Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando Resort is almost over for another year. It opens one more night, on Halloween, and then it disappears until next September.
This year’s Halloween Horror Nights had some interesting differences from years past. Perhaps the most prominent was the lack of an icon to act as the primary face of the event. Instead, the advertising focus was on two major media properties tied into the event, Silent Hill and The Walking Dead.
Another big difference for 2012 was the lack of clearly defined scare zones. Instead, scareactors roamed the park and even invaded previous “safe” areas like stores and restaurants.
How did these new things work? How did one less haunted house than usual affect the event? Here are my observations on Halloween Horror Nights 22 at Universal Orlando Resort:
The lack of one house was very prominently reflected in the lines. This was compounded by the fact that Silent Hill and The Walking Dead drew out legions of fans. It wasn’t uncommon to see lines of two hours or more, particularly for those two houses, and the Express lines were also much longer than usual many nights.
My major disappointment was that some of the houses, particularly The Walking Dead, seemed to be toned down as the season progressed. That house started out as my favorite because of its sheer aggressiveness, but it soon backed down to a more mediocre level of scares. I want in-your-face aggression, screaming, and too-close-for comfort attacks. For me, that’s what makes a haunted house good.
Thankfully, Alice Cooper: Welcome to My Nightmare picked up the slack. That house started out with good energy and kept it and built on it throughout the event. I met people who didn’t like it because they’re not familiar with the album and were trying to make sense out of it. My advise: stop over-thinking it! I don’t know the album either, but I grew to love that house just based on its craziness and aggression, without needing to know anything else about it.
House of Horrors was interesting because of its black-and-white motif and reliance on strobes to set up some really good scares. I loved Dead Exposure, which used a similar concept, and House of Horrors is in my top three houses of 2012, with the others being Alice Cooper and Gothic. However, it lost some of its luster for me as the season wore on because it’s something of a one-trick pony. The scares work a certain way, and the scareactors are pretty much locked into that by the lighting and sets. In contrast, in a house like Alice, they have regular lighting and sets that are easier to work with to change things up.
My third favorite house, Gothic, was a nice blend of old-school scares and special effects that are timing-dependent, and its set design was top-notch. Take that in contrast to Silent Hill, which actually disappointed me. It’s also very timing based, and it’s the house in which I got the lowest number of scares this season. On virtually every run-through, I watched people in front of me get the scares or walked through a dead spot, only to hear the scare happen behind me. In contrast, even Gothic’s timed effects got me more often than not.
This was a real oddity because I’m so used to the concept of clearly designed scare zones, at least at Universal Studios Florida. HowlOScream at Busch Gardens Tampa has used roving scare zones for a couple of years, and they work well with that park’s large size, its dark areas, and its narrow pathways and interesting terrain.
At Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida, it didn’t translate quite as well. It’s hard to get startled when the scareactors are plainly visible as they try to work the crowd (and often the crowd wasn’t even paying attention to them).
One aspect I did like was the increased opportunity for interaction beyond just getting a jump scare. For example, the trick-or-treaters were always a delight with their demands for candy. I also liked the fact that there were no off-limits areas (other than, apparently, the bathrooms). It was fun to dine at Finnegan’s and see scareactors making threatening gestures at the windows or bursting through the door to antagonize diners.
This year, there were no standout houses for me for my all-time favorites list, which contains such gems as Catacombs, Havoc, Leave it to Cleaver, Dead Exposure, and Psychoscarapy: Home for the Holidays. Still, the houses were fun, and I did have seasonal favorites (#1 Alice Cooper, #2 Gothic, #3 House of Horrors).
The scare zones were hit or miss, as I had some great interactions, but overall I didn’t get scares on the level typical of a “traditional” year.” Personally I’d like to see a combination of set and roving zones, like the year with the roving zombie drill team. Technically, this year you could say the Walkers zone was a set zone, but people used it more as a photo opportunity.
The lines were crazy, and I think some of that could have been relieved by having a second show that people would want to repeat. This year’s 20 Penny Circus was fun, but it was a “been there, done that” sort of thing. I saw it at the beginning of the season, and since the show is always the same, I had no desire for a repeat performance. Contrast that with the years when Halloween Horror Nights featured the Rocky Horror Tribute, which I would see on every visit, and sometimes more than once in a single night.
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