It’s time for the fog to roll in and the creeps to come out. Halloween Horror Nights has opened for round 31 at Universal Studios Orlando with the tagline of “Never Go Alone.” With 10 haunted maze offerings, 5 scare zones, and 2 shows to keep you running scared, there’s something for everyone to scream about. The event is back in full force without any distancing, barriers in houses, or plexiglass. And the ghouls are ready to play.
SCARE ZONES/LIVE SHOWS
An instant eye-catcher is the Horrors of Halloween. A pumpkin filled entrance down Production Way masking the closure walls around the now-downed Shrek attraction. Over 300 Jack-O-Lanterns welcome you all led by the Pumpkin Lord atop his pumpkin tower. Although he wasn’t at his perch each time we passed by, his royal throne was impressive.
New York’s Sweet Revenge streets adopt the delicious phrase “Every Day is Halloween” found on merch throughout the park. Harkening back to simpler times, it’s 1953 and the Mayor has plied all the town’s children with sweets. But these treats don’t give cavities. Unless you count the ones the kids carve in their parents. Giant parade floats and downed carnival tents litter the streets as adult victims and little trick-or-treat hellions run amok.
In New York, you’ll also find the new fan-favorite Tribute Store carrying on the nostalgia of classic tropes through several gorgeous rooms beginning for selfies. Along with every type of T-shirt, souvenir glass, and tchotchkes you can get your hands on, definitely stop by the bakery counter or have an old-timey wax figure to take home something fun.
Heading through San Francisco, Conjure the Dark features spells calling forth the powers that be from a witch high on a stage. As she recites her incantation, scare actors dart back and forth to bring you in.
Ghoulish! A Halloween Tale happens on the lagoon at the center of the park. Music times with fountains and projection give about a 10-minute show and something fun to catch as you’re trying to get from one zone to another.
Scarecrow: The Reaping is a walkway with scattered wreckage of an old farm. The corn stalkers are coming for your soul as you pass by their darkened corners.
A ghostly glamour covers the streets of Hollywood with Graveyard Deadly Unrest. The lighting in this area focuses just off of the sets and onto the spirits roaming in and out of the crowd. Lighting flashes from above give a brief highlight of the surroundings but you only get a quick reprieve from the darkness.
Halloween Nightmare Fuel Wildfire promises a hotter, sexier show than last year’s premier hit. And man, does it deliver! There’s so much happening at a high music-filled pace, you’ll want to see it a couple times to catch everything. This show will make you feel… things… in devilish ways.
In order of my faves, the houses I got to stalk through during media night are as follows:
The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare – This was my favorite by far. With bumping music from the titled artist and graphic, increasingly gory club scenes, this journey through the mind of The Weeknd was surprisingly impressive. Even if you’re not a fan of the artist or his music, HHN fans will be able to appreciate the sets and good length of this house.
Halloween – A true classic never goes out of style. We revisit John Carpenter’s slasher that started the story of Michael Myers. The simplicity of this house was its best feature and the disorienting ending definitely raised my heartbeat. As soon as you hear that iconic theme song you know you’re in for a good stab or two. Fans of the franchise will be well served.
Spirits of the Coven – Speakeasy glamour and good-time gals of the prohibition era lure you into this soundstage but only to bring you deeper into their coven. The actors of this house were what sold the story here plus the costuming and sets tied the storyline together really well.
Bugs: Eaten Alive – There was a lot of hype for this house when the park map was finally confirmed. What’s the one thing that pretty much makes everyone’s skin crawl? Yep – bugs. Of every shape, size, and species. And Universal found a fun and campy way to introduce how the infestation happens. Plenty of practical gags along with clever projections may have you checking your skin for any hitchhikers on the way out.
Dead Man’s Pier: Winter’s Wake – There were conflicting thoughts on this one from the group. With the use of levels, the look and feel of the space were really well done but I wasn’t too impressed with the scares, or lack thereof. It’s a beautiful house though, but I’m glad we had our guide to give us the backstory as we really wouldn’t have known it otherwise.
The Horrors of Blumhouse – Two mazes in one! Part one brings the movie Freaky to life. A bloody version of the usual body-swap story, you’re taken through scenes in close quarters that may have you turning the wrong way into actors, so be aware of your surroundings – at least as much as you can. A strange sudden break halfway through introduces the second half – The Black Phone. Our guide told us the actual mask from the movie was molded to create the ones used throughout this house and it’s another example of how simplicity can work so well. Several black phones are lit through transitions making you almost want to reach out and call someone for help.
Universal Monsters: Legends Collide – The Wolf Man versus the Mummy versus Dracula battle it out for supremacy amongst the Universal Legends. Really though, after a great opening room, there were a lot of mummies, a few werewolves, a lot of stringy fabric hanging in your face, and one Dracula. I was left underwhelmed (although I hear the wow effect was missing from our visit.)
Descendants of Destruction – A journey underground in NYC is a horror fest on its own. Add mutant dwellers coming for your soul and you have the premise for this winding maze. A couple of cool subway effects save this one from being further down in the list but, in the mix of all 10, it wasn’t very memorable.
Fiesta de Chupacabras – Every year there’s a stinky house. One where creative has decided to use all scents at their disposal in a single location to leave a lasting impression. This year, it’s Chupacabras. A beautiful city skyline opening scene invites you into a fiesta but you quickly realize – and smell – something has gone terribly wrong. This house makes good use of puppets around dark corners but shrieking scream scares and mostly macabre masked actors did little to parlay a full story.
Hellblock Horror – Ummm…something happened in the prison we go into and several guards yell at us to get out. Electricity panels are busted and the prisoners are a type of monster but we never really find out how or why.
Whew! Still with me? Ok, so a brief overview of the food and drink offerings. I’ll say stay away from the churro dogs (bad idea of sweet and salty) and get on the garlic cheese steaks – complete with black bread. The Fresh Ground Princess is a brilliantly packaged crispy treat that will fool your eyes. There seemed to be a lot more vegetarian and gluten-free options too, with lentils being the focus of stuffed coffin pasties and Lil Boo buns.
Drinks are always prevalent amidst this adult event including mixed cocktails and who can pass up Ecto Cooler beer? My favorite was the Burning Skull complete with tequila and Hellfire bitters and dressed with a tahini-dusted mango popsicle.
After a few years of Halloween Horror Nights-light with safety procedures put in place to even have some kind of event, the smell of fog and roaring screams of the masses is a much welcome return for those of us who celebrate Halloween every day!
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Orlando is now open and will run for a record-breaking 43 select nights through October 31. For more information about Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 2022 and additional Halloween experiences at the destination this fall – including the all-new limited-time “Universal Monsters: Gallery of Legends” experience at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort – visit www.universalorlando.com/halloween.
- [Haunt Review] Universal Studios Orlando Halloween Horror Nights 2022 - September 6, 2022