recreate some iconic scenes, far too much happens across both seasons to include it all, and as a result, too much is left out, especially from season 3.

Your first feel-good moment comes when you’re still standing in line. Everyone is singing along with Suzie-Poo and Dusty-Buns as they belt out the theme to the Never Ending Story, and Suzie provides the answer to “what is Planck’s Constant?” It is definitely a feel-good moment and you haven’t even started yet.

Finally, the familiar theme to Stranger Things is pulsing through the air and we enter the maze to see a reminder of how season 1 ended –  Eleven is in a classroom using her powers to banish the Demogorgon back to the upside down. We warp into season 2 and the Arcade, but the darkness and falling debris mean we are already in the Upside Down. We see Will looking up into the sky to see the massive monster overhead, and then he has more bad news for us – he’s coughing up slugs.  Dustin is having problems of his own in his room with his demodog, Dart, eating his cat. Before long we’re in Hawkin’s Lab with alarms, gunfire and a very very dead Bob… Personally, I was hoping the death of Bob would be played up a bit more in the house, but it’s over in a flash and we move on to season 3.

Season 3 gets very short changed in this maze. The primary scenes are Hoppers house where Eleven is fighting the monster coming through the walls and brief Starcourt Mall attack scene. No exploding rats, no old ladies eating fertilizer, no Russian labs, no Alexei, no Fourth of July carnival, not even a single scoop from Scoops Ahoy! Far too much is missing. A better choice would have been to save Season 3 for next year and do it upright.

Stranger Things is a good maze, and the scenes that are there are well done. But a more effective approach might have been to fully commit to just one season and give us a few more scares along the way.

Us

The Us maze is a tribute to the Jordan Peele psychological thriller. As we were about to enter, some people were leaving the house freaking out, and I had high hopes for a good scare!

The maze follows the storyline of Adelaide and her family as they uncover the results of an experiment that resulted in soulless clones – The Tethered – who were condemned to live underground, mindlessly copying the actions of their doppelgängers above. Red – one of the Tethered and the double of Adelaide – is dedicated to leading the rest out of hiding, killing their doubles and claiming a life above ground.

The entrance to the maze faithfully recreates the Shaman Vision Quest, an abandoned carnival house of mirrors that promises you will “Find Yourself”. Oh you will find yourself…and when you do the results will be terrifying! It is here that, years ago, young Adelaide first finds her double and sets in motion the events currently terrorizing people everywhere.

As we move through the maze into modern day, dead bodies are littering houses, killed by bloodied, murderous twins dressed in red. The twists and turns of the maze follow the twists and turns of the movie – including a creepy recreation of a Tethered surrounded by rabbits – until you reach the finale of doppelgängers in red lined up and ready to complete their takeover of the world.

The house is good – certainly made better if you have seen the movie – but could use a few more good scares. Like the movie, it’s more psychological than frightening. I left wishing one thing, however – I would have loved a mirror effect at the end where I would see my own face as a red-clothed Tethered holding a pair of scissors!!

Universal Monsters

Universal Monsters is a classic house that takes you on a nostalgic tour of the great monsters of the past. Entering amidst a garden of stone effigies (my first thought was it looked like they had been caught by Medusa!), we first revisit the story of the Talbot family who carry the curse of The Wolfman. As we move from area to area within the maze, we visit a host of famous monsters.  Within the rafters of Notre Dame, we see Quasimodo ringing the bell and reaching out to grab you as you go by, and then we are deep within the underwater caverns that are home to the Creature From the Black Lagoon. The Dracula scenes are some of the best, with a good host of vampire scareactors interacting with you as you pass through! The Phantom of the Opera, his hideous face no longer hidden behind a mask would like to bring you to his secret lair deep within the opera house (look for the chandelier!), Frankenstein’s Monster is rampaging, and The Mummy has risen in a stunning Egyptian set.

Each section is meticulously created and provides monstrous thrills, making this house a HOWLING good time.

 

Killer Klowns From Outer Space

Killer Klowns From Outer Space is a “FUN House” in every sense of the word. From the moment you step into the red and white striped tent until you come face to face with the menacing Klownzilla at the end, you have a grin so huge it looks painted on . The decision to devote a whole house to this film was certainly inspired by the popularity of the whacky scare zone from last year. Now these klowns have room to spread out and create even more mayhem!

When it comes to killing, these Klowns are not clowning around! The mixture of circus fun and dead bodies creates a zany and creepy atmosphere that has you laughing and shrieking in equal measures. The maze is filled with scenes from the cult classic, and even better, it is stocked full of scareactors bringing all your favorites to life! Fatso, Shorty, Spikey, Slim, Chubby and more are hiding around every corner.

The house is a feast for every sense – There are buttons to push that create funny noises, eye-popping sets, and the SMELLS… you can practically taste the deadly popcorn and cotton candy cocoons!  While you’ll want to avoid those, definitely don’t miss out on Killer Klowns – one of best houses for 2019.

 

House of 1000 Corpses

 

Based on Rob Zombie’s movie of the same name, this house is in some ways the scariest of all, perhaps because the movie itself is so disturbing.  Enter Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Madmen and – like the unsuspecting travelers in the film – buckle up for a ride of death with the Firefly family. Baby sings her creepy Betty Boop impression of “I Wanna Be Loved By You”, Otis reminds you he’s the one who “brings the Christmas candy”, and everywhere you look there are dead bodies. All with the backdrop of Rob Zombie music to keep your pulse pounding.

This house is a nice departure from the cute and fun houses and reminds us that we ARE, after all, here to get scared! And I can’t deny, I had an insane desire to count the corpses to the tune of 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall… (Is that song in your head now?? You’re welcome.)

Oh – and don’t miss the little HHN Easter Egg just outside the entrance – Bill and Ted’s phone booth!

Original Content Houses

 

Graveyard Games

Easily the best of the entire 2019 season, this house is the entire ghoulish package – a great storyline that unfolds as you walk through the maze, incredible sets that are a feast for your eyes, and fantastic scare actors at every turn to keep your heart racing.

Graveyard Games takes place at Ascension Parish Cemetery. Before you enter the maze, be sure to read the Facebook-like scrolling messages projected on the outside of the building. They set the scene for the story – two teens up to hijinks among the tombstones.

You enter the maze through towering arches and vine-covered gates into a spooky old graveyard. There you meet the obnoxious teenage boy determined to scare his girlfriend – and you – by jumping out with a mask, then taking it off and laughing hysterically.  He’s also been busy defacing the gravestones by spray painting graffiti everywhere. But the inhabitants of Ascension Parish Cemetery are not amused by his antics. Ghosts rise up and tombs open to release their rotting corpses – their voices demanding to know, “Why have you defiled our place of rest?” Better hope they don’t think you’re with the defiling duo because they have revenge in mind!

Soon, signs appear that the teens are facing their coffin-dwelling avengers!  Broken cell phones, discarded cans of spray paint and then finally the full horror of their grisly end materializes. You go, ghouls!

Universal Orlando and their creative team have created a haunted house that is definitely on my list of all-time fiendish favorites!

Depths of Fear

Depths of Fear is another fantastic original house by Universal’s creative team.

Welcome to Fathom Corp, who promises that their underground mining operation will provide safer renewable energy! Well – safer might not be the right word! Because during their mining operation deep in the ocean, something a lot worse than an expensive electric bill has shown up.

The entrance is a fantastic rusted metal tunnel, and as you enter emergency lights are flashing and a garbled transmission tries to warn you of what’s ahead. Passing through the tunnel, the walls are lined with TV monitors carrying a video transmission further warning that you must get out! The entire place has been set to implode to prevent the invasion of the monsters within.

The monsters are parasitic sea creatures, spewing their acidic eggs onto the miners, infecting their minds and driving them mad. Making your way through the underground mine, you are beset by the creatures and the insane miners, trying to avoid your own contagion if you can! Green acid eggs are disgustingly strewn everywhere, the entire mine is in mayhem, and not even the dog is safe – why is it always the DOG???

The maze has great sets and especially effective use of video elements, creating portholes with terrifying views and transmissions between the mine and the surface. The tension and terror build as you are reaching the final countdown to implosion, wondering if you can possibly make it out in time. If you do, let’s hope you’re not infected…

Nightingale’s Blood Pit

The Nightingales are shapeshifting banshees that feed on blood and show up any time there is a tremendous amount of it being shed, and this is their third time to appear at Halloween Horror Nights. Their first appearance was in 2011, where they were featured in the house Nightingales: Blood Prey. In this maze they were dressed as nurses – hence the name Nightingales – during World War 1, feasting on the bloodshed. They appeared the second time in 2015 in a tribute house – Jack Presents: 25 Years of Monsters and Mayhem.

In this third instance, we are back in time to ancient Rome and the Nightingales have taken on a more birdlike form than previous incarnations. According to the Universal website, there is a drought and it has been decreed that the bloodshed of the gladiator games will continue until there is rain.  Unfortunately, there is nothing in or around the maze that indicates this storyline or the history of the Nightingales, and it is this lack of apparent storyline that creates the only weakness in an otherwise good haunted house.

The entrance to this maze features a fantastic outdoor coliseum. Beautifully created with stone columns and flickering torches, it is a grisly site as a Nightingale feeds on a dead horse. Working your way through a labyrinth of cells and chambers under the coliseum, there are gladiators and slaves being tortured and killed, creating the blood bath that has drawn the Nightingales. The creatures are willing to bring you into the mix if you don’t watch out!

This maze features a fantastic set design and lots of scare-actors – and a LION!!! He was frankly amazing. But the lack of a clear story tying the scenes together prevents the maze from having the power to haunt you after the momentary scares.

Yeti

Deep in Yukon territory, a settlement of loggers and trappers is caught in a life and death struggle. Venturing a bit too far into the unknown, icy regions, they have angered a… a… (what’s a group of Yeti’s called? A drift? An avalanche? I’ll go with avalanche!) – they have angered an avalanche of Yetis.  They are wreaking havoc everywhere, and nothing looks as scary on white snow as red blood!

Icicle and snow-covered cabins contain the remnants of the men that once lived there, and as you venture deeper you even witness a Yeti disemboweling a live man! (Best part of the maze, by the way!) Yetis reach for you around every corner, determined to leave no survivors to tell their tale.

Scare Zones

Five scare zones are spread across Universal Studios, making your trip through the park a bit more pulse-pounding! Dodging chainsaws, Vikings, and crazed surgeons offering you a “facelift” makes every step work your cardio just a little extra. (I wonder if my Fit Bit could be set with a Horror Nights mode???)

Vanity Ball

The best scare zone of the year is the fun and grisly Vanity Ball, where the surgeon’s knife promises to create a whole new you! Just remember – beauty is PAIN, and you are sure to go through a lot of that when you face these hellish makeovers.

 

The scareactors in this zone are so amazing, creative and distinctive. They roam up and down the streets as well us up on a runway as if this was a Paris fashion show. The area is incredibly interactive and two amazing emcees keep your focus moving from runway to surgical chairs, where you can watch procedures such as a – very literal – face lift!

 

Vanity Ball goes on my list of all-time great scarezones!

Vikings Undead

Vikings claims the coveted spot near the park, a gorgeous tree-lined street that creates some of the best ambience for scare zones. And they don’t waste an inch of it.

A stunningly gory recreation of Viking sets and rituals makes for a stomach-churning stroll amidst some pretty creepy characters. Don’t miss the ritual shows!

Zombieland, Double Tap

As you roam these streets filled with zombies, don’t forget the rules of survival like –

Rule #1 – Cardio

Rule #2 – The Double Tap

Rule #3 – Beware of Bathrooms!

Rule #4 – Seatbelts

Rule #31 – Check The Back Seat

Rule #32 – Enjoy the Little Things

This is a huge zone and contains some great laughs amid the zombie fest.

First of all – truly beware of the bathrooms!! Three portable stalls remind you of this rule, but there is always a group of people standing around to see if someone is brave enough to try and open one of the doors! Sometimes it’s empty…sometimes it contains a zombie…and sometimes – well, just remember to try to avoid the splash zone!

Then watch twinkie-loving Tallahassee working on his Zombie Kill Of The Week. He starts in a carnival game booth picking off the undead, then ends up at the High-Striker (hammer and bell game) where the zombie meets his end.

Other scareactors (both zombie and human) roam the streets in a struggle between life and undead! A fun area that can’t be missed, so follow Rule #8 and Get a Kick Ass Partner and head over to Zombieland Double Tap.  Just remember Rule #17 – Don’t Be a Hero!

Rob Zombie, Hellbilly Deluxe

Heavy metal music pounds as you pass through this short but cool zone.  They have a lot packed into this area, and as a result the crowds make it difficult to pass through and enjoy it fully. My one recommendation here is – give this area more room!

Scantily clad dancers on high rises gyrate to the music as you enter the zone. On a stage you can watch The Doctor and The Living Dead Girl performing on stage. A dominatrix with a glowing 666 waits for you to sit in her electric chair. And hellbillies roam the streets looking for victims.

There is as much to do here as there is to see! As a friend remarked to me – it’s zone made for Instagram! Get your picture in a coffin, on a zombie throne, in a creepy car, and more!

This is the kind of creepy fun Halloween Horror Nights is made for!

Anarch-cade

This zone oozes the 80’s theme that over-arches the event.  Arcade games line the street among giant letters spelling out GAME OVER. This is a fog and neon light zone filled with chainsaw toting scareactors.

Shows

Marathon of Mayhem

Universal Orlando launched a new lagoon show – Marathon of Mayhem – and it is a feast of sound and imagery! The show is captivating, projecting images from featured movies and shows up on buildings and on walls of water rising from the lagoon. My favorite moments – watching the Creature from the Black Lagoon climb out of the water and witnessing the destruction of a massive Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (which ends with big white geysers of water exploding from the surface). It’s creative entertainment at its finest, so don’t miss it!

Academy of Villains
Altered States

Academy of Villains returns and is again featured on the Fear Factor stage. They have been packing the house for every show and with good reason. They are simply amazing.

This year has a Jekyll and Hyde theme – a scientist imbibes his own experimental formula to devastating results as he transforms himself – and then others – into hellish creations.

The incredible artistry of their dancing along with the music and featured acts seamlessly work together to tell a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Until the end of course – that’s when the standing ovation comes!

The 11th House

And here is an insider tip – don’t miss out on the “secret” 11th haunted house! The Halloween Horror Nights Tribute Store (next to the Mummy ride) is three full rooms completely decorated with wonderful photo ops and tons of cool merchandise.  It’s a no-line interactive experience where you can take all the photos you want!