They’re going to put the willies up you…
The big night is almost upon us – Halloween, duh – and for those wanting a little bit more than a slutty mouse costume, the ultimate – yes ultimate – experience is Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights.
With locations at both Orlando and Hollywood, the horror house event has been scaring people for almost 30 years.
Naturally we threw ourselves into the festivities to see what the mazes are like this year.
There are, of course, lots of ‘house walk-throughs’ on YouTube, but why spoil it for yourself? That said, as we discovered, no two house experiences are ever quite the same…
© Universal Studios Orlando
9. Ash vs The Evil Dead
Based on the TV series that’s based on the film series, this maze is intended to be the ‘comedy’ house for Halloween Horror Nights 27. That’s not to say it’s not scary in places, but it’s definitely one for the fans.
It’s also quite a spacious house – as in not too confined – which makes it that bit more calmer than what’s to come…
Of particular note – some of the actors playing Ash are quite handsome. Never off duty, even when we’re being scared.
8. The Fallen
The battle of good versus evil, light versus dark – where evil are winning… Hellish bat-like creatures come at you from all angles in this maze, including some particularly impressive wire work above the house as said bat-like creatures swoop overhead.
It’s a bit of a hard one to describe, though it’s full of larger than life characters and effects it’s not quite as clever as transporting you to a new place as other mazes this year.
7. Saw: The Games of Jigsaw
Fans of the Saw franchise will lap this up – particularly as this house features an as-yet unseen moment from the upcoming movie. As you might expect, it’s a tour of the greatest and goriest kills from the movie, some of which definitely require repeated viewing because they’re that gross.
Most of the scares come from pig-headed henchmen and screaming victims who are quite literally being ripped apart in front of your very eyes. Gruesome.
6. The Horrors of Blumhouse
So scary that even our guide refused to go through it, this maze pulls together The Purge, Insidious and Sinister.
Another exclusive here is that the house features new scenes from Insidious: Chapter 4, which isn’t released until 2018…
As you might expect with one house featuring moments from five horror movies, it’s pretty relentless. Aggressive and brutal, we were actually sore from yelling. We say yelling, it was actual proper screaming.
An abandoned house in the 80s – with the synth soundtrack to match if you can hear it over the screams – is the setting for a vampire hive. But this is no twinkly-Twilight-fest… This is proper Nosferatu-style, glowing in neon, Salem’s Lot-type vampires jumping out from just about everywhere.
The set dressing is, as ever with Halloween Horror Nights, quite incredible.
4. The Shining
This is a truly incredible experience for fans of film as Kubrick’s nightmare hotel (and surrounding environments) are meticulously brought to life. There are audible gasps as people walk onto the snow-filled exterior of the set – and that’s before you’ve even gone inside.
Scene after scene are recreated in such detail, something that Halloween Horror Nights just get SO right each time they get their hands on an iconic film property.
So worth repeated visits – we were still screaming after our third trip – if only to gaze in awe at how certain scenes are so cleverly recreated.
3. American Horror Story Vol 2
Following the success of last year’s American Horror Story house, which incorporated Murder House (S1), Freak Show (S4) and Hotel (S5), Vol 2 is once again Halloween Horror Nights’ ‘uber’ maze. No, nothing to do with the car app… It means it’s almost twice the size and length of the other mazes, and covers the other three seasons – Asylum (S2), Coven (S3) and Roanoke (S6).
You enter via a facade of the crumbling Asylum, before being led through the halls and the inevitable horrors that await you. Pepper jumping out at various points got us every single time.
There’s a truly jaw-dropping re-enactment of THAT surgery scene which is quite incredible, as much as it is revolting.
Coven has yet more double scares, where you’re distracted by one spectacle, only to be taken by surprise by something smaller popping up. Kudos to the team for the smell of talcum powder in the doll room…
Of course, Roanoke will make sure you never look at a pig in quite the same way again.
This would’ve ranked higher, but the original mazes win out this year…
2. Dead Waters
Now this is a house of beauty. Horrific, terrifying beauty but beauty all the same.
As you walk into the soundstage you’re met with the rotting wreckage of a steamboat in a New Orleans swamp. There’s voodoo at work, and demons at play as you board the vessel – only to be met by the inhabitants that went down with the ship. Only water has taken its toll on the re-animated corpses…
© Universal Studios Orlando
This really is incredible – the detail of the set design, the makeup, the scares. There’s one particular moment where, due to the way the boat has sunk, you’re almost certain you’re about to slide down a corridor into the arms of a zombie waiting below.
Stunning, scary and wonderfully atmospheric.
1. Scarecrow: The Reaping
You can believe the hype… Scarecrow: The Reaping was our favourite house of HHN27, and that’s despite getting a sneak peek in daylight before the attraction opened. Don’t bother thinking you’ll remember where the scares are – you won’t.
The setting is a depression-era farm, where Mother Nature – or some evil incarnation of it – is claiming the land band and rejecting humans.
The maze, as you walk through abandoned farmhouses, barns and corn fields, feels massive but narrow and claustrophobic. The smell of straw is overpowering as demonic scarecrows appear from – well, everywhere.
The use of sound is particularly brilliant – before we even got inside the house there were scares simply through the use of audio – a scene with birds inside is particularly memorable.
There are also five large-scale Scare Zones throughout the park – meaning you pretty much have to travel through them to get to the houses – which are in equal parts beauty and the beast…
The Purge is huge, loud and pretty much a street show in its own right, with the auction of victims taking place on top of a bus. Invasion, a homage to 50s sci-fi flicks looks incredible – although any resemblance to Drag Race must be accidental, though not unappreciated. Altars of Horror brings the greatest hits from the houses out onto the streets and Roaming Hordes sees clowns of all shapes and sizes chasing you up said streets.
But it’s Trick ‘r Treat that’s the most breathtaking scare zone this year. Based on the film of the same name, it’s a simple street filled with simple trick or treaters. But the set dressing coupled with atmospheric smoke and sounds makes this not necessarily scary, but something quite stunning to behold, with the trees above filled with glowing Halloween pumpkins.
Halloween Horror Nights is an experience unlike any other and something we’d encourage everyone to do at least once… if you dare!
Gay Times travelled with virginholidays.co.uk, with Virgin Holidays packages available departing from London or Manchester to Orlando from £1,610 per person for seven nights at Universal Orlando.
More details at universalorlando.co.uk.