Halloween Horror Nights 25 has come and gone for RexandtheBeast.com. We look forward to attending HHN in Orlando, FL all year long and this trip was another great one. This article will deal exclusively with Halloween Horror Nights, but we had an epic trip in other ways as well, including a tremendous room at the Hilton Double Tree, a fantastic experience at The Escape Game on I-Drive, and trying out the Orlando Eye for the first time. But for now, on to Halloween Horror Nights.
Being the 25th anniversary of the event, RATB was of course expecting something special. It was no surprise that Jack was brought back on board as the event’s icon for this year, which is fine with me. I do not have a love for clowns as a general rule, but Jack is about as well done as you can get. Universal decided to release the details to most of the mazes at one time this year, and waited until pretty late to do so. Having said that, we were thrilled with the complete line up when all was revealed. All that was left was to get to the park and experience the event.
Annual Passholders Event
For the second year in a row Rex and I attended the Annual Passholders Event that allowed us to get into three mazes a bit earlier than the rest of the guests. This year we had access to The Walking Dead, The Purge, and Insidious. I remain uncertain about the Annual Passholders Event. We arrived a bit before the holding area opened (4:00 pm) and there was already a pretty good number of folks in line. We then stood in the sun and waited until 5:30 to get early access. We decided to try The Walking Dead first since it would empty us right at the entrance to The Purge, one of the two “tent houses” this year. We ended up waiting a good while for The Walking Dead, which means that by the time we were through the maze, we were already using our Express Passes for The Purge because the lines were already so long. Incredible.
The reason I am torn about the Passholders Event is because I feel to get the true benefit of the opportunity, we should be getting through all three mazes without the need of our Express Passes. Here’s the deal – for years Rex and I would time our “stay and scream” location so that we were sitting down and eating in Fennigans during the holding period (guests go to the location just to the side of Fennigans to stay and wait for HHN to open). Although it gets crowded in Fennigan’s, it is a wonderful tradition and much better than standing in the sun. Now, even though the Annual Passholders get early access to three mazes, starting at 5:30, Universal still released the normal holding areas around 5:45, a whopping 15 minutes difference. From the Finnegan’s location, we would immediately go to the soundstage houses and get one or two in before we need to start using Express Passes.
So, when you consider we lose the tradition of Finnegan’s, we stand in the sun, and we don’t get through the mazes without express passes, I’m just not sure that the Annual Passholder’s Event is really worth it.
Some Thoughts On Rating Houses
There are certain elements of Halloween Horror Nights that will always be special and exceptional. Simply being in Universal Studios late at night with the sounds of horror circling all around is enough to catapult this event to the top of any haunted experience on the planet. I imagine that Rex and I could simply purchase our tickets, stand in the center of the park for 2 hours and watch the carnage unfold without walking through a single maze and still give the experience a positive review. But, at the end of the day, the haunted houses (mazes) still trump everything else, so let’s go to those…
I will review the mazes in just a minute, but first let me share a few comments on how I approach these reviews.
- More than any other haunt I have attended, HHN mazes are completely dependent on timing. Because of the sheer number of people, HHN mazes do not have the luxury of “pulsing” people through the haunt. Thus, there is an always moving “conga” line of people walking through the attraction. This undoubtedly creates some problems. Whereas a local haunted house will pulse people through the scares in groups of 7-10, HHN always has a string of people walking through. Nonstop. All the time. It never ends. So, a local haunt can much, much, much better replicate the same scares for each group because they can reset and wait for the next group of people to come along. But at HHN, it is inevitable that some people will miss the scares because the line is always moving. This creates a significant open door for varied reviews of mazes, especially if someone only attends the event once (like we do).
- Rex and I believe that scareactors will learn and adapt to the atmosphere and direction of their house over time. Though it might not always be the case, a house will probably be stronger a few weeks into HHN than on opening weekend. Not always, but usually.
- For RATB, rating a maze is not as simple as adding up numbers in various areas of consideration. In other words, we do not give each maze a number rating for “scares” and a number rating for “atmosphere” and a number rating for “story” and then add up those numbers to determine the overall value of the maze. We believe there are simply too many subjective factors at play in a haunted house to use such a systematic approach. Haunted houses are kind of like poetry; they either move you or they don’t. In light of this, RATB does not believe there is a such thing as a “correct” review.
- Nevertheless, RATB gives greater weight to reviews from folks who have attended the event multiple nights and have a greater possibility of seeing the various scares and elements of a house that might be missed with a single walk through. The flip side of this also has to be considered. By walking through a house multiple times, it is possible to become “numb” to the creativity and design of a maze and subsequently become more critical of the details, leading one to be unduly harsh and think less of the house than might have been thought through a single walk through.
Rating The Mazes for HHN 25
Let’s just get to it, shall we? Here are my rankings of the 2015 HHN mazes from least favorite to most favorite.
9. The Walking Dead: The Living and the Dead
Although you can count me among the many who are tired of seeing The Walking Dead at Halloween Horror Nights, I nevertheless thought last year’s TWD maze was fantastic. I came to this year’s zombie themed maze tired of the franchise, but open minded. After all, at the end of the day, we are talking about zombies here. But, HHN finally ran out of ideas. This was the weakest maze I have ever experienced at HHN, and I have been attending since 2003. Most of the scares, especially during the first half of the maze, could be recreated at a 1982 roller skating rink haunted house. Strobe lights, jump scares, and dark hallways. Incredibly disappointing.
8. Asylum in Wonderland 3D
As far as 3D mazes go, this was a great one. I think the effects were some of the best I have seen and it was disorienting to say the least. But, 3D mazes are not my thing and this one, almost by default, was destined to be pretty low on the list. Rex is much more interested in classic fairy tales turned upside down, but I have not enjoyed the concept near as much. Why do 3D mazes always have themes that fit so nicely with 3D (clowns, Alice in Wonderland, etc)? Why not try a 3D maze themed to a original story of a brutal serial killer, or something like that?
7. Run: Blood, Sweat, and Fears
I was really excited about this maze because I enjoy the backstory and the concept as a whole. I was doubly excited about seeing Hellgate Prison be the backdrop of the game show RUN. Unfortunately, apart from being back in the prison, there wasn’t much here to brag about. Walking past the various kill zones and mayhem is a great idea, but it seemed lackluster and missing something. I was expecting to have this maze higher on my list.
6. American Werewolf In London
If you loved the 2013 version of this maze, you will love this one. The puppets have to be the single greatest prop to any HHN maze of all time and the flow of the maze is beautiful. Love it.
5. Freddy vs. Jason
This house had some unbelievably great elements. How can you not be pumped about the theme of two horror legends going face to face? Walking into camp crystal lake at the beginning of the maze was a special treat, surpassed only by the surreal and incredibly creepy entrance to the Elm Street house, complete with two little girls just outside the house who will scare your socks off. There were a ton of Jason’s in this maze (too many perhaps?) and strangely, the house utilized video projection screens toward the final half. They looked cool enough, but since HHN mazes are a conga line, you can’t stop and see what the heck is going on with the video. Thus, I’m not a huge fan of something that requires you to camp out a little while to get the full effect. Still, this was a beauty of a maze and a great addition to HHN 25.
4. Body Collectors
My rankings from this point on could really be in any order. I think each of the remaining houses could easily be a number 1 house for this event. Body Collectors is a special blend of beauty and gore. The facade to this maze is absolutely stunning, with a frozen, snow laced sanitarium awaiting those who dare to enter. Some of the classic scares from previous Body Collectors were in tact, such as the ripping of the spinal cord from a screaming girl’s body. Being inside Shadybrook gave me a warm feeling all over, but the horrors and gore were everywhere. Terrific maze that I hope will continue to be a franchise player in future HHN events.
The creep factor is through the roof on this maze, combined with some genuine scares. I was terrified after seeing the baby monitor on the side table as you enter the haunt (that scene in the original film scared me to death). Again, some beautiful imagery was to be found throughout this maze and in terms of jumps and scares alone, this maze comes in second for the event. The only thing I found lacking was that the facade was clearly a rehash of the Myers house from 2014 and even some of the rooms seemed to be modified from last year’s maze in this tent. Nevertheless, this is a major thumbs up.
2. The Purge
Non-stop carnage and confusion. This was one of the most active and violent houses I have ever seen (not to mention loud). Not overly themed and prop oriented, this one is all about the terror of feeling violated and threatened in a no-law zone. The alarm at the beginning of the maze signaling the purge got my blood pumping. And most of all, this was the first maze where I ever witnessed a plant used effectively – Rex and I were freaking out. We have never seen a haunted house effectively use a plant before. For whatever reason, hardcore HHN fans are down on this maze apparently because it was originally scheduled to be a Scream maze. But who cares? I thought for certain The Purge was going to be my favorite of the night, until….
1. Monsters and Mayhem
So much fun and so scary, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This would be a great maze for any haunted house fan, but if you have any history with Halloween Horror Nights at all, this one will have you screaming in the hallways. Since Rex and I have been attending HHN since 2003, we were able to recognize almost every throwback in this maze, although there were still several things we had never seen before. But by far was the special scene from Castle Vampyr, which causes Rex and I to briefly stop for a moment of reflection and awe. I wish we would have had time to walk through this one a second time.
Scarezones are a fun part of HHN every year. Here were my rankings this year.
5. Scary Tales ScreamPunk
It seems the scarezone toward the entrance of the park is never one of the better ones, and this year was no exception. This just didn’t do it for me.
4. Evil’s Roots
A staple of HHN, this zone is decked out in jack-o-lanterns, fog, and things that go bump in the night. Always a good zone.
3. All Nite Die In
I think this small location outside of the old Disaster attraction makes it difficult for any scare zone, but they did the best with what they had. I enjoyed seeing some old characters from the films of yesteryear.
Interesting idea – various icons from past years have their own little booth and will do interactive elements with onlooking guests. I enjoyed it.
Generally the best location for a scarezone, this one had lots of roaming psycho patients who did a good job creating a unique personality. Tons of fun.
Neither Rex nor I are huge show guys, but we did catch Jack’s carnage show, which was fun, but we missed Bill and Ted’s this year. But let’s face it, we are primarily there for the mazes and I thought this year was a solid outing for HHN. As usual, we are already interested in what might happen next year!
To see our photo collection from HHN 25, click here.