Review: Halloween Horror Nights 26

For the 14th year in a row, traveled to Orlando, Fl to attend Halloween Horror Nights at the Universal Orlando Resort. The event this year would host nine haunted houses (mazes), five scarezones, and two live shows.

We found HHN 26 to be superior to the 25th-anniversary edition last year. Although HHN 25 seems to have plenty of support from die-hard fans, felt that 25 was lacking in depth and quality content. We much preferred HHN 24, which included the original Halloween maze, to the 25th-anniversary event. Although this year’s event still did not eclipse HHN 24 for us, it was nevertheless a solid outing for Universal.

Maze Reviews:

Halloween:  Hell Comes To Haddonfield
Following the story of Halloween II, this maze is near perfection. I love how you begin in the closet with a swinging light fixture, just like in the film. You then follow the movie’s plot line, moving to the row of houses outside the Doyle house, entering the hospital, and ultimately seeing Myers set ablaze. The recreation of the famous hot bath scene was sensational and even the lovable security guard Mr. Garrett is seen in the aftermath of receiving a hammer to the skull. For any fan of the Halloween franchise, this is the ultimate treat.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Rex and I were surprised to see this maze toward the middle or bottom of favorites for many fans. We loved it. Not only was it a gorgeous recreation of the dreaded farm house, but it was terrifying. The opening room was sensational, with the smell of rotten chicken filling the room, but my favorite room by far was the living room scene where the sound of the flash from an old camera was heard and the lights would dim with each flash. So creepy.

Although the film did not live up to the hype and expectations (director Michael Doughtery’s first movie called “Trick r Treat” is one of the best horror films of the last decade), this was a fantastic maze with a wonderful set. Rex and I are partial to winter-based mazes, and the Christmas scenery fit the bill. This is one where you kind of smile and point more than you get scared and jump, but it is near the top of our list.

Ghost Town:  The Curse of Lightning Gulch
A sequel from HHN 14, this was one of the more highly anticipated mazes of the year. The balance between actors and set design was well done, and it was fun to watch a couple of “shootouts” between the ghostly cowboys. One reviewer remarked how the Ghost Town scareactors seemed to just ignore the guests and do their own thing, and I think there is some truth to that. But this was a fun, beautiful maze worthy of the HHN original content.

The Exorcist
This was the first maze we experienced at HHN 26 and I had my concerns about the content. Thankfully, the maze stayed pretty true to the film and re-created several of the famous bedroom scenes. The ending scenes had the potential to be very hokey and ineffective, but they delivered quite nicely. This earned a thumbs up from

American Horror Story
This might have been one of the most detailed and well-planned mazes of the entire haunt. Rex and I were at a disadvantage since neither of us have seen the television program (who has time to watch TV?!) Nevertheless, the quality of this house was on display and it seemed to capture the essence of the series quite well. There were some good scares, and the clown Twisty with the massive smile was definitely creepy. Still yet, perhaps because of our ignorance of the show, Rex and I walked out of the maze somewhat indifferent about what we had just experienced.

The Walking Dead
For what seems like the 27th year in a row, HHN has brought back The Walking Dead for one of their haunted houses. This particular maze was a “best of” the previous year’s efforts, which led to two nice things. First, the best scares were on display and it provided some great entertainment. The dark strobe room with multiple zombies slowly attacking still scared the pants off me. Second, perhaps this was their way of saying goodbye to the franchise for a while. We can only hope.

Tomb of the Ancients
Rex and I walked into this maze prepared to be blown away because of the rave reviews we read on Twitter. Well, we just didn’t get it. For me, it felt like I was walking through a beefed up Kong queue with a few scareactors. It was well designed to be sure, but not worth the excitement that had been generated. This was our disappointment of the event.

Lunatics Playground 3D
Although Rex enjoyed it a bit more than I did, this maze goes down as the worst I have experienced at HHN during my 14-year run. I found virtually nothing about it to be compelling or effective. A staff member kept announcing, “this is the best house in the park” while folks were walking by, which of course is a clue that it is really the worst. Which it was.

Show Reviews:

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure
Look, here’s the deal – either Rex and I are just too old or the show has disintegrated over the years into a pile of vomit, or both. We left vowing to take a few years off from Bill and Ted. It was that bad.

Academy of Villains:  House of Fear
Where Bill and Ted disappointed, the Academy of Villains far exceeded expectations. Like “Tomb of the Ancients,” this was receiving spectacular reviews online, but this time, they were warranted. I was moved, inspired, and enthralled during the performance. If anyone in the audience was toying with the idea of pursuing dance as a career, this show would push them over the edge. Incredible stuff.

Without additional comments, here are my rankings of scarezones for this year.

Dead Man’s Wharf
Vamp ’55
Survive or Die
A Chance In Hell
Lair of the Banshee

Overall, Halloween Horror Nights 26 was a solid outing and a lot of fun. Still though, it seemed to lack some of the magic from previous HHN experiences and I have some thoughts on why that might be. I’ll write about those in another article. To read my review of The Repository, an upcharge event at HHN 26, click here.


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