By Dawn Ferchak
All Photos courtesy of Universal Orlando
Tricks and treats await at Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights (HHN). This is year 32 for the always-anticipated spooky season event, and it’s definitely a good one. There are 10 houses – five original and five franchise offerings – plus five scare zones, one live show, and a surprisingly impressive array of food and drink offerings. It’s too much to fit into one review, so this will be a two-parter.
This year’s HHN icon is Dr. Oddfellow, a circus “entrepreneur” and dark sorcerer. He was introduced at HHN 10 in 2000 and is now in charge of all the scare zones and his own house (more on that later). Dr. Oddfellow wants to harness the power of the zodiac to bring about his fiendish plans, drawing symbols on himself and in various places throughout HHN. Finding the symbol is a fun Easter Egg as you go through the houses and the scare zones.
Let’s start with the basics. Ticket prices range from $79.99 to $129.99 per person depending on which date you choose. Add-ons bring the price up but are well worth it if you have the means:
Express Pass: This gets you shorter wait times once per house and for all open rides and attractions. Express starts at $139.99 plus the regular admission.
Frequent Fear Pass: This gives you access to 30 nights of HHN but no express pass starting at $229.99 per person. If you want Frequent Fear plus Express, the price starts at $619.99 per person.
RIP Tour: This gets you the most bang for your buck if you are only planning to go for one night. RIP is a guided tour that you can add on top of the regular admission price. The advantage is a dedicated tour guide, little to no wait times (once per house), RIP-only bathrooms and lounges, and private bar stops. RIP costs $329.99 to $409.99.
Now on to the good stuff – the houses. Let’s start with the franchises.
Stranger Things 4 (New York, near the Jimmy Fallon ride): Despite the name, this is HHN’s third Stranger Things house. This time, you must escape the curse of Vecna, the big bad from season 4 of the show. If you’re a fan of the show, this house is a must. If you’re not, it’s still a damn good house, with plenty of scares and exceptional theming throughout.
The Exorcist: Believer (Production Central, right by Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket): Touted as a “living trailer” for the upcoming film, HHN does the long-running franchise right with this house. It’s beautifully done – if you weren’t already waiting for this film, this will make you buy your ticket.
Universal Monsters: Unmasked (KidZone, near E.T.): Is it a franchise or is it an original? A little of both, perhaps, and a good house. Descend into the catacombs of Paris and get ready to face classic horror stars Quasimodo, the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the Phantom of the Opera. Is it the best Universal Monsters house? No. The lack of the true Universal Monsters triumvirate (Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolfman) is definitely felt. But the B-squad scareactors do a great job and the jump scares are terrific. Watch out for a triple scare near the end of the house – I defy you not to jump.
The Last of Us (World Expo, near Men in Black): If you’re looking for a Pedro Pascal lookalike to scare you out of your panties in this house, you will be disappointed. This is based on the video game series and not the HBO show. And even if you don’t know anything about the game, this is still a house to see. The atmosphere is great, right down to the scents in the air. Are you breathing in the dangerous fungal spores? It certainly smells like it. This house has some of the best costuming and makeup FX when it comes to the monsters. Clickers, Runners, Stalkers, Bloaters, and Shamblers abound and their fungal growths range from fascinating to downright horrific. Massive kudos to Universal Studios for the prosthetics – they’re some of the best I have seen in HHN Orlando’s 32 years.
Chucky: Ultimate Kill Count (KidZone, near Dreamworks Destination): The backstory on this house is that Chucky himself has possessed the thousands of Chucky dolls in a warehouse. It’s a good idea, but the execution is a touch repetitive. It’s a LOT of Chucky, over and over again. If you are a superfan of the franchise, you’ll probably love it. If you’re not and you’re pressed for time, this is the house to skip.
HHN prides itself every year on their original houses and they knocked it out of the haunted park this time. Four of them are must-do’s and the fifth is at the very least a should-do (especially if you are a long-time Universal Orlando fan, hint hint). Read on for the deets.
Dr. Oddfellow’s Twisted Origins (San Francisco, right by Fast and Furious): Welcome to the history of HHN 32’s icon. Follow Dr. Oddfellow’s story, from Dust Bowl America to the zodiac zone. It’s part circus, part freak show, and all fun. You want creepy clowns? Done. You want body parts? Done. Animal attacks, distorted carnies, “blood” splatter, and more are found here, along with a special treat – the murder of HHN fan-fave icon, Jack the Clown.
Dueling Dragons: Choose Your Fate (New York, left of the Mummy ride): This house is a love letter to Universal Orlando. Before Happy Potter came to Orlando, two dragons ruled the park – Fire and Ice. The Dueling Dragons coaster was a fan favorite and this house is a fun homage. It’s the story of Merlin’s --- oops, I mean Merlyn’s –imprisonment and how two wizards who have become dragons vie for the great mage’s spellbook. There’s even a choose-your-own-adventure twist with four different possible endings. Is it a little 1980s D&D derivative? Maybe. But it’s still fun. You can skip this one if you are pressed for time, but the choose-your-own-ending gives this house a unique little bump. Give it a go if you can.
The Darkest Deal (World Expo, near the Men in Black rest room): This is my pick for best house of HHN 32. It’s the story of bluesman Pinestraw Spruce, who longs for stardom so much that he is willing to sell his soul for it. At a crossroads deep in the Mississippi Delta, he seals his own fate. If any of this sounds familiar, Universal Studios would like you to know that there is absolutely no connection to infamous bluesman and King of the Delta Blues Robert Johnson, who was reputed to have sold his soul at a crossroads to the devil in exchange for fame. The Darkest Deal is the dark horse of HHN 32. You’d never expect it to be so good, but IT IS SO GOOD. The jumps are terrific. The story is perfectly fluid. The actors in this house, in particular, are on top of their game. Do not miss The Darkest Deal.
Yeti: Campground Kills (New York, left of the Mummy Ride): This is the yeti’s fourth HHN appearance and it – I should say they – are a fan favorite. There’s good reason for that. Yeti houses are fun. Scary, but so fun. This time, you’re in a campground that has been taken over by yeti. If you can make it to the ranger’s station, you’ll live. If you don’t, well, cryptos need to eat too, right? The idea of a yeti house really has no business being anything but silly, but the Universal Studios HHN masterminds bring the scares every time. Yeti: Campground Kills is another total win. Add it to your must-do list.
Bloodmoon: Dark Offerings (Hollywood, near Minion Land): Give me creepy history! Give it all to me! Bloodmoon obliges beautifully. This house is set in the US Colonial era, much like HHN 24’s Roanoke: Cannibal Colony. This time we are probably in the northeastern US, where moon worshippers gather for their fall festival. When a blood moon rises, it’s time to hunt down the non-believers, i.e., you. Bloodmoon: Dark Offerings is another house where the theming and atmosphere really shine. Jump scares are well-hidden and the scareactors look great. Make time for it.
That’s it for HHN 32 Houses. Stay tuned for Part 2: Scare Zones and Tasty Treats