Halloween Horror Nights 2010 has emerged from the darkness at the Universal Orlando Resort in its twentieth year. With tributes to the event’s past combined with plenty of new ideas, Halloween Horror Nights XX is a must-see for any haunted house fan.
This year, I’m happy to report that the event is filled with many more hits than misses. Throughout its eight haunted houses, six scare zones, and two shows, I was thoroughly entertained, and even occasionally frightened. Now, being a big fan of Halloween and having been through many haunted houses over the years, it takes a lot to truly scare me. Anyone can be startled by a loud noise or screaming scareactor, but true scares are hard to come by. This year, I surprisingly found my heart racing once or twice from excitement and perhaps even a little fear while wandering the haunted halls of Halloween Horror Nights’ many mazes.
In the past, I’ve ranked the houses at Halloween Horror Nights by scare factor and entertainment value on a scale from 1-10, but this year I’m changing things up. In my review below, you will find each haunted house, scare zone, and show summarized with my thoughts and ranked into one or more categories: Screamer (scare-filled), Gut Buster (comedy-packed), Eye Popper (visually-stunning), and/or Mind Blower (overall best in show). Of course, in the case of a complete dud, I’m calling it a Grave Digger (as in, it has dug its own grave). The goal is for these categories to help you better select which Halloween Horror Nights houses, scare zones, and shows you’re most interested in seeing, as long lines and limited hours can often prevent you from experiencing it all.
So with that said, I bring you my review of Halloween Horror Nights 2010:
Halloween Horror Nights 2010 Haunted Houses
Horror Nights: The Hallow’d Past
RANKING: Eye Popper
REVIEW: Located in the back of the park next to Catacombs, The Hallow’d Past is the perfect house to hit first. It sets the stage for the entire night in the same way a “Previously on…” does at the beginning of an episode of a long-running television series. If you’ve ever been to Halloween Horror Nights in the past, you will recognize familiar faces, props, and even entire scenes from some of your favorite haunted houses and scare zones. Nothing is off limits. From Universal-original creations to licensed properties, I dare say that all of your favorites can be found inside this house. It would take hundreds of repeat walk-throughs to see all of the remnants of Horror Nights’ past scattered throughout this house. While walking through, it was clear that the Horror Nights creative team knew exactly which scenes and characters to resurrect to not only pay tribute to but also please the fans. First-timers to Halloween Horror Nights will still enjoy the house, but not nearly as much as those familiar with the event’s past. This is not a house to rush through. The scares are frequent, but anyone who can look past them will see a wealth of Horror Nights history. Watch out for the shift change though. The scenes in this house are each important pieces of Horror Nights’ past and you won’t want to miss any of them on account of scareactors being swapped out.
Catacombs: Black Death Rising
RANKING: Screamer, Mind Blower
REVIEW: Catacombs is the type of haunted house I normally don’t care for. It’s a pretty standard maze theme of undead creatures rising from underground to get you. But for some reason, this house scared me more than any other. Maybe it was the dusty old smell. Maybe it was the believable underground setting. Or maybe it was just dead, wrapped, mummified people suddenly reaching out from a crypt and scaring the heck out of me. Yeah, I think it was that last one. This house gives me the chills just thinking about it. It’s a rather simple house but is extremely well executed and is one of the few in recent Horror Nights history to actually give me a few really good scares. Something about the element of decrepit old creatures wrenching themselves out of hundreds of years’ worth of dust just creeps me out. Adding to the realism is the dust-induced coughing coming from most of the characters as they emerge from their not-so-eternal slumber.
Legendary Truth: The Wyandot Estate
RANKING: Eye Popper, Mind Blower
REVIEW: Each year, the Halloween Horror Nights team picks one new house out of the bunch to test out new technologies, effects, and techniques. Legendary Truth is that house this year and it is filled with original, creative, and surprising visuals that I won’t dare spoil for you here. This maze is true to the name “haunted house” as it is set inside an ordinary-looking house that is being investigated by the Spirit Seekers, a group of ghost hunters. If you’ve ever enjoyed SyFy’s “Ghost Hunters” or any similar paranormal investigation show, this house puts you in the middle of it - and the ghosts are coming for you. But unlike those television shows where the best you can hope to see is a lens flare or creaking door, Legendary Truth gives you ghosts. And lots of them. And they’re not where you’ll expect them to be. And they don’t move like you expect them to move. While it’s not necessarily scary, it is visually impressive and definitely worth a visit. But timing is necessary for a great experience in this house. If you are one of the unlucky ones to enter the line at the wrong time, all of the great effects and occurrences will take place either right in front or right behind you, causing you to miss everything. Unfortunately there’s no way of knowing when this will happen, so you’ll just have to turn around and try again.
PsychoScareapy: Echoes of Shadybrook
RANKING: Grave Digger
REVIEW: I hate to say it, but this incarnation of the popular Halloween Horror Nights haunted house series PsychoScareapy did not work for me. It was repetitive, not only in decor but also in scare tactics and costuming. Each corner seemed to turn into another room that was nearly identical to the last. None of the “crazy” inmates seemed crazy enough for me to be scared. I have really enjoyed past PsychoScareapy houses, as they’ve tended to throw a bit of insane comedy into the mix. This year, the goal was to be scary and instead it fell flat. One scene involving a hallway of holding cells, hands, and bars sticks out to me as the best the house has to offer.
The Orfanage: Ashes to Ashes
RANKING: Eye Popper, Screamer
REVIEW: The popular but rarely-seen Halloween Horror Nights character of Cindy, the Caretaker’s daughter, finally has a house of her own this year. She personally bookends this house, allowing her fellow orphan (or “orfan”) children to steal the show - and they’re downright creepy. The house is filled with scareactors popping out of places you wouldn’t expect, as many of them are rather tiny and can squeeze into (and emerge from) tight places. Couple that with the always-disturbing sinister children’s laughter and a few visuals and effects unique to this house, and a trip through Orfanage is an overall good time. The house is partially based on Cindy’s ability to use her mind to set things on fire and one surprising effect inside will definitely keep you sweating.
Hades: The Gates of Ruin
RANKING: Screamer for some, Grave Digger for me
REVIEW: I had to give this house a double-ranking as I witnessed plenty of guests being scared by its actors. Personally, I just saw a bunch of guys in rubber masks. This house is based on Greek mythology and it may help to be familiar with those characters. But in the end, to me, they’re still just guys (and girls) in rubber masks. I also managed to miss Hades himself, instead seeing an empty throne. The good news is that there is one solid scare to be found in this house that beautifully combines misdirection, lighting, sound, and an actor popping out where you least expect it. Short of that one moment, I was not too fond of this house.
Havoc: Dogs of War
REVIEW: Out of all of the Halloween Horror Nights 2010 houses, Havoc stumps me. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great. It was entertaining, but not ground-breaking. It was creepy, but not overly scary. It’s a tough one to rank. Its story is supposed to involve the creation of some sort of super soldiers, but all I saw was a bunch of crazy bald people popping out behind walls, slamming down panels, and slithering out of tubes. But I did hit with some water and was attacked by a chainsaw, so it wasn’t all bad.
RANKING: Gut Buster, Eye Popper
REVIEW: Each year, Halloween Horror Nights features one comedy-based house, that blends humor with horror. Zombiegeddon is that house this year - but not as you might expect. It starts quite amusingly with walls lined with clever WWII-style propaganda posters encouraging the average citizen to take up arms against the zombie outbreak. Be sure to walk slowly and check them all out. And remember, a zombie outbreak can infect anyone - even infants. But halfway through the house, the comedy subsides, replaced by police sirens and buildings being overtaken by zombies who are just waiting to pounce at you. It seems that there just aren’t enough regular people left to battle in some parts of the world created by this house. My only disappointment with Zombiegeddon is that there is no one giant zombie hoard, slowly lumbering at you. Instead, they’re interspersed throughout the house, often attacking alone, but occasionally using their few remaining brain cells to form a small team against you.
Halloween Horror Nights 2010 Scare Zones
Before I give you my review of each of the six new scare zones for Halloween Horror Nights 2010, here’s a video summary of them all, shot during the employee preview night on Sept. 22:
And a daytime/dusk tour through the HHN: 20 Years of Fear and Fear Revealed scare zones, shot on opening night (Sept. 24), focusing on icons and characters of the past - and a great look at Fear himself:
(Did you notice the chainsaw drill team member scaring me near the end of the video? That’s what happens when you pay too much attention to a video camera and not enough on your surroundings!)
HHN: 20 Years of Fear
RANKING: Eye Popper, Mind Blower
REVIEW: Fans of Halloween Horror Nights will appreciate seeing all of the characters, props, and set pieces placed together inside this scare zone. It’s not heavy on the scares (though thick fog at the entrance does help), but is full of fun details. Characters found here range from the Crypt Keeper from HHN’s early years to steampunk Frankenstein from 2009′s event and everything in between. (And don’t miss the hidden bonus of an old ghost trap from Universal’s Ghostbusters attraction placed on a shelf just inside the scare zone on the left side.)
XX: Fear Revealed
RANKING: Eye Popper, Gut Buster
REVIEW: This street zone connects directly to the backend of HHN: 20 Years of Fear, merging characters from the past with the big reveal of Fear himself, this year’s icon, majestically standing high in front of a giant XX to commemorate the twentieth year of Halloween Horror Nights. Standing below Fear are a set of minions, clad in black outfits with glowing faces that greatly resemble the iconic lantern from this year’s event. As night falls, flames dance above the XX. Fear surprisingly won’t scare you, but he will impress, especially after dark. Nearby, the five past icons that Fear has controlled (Jack the Clown, the Caretaker, the Storyteller, the Director, and the Usher) wander the area, posing for pictures with guests while injecting some humor by way of their actions. The related characters of Cindy (Caretaker’s daughter) and Chance (Jack’s crazy female friend) add even more excitement to the area. It’s not a scare zone, but it will entertain all who pass through, regardless of whether you’re familiar with these characters or not.
Saws n’ Steam
RANKING: Screamer, Eye Popper, Gut Buster
REVIEW: Last year’s Frankenstein house brought the popular visual style of steampunk to Halloween Horror Nights. This year, the design team expanded that notion into its own scare zone, combining the always-entertaining chainsaw drill team with the idea that water is powering the world, but it’s rare, so the characters are looking to harvest it from within you. While the small scenes that play out from the steampunk characters are amusing, it’s the chainsaw drill team that steals the show here. Emerging from an ultra-thick cloud of fog (to the point of zero visibility), it’s nearly a constant flow of screams emanating from this zone as the roar of chainsaws follow guests running away. This is one of those scare zones where you can just sit back and watch the fun unfold, laughing at others’ misfortune.
Update (10/4/10): The thick cloud of fog was greatly reduced last night, providing much more visibility inside the scare zone and allowing the small scene inside to be viewed. Some guests even stopped for photo opportunities with the actors (picture updated above).
REVIEW: At first, this scare zone seemed totally out of place to me. There are no zombies, no skeletons, and no creatures covered in open wounds. Instead, there are a few pilgrims in exaggerated period costumes seemingly tied to poles, roasting atop fire pits, while witches look on and laugh. Where’s the scare, right? Wrong. All of that is just a facade to attract your attention. Once you’re inside, there is no escaping the scares here. It’s not an elaborate scare zone, but it is effective.
RANKING: Eye Popper, Screamer
This lack-of-scare zone makes up for its not-so-frightful nature with plenty of black-lit skeletons and bright colors. It’s a fun zone to walk through, but you likely won’t be screaming while you do.
Update (10/4/10): Halloween Horror Nights is an ever-changing event. Its designers tweak its elements over its run to continue to improve it. In the case of Esqueleto Muerte, plenty of scares have now been added in the form of scareactors hidden in completely black outfits. The brightly-colored skeletons act as the distraction while the almost impossible to see black-clad actors sneak up behind unsuspecting guests who think they’re safe. This zone now produces plenty of startles.
RANKING: Eye Popper, Screamer, Gut Buster, Mind Blower
REVIEW: Amidst the droning, familiar lyrics of the Universal Studios Mardi Gras song (“Feet don’t fail me now…”) lies a scare zone that not only does its job in starling guests, but also provides solid entertainment for those standing by and watching. The actors in this area are multi-talented, combining festive Jazz-infused dance moves with jerky gyrations instantly recognizable to that of a zombie. The result is both disturbing and hilarious. From dancers to musicians, the whole Mardi Gras parade team is there, but this time they’re hungry for flesh, munching on bloody limbs while still screaming for beads from the recently-crashed parade float. Add in a massive fireball occasionally erupting over the water nearby, surprising both the guests and actors playing along, and this scare zone is high on entertainment value. I’m glad there are nearby benches because I could sit and watch this area all night long.
Halloween Horror Nights 2010 Shows
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure
RANKING: 2010′s Grave Digger
REVIEW: This year’s incarnation of the popular Bill & Ted show left me puzzled as to what to think. Everything was solid about the show and yet I left desiring more. With that said, I don’t fault the show’s creators for this mediocre year. The real problem is that 2010 was filled with pop culture mediocrity. This year, there have been very few overly exciting, embarrassing, or outrageous TV shows, movies or celebrity antics - and it is from those items that the Bill and Ted show draws its humor. Without fun pop culture to parody, the show ends up wandering through characters, grasping at straws. But it’s clear that the show’s writers know it. The show itself repeatedly and explicitly makes the statement that 2010 has been, to steal a phrase from Bill and Ted, most non-non-heinous. Indeed, Bill and Ted take us on a bogus journey this year, reminding us all of how much trash we regularly ingest over the airwaves (i.e. “Jersey Shore”). It’s also worth noting that this year’s version of the Excellent Halloween Adventure involved a lot fewer scantily-clad women with far less gratuitous sexuality. And for the audience that frequents this show, I think that’s a bad thing.
Brian Brushwood: Menace and Malice
REVIEW: Unfortunately, I didn’t catch Brushwood’s show. We were on target to see it until the skies opened and the rain came down, delaying our night’s activities just enough to miss it. If I return and see it, I’ll be sure to return here to post a review.
Halloween Horror Nights 2010 Tips and Tricks
Three fun Halloween Horror Nights items I picked up on while wandering through the event on opening night:
Halloween Horror Nights 2010 takes place over 25 nights in September and October on the following nights:
You can buy tickets now and find more information on HalloweenHorrorNights.com.
Photos from Halloween Horror Nights 2010: