Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights brings the party hard to Orlando, Florida in 2018. Welcome to the ’80s, where extraterrestrial invaders suck out townspeople’s insides and material-girl vamps celebrate New Year’s Eve in glitter-bomb fashion. It’s not a hard-set theme, but with mazes and scare zones honoring Stranger Things, Child’s Play, Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, and other “old-school” riot material, there’s no escape from titillating terrors of yesteryear’s most amusement-filled classics.

Senior Director of Entertainment Creative Development Mike Aiello echoed the same observation in our pre-festival interview, stating “There’s an energy this year that’s just different. I think the ’80s vibe infested the rest of the event.”

Park attendees can expect another laboriously curated round of haunts, representative menu items (e.g. Eleven’s waffle obsession), and chain-saw-revving noises that make for an electric surge that’ll have you howlin’ with glee well past witching hours.

This year sees an unprecedented 36 record-breaking nights of Halloween horrors, including 10 different original and licensed mazes alongside five separate scare zones. With additions to canon such as Poltergeist and Trick ‘r Treat (once a scare zone, now a fully-fleshed experience), creators enthusiastically stressed their desire to recreate every memorable moment from said intellectual properties. You better believe Poltergeist’s attraction includes larger-than-life puppets and Mr. Skeleton Beast for all to gaze upon/run away from. Animatronics and marionette work breathe life on a massive scale, including Chucky’s stand-up comedy routine as onlookers pass through his “Revenge Of Chucky” scare zone.

Horror fans, Universal has not let you down.

Scare Zones

Five territorial scare zones range from warped holiday signatures to slasher mainstays, as actors patrol invisible boundaries with intent to thrill. My favorite has to be Killer Klowns From Outer Space, as holographic displays cover brick-and-mortar storefronts with big-top colorization and darkened carnival impressions. Costumed “Klowns” skulk around with their weaponry in-hand, attention to detail absolutely paramount in delivering what lovers of the Chiodo brothers’ cult midnighter will go ga-ga over. Did I snap a picture next to dangling cotton candy cocoons? Of course. Exclusive to the Universal’s Orlando location, walking the Killer Klowns popcorn-and-polka-dots beat is reason enough for a Horror Nights visit.

“My hope is that the [Killer Klowns] scare zone is a huge hit. If it does rate very well and people love ‘em, maybe in future years I can translate that into a haunted maze experience.” Seconded, Mr. Aiello. You’ve got my 5-star rating already.

Elsewhere, scarecrows and barnyard freaks with smashed jack-o-lantern faces evoke October decor as only Halloween’s nastiest minds can reanimate. “The Harvest” itself is a bit simple, but “Twisted Tradition” brings aesthetic thunder by placing carved pumpkins in treetops as visitors saunter nervously below. It feels like you’ve been transported into A Nightmare Before Christmas, so wonderfully macabre but still scenic enough to please more than punish those who might not seek constant torture. As a horror fan, these pathways feel like home. Flickering candles, scythe-wielding monsters and all.

This brings us to “Revenge Of Chucky,” which was described as a “sequel” to Universal’s direct-to-VOD Cult Of Chucky. Per development heads, Chucky crashes a Play Pals 30th anniversary celebration and recruits whichever branded toys he can into his cult of serial killer personality. You’ll stroll by displays covered in dead bodies as Play Pals workers find themselves slain in worse and more grotesque ways (Barrel Of Monkeys becomes Monkey Mayhem, for example), and as alluded to before, Chucky himself roasts anyone brave enough to catch a minute or two of his “show.” These are the creative liberties that make Halloween Horror Nights so special, as Universal doesn’t just copycat existing Child’s Play scenes – they go above and beyond to please fans with something new, connected, and exciting. Hell, you’ve got a premise for one badass Child’s Play continuation right here! Although I would have loved some Chuckys wandering the zone, but alas – at least on opening night – such was not available.

Lastly, there’s “Vamp ‘85: New Year’s Eve” – complete with a massive stage where New York City’s bulb-covered ball drops. Expect hair metal, leatherbound vampires, 80s hairdos – yeah, this place rules. It’s like being stuck in a John Hughes movie except with more neck chomping and the event’s band has been dismembered. When you’re not running through mazes trying to act tougher than you really are, hang out here. As Ratt blasted from stage amps and fog rolled over sidewalks, part of me wanted to sneak away from my group to chill with vampiric parties for another 30 minutes. I promise you’ll want to do the same.

Halloween 4 Halloween Horror Nights

The Haunts

While scare zones provide entertaining respite from monstrous mayhem, mazes represent Halloween Horror Nights’ bread-’n-butter. This year, especially for devout genre fans, is a bona fide wealth of riches. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Trick ‘r Treat, Happy Death Day, The First Purge, Stranger Things, Poltergeist, “Slaughter Cinema” – do you feel those goosebumps already? Get used to it.

Stranger Things

Hawkins, Indiana plays host to Universal’s most sought-after maze of Halloween Horror Nights (if opening queues were any indication). Netflix’s Stranger Things invasion specifically recreates Season 1 as quarantine-suited agents attempt to defeat the Demogorgon hot on your tail. Some two-way mirror effects play with portals into the Demogorgon’s homeworld, and you’ll encounter numerous characters from a frantic Joyce Byers to her son’s inquisitive clan of misfits. Production spares no Hawkins-specific detail but is more in the business of (fine and dandy) fan-servicing than hoot-and-holler haunted thrills. This said, Stranger Things lovers won’t find a lick of disappointment here. Just pray Eleven can keep that snarly Demogorgon (killer design) distracted long enough to race your way through.

Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers

Escape through Haddonfield as both bandaged and masked Michael Myers swings his machete throughout the film’s most memorable set pieces. Uniquely, Universal understands the scares you’re expecting – I’ll say Michael isn’t always the harbinger of screams. Jamie (played by Danielle Harris on screen) redirects with tremendous effect since we’re so focused on the obvious. Homages to Dr. Loomis and outdoor boggy forests look every bit the part, but Universal takes full advantage of genre norms by subverting expectations as accomplished filmmakers often do. This maze is an example of how designers pay attention to scares and horror expectations just as much as Michael Myers’ iconic appeal – a delight considering how some haunts can become repetitive in nature.

Seeds Of Extinction

In “Seeds Of Extinction,” an asteroid crash lands and turns Small Town, USA into a root-ensnared, vine-covered apocalypse (a bit Creepshow “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill). Scare actors dressed in fungi mutations and Little Shop Of Horrors imagery emerge from heavily-greened architecture covered floor-to-ceiling in plant life. What’s best and most true about “Seeds Of Extinction” is – more than any other maze – you won’t notice upcoming jumps until it’s too late. Living Venus fly traps hide in thickets of leaves; a hazy mist moisturizes while the sound of outrageous growth sloppily slithers. As a Universal original, imagination soars in “Seeds Of Extinction.” Who knew foliage could be so frightful?

Trick ‘r Treat

Is it sick that I wanted to live inside Universal’s Trick ‘r Treat maze forever? Michael Dougherty partnered with maze makers to give his final approval and boy does Sam steal Horror Nights’ show. You’ll explore each anthology segment – Mr. Kreeg’s house, the quarry, Laurie’s woodland ceremony grounds – all while Dougherty’s burlap-sacked-headed mascot makes sure you abide by Halloween’s rules (too bad you’re not in costume). This is, without argument, a dream come true for fans. Bravo to Universal for realizing how beloved Dougherty’s festive anthology is. I’ll admit, Rhonda got me good at one moment. And Sam? I just wanted to high-five the spooky October gatekeeper. Double hells-yeah for the animatronic wolfy you’ll encounter, too – better production than I’ve seen in recent werewolf flicks.

The Horrors Of Blumhouse

It’s no surprise that Universal teamed with Blumhouse once again for a double-edged maze in Orlando spotlighting Happy Death Day and The First Purge. First, you’ll pass through dorm rooms while a babyfaced killer stalks your every move. As is the nature of Happy Death Day, this can become a little repetitive (pushing clothes hangers aside as the murderer jumps for the Xth time), but then you reach a chain-link-fenced hallway lit by televisions buzzing snowy static. Sirens blare and you’ve entered America’s very first Purge night, as scare actors modeled after “Skeletor” pop from around corners with the most disturbing smile and laughter. It’s a short burst, but The First Purge stretch of Blumhouse’s maze stands as one of my favorite moments where you become lost inside a cinematic reality. 

Continue Reading Halloween Horror Nights >>

Pages: 1 2Next page

Cool Posts From Around the Web: