Pauloween has officially begun, boils and ghouls!
And finally…this year, the Paul has returned to Orlando! (yes, I know that joke is a couple of years past its prime)
This year, I was able to attend the opening night of Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights event (the last couple of years our buddy Kyle from View From the Cheap Seats has been attending for us) and, as usual, it was raining on opening night. I think that’s a good omen, as the dark clouds creep in, to prep us for the horrors at hand…
Check out our full review of the opening night of the event after the jump!
As usual, the opening night media event proves to be a great experience. In addition to meeting some of the creative staff of the event, we are treated like VIPs and given a guided tour of all 8 houses, the Bill & Ted show, and the scarezones.
This year there was no specific theme for the event. Rather, HHN 24 featured eight haunted houses (five inspired by licensed properties), and four scarezones (one inspired by a licensed property).
This year, HHN featured a very large scarezone inspired by the recent release, The Purge: Anarchy. Taking up the entire New York section of the park, visitors were surrounded by upstanding citizens defending their right to purge. A young man auctions off a woman to be sacrificed in honor of the purge, street signs and TV screens display warnings to those not purging to stay off the streets. This area of the park is exactly what you’d expect from a live event based on the events of the second Purge movie, and features some genuinely great acting. You feel on edge because you can’t really always tell who’s part of the act and who isn’t. Normal people walking around with machine guns and machetes, well dressed socialites willing to murder — if you’re a fan of the movie, you’ll love this section of the park. As it’s a rather large scarezone though, depending on when you hit it, it may not always be the most populated with scareactors.
Face Off: In The Flesh, based on the popular SyFy TV show, featured some of the best designs of years past on display and, though it wasn’t necessarily a typical “scarezone,” as the actors primarily stood on stages, it featured some extremely impressive makeup and set design. An added bonus is that Laura Dandridge, a previous Face Off winner and someone who started as an HHN makeup artist, worked on the makeup for these characters.
The other two scarezones are based on original concepts. Bayou of Blood takes place near the Pantages theater, the area of the park usually reserved for a nice walk amongst hundreds of lit jack-o-lanterns. This year, they’ve been replaced with flickering candles inside mason jars, and a bayou/New Orleans concept that features one of the highlights of this year’s event — the human sacrifice. (check out the below video from View From The Cheap Seats)
The final scarezone, Maskerade, is what is described as a “passive” scarezone. Rich socialites take pleasure in wearing each other’s faces as they dance the night away. They won’t mess with you…unless you get too close! Though it’s called “passive,” it’s really anything but. Great themeing in this scarezone, and some great jump scares.
The return of the scarezones was definitely welcome to fans this year who missed it after the “roving scareactors” themes that have been prevalent these last couple of years. Hopefully they will prove successful and return for future years.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure
The annual Bill & Ted show is always a highlight of HHN, parodying the year in pop culture and movies. This year’s show borrowed heavily from recent movie releases Neighbors and 22 Jump Street, and was, as usual, hilarious. References to Captain Phillips, Miley Cyrus, and more are sure to please the crowds. Also, if you’re not familiar with the show…it’s definitely not for kids. It gets more and more loaded with profanity and innuendo every year!
Of course the meet of the event lies in the houses. How did they stack up this year? Well, I have a clear favorite and a clear least favorite, but the ones in between? All uniformly excellent. This is definitely one of the strongest years of HHN, with fantastic technology, an extra-sized house, and just fantastic work all around!
Regular Funnybooks listeners will know that John Carpenter’s classic film is amongst my favorite all time movies, so it should come as no surprise that this was my fave house this year. Not only that, Creative Director Michael Aiello is extremely passionate about the house, as are the rest of the creative team, and it shows. Walking through this house is like walking through the original movie itself, and every nook and cranny is filled with some kind of easter egg, whether it be the clothes in the closet, the comics on the couch, or what’s showing on the TV, this is a MUST SEE house for every fan of the original Halloween…and who the hell isn’t a fan of the original Halloween?
AVP: Alien vs. Predator
My gosh…this house is absolutely amazing with the lights on. We’ll be waiting till the end of this upcoming weekend to post too many pictures from our lights-on tour of the houses (to avoid spoilers), but if you get a chance to tour this house with the lights on (the Unmasking the Horror tour), you’ll be able to see all the hard work that went into it. Taking a queue from all the puppetry skills learned from last year’s American Werewolf in London house, the xenomorphs in this house are extremely fantastic, and the Predators, while a little under-utlized compared to the alien, were very impressive, makeup-wise. Not the scariest house, mind you, but certainly impressive.
Roanoake: Cannibal Colony
This house actually was more impressive with the lights on. That’s not to say that it wasn’t impressive with the lights off, though. I didn’t have high hopes for the house, but I was certainly intrigued, given how close I live to where the whole Roanoake/Croatoan thing occurred. I enjoyed the fact that HHN tackled a historical property and this is definitely amongst the bloodiest houses of the year. Not only that, it actually had a good amount of scares – especially in the final scene (avoiding spoilers).
Giggles & Gore
You know, I actually didn’t have a lot of hope for the original properties this year – I felt they were a little generic. Clowns, Cannibals, and Dolls. Didn’t really seem like a recipe for anything new. I shouldn’t have doubted the guys at HHN. Giggles & Gore takes place in a factory where evil clowns are made, and is an extremely imaginative take on a clown haunted house. Just when you think you haven’t seen anything new when it comes to clown, this house definitely brings something new to the concept. Lots of fun.
Dollhouse of the Damned
A huge standout of the event – intentionally not a central storyline, this house instead goes for the concept of tackling different kinds of dolls in each room. This house is fantastically creepy – keep an eye (and nose) out for the “baby doll room.” Also keep an eye out for doll-related easter eggs, included a Chucky and, of course, Billy from Saw!
From Dusk Till Dawn
As a huge fan of the movie and a lesser fan of the TV show (I mean…it was okay…), I was super excited about this house. While fans of the show will definitely enjoy it, it’s more based on the TV show. The strongest scenes of the house are definitely the first (where a barker who looks JUST LIKE the actor in the TV show calls you into the house) and the last (where the Gecko brothers are having a shootout with the vampire filled club). You’ll definitely enjoy it a lot more if you’re a fan of the show, as a lot of the rooms are directly based on memorable scenes from the show (that aren’t in the movie), including a sacrificial chamber with victim you’ll instantly recognize. Inside note — the room RIGHT AFTER the sacrificial chamber was designed by Robert Rodriguez himself – it’s called the “Snake Room.”
Walking Dead: End of the Line
As someone who’s not a fan of the TV show, I really had to base my enjoyment on this house not on its callbacks to the TV show (of which there are many – look for a famous character’s head OUTSIDE in the queue on the way into the prison), but rather on the strength of the house. Universal Orlando’s longest house ever (and supposedly filled with as many as 50 scareactors amongst 14 scenes – the average is nine), this house is definitely going to appeal to fans of the show, but features some fantastic scenes even if you’re not. A supermarket sequence is a particular standout, as is a simple room at the end with chain link fences that just works. Inside tip, look up when you’re surrounded by brick and read the names on the wall … some may sound familiar to you…
While the movie was supposedly moved up to coincide with this house, I still feel like something was missing from this house. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t seen the movie, but even on its own, the house definitely felt like the clear bottom of the eight, and others seem to agree. As always, YMMV, but definitely not on par with the Dracula house done for HHN 19.
Just a quick note on the merchandise. Tons of cool items this year, including shirts and more dedicated to Walking Dead, Halloween, American Werewolf in London, and Chucky! Sadly, this year’s ball cap was not available opening weekend, but should be available first week of October.
Let me start off with the few negatives I have about this year’s event. I miss an icon. I really did miss a central theme this year, but I get that the houses and scarezones were so different, it may have been hard to link them together. But given that they’re mostly movie based, couldn’t the Director have returned? or the Usher? I love when Universal dives headfirst into original concepts, so five houses being based on licensed properties worried me…
…but ultimately, despite the lack of a central theme/icon (has there really been one since HHN21?), HHN24 is among my favorite years attending the event. The houses are spectacular, and the creative team is at the top of their game. Absolutely try to make it out to this year’s event, and while Halloween may have been my favorite house, every single one is worth seeing.
Halloween Horror Nights 24 runs through November 1st on select nights. Check http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/ for details on dates and pricing.
Check back in with us this weekend for tons of photos from our lights-on tour of the houses and keep it here all month on IoM for more Pauloween goodness, including a review of this year’s Howl-O-Scream event at Busch Gardens Williamsburg!
And don’t forget to check out Kyle’s video from opening night at HHN at View From The Cheap Seats!