Rex and I traveled to Orlando, FL for our 16th straight Halloween Horror Nights event at the Universal Orlando Resort. We once again attended during the opening weekend and we had an incredible trip. It was the first time we experienced Volcano Bay, which was a blast, and the first time we had been on the Tonight Show attraction, which we thought was actually pretty fun, despite the many negative reviews.

But this review is about Halloween Horror Nights. A few preliminary comments are in order. First, the attendance on opening night – Friday, September 14, was the most insane attendance Rex and I have ever seen at the event. The Finnegans holding area was simply packed with people who were waiting to get to the Stranger Things maze. I’m thankful that the second-weekend reports are coming in and the numbers are not near as staggering – Rex and I might need to consider traveling to the event during the second weekend instead of the first next year.

Finnegan’s Holding Area

Second, count me (and I think Rex) among the few who did not miss the Bill and Ted show at all. Academy of Villians is a superior show in virtually every way and I hope they remain a staple of HHN for many years to come. Having said that, another show of some kind is probably necessary in order to fill out the card a bit more.

Third, the mazes this year were the best we have ever seen in terms of the number of high-quality efforts. I do not exaggerate when I say that six of the ten mazes could be my number one maze of the event.  That, combined with the seemingly endless number of parameters as to how to judge a maze, has left me reticent to present a “ranking” list like I have done in years past. This year, I will simply be providing some commentary on each of the mazes. They were all good and many of them were downright incredible.

Finally, I don’t want to take the time to review every scarezone, but Vamp ’85 was my favorite of the year and perhaps my favorite of all time. I think Rex would concur since he is the undisputed 1980’s king.

On to the houses (in order of RATB experiencing them):

Scary Tales: Deadly Ever After
From beginning to end (and I mean very beginning, the facade was gorgeous and the witch on the roof was fantastic) this house delivered in every category. It was beautiful, scary, immersive, atmospheric, and smelled great. (Reality-based smells, of course.) My favorite rooms were the Hansel and Gretel room (with the aforementioned smells) and the Rapunzel room, but they all worked well. This was a strong entry in the ST franchise and I think will ensure we will once again see the return of the fractured fairy tales in the years to come.

Poltergeist
I re-watched Poltergeist on the plane ride to Florida and I have to admit, the film does not hold up all that well. It is a classic, of course, and I love the movie, but it is quite dated and shows its age even more than other horror films of that time. I was worried that maybe the maze could not hold up as well. But, I was wrong. Poltergeist was an incredible adaptation of the cinema classic and offered some genuine scares, both with large props (giant skull head) and more nuanced shocks, and captured the classic moments of the film beautifully. A great house!

Slaughter Sinema
Oh boy, I had high hopes for this maze and those hopes were realized. I loved everything about it – from the introducing of the vignette by a movie poster and accompanying audio coming from a drive-in speaker, to the tight, super-detailed scenes of fictitious, but realistic 80’s style horror films. There was a scene inspired by the 1986 horror classic “Critters.” At least I call it a classic, I’m not sure how many have actually seen the film, but part of that scene included a massic critter head that was downright scary. As a matter of fact, HHN 28 was the year of big, huge prop heads in mazes!

The Horrors of Blumhouse
I had told a friend over lunch at Caps Diner that I typically do not like mazes that attempt to combine two or more IP’s in a single house. My feelings were once again validated with The Horrors of Blumhouse that brought together Happy Death Day and The First Purge. It just wasn’t good. At all. One of the only mazes this year to disappoint.

Dead Exposure: Patient Zero
Loved this maze. Just good ol’ fashioned haunted house stuff. Mess with your eyes and senses with strobe lights, catch you off guard with loud sound effects (monkey room, whoa), and plenty of scares around the corner. A very, very solid entry in the DE franchise. I hope it comes back for more.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
I’m a John Carpenter and Halloween junkie. The original Halloween maze from HHN 24 remains one of my favorites of all time.  So it is with great anguish that I must admit that Halloween 4 was a disappointing maze. The first main room with Myers standing in the psychiatric ward with needles hanging from the ceiling was one of the weakest rooms I have ever been in. The film was not properly represented and, as Rex pointed out, sometimes too much Myers deadens the effect. Still, it was a Halloween film maze, so that’s always fun and I was excited to see Dr. Loomis, but I can’t give this an enthusiastic ranking.

Trick-r-Treat
This is the maze I wish we would have been able to do a second time. As a huge fan of the film, I was super excited to see it come to life at HHN. Unfortunately, I left underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, Trick ‘r Treat is a great maze with beautiful effects and some fantastic scares with Sam, but I felt like there was more quality content availabe in the film that didn’t quite make it into the maze. Nevertheless, I’m willing to admit that another viewing or two might change my mind on this one. Really enjoyed it, just didn’t love it.

Carnival Graveyard: Rust in Pieces
This is what original HHN houses are all about. Drop dead gorgeous maze with tons of quality, authentic carnival paraphernalia and a wonderful theme. One thing is for certain – the owners of this carnival graveyard DO NOT like trespassers. Not a ton of scares in this maze, but it doesn’t matter. You are too busy smiling at all the detail and beauty of the carnival gear of old. No matter how many times you experience this house, something new will be seen.

Seeds of Extinction
Another stand-out original maze for HHN and I loved it. One of the compelling aspects of Seeds is that it is based on a true-to-life axiom that if left alone, human nature will absolutely take over. This is evident in all kinds of “abandoned” places we see on the internet and in real life. Seeds just takes it to another level with the plant life wreaking havoc on humanity. This one has the potential to be repetitive, but when repition is based on something awesome, that can be OK. Highly recommend.

Stranger Things
Nothing but good things to say here. ST had the potential to really disappoint because of all the hype surrounding this IP and Universal Creative had their hands full trying to bring the Netflix success story to life. But oh boy, did they ever. The cast was fantastic, the rooms were brilliant, the whole thing clicked together perfectly. This is the poster child for the way an IP house should be done. Bravo!

So there we go. Probably the most solid all-around event I have been to in 16 straight years. Based on the MASSIVE crowds at opening weekend and the quality of the Stranger Things maze, I think we can safely assume that season 2 of ST will be coming back next year at HHN. And you better believe that Rex and the Beast will be there to check it out.

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