There is only one way to welcome fall and begin the countdown until Halloween, and that’s with Universal Hollywood and Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights, which takes over both parks straight into November. I’m a Halloween Horror Nights veteran who has been going for well over a decade and while I frequented Hollywood’s event, the past two years I traveled down to Orlando to experience it from another perspective. While they’re both outstanding in their own way, I much prefer the atmosphere in Orlando (although suffering through the humidity will test anyone’s patience). The Florida-based theme park is massive and offers more space for “Scare Zones” and original mazes, while also boasting a fan base that treats the annual event with the same kind of love and admiration as they would a horror film.
Calling it an “experience” is an understatement; Horror Nights consumes you. It’s where I want to live and breathe. If there’s a heaven, I’ve already been there.
This year’s Horror Nights in Orlando introduced some huge franchises; The Shape was resurrected in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers; the “Stranger Things” maze took everyone to the Upside Down; and Trick ‘r Treat got the haunt it deserved after last year’s ridiculously badass “Scare Zone”. All were incredible, but none as mindblowing as the Poltergeist maze, based on Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg‘s 1982 masterpiece.
I was seven when my family moved to the Chicago suburbs. That year, I went to a new friend’s house to spend the night, one that would traumatize me for a long time after. They rented Poltergeist because, well, it was rated PG. The clown scene scared me so badly that my parents had to come and pick me up – and even had to make sure that my new bed frame touched the ground. I had this same bed until I moved out, which was a nightly reminder as to when my horror roots truly were planted. There is no Bloody Disgusting without Poltergeist.
Digressing, to say I was excited for the Poltergeist maze at Horror Nights is an understatement. To literally enter your childhood nightmare is an out-of-body kind of experience. While I (obviously) have already moved past this and become a horror fan, I couldn’t help but feel like that character in the movie who finally faces their fears. What made this maze even cooler was that it wasn’t just a recreation of the 1982 horror classic, but a new interpretation in which guests would be taken into the light!
The entrance is pure genius, opening with a walk through the muddied aftermath of the film’s grand finale. As we walked through the open graves, we found ourselves under the Freeling family house that’s built atop a cemetery. After entering, many familiar scenes and haunts presented themselves; the one that scared the shit out of me was a recreation of the infamous bathroom mirror scene in which a man tears his face apart. In the maze, the designers used the mirror as a way to draw in guest’s attention and then deliver a scare for the ages. I nearly shit myself right then and there. In another room, Robbie is being attacked by the clown and screaming, all while the tree monster is roaring from the room’s open window. It’s an assault on the senses that leads guests through the closet and into the light. Utilizing techniques from last year’s awesome The Shining maze, this is where the designers surround guests with a surreal landscape of vanishing walls and floating furniture.
I thought last year’s Shining maze was going to be tough to beat, but the team behind this year’s Horror Nights truly outdid themselves yet again. The Poltergeist maze alone was worth the price of admission with each and every other attraction just being icing on the cake. And while you may be tempted to ride your bike directly over to the “Stranger Things” maze or go trick or treating with Sam, I also urge you to check out this year’s original haunts, especially the “Dead Exposure: Patient Zero” maze that blasts guests with strobe effects and wild blacklight scares. There is no shortage of frights at this year’s Horror Nights, which is so massive it will probably take more than one visit to get through everything. Thankfully, Halloween Horror Nights 2018 runs select nights through November 3.
For more information, and to book select tickets and vacation packages, visit www.HalloweenHorrorNights.com