UNIVERSAL ORLANDO Resort
Universal Studios Theme Parks
Review by: Lance Hart
HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS 27 (2017)
Welcome to Screamscape’s full Halloween Horror Nights 27 Review!
My favorite time of year has returned once again and I was lucky enough to be invited down to Universal Orlando for the media preview and opening night of this year’s Halloween Horror Nights 27 event. The timing alone this year was very impressive as the Orlando area theme parks had all shut down early on Saturday evening and stayed closed until Tuesday due to Hurricane Irma. This means that anything decorative or theatrical that they had set up outside for the start of HHN had to be taken down and put away in a safe storage location for the duration of the storm and quickly set back up again in time for Friday night’s grand opening. Thankfully all the haunts are kept safe and indoors, but some features of the scaze zones were still left dark, as I don’t believe they had finished reinstalling all the theatrical lighting needed for a few areas. With that in mind, most things did still appear to be set-up and ready for guests, which just made it all very impressive to see in light of the chaotic week they had just had, so my hat’s off to all the Universal Orlando crew.
On a related note, one of the items that was not quite ready for opening night was the main stage for this year’s Academy of Villains: Afterlife show. Irma had wreaked havoc with the outdoor stage, and while the needed repairs were ongoing, a smaller temporary stage was being set up just outside the Pantages Theater (aka: The Horror Make-Up Show) where a smaller and abbreviated version of the Academy of Villains show will perform over the first week or two until the group’s main stage is show-ready.
The other main show for HHN27 however, went on exactly as scheduled… for the last time. Yes… I’m talking about Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure, now performing for the 26th year in a row, and unfortunately… this is also Bill & Ted’s official “Farewell Tour” as the duo’s most excellent, humorous and chaotic adventures will come to a close this year. While I’m not going to give away what happens, I will say that you will see the return of some old friends and the show will bow out with a semi-logical reason as to why it all has to come to a bitter end. Farewell dudes! Party On and Be Excellent to Each Other!
Now on to the park itself! This year’s event features five all new scare zones, a roaming band of killer clowns armed with chainsaws and nine incredible new haunts: four of which are original concept mazes and the other five based on existing themed properties from various studios. Details on each of the nine mazes are just below, but pausing on the Scare Zones for a moment, there were some interesting ones as usual. The Purge is was back again in the New York streets area and is always a fan favorite, and always full of a strange cast of ScareActors roaming the fog filled streets. Perhaps one of the most interesting Scare Zones was in the Hollywood area where the tales of Trick ‘R Treat were brought to life, with a beautiful array of thousands of lit up pumpkins filling the entire tree canopy over the entire scare zone. While small, Invasion over by the former Disaster ride entrance area was also fantastic looking after dark with an incredibly detailed UFO crashed down into the San Francisco pavement and various aliens roaming about. I think I somehow missed Altars of Horror, but the final zone, Festival of the Deadliest was kind of neat, but unfortunately was a little on the dark side on the night I visited as I believe that they had not yet had time to fully reinstall all the necessary theatrical lighting to the streets outside of the Cyberdyne building.
Now on to the mazes!
Scarecrow: The Reaping - One of the interesting original concept mazes of the year, this one was also a bit hit or miss with people, depending on who I talked with afterwards. As with any haunt, fear is subjective… and what frightens some may not frighten others, but also something to remember is your timing and placement as you travel within each maze can also greatly affect how effective the scares are. So some thought this was one of the best of the night, while others did not scare for it at all. Me? I kind of fell somewhere in the middle, as there were some great scares inside for me, and the Scarecrows were indeed very creepy looking when they jumped in your face. The haunt itself also had a wonderful abandoned and very run-down farm atmosphere, brought to life with some nicely added scents as you wandered through the darkness. However, I think this one was almost too dark, as it made a number of the scares a little hard to see unless you were exactly at the right place at the right time. One thing I did notice, probably due to the darkness, was how great the sound effects and audio mixing within was. You’ll get to hear some really disturbing sound effects in here, especially when the Scarecrows would attack, the sound of ripping fabric and tearing burlap would announce their arrival just before the screams started, along with the occasional cry of crows somewhere above you.
Story-2, Atmosfear-4, FearFactor-3
Hive - Of the four original IP mazes, I’d give this one a tie for the best, as they created what seemed to be a very realistic rundown house set, complete with musty and nasty scents everywhere that just gave you a very uneasy feeling as you wandered through the house that seemed to be almost on the verge of collapse. Once again, this is another haunt set in the popular HHN location of Carey, Ohio which is full of vampires. Not just any vampires… this is an old school vamp house… so no sexy and shimmering vampires to be found here, just some good old fashioned nosferatu style ugly deformed vampires… and they’re HUNGRY!
Story-3, Atmosfear-5, FearFactor-4
Dead Waters - Another original IP haunt and the other one that I’d put up there with Hive as being not just one of the best original haunts, but this one could be a serious contender for being one of the best of HHN27 entirely. Here you enter the realm of the Voodoo Queen, who you may recall as a character created for one of the Scare Zones a couple of years back. This time you get to venture into her scary swamp, passing through a huge paddlewheeler boat setpiece as the maze entrance that is just an amazing sight to behold inside the soundstage. A nice variety of environments await you within as you encounter the living dead who do the Voodoo Queen’s bidding, and beware a face to face encounter with the Voodoo Queen herself, as it could be your last.
Story-3, Atmosfear-5, FearFactor-5
The Fallen - The last of the original themed haunts, and much like Scarecrow, this one seemed to be a bit of a hit or miss with people. According to the story, you’ve wandered into the midsts of a battle between the forces of good and evil… but it really seems that evil is all you will encounter inside as you encounter the various forms of The Fallen inside while traveling through some very dark and gothic seemed sets and environments.
Story-1, Atmosfear-3, FearFactor-3
The Horrors of Blumhouse - While i hate to say this, if you had to miss a haunt for one reason or another, I’d pick this one to miss. While it is supposed to be a mixture of themed between three Blumhouse films (Insidious, Sinister and The Purge) you seem to pass through Sinister and The Purge areas far too quickly, leaving what is left of this maze to be themed to Insidious. This is where the maze shines, through it seems to be on the extremely short side of things compared to the rest, and while I love Insidious, this maze seemed to fail to capture the magic they had a couple of years ago when Universal had a dedicated Insidious themed maze that was one of the best that year. Unfortunately, I think the anthology concept just hurt this maze as you struggled to pass from one theme to the next.
Story-2, Atmosfear-2, FearFactor-3
Saw: The Games of Jigsaw - Traps and Gore… both of the things the Saw films are known for will be found in abundance inside this maze, which starts with some great video style introduction rooms with messages from Jigsaw played over an array of video monitors, along with appearances by the Saw puppet figure on the tricycle before you become a living witness to the games of Jigsaw being played out before your eyes.
Story-3, Atmosfear-4, FearFactor-4
Ash vs Evil Dead - Of all the mazes announced for HHN27, this is the one I was personally dying to see as a life-long fan of the Evil Dead film series, especially Ash himself. I’ve also really enjoyed the entire first two seasons of Ash vs Evil Dead on Starz and their efforts to continue the adventures of Ash and his fight against the Deadites and evil demons spawned from the Necronomicon. As I mentioned before, timing can be everything with a maze, and in their desire to serve up as much fan service as possible, timing can make or ruin your experience with this maze, but in an interesting way. As you see in so many mazes at Halloween Horror Nights, certain actions play out in front of your eyes in sync with a timed batch of audio and lighting queues. Typically most of these would be used for the various jump-scare moments, but in Ash vs Evil Dead, the creators are bringing to life a very short scene of action in front of you, usually involving Ash kicking a little Deadite tail that either starts or ends with a fun statement from our hero, Ash Williams. When the timing of the scene works out as you enter, it is a beautiful thing to behold. Unfortunately the conga-line style of travel throughout all the HHN mazes can hurt you here, and some scenes you may enter just as they are ending, only to hear them start up again as you are forced out the other side. I’d love to see this maze played out in front of a much smaller crowd, giving you time to witness each scene played out before moving on to the next one. You can very have enough Ash, and the creators brought a good number of the famous scenes to life for us from the first two seasons of the Starz series, including the series’ famous ‘morgue fight’ scene from Season 2. If you’ve seen it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Long live the king baby!
Story-5, Atmosfear-4, FearFactor-3
The Shining - This will perhaps be one of the most popular haunts of the night as the next in a series that seek to bring classic horror films to life for the Halloween Horror Nights fans. Fans of The Shining are sure to love this haunt that will take you right into the madness inducing Overlook Hotel, filled to the brim with an endless collection of restless spirits eager to have you come play with them.
Story-4, Atmosfear-4, FearFactor-4
American Horror Story - Sure to be one of the most popular mazes of HHN27, the return of an American Horror Story maze this year is entirely different from the one you may have seen last year. This one will bring to life the characters and settings from three entirely new seasons of the hit show: taking you behind the walls of Briarcliff Manor, as seen in AHS Season 2: ASYLUM. Then hit the streets of New Orleans as you get caught in the magical fallout from the ongoing power struggle between the Witches, VooDoo Priestesses, and restless spirits from Season 3's COVEN. Finally you will relive the horrors from the latest season's story of ROANOKE, where you will be at the mercy of Piggy, the Polk family and the ghosts of the blood moon.
Story-4, Atmosfear-5, FearFactor-5
That’s it… all of Halloween Horror Nights 27 wrapped up in a neat package… and waiting, just for you. For a taste, check out the official Screamscape event video below, with a taste of what you can expect inside each of the nine haunts.