Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel “THE I IN EVIL”, and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
Event Report: The 26th Annual Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando, FL!News Ken W. Hanley
One of the best things about the Halloween season is the variety of haunted attractions one can find locally, nationally, and globally. From Horror Escape Rooms like New Jersey’s Haunted Scarehouse to extreme haunts such as Los Angeles’ Blackout to all the wicked walkthroughs in between, fright fans can pick their poison based on their budget, location, and threshold for scares. Yet when it comes to haunted attractions, there’s a damn good reason why people travel from across the world to Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights, the haunted attraction arm of Universal Studios theme parks.
Upon landing in Orlando, Florida, a place where this writer had spent many summers with family during my youth, it was exciting to see the collision between the Florida locale and the spirit of Halloween. With nine walkthroughs, multiple “Scare Zones,” and plenty of eerie activities throughout the night, Halloween Horror Nights is among the biggest and best haunted attractions in the country, with unparalleled production values and a focus on diversity through each of their houses. Hell, even the set dressing gets spooky throughout the park, with the Drive-In Diner retitled “DIE-IN” and pop-up installations to keep guests scared as soon as they enter the park.
Luckily, this writer had the opportunity to check out a few of the horror-themed rides before kicking off the Halloween Horror Nights experience. While it’s still incredible to see Krustyland and Hogsmeade brought to life in the main park and its sister attraction, ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE, this writer gravitated towards the likes of THE MUMMY ride, which is a mixture between trippy indoor coaster and interactive elemental ride, and the JURASSIC PARK River Adventure, which is still much fun after all these years. But perhaps the real show-stopper was the newly minted KONG: SKULL ISLAND ride, which not only was an incredibly fun 4D experience, but featured some jaw-dropping animatronic work both on the ride itself and in the queue area.
Shortly before my Halloween Horror Nights experience would begin, there was one more horror-centric event that this writer got to face firsthand: THE REPOSITORY, an interactive mix between haunted walkthrough and VR challenge. Keep a peeled eye for more on that eerie experience here at FANGORIA.com later this week.
Following THE REPOSITORY, my Halloween Horror Night began with a bang, going through a “Scare Zone” that featured vampire bikers terrorizing guests (and yes, there were real motorcycles on display), although our fanged performers took some time to pose for photos with guests around dusk. Throughout the night, I’d experience several other “Scare Zones”, including a Chainsaw-heavy MAD MAX-esque roaming gang, ghostly mariners, killer geishas, and, of course, creepy clowns. So for those who think the horror in Halloween Horror Nights is limited to the attractions themselves, think again.
The first haunted attraction in my tour of terror was KRAMPUS, in which Universal brought their holiday horror hit to life with a mischievously macabre walkthrough. One of the more family-appropriate attractions in the park, the production design in replicating the home and creatures from KRAMPUS was insane, including a gingerbread-scented kitchen, and fantastic animatronics to accentuate the actors on display. For those who dug Michael Dougherty’s Christmas chiller, you’ll want to get lost in this haunt before your Halloween Horror Night is over.
Next up was one of this writer’s personal favorite attractions: the AMERICAN HORROR STORY walkthrough! Encompassing the “Murder House,” “Freak Show,” and “Hotel” seasons of the horror anthology series, the AMERICAN HORROR STORY haunt is not only commendable on its exceptional design, costumes, and gore FX, but its casting as well: Universal went out of their way to find frighteners who are the spitting image of their on-screen counterparts, adding an awe-inspiring level of immersiveness. It’s an incredibly fun walkthrough featuring all your favorite moments and characters from those specific seasons of AHS, and hopefully, “Aslyum,” “Coven,” and “Roanoke” will make appearances at future Halloween Horror Nights.
This writer followed the AMERICAN HORROR STORY haunt with THE EXORCIST attraction, one of the more curious walkthroughs in the park. With Universals’ “Hard PG-13” approach to their attractions, this writer wondered how one of the most transgressive terror titles in horror history would make for a haunt, and I was damned surprised to see how effective the walkthrough proved to be. With certain scenes replicated verbatim, the haunt captured the overall spirit of the film through the rest, exploring the demonic elements in tandem with the pea soup-spitting Regan replicas. With that in mind, this haunt comes highly recommended, although those looking to see expletives and cross-mutilation should curb their expectations.
Next up was THE WALKING DEAD walkthrough, which presents almost like a “Greatest Hits” guide to the zombies from throughout the series’ six season run. From the half-rotted zombie from season one to the Governor’s zombie fishtank room to Terminus and Alexandria, THE WALKING DEAD fans are sure to get a kick out of this house, especially with the impressive animatronics and actors on display. However, those hoping for a Negan appearance will be left wanting, and with the comprehensive and layered approach to the other haunts, THE WALKING DEAD haunt might leave some a bit underwhelmed in comparison.
After THE WALKING DEAD, this writer was able to experience one of Halloween Horror Nights’ original haunts, entitled GHOST TOWN: THE CURSE OF LIGHTNING GULCH. Set in an 1800s mining town long gone to ruin, I was taken aback by just how detailed and gorgeous the sets of this particular haunt were, perfectly capturing the “Spooky Old West” vibe. With gun-toting skeletal cowboys, undead brothel workers, and even canon-brandishing Civil War vets jumping out around every corner, GHOST TOWN felt like a ride unto itself, providing an incredibly fun and immersive experience from start to finish.
We followed GHOST TOWN with another Halloween Horror Nights original: LUNATIC PLAYGROUND 3D. Almost feeling like a Rob Zombie music video come to life, this haunt continues the existing mythology throughout Halloween Horror Nights of “Chance,” the demented clown woman who has garnered a cult following among HHN fanatics. Filled with bright neon colors, dancing clown displays, and asylum-esque visuals, those who still have Harley Quinn fever will definitely embrace this walkthrough, although this writer would not be surprised if LUNATIC PLAYGROUND 3D is the most polarizing haunt of the park.
Up next was HALLOWEEN: HELL COMES TO HADDONFIELD, the haunted attraction adaptation of Rick Rosenthal’s HALLOWEEN II. Literally taking place from the film’s starting point, this haunted attraction had a really phenomenal design, with each room poised for maximum scares while faithfully recreating the most iconic moments of HALLOWEEN II. This includes the nurse knife-lift, the infamous hot bath murder, and too many Michael Myers to keep track of; if you’re a HALLOWEEN franchise die-hard, this walkthrough will keep a wicked grin on your face.
This writer followed our Haddonfield experience with something a bit more exotic, as I made my way towards the final original haunt of Halloween Horror Nights: TOMB OF THE ANCIENTS. A claustrophobic experience where you come face to face with angry ancient gods, this writer has to admit that the impressive prosthetic make-up on display is good enough reason to catch this eerie attraction, let alone the animatronic beasts and solid production design. Furthermore, with nowhere to run, TOMB OF THE ANCIENTS also gets extra credit as the house where you’re most likely to see your friends squirm!
With one house left, FANGORIA decided to end the Halloween Horror Nights experience with a bang, entering the TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE walkthrough. Emulating the aesthetics of the original 1974 film, from the rancid smell to pitch-perfect set dressing, this haunted attraction was the real deal, complete with multiple Leatherfaces, blood-letting hitchhikers, and every iconic moment brought to life with stunning detail. But even beyond that, this TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE haunt has a few surprises up its sleeve in its final stretch, too good to ruin here.
Overall, this writer must admit that he was completely blown away by Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights. Running every night until October 31st, Halloween Horror Nights offers thrilling rides, legitimately breath-taking haunted attractions, and more frightening fun than one can shake a stick at, allowing horrorheads to get the most bang for their buck. And considering how impressive this event has been for its 26th year, one can only imagine what they’ve got in store for the years to come.
For tickets and information, visit the official website for Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando, Florida, HERE.