If you needed something to signal the official countdown to Halloween it would be Universal’s annual Halloween Horror Nights, which simultaneously takes place in both Hollywood and Orlando parks. While every state in the country is blessed with various haunts and mazes, Universal is the only one that’s jam-packed with licensed properties from all of the biggest horror films. Armed with a studio and theme park-sized budget, Horror Nights always delivers the terrifying goods on an epic scale and drops fans directly into their favorite genre films. While I’ve been blessed to have been to Horror Nights Hollywood on several occasions, this was the first time I experienced the event in Orlando, and it did not disappoint.
While Hollywood opens with a glamorous red carpet affair, Orlando is a more communal experience that bleeds all over the park. As Horror Nights marks the beginning of the Halloween season for myself, it’s the same for tens of thousands of locals who pile into the park to wait up to four hours just to experience these incredible mazes together. It’s a celebration of our holiday season that’s shared from soul to soul who high-five each other as they exit each attraction and wish the next group the best of luck.
This past Friday, the fans in Orlando showed their dedication by braving 100% humidity (that felt like 107 degrees), waiting in massive lines to walk through “American Horror Story: Volume 2”, “SAW: The Games of Jigsaw”, “The Shining”, and “Ash vs Evil Dead” mazes, and to bid farewell to the annual “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure” show that’s become a Horror Nights staple. The latter was an unexpected celebration, a jam-packed and electric crowd that screamed and cheered (and even cried) for the pop culture-themed show that will end its astounding 26-year run this season. In a world filled with so much tension, it was pleasing to witness everyone being excellent to each other…
Orlando’s Horror Nights feels much larger than Hollywood’s, filling the streets with performers and five massive scare zones. The highlight, of course, was the strip dedicated to Michael Dougherty’s anthology Trick ‘r Treat and the stories within the film. With pumpkins hanging from the trees, several characters could be seen stalking victims while Sam could be seen popping up with his pumpkin-candy in more than one spot. You can watch our walkthrough of the scare zone over on Facebook.
It was quite exciting experiencing The Purge scare zone, a chaos-filled New York strip that is populated with iconic imagery from the film and flickering signs warning of the 24-hour Purge.
My personal favorite was Invasion!, a throwback to 1955 where aliens have crash-landed into the park and are abducting human for horrific experiments. The vibrant UFO prop was mighty impressive and I loved the mixture of different kinds of aliens that would approach and scare you. It’s also one of the more colorful scare zones that lights up the night.
While scare zones keep it fun while grabbing a Halloween-themed drink and walking between each attraction, the main events are the mazes that are a mix between famous horror properties and original creations made exclusively for the park. There is, however, a surprising difference between Orlando and Hollywood – while the Los Angeles-based event wraps a story around each maze (with a beginning, middle, and end), Orlando’s focuses more on cool imagery and scares. So, while the former is more like walking through an actual movie, the latter is way scarier. If you’re going to make the trip out to one you’re going to have to pick your poison.
Of the mazes, the big winner was “American Horror Story: Volume 2”, one that will make you feel the wrath of the disturbing “Raspers” and infamous serial killer Bloody Face from Asylum. They also transport you to Salem where the witches of Coven are lurking around every corner, while the ghosts of the blood moon from Roanoke are ready to jump out at you. Experience a tease of the maze over at our Facebook page.
We also surrendered to the overwhelming “shine” and the murderous ghosts inhabiting the eerie Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”, another highlight of the event. What I loved about “The Shining” was how abstract and bizarre it was, making it feel as if you were experiencing your own “shine”, while also depicting famous scenes from the film including the bloody elevator and party massacre. The finale was killer, making us escape the snowy maze as Jack pops out of hedges ready to axe whoever crosses his path. Head over to our Facebook page to watch some of our walk-through!
While there’s also wicked mazes for “SAW: The Games of Jigsaw” and “Ash vs Evil Dead”, one of my favorites was easily the original “Dead Waters”. The maze looked like a scene out of “Resident Evil 7” as we entered a rotting half-sunken riverboat and the skeletal remains of a Voodoo Queen’s victims.
Whether it’s Orlando or Hollywood, Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights is hands down the best haunt I’ve ever been to by a longshot. The collective experience and love for Halloween mixed with high-quality attractions (not to mention that the rides are also open) make this more than just an event, it’s something hardcore horror fans must experience at least once in their lives. What’s even more insane is that Horror Nights is so jam-packed with bloody goodness that it’s impossible to experience it all in one night, and offers so much bang for your buck that you’ll have no choice but to return multiple times through its closing night on November 4th.
Get tickets and more info at the official website.
A full breakdown of the mazes include:
- THE SHINING: The visually intense psychological thriller is now the most terrifying haunted experience imaginable.
- SAW: THE GAMES OF JIGSAW: The traps are set. All that’s missing is you. The Jigsaw killer has returned to torment you with his twisted take on poetic justice.
- AMERICAN HORROR STORY: VOLUME 2: Experience three horrifying stories in one disturbing house as a deranged cast of characters seek not only your life, but your soul.
- HORRORS OF BLUMHOUSE: From the deranged filmmakers behind Insidious, Sinister and The Purge comes the Horrors of Blumhouse. They’ve all come back to haunt you.
- ASH VS. EVIL DEAD: The STARZ original series, Ash vs Evil Dead, expertly blurs the line between horror and comedy in this horrifically hilarious addition to Halloween Horror Nights™.
- DEAD WATERS: Enter a pestilent swamp that oozes evil, the hellish realm of the Voodoo Queen. If you fail to escape, you’re in for a gut-wrenching sacrifice.
- THE FALLEN: You’re about to be caught in the crossfire of the eternal war of light versus dark and no one will be saved.
- SCARECROW: THE REAPING: At a long-abandoned Depression-era farm, vengeance takes root, and the only harvest that will be reaped is you.
- THE HIVE: The crumbling house on 19 Hemingway Lane harbors a nest of bloodthirsty vampires. If you awaken them, you will face a savage, bestial hunger.