(this article includes our final thoughts on the first weekend of HHN26, with new information, pictures, video, and rankings. To see what our initial impressions were, click here).
Halloween Horror Nights 2016 is in the books for us here at IoM (or is it?). We attended the first weekend of the event, as well as team member preview, so at this point, we’ve visited the event four times, each house and scarezone multiple times, done Scareactor Dining, drank the specialty beer, and emptied our pockets on merchandise. What’s changed from our initial impressions? Quite a bit, actually.
Our initial experience from team member preview:
SPOILER WARNINGS IN FULL EFFECT!
Rather than giving each house a numerical score, why don’t we count down from 9 to 1, with 9 being our least favorite house, and 1 being our favorite house? This helps force me to make tough decisions on which one I liked more than the other, and be a little more detailed in my thoughts.
9. The Exorcist – While I know this won’t be a popular opinion, based on what I’ve heard from other’s throughout this event, I truly feel like this house was entirely ineffective. You have to get the timing just right to get the scenes that play out in each room and, quite honestly, it’s just not scary to me. The movie terrified movie (it’s probably the scariest movie I’ve ever seen), but this house was just a bit, well, boring for me. The ending, with its giant statue of Pazuzu head coming out at you, is pretty laughable. While I appreciate the attempt to do something creative with this house, it just felt repetitive and overly reliant on animatronics for its main character, and on knowledge of the story of the movie, rather than trying to tell its own.
8. Tomb of the Ancients – I really wanted to like this house, guys. But now having gone through it multiple times, I like it less and less every time. I don’t quite get the “story” of the house, and it’s too dark and tight to really get a bearing of anything beyond “there’s a lot of crap hanging from the ceiling.” I love the concept of the house, and I appreciate what design work I was able to see, but the attempt to make the “tomb” claustrophobic, for me, resulted in it just feeling small and unexciting. The idea of incorporating different mythologies got muddled in the message, and, ultimately, left me pretty much not wanting to take another trek through this tomb.
7. American Horror Story – Funny enough, I don’t really have much negative to say about American Horror Story. I just didn’t really get much out of it as I haven’t seen the show. Again, a reliance on knowledge of the show is a must (I mean, when you see a guy in leather with a panty hose over his head chainsawing someone, you’re probably going to be a little confused, but the house is effective nonetheless. There are good scares, effective set pieces, and some genuinely uncomfortable moments that get under your skin. Overall, after visiting AHS a couple of times, while I still didn’t know what was going on, at least I enjoyed it.
6. The Walking Dead – I know I’m one of the few people out there who isn’t a fan of The Walking Dead, but I have to admit that this year’s house was probably one of the best TWD houses that UO has ever done. While it was certainly a “small scale” house compared to the huge set pieces present in the previous couple of years (no super market, no helicopter, that I could see), by not sticking to a certain season, and rather telling the “greatest hits” of all six seasons, I think we got a more exciting house. I enjoyed the prison, and the final room with its mirror trickery, and of course the RV scene at the beginning. While I know TWD has become something diehard HHN fans have come to groan about, this year’s house shows that UO is making an attempt to do the property right.
5. Lunatic’s Playground: You Won’t Stand A Chance – What? How did the Chance house, a 3D house, make its way up to #5 on my list? Well, because after going through it multiple times, it just seemed to get better and better. Special kudos to the queue video, which is difficult to pay attention to (with the loud music playing over it outside of the house), but is certainly worth checking out. I enjoyed jumping in and out of Chance’s mind, and though the 3D wasn’t the best I’ve ever seen, it was fairly effective. I enjoyed the character designs, and the swirling tunnel, and the chaotic spirit of the house, and made sure it was the last house I hit before leaving the event on Sunday.
4. Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch – An early favorite for me, Ghost Town has dropped from the top spot after multiple visits, and its mostly due to the fact that, while technically a pretty amazing achievement, it just wasn’t scary. This is the one house that made me say “wow” multiple times, but perhaps I was given a bit too much time to take in the scenery. It felt like there weren’t enough scareactors for some of the larger set pieces, and while I enjoyed the fun classic feel of an old west ghost town, it seemed to lack a little of the bite of my top three houses.
3. Texas Chainsaw Massacre – I had a hard time deciding between #2 and #3 on the list because I almost feel like I enjoyed them equally. However, I did have three bad experiences with TCM, so that’s what made the decision easier. On the first, I got stuck in a room for a long period of time (still not sure what the hold up was). On the second, the timing of the biggest set piece of the house was such that I missed the entire thing. On the third, the house closed for rain because a portion of it is outside. While not anything particularly bad on the actors or the house design, it’s what made the difference between 2 and 3 for me. However, I enjoyed the hell out of this house – Leatherface and the rest of the Sawyers are present and, though not every iconic scene in the house is present (though we get to see the door slam at the bottom of the stairs twice), enough were present for you to not miss what wasn’t there. All the Leatherface actors did a fantastic job, and the sound design and design department worked overdrive to make you feel like you were in the trailer for the iconic movie.
2. Krampus – Guys, I really love this house. While not scary in the slightest, boy was it a ton of fun. I enjoyed all the creatures from the movie that were present in the house, and even the lack of an actual Krampus (none of them were operational, from what I could tell, on opening weekend) could hurt this house from being the #2 of the event for me. The Jack in the Box, the evil Teddy, the Gingerbread Men and Elves…all of them looked fantastic! I especially loved Krampus’ lair, which included multiple callbacks to HHN past, though you’re likely to have to go to an Unmasking the Horror tour to genuinely see and enjoy them.
Halloween II – Somehow, I missed the house on my initial review. And, in my thoughts on the houses prior to the event starting, I even said I wasn’t terribly excited about seeing Michael Myers again. However, UO took Halloween II and made a fantastic house out of it. Truly a sequel to the original house from 2014, we go from the final moments of the original Halloween directly into the events of Halloween II, told in an impressive display of hospital chaos and violence, that, quite frankly, has more memorable moments than the original movie. The damn shaking trash can got me every time, and #dumpstermike became a thing. Passion is on display in this house, and it’s clear to me that Michael Myers brings out the best in the creative team. Now when do I get my Halloween 6 house?
- Vamp 1955: As the weekend went on, this scarezone got more and more fun as the scareactors truly embraced the outrageous concept and ran with it. Though still, essentially, two large set pieces, the 50’s music and fun vibe made this a scarezone worth hanging out in. Numerous memorable characters, from the ice cream man to the principal, were present, and Vamp 1955 went from a “meh” to a zone that I really enjoyed visiting this year. The school bus that was there on TM preview was no longer there over the weekend, which was a bit of a welcome removal, as it allowed the actors to condense to the two main “stages” and make the area feel more dense.
- A Chance in Hell: Someone told me over the weekend that if you remove Chance from this scarezone, it becomes relatively lackluster. While I don’t entirely agree with that, I don’t entirely disagree with it either. The crazy scareactors all jumped into their roles with gusto (omg, the freakin’ one with the bedpan), and the staged scenes of gore are all pretty effective. HOWEVER, I do think that, without Chance, this scarezone is nowhere near as effective. She brings a much needed element to it, and her interaction with the crowds is fantastic. I don’t know how many actresses they have playing Chance, but I will say that I loved all of them, and enjoyed spending a couple of minutes at her stage every time I passed through this zone.
(My thoughts on the next three zones didn’t change, so I’m going to regurgitate them)
- Dead Man’s Wharf: While the set pieces in this scarezone are pretty ridiculously awesome, Dead Man’s Wharf is, essentially, two set pieces, right across from each other, right in front of where the Disaster ride used to be. It’s an extremely short scarezone that, unfortunately, has such tight walkthrough, it can’t help but get extremely cluttered trying to walk through, as everyone stops to look around. It’s definitely enjoyed the zone, just felt like it was very short and, unfortunately, going to result in traffic on peak nights.
- Banshee’s Lair: A fun, if a bit generic, scarezone, this is in the Central Park area of Universal Studios Orlando, and features numerous cave-like formations where creatures can hide. Tons of potential for scares in this zone, and the Irish music that plays throughout the zone may not really be dread-inducing, but certainly fits the theme.
- Survive or Die: In the New York section of the park, we get a very Purge meets Mad Max scarezone, Survive or Die. Different factions tell the story of a post-apocalyptic wasteland (something that’s been done in previous HHN years), but in a way that doesn’t necessarily feel repetitive of previous entries. I love the constant energy and fire throughout the zone, and definitely recommend walking through it in its entirety.
- Roaming Hordes: Roaming chainsaw hordes travel throughout the park to scare you (though they’re definitely more centralized to certain areas) – make sure to keep an eye out for them, as the cheerleaders with chainsaws are pretty darn fantastic.
Check out our video of the scarezones here:
- Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure: I saw B&T twice this year, and I gotta say….there was no way I was going to see it again. I really, really didn’t care for this year’s show. So many jokes fell flat, and the problem seemed to be on the writing side of things. Rather than trying to tell a series of bad jokes, why don’t we try to find humor in the story itself? Just feels like this show has gone down in quality year after year. I know that’s harsh, and I truly love the dancers and the actors in the show … I blame this one on the writing. The timing and delivery of bad jokes doesn’t make them good jokes, unfortunately.
- Academy of Villains – House of Fear: I saw this show twice, and I really almost did want to see it again. AoV is a show that truly belongs at HHN, and I’d welcome its addition to future events (maybe replacing B&T?), as it feels like the future of the event. Fresh, fun, and exciting, this show is an energetic kick in the pants and I couldn’t get enough of it. Putting it in a venue where we can sit in stadium style seating and enjoy it fully? Make it happen, UO.
I will freely admit that if the Scareactor dining was $30 instead of $50, I’d probably do it more than once. While the food was a bit on the lackluster side, the characters themselves were all fantastic. Essentially, what you’re paying for here is 1:1 time with Chance, and it comes in spades. She visited us multiple times, and each time was better than the one before. Irreverent, funny, and just fantastic, I couldn’t get enough time with Chance. She had us cracking up, and truly made this the most memorable experience of HHN for me. In addition, we got to see Michael Myers, a creature from Lair of the Banshees, a Geisha with a chainsaw, and a pumpkinhead creature. Absolutely worth the cost of admission for Chance alone.
I do wish they’d done something a little more fun with the food though. We had some creative treats at the Media Event on Friday night. Why not incorporate some of those fun goodies into this? I’d rather get hot dogs and themed desserts than a carving station and chicken marsala. Fun dishes to fit the theme, carnival food, that kind of thing. That seems like something I would have enjoyed more, rather than the food I’m genuinely having a hard time remembering. Again though, you’re going to the scareactors, and they make it all worthwhile.
Check out our video of the experience here:
Lot of back and forth online about this year’s march. Some people truly don’t like the Chance logo for this year’s event (which kind of makes her look like a babydoll with the mouth broken off), but I actually kind of dig it. However, if you’re not a fan, there’s still plenty to purchase this year, with shirts for each one of the IPs, cool hand painted Chance skulls, post cards (which were cooler than I originally thought they would be), and more. Plenty for fans of AHS and TWD, with lunch boxes, hoodies, Funko Pops, and playing cards. I didn’t see any specific “high end collectibles” on par with the “Jack” in the box and totems from last year, though. Which, depending on what you’re looking for, could be a good or bad thing. Check out our tour of the HHN tribute store here:
For other food and beverage options, check out our look at all the HHN-exclusive food and beverage:
I’m going to be blunt here – HHN26 isn’t going to go down as my favorite year of the event, nor do I think it will for anyone else. After last year’s big anniversary event, I appreciate that UO didn’t try to one-up it by going “bigger, bigger, bigger” and, rather focused on an event that brought in a number of different experiences. For fans of IPs this year definitely had them in spades and, while I wasn’t initially excited about the thought (I prefer original properties), the skill put into those houses really had them shine. Krampus, Texas Chainsaw, and Halloween II were all fantastic.
While so many shout out cries of “Harley Quinn,” I have to say that, for what it’s worth, it’s not like Jack is really the first evil clown we’ve ever come across either, you know? However, what separates Jack and Chance is the story and the fun that the scareactors bring to the characters, and every iteration of Chance I saw this year was fantastic. Scareactor Dining with her is a must, as is spending time at her stage in her scarezone.
A solid year, all around, if not overly exceptional, HHN26 had some fantastic houses, and some genuine middle of the road ones. Scarezones were generally solid as well. I was on the fence about attending this year, but now I’m glad I did. I look forward to seeing what changes and tweaks occur over the course of the event. And while we won’t be there, keep it tuned to our friends, View From the Cheap Seats and Z Chris, who will be, for more on the event!
One more video – our experience at the opening night media event: