A year ago I promised my friends that no matter where I was, I'd be in Orlando for Halloween Horror Nights.
In its 21st year, HHN Orlando is faced with the unappealing challenge of having to meet the bar set at their 20th anniversary. Using 21 to their advantage, they chose a luck- and gambling-themed icon to temp the masses. Lady Luck presides over HHN this year, warning park-goers that "the house always wins."
The "house" certainly outdid itself in terms of haunted houses. In Nightingale's Blood Prey, a WWI-themed house in which you wound your way through the trenches, stalked by monstrous nurses. H.R. Bloodengutz was a horror host who went crazy one broadcast, murdering his way through his holiday show. In the future world of Saws 'n Steam: Into the Machine, all the water has run out and a few enterprising individuals have taken to harvesting humans for their juices. The Thing takes you on a tour of the Norwegian Antarctic research station where an alien life form has infected the scientists. In Winter's Night, you stroll through haunted Hawthorn Cemetery. In Nevermore, Edar Allen Poe's darkest nightmares come to life. The Forsaken introduces you to the unfortunate souls who sailed on Columbus' fourth ship and were lost at sea, and The In Between takes you into another dimension populated by otherworldy creatures.
The entrance to Nevermore.
All the houses were equally impressive in terms of design, but some impressed me more than others. This may be due to the fact that you're always moving through the houses, and because of some unlucky timing I missed out entirely on the jump scares in some of the houses. The way it works is, you walk through the house and scare actors periodically jump out and scare you. Others get right up in your personal space. It's startling, unnerving, and loads of fun. But, because of the constant flow of people, not everyone gets scared; sometimes you see it coming, other times you just missed it.
For my money (I paid extra for the express pass--front of line, totally worth it), the best house was The In Between. It's in 3D. You're handed a pair of glasses before entering because parts of the house have been painted to create a 3D effect. The 3D combined with glow-in-the-dark set pieces completely draw you into the otherworld of the house itself. I also greatly enjoyed Saws 'n Steam, charmed by its decrepit steampunk aesthetic. Nightingale's was another winner for me, and The Forsaken made me think of The Fog, another great John Carpenter film.
In addition to the houses are the Scare Zones, spooky street scenes to help set the mood. The best one by far was Acid Assault which presents a harrowing vision of the future. Here, the "survivors" of an acid rain-soaked city roam the street while the buildings around them crumble into dust. Projected on the facades are videos of the buildings themselves, and they tumble as you watch.
This year, Universal added a drum show to the event, called Death Drums. My friends and I only heard part of it, and we saw the drumming apparatus, which looked cool enough, but we missed out on the show. We also missed the chainsaw drill team, not because of bad luck, but because they were noticeably absent from the event. Although my friend Sarah will disagree, I think it's shame we couldn't all be chased by chainsaw wielding paramilitary soldiers.
But still, the night was dead fun and I learned that my current knee-jerk reaction to being scared is to scream "oh Jesus!" while trying to effect a fetal position while standing.
Nightingale's Blood Prey
Saws 'n Steam: Into the Machine (was a scare zone last year)
Winter's Night: The Haunting of Hawthorn Cemetery
Nevermore: The Madness of Poe
The In Between
Your Luck has Run out (icon, Lady Luck)
Canyon of Dark Souls