For more years than I can count, come mid-September, Universal Studios Orlando (Universal) holds an after hours, additional ticketed event, called Halloween Horror Nights (HHN). They set up houses in old studios or warehouses and do their Universal magic on them to make these houses into horror hell for the unsuspecting. They also have scare zones scattered throughout the park, so the frights are not limited to the houses.
With Stranger Things being so popular, Universal decided to make part of the overall theme for this year’s HHN the 80s. It does not run through all of the event attractions making it lose a bit of the cohesiveness it could have, but it does take over more than 50% of the event.
As I am no longer a Universal Orlando Annual Passholder (UOAP) and had done this in the past, I became the plus one for a UOAP for early entrance to Halloween Horror Nights (HHN). Since it was only 95F, it was going to be a warm adventure, and this one started with us parking on the roof.
This year, they are having more houses than ever with ten scattered through the park. There are also five scare zones, but not all in the same places they have been in years past. I was exhilarated both because I wanted to see what they did this year, but also because I thought I might actually get the crap scared out of me for once, as one of the houses is based on the 80s version of Poltergeist but more on that later.
As we entered the park, we went through security without issue. In every year prior, there have been issues with my entrance. Once they had an issue with a TSA compliant multi-tool. Another time they had problems with my phone charger. Two years ago, they wouldn’t let me bring a flashlight in because I might shine it in the park. Call me crazy, but the phones that pass through without issue, usually have flashlights built in. Incidentally, I removed my flashlight from my keychain, and I went to another horror event, and because that one was almost pitch black when my glasses were knocked off my face, I had a hell of a time finding them without my flashlight I removed because of the conditioning I experienced from Universal. On a side note, they did not have “flashlight” as a prohibited item on their list the last two years. I did not check this year because I have given up carrying anything on my keychain all year other than my car keys and Benadryl (thanks for making me conform assholes).
As we approached the park entrance, they had several lines forming, and it was a bit confusing where we needed to go, as this was a special event for UOAP, I pointed out the sign, and we headed that way. We were asked for the email that would gain us entrance and I was able to produce it pretty quick. My friend had to provide the actual annual pass, and then we went in. It seems they finally got the hang of things after doing this for a few years. It was very fluid and did not take any additional time as it had in the past.
We headed over to the Simpson’s bar where we planned on meeting a few friends and proceed to bake as the heat of the day was at its highest around 4:15. Because it was 80s themed, I decided to wear some of the things I wore back then. Stupidly I might add. I wore jeans and my denim jacket. I wore a very thin, white Iron Maiden shirt that made the rest of the day easier and tied my jacket around my waist, but over the course of the evening, it was sweltering as well as humid, and everyone else was suffering too.
Once they let us head into the park, around 5:30, they headed us in a direction that was different than the last two year. We had the option of going to one of three houses and opted for Slaughter Sinema. Although we were there early, there was still about a 30-minute wait. I was happy we chose this location to start because they usually have exhaust fans blowing into the line and with the heat the way that it was, that would have killed us. Once we got into the house, I was surprised at all the different movies they referenced. All were created for the house, but they displayed typical drive-in horror film tropes.
Once we were done with that, we circled to the next house in the same area called Seeds of Extinction. This house was filled with plant-based horrors. I’m not going to go into detail other than there was a lot of dripping from above. Usually, I would find that gross, but it was actually refreshing. I hit four houses that night, and I will say this seems like it might be one of my favorites. It was extremely dark and in a location as one of the first houses I did last year that suffered from the same issue. Coming in from the bright sunlight and going into the dark house made it very difficult to see things. I actually had to hold someone’s clothes to navigate and avoid hitting full or partial walls.
We then headed to Trick or Treat, based on the movie with cute little Sam. This was underwhelming. Not sure if it was a shift change, but it seemed unusually empty. After hitting three houses, I realized that the security/handlers were scarier than the actual scareactors. This year, or at least so far, they were not standing in lit areas or holding flashlights. These rooms were dark, and I didn’t see the regular workers until I passed them and they made a subtle movement while we were pausing for a member of our party to get over his frights.
Once we finished with that, the people that needed their smoke, alcohol, or rehydration fix spoke up, and we headed to Richter’s Burger and Chez Alcatraz. Liquor was acquired at Chez Alcatraz, and I went into Richter’s to get a refillable cup. My friend previously got one and said it was $16 for the initial purchase and $7 each night. I saw the sign saying it was $29. Because of the price difference, I was put off. We discovered there were two different cups. I opted for the second, more expensive one. It allowed free refills for the rest of the event. I used it three times that night because I was dehydrating. When I went to catch up to the others, I was stopped by someone who was a fan of my shirt and said he had never seen it before and he was a collector of Iron Maiden shirts. Apparently, the Phantom of the Opera shirt is rare.
After we all got our drinks and smokes (the others not me), we decided on our next move. We were heading to the Academy of Villians show but needed to meet other people. As our crowd grew, it became more chaotic, so keeping track of everyone was an impossibility. This is usually the case, and after doing this for years, we discovered 5-6 people is the best size group. Anything larger and it will not work. Once we reached the show’s waiting area, we were sent to the regular entrance because one of the members of our party did not have the UOAP early entrance wristband. One other member of our party didn’t either, but they opted to leave with the person I rode in with to go to a house instead before we actually made it to the non-early side.
I want to get this out of the way before I start saying things that sound disparaging. I admire, respect, and am highly impressed with Academy of Villians (AoV). That said, this show was out of place for the theme (80s) and was not as good as the last two years. I think because they had a bigger stage, they took advantage of it for production, but the production overshadowed what made them special. Previously, it was more intimate, and you could see the dancing. You felt like you were part of the show because they were almost touchable and you can concentrate on the group as a whole moving as one, or an individual dancer. This year they were all over the place, and it was like a five-ring circus all running at once. They danced in black costumes with neon highlights with a stage filled with a black background. Between the chaos on stage and the lack of being able to see anything clearly because the contrast was not enough to sort out what was going on, it was overwhelming to such a degree it became underwhelming. They did have some creative ideas, such as the laser fingers, but it didn’t highlight their dancing. They had a slackline dancing, but it was the same thing for several minutes and became redundant. They did have a few audience participation moments, but doing the wave, or worse, the Robot, isn’t the best idea in an auditorium full of people they fill to capacity. They did do a dance off with two audience members. As the stage was bigger this year, it didn’t seem as much a left-side/right-side battle as much as two people from the audience on stage dancing. They weren’t hyping it as much as they did in the past. I was glad I got to see the show, and probably will again, but of the three (keeping in mind last years was cut short because of Irma) this was not their best show. Still, I say this because it didn’t showcase their talents as the last two did.
After the show, we headed all over the place and tried to regroup. We eventually got a few of smaller groups that broke off back together and went to the tribute store. It was too crowded to get a good look at things. It felt like it was another house. Walk in a line to get in, shuffle through to the next area and then head out guided by security (“This way to the egress”).
After waiting some time for the rest of our party to escape the Upsidedown, we gave up and let them know we headed to another house. Right outside of the tribute store were three entrances. Two were an hour and the third 75 minutes. I suggested Poltergeist. I wanted to get it over with. When I saw the original movie (multiple times in the 80s because it was always playing at a friends house because HBO was frequently playing it), it scared the crap out of me. Between the evil clown doll, the maggots in the mirror, the skeletons in the pool, and the spider creature, I was not a fan. I just want to point out, I have no issues with clowns, but that one was creepy and evil and just makes my skin crawl because he was hiding in places that I used to keep things. I swore I would never watch that film again. And then last year, I randomly decided to watch the series, so I had to see it as it started the grouping. The second two did nothing for me, nor did the remake. There are only three horror movies I said I would never watch again, and there is a strong chance, I will be viewing another one soon as I watched a doc on it two weeks ago and the thing that bothers me most was not at all as I recalled it. I also saw they are remaking it, so I want to compare.
As we approached the actual entrance of the house, I realized I was not able to take the heat much longer so was about to suggest we leave after that house as my friend said the same thing a second before I got the chance to. I looked and saw it was almost 10 p.m. The event ended at 2 a.m. that day. We wussed out pretty early. So we waited, and it was actually shorter than the 60 minutes we were told, clocking in at 47 minutes. They changed the way the line was routed, and it actually looked like it was going to take longer when we entered, so it was a pleasant surprise. One of several to follow. As we got to the door, we were blasted by air conditioning. It wasn’t like the kind they have in the stores that you walk by and only get a hint of, they were chilling that house. Once in, we were greeted with a rain scene. At this point, I relished the water that was hitting us, unlike the questionable drips from the earlier house. We passed through the house and every… single… thing I expected to scare me was in front of us, to our left, or on the right. Nothing bothered me. I was fine. I enjoyed it. I really liked this house. It may be one of my favorite of all the events. I have only one complaint. The story order was out of sync. I don’t want to ruin it, but it did not follow the chronology of the movie. I think because I was exhausted and the rain was welcoming, as well as the air conditioning, I was able to let it slide.
On the way out, we hit our fourth scare zone, which was actually at the entrance and we missed that on the road in because we got there early. Apparently, they have a roaming one instead of one in front of the Simpsons. The moved the one usually at San Francisco to closer to Transformers. They had some there in the past. This year it is Killer Klowns for Outer Space. The other one we hit was a forest of pumpkins that looked like what would happen in Invasion of the Body Snatchers took over a pumpkin patch. While waiting by the tribute store, we were standing in Vamp ’85.
Except for one house (of the four) and the AoV show, this year looks like it might be my favorite. If they only had the American Werewolf in London house, it surely would be. ALTHOUGH, I saw Hollywood had a Universal Monsters house with Slash making the music. I am hoping we will see that one next year, except they call their’s mazes.
Here are a few tips in case someone reading this is going:
-Do not bring things you do not need. It will weigh you down, and probably make you hot (see below).
-Be prepared to sweat. It is always hot and always humid. Because of this, you should wear clothes that breath.
-Stay hydrated. The cup I mentioned earlier is an excellent idea because water is at least $3 a pop and you can get more in a night using either option of cups for unlimited drinks if you plan on going more than once.
-Stick with the houses in back and then moved towards the front.
Keep your group to no more than six people. Any more and you are asking for problems with keeping track of them.
-If you are planning to go to Stranger Things, you might want to get in line now for next year.
-Get there early, or show up late. Crowds are biggest during the middle.
-Wear comfortable shoes. 90% of the evening is standing in line, another 5% is shuffling through a line. You will be on your feet most of the night.
-Did I mention to stay hydrated? Don’t load up on alcohol unless you are balancing with water.