Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights is a once-a-year event that garners tons of excitement from die-hard fans of both horror and Universal! The various haunted houses and scare-zones are dripping with nostalgia and creativity that cannot be missed; the sheer love of this event from the designers and actors to the fans and community can be felt with every step through the park. The animation for this year’s event was especially great because of the announcement of the Stranger Things haunted house, based off of the increasingly popular Netflix show. This year is easily Universal’s most ambitious event, with record-breaking amounts of mazes offered and “scareactors” performing. The houses all have a few things in common that make this event so memorable: strong atmospheres, great production, and well-timed scares. This year’s event is one of their best yet, and it’d be a mistake not to go to Halloween Horror Nights 2018. The houses this year were all impressive and done brilliantly; however, ranking the houses comes down to personal preference. Here is my ranking of the houses from least favorite to most favorite.
Scary Tales: Deadly Ever After
This was my least favorite house from this year (which was disappointing, because I had high hopes for it this year). The stories were hard to distinguish, and although the premise was “twisted” traditional fairy tales, the transitions from scene to scene and the sets were confusing and muddled together. The inclusion of The Wizard of Oz was entertaining, and the opening of the house had a complete story line of a cursed childhood tale; the rest of the house, though, was underwhelming, even with the aerial scareactors and the use of smells.
Dead Exposure: Patient Zero
This might be one of the most polarizing houses thus far; on the one hand, some people love this house and are genuinely scared by it, but there are also those who hate this house and didn’t find it scary at all. I happen to fall into the category of hating it, which is why it’s ranked as one of my least favorite houses. This is partly because I didn’t understand the storyline–even with going through the house several time–and because the lights gave away the scares, so I wasn’t surprised when a scareactor jumped out. It aimed to disorient your senses with lack of lights and implement scares timed with periods of darkness. The design was too simplistic to accommodate the strobe lights and, overall, I think this house relied too heavily on the lighting rather than the actual house itself.
The Horrors of Blumhouse
This combination of “Happy Death Day” and “The First Purge” was ultimately disappointing because the stories were unrelated and executed inconsistently. The scares were repetitive, which follows the premise of “Happy Death Day” rather well. This house was disorienting due to the delivery of the same types of scares repeatedly and the actual design of the house; however, those same qualities helped immerse me into the “Happy Death Day” film. Overall, the house seemed to focus too much on “Happy Death Day” and not enough on “The First Purge.” This was one of the least impressive houses of this year’sdfafjvhcfajklhSDkhgDAjhgdaghkSghkXbhXCvgjXZvjhczvbXVZchXAFbhkXCZVJH line up.
Undoubtedly the most highly-anticipated house this year was the Stranger Things house. The popularity of this franchise has exponentially increased in the last two years and has gained a major presence in our everyday lives; the amount of people that crowded to this house every single night of Halloween Horror Nights serves as evidence that this house is one of the most popular. Although it wasn’t my favorite house, it did manage to cover the major scenes of the first season with stunning production designs and a richly detailed soundstage that made it seem like you were in the Upside Down (an alternate reality from the TV series, for the uninformed). The scareactors were hard to distinguish from the actual characters, the Demogorgon was done remarkably well, and the soundstage was used effectively. The downfalls of this house are firstly the use of strobe lights–which, in my opinion, take away from the effectiveness of the scares and sets because they can impair your vision–and secondly the source material, which doesn’t allow for as much horror as some of the other properties.
Seeds of Extinction
This house contained some of the most beautiful interior design and integrated the scareactors into the scenes flawlessly. The set dressing of this maze was executed flawlessly, and it added to the overall experience; because of the plant costumes, the scareactors were able to blend in with their surroundings, essentially hiding in plain sight so they could scare you when you least expected it. This maze had some of the most well-crafted haunts and the concept of this house was truly memorable. The use of effects, such as rain and wind, helped make this an intense maze filled with hidden references to other Halloween Horror Nights events and detailed set pieces.
The balance of humor and scares makes this one of the more enjoyable houses of the year. In terms of houses which are intended to be funny, it’s probably the best scare house Halloween Horror Nights has ever done. The structure of this house allowed for the maze to flow effortlessly even though it switched from flick to flick. Using movie posters for the next scene was an effective way to differentiate one section from the next. The 1980’s style of monster movies showed the creativity of the designers and the fun they had creating this house; the scenes were the right balance between amusing and gory. The concept and the execution of this house did nothing but add to the overall experience with a hilarious queue video and entrance design.
Trick ‘r Treat
This maze is breathtaking; the amount of attention and care that this house received is obvious in their execution of the scenes and scares. From the initial haunted house façade to the grand finale, this house was so detailed and engrossing, I didn’t want the experience to end. The house manages to tell the story of the 2009 film that it’s based on without being an exact replica. The fact that Sam, the face of Trick ‘r Treat, was to be a dummy some nights and a real scareactor on other nights made me want to keep visiting this house. It was organized in a way that showcased the chapters of the plot and transitioned with simple black box scares that allowed the house to flow effortlessly.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
The return of Michael Myers is always welcome at Halloween Horror Nights; this year is the third year that he appeared at this event. Every year, this house is adored by fans of the franchise and the Horror Nights community as a whole. This was one of my favorite houses from this year’s roster; the energy in this house was upbeat and put me in a great mood. The scareactors portraying Michael Myers were incredibly interactive and it was clear that they enjoyed their roles. The delivery of the scares was perfectly timed, and the sheer amount of scareactors, including Mr. Myers and a ton of other characters, kept you on your toes. While the Michael Myers jump scares are repeated heavily, they are integral to the house–it would not be Halloween Horror Nights without Mr. Myers coming at you with a knife.
Carnival Graveyard: Rust in Pieces
The Carnival Graveyard house was one of the most interactive houses this year, with its multiple guest-activated triggers and two-story design. This house managed to mix fun and fear together to make a memorable experience. The scares in this house are unusual, which differentiated it from most Horror Nights houses. One of the selling points of this house is its scenic design–the set designs and costumes did a great job of capturing my imagination. The rusted rides and decaying decorations added to the eeriness of this house, especially with some of the scares being more subtle. The attention to detail in this house was heartwarming; if you’re a big fan of Halloween Horror Nights, there were more than a few nods to previous years and Universal’s history hidden in this house.
This is my favorite house; it is unrivaled in terms of the storyline, the aesthetics, and the special effects. Supernatural and paranormal scenes are notoriously difficult to recreate, but the designers managed to create a story that was realistic without being gimmicky or cheesy. The maze features many iconic characters and scenes and, in my opinion, was one of the strongest houses this year. The designers somehow managed to create a tense atmosphere while simultaneously immersing guests into the classic plot of the movie. This house has the most complete storyline and stays true to the movie; it utilizes puppets, air bursts, and roof designs to fully encapsulate the classic 1982 film. The execution of this house is flawless and sets it apart from your typical haunted house.
By: Hannah Tran