When it comes to the Haunt season, one of the best theme park events has to be Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios. Each year they license horror franchises and characters creating some of the best haunted attractions on the planet. They certainly know how to set the tone and atmosphere for the season. I recently got back from visiting the park (in Orlando) as it celebrates its 26th year. As always, it delivered the goods and I was not disappointed.. If you plan on visiting this season, you should probably stop reading now; as I'll be spoiling some of the attractions. You've been warned!
The Walking Dead
Personally I'm not a huge Walking Dead fan. I watched the show when It first started, but slowly lost interest as it continued on. So take my judgement of this attraction for what it's worth. I visited HHN about two years ago and they also had a Walking Dead themed haunt. I was impressed by the attractions lay out (They build a faux replica of the shows prison) but this years was a little bland. The haunt sat inside of a sound stage with no exterior and the inside appeared to be made up of leftover props and sets from my previous visit. You pass through multiple scenes from the series. Some of the more notable ones were a female cannibal from Terminus slicing a persons throat and a room full of "walkers" surrounding you, which I believe I experienced on my last visit. Nothing groundbreaking, but I'm sure fanboys of the show will go nuts over it.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
I'm a massive fan of the original 1974 flick, so this was right up my alley! The exterior of the haunt was a replica of the house seen in the movie. The inside felt like being transported into the family's dilapidated home. Everything is covered in grime and animal bones (plus human flesh) I even remember it smelling like an old farm, though maybe I was just caught up in the moment. Each character is present: Grandpa, The Old Man, Sally, and even The Hitchhiker; who pops up early on and begins to harass you; fully equipped with his trusty straight razor. I got a huge kick out of that! Obviously the main star is Leatherface, He jumps out several times armed with his signature chainsaw and mallet. One really cool scene they incorporated was the famous steel door dragging scene. Leatherface hits an actor over the head and pulls them into these large steel doors. The screams and shrieks sent shivers up my spine. Very effective.
Lunatic Playground 3D
This haunt wasn't based on any preexisting franchise, but an original character Universal Studios created for HHN. The character of "Chance" is pretty much their take on Harley Quinn. She giggles and laughs and has pigtails, so it's pretty obvious who they're trying to emulate. The house itself was cool enough. You're handed 3D glasses and walk through narrow halls splattered with neon paint and more terrifying clowns than I could count. If you have coulrophobia, this definitely isn't for you.
Next up was a house based on the awesome 2015 film, Krampus. One of the first things I noticed as we entered was the Krampus himself lurking the top of the house. It was a really cool detail lifted from the movie. The rest of the haunt was exactly the same. They nailed the setting and wintry atmosphere of the film. Snow covered all the windows and rest of the house was decked out in full Christmas decor. It starts off relatively calm and quickly chaos ensues. You feel the dread slowly build up and that was awesome! I was impressed at how screen accurate the costumes/props were; specifically the Krampus himself, who makes several appearances throughout. One of my favorite scenes in the film, The Evil Gingerbread Men, pop up destroying a kitchen and wreaking all kinds of havoc. A little taste of Christmas in the fall made for a great haunt.
Tomb of the Ancients
The name of this haunt pretty much explains the theme itself. As you enter several tombs, Mummy like creatures demand you leave. The claustrophobic setting really transports you into these ancient ruins. The lighting was very dim and vines hung from the ceiling; which cause several guest in front of me to freak out. Other then that It was a standard haunted attraction with good scares and excellent ambiance.
Ghost Town: The Curse Of Lightning Gulch
To be perfectly honest I don't remember much about this house. We got caught in a storm for about an hour before entering. The air conditioning was on full blast, so that caused us to fear the drop in temperature more then the actual ghouls inside. In a nutshell, you pass through a western town as zombiefied cowboys and villagers attack/threaten you. Unfortunately that's all I've got. Fail!
American Horror Story
Based on the hit TV show, American Horror Story covers three of it's past seasons; Murderhouse, Freakshow, and Hotel. They're all brought together for one of the best houses this year! It's seriously that amazing! Universal was able to recreate some of the most memorable scenes from the series and it's terrifying. music, set design, and costumes were all on point as usual; immersing you right into the show. One highlights for me has to be Iris and Liz Taylor shooting at guests while "Hotline Bling" plays. Fans of the show will totally get it! So good!
The Exorcist, brings Regan McNeil's demonic possession to life. The haunt starts with a bang as you enter the iconic house from the film. A bright light shines through a second floor window, which allows guest to recreate the scene of Father Merrin arriving to the McNeil's Home. You then walk through several key moments from the movie; which all take place in Regan's bedroom. You get to see her levitating, thrash, and even the famous head spin. Father Merrin and Damien Karras make several appearances at they try and banish the demon. Two of my favorite moments have to be a narrow hallway covered in what looked like bedding and vomit (with both gross sound effects and smells.) The other is a faux wall made to look like a normal living room, the lights slowly dim to reveal a huge Pazuzu statue. This had to be my second favorite of all the haunts.
Halloween: Hell comes to Haddonfield
Of all the house at HHN, Halloween: Hell comes to Haddonfield is my favorite! A few years ago when I visited the event they had a Halloween themed house based on the first film. This year they continue with a house based on the second installment of the franchise. This haunt starts where the last one ened. Dr. Loomis shoots Micheal Myers (he doesn't fall off a balcony) and you continue on to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. You pass through several desolate halls stumbling across every character's death in the film. You even witness a drugged up Laurie Strode shooting Michael's eyes out. One of the most impressive scenes in this haunt involved an entire room burning, along with an extra crispy Myers reaching for you one last time. Definitely my top haunt of the evening. Trick or Treat!
The rest of the park it littered with small areas called Scare zones, basically they are brief haunts that are out in the open, so they weren't "scary." The two that really stuck out to me were a Homecoming parade made up entirely of blood thirsty vampires. The other was foggy/tribal like area full of evil voodoo type creatures and creepy men on stilts. This isn't the best descriptions of the areas, but there really isn't much else to them.
There are also two shows exclusively for HHN. The first was called Academy of Villains, which was once again universal's play off of Suicide Squad. The show consisted of people in clown make-up dancing to pop music; while explosions and fire erupt all over the stage. We watched a few minutes of it and got bored. Wasn't really for me. Next up was BIll & Ted's Halloween adventure, which I believe was celebrating their 20th year. The show is full of bad wigs, costumes, and tons of recent pop culture references. It really is a blast and you can see why Universal has continued to run it for two decades. All in all HHN 26 was great! If you're a Halloween/horror nut like me you'll really dig the event. No other amusement park does it like Universal Studios!