Another Halloween Horror Nights 27 Review – Part III

And now for the big ones. The qualifying medalists of the HHN Olympics. The top three houses at Halloween Horror Nights 27. And yeah, they’re all originals!

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3) Scarecrow: The Reaping – We were promised a ton of scarecrows in this one and boy did Halloween Horror Nights deliver. This was perhaps the most consistent house of the bunch in terms of sheer scares per minute (SPM possible new term?) and relentless terror. The set design was stunning, featuring a ton of corn stalks and a mostly wooden facade, giving each location a very real-world earthy vibe. The sets were packed with more scareactors than you could count, with some definitely over six feet and beyond. In addition to being one of the best houses of the year, Scarecrow: The Reaping takes the prize for perhaps the most disgusting room of the year. For those of you that may not have attended this year’s event just yet, all I’ll say is that you enter what I believe was a stable populated by a number of crows perched on planks above your head, cawing loudly. Someone must’ve given those crows a laxative…

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2) Hive – If you like your vampires bloodthirsty and terrifying, then this is the house for you. There are no sparkling vamps here, unless you count the great glowing effect in the eyes of some of the creatures haunting this cavern. Featuring clear inspiration from Salem’s Lot, Nosferatu, and perhaps even a little bit of The Lost Boys, Hive was packed to the brim with all manner of terrifying vampires ranging from pale gaunt beasts to seven foot tall Count Orlocs to hanging vampire children that reminded me of Eddie Munster. The makeup effects here were among the best I’ve ever seen in an HHN house before, the scares were consistent, the sound and ambient noise chilling, and the southern-style cavernous sets were expertly done. I had a blast going through this one.

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1) Dead Waters – As soon as I entered the stage and turned the corner to see the stunning riverboat assembled in all its grimy swampy glory, I knew I was in for a real treat. I clearly remember turning to a buddy of mine and saying, “This is the best thing they’ve ever built”, referring of course to the creative team at Halloween Horror Nights, who deserve to be showered with every possible bit of praise for what they’ve been able to accomplish with this house. The interior sets were just as impressive, with every prop clearly showing some level of age and rust and dampness, which gave the house a very old, abandoned, forgotten feel. From entering the boat at a disorienting lopsided angle to my encounter with the Voodoo Queen, I was in constant awe of every heat lamp, every piece of moss and mildew, every leaky creaky board, every voodoo doll, all given its own care and detail, which is what Halloween Horror Nights does best: immersing guests in a fully-realized hyper-detailed world and then scaring the crap out of them.

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Agree with these picks? What was your favorite house of the year? I hope everyone has enjoyed or will have the time to enjoy this year’s event because it really was a great one. And soon we get to start looking forward to 28…

-Freddy

Another Halloween Horror Nights 27 Review – Part II

Welcome back, kiddies! We’re counting down this year’s Halloween Horror Nights houses from least to most awesome and today we’re looking at numbers 6 to 4. If you missed numbers 9 to 7, you can find them right here. Now, onto the countdown!

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6) The Shining – Like last year’s The Exorcist house, The Shining was arguably the most highly anticipated haunt at this year’s Halloween Horror Nights. While only taking the number six slot on my list, that should in no way give the impression that this house was anything but great. The fact that it’s number six just goes to show the spectacular quality of haunts present this year. The house opened with the snowy exterior of the famous Overlook Hotel, snow gently falling over our heads as we’re lead into a hedge maze. After a few turns through the maze, we’re right into a hotel hallway and see the first of what felt like many axes through doors. If there’s one main criticism of the house it’s the overreliance on that single moment from the film. Still, it’s really more of a quibble than a criticism. Standout scenes from the haunt included a mirror reflection trick involving the Grady twins, Danny Torrance on his big wheel peering into an endless hallway, and the Gold Room set built in eerie detail complete with Lloyd the bartender and all. Most impressive was the recreation of the elevator of blood scene, which appeared to have been accomplished by either a projection or by filling an actual room with blood. I want to believe it was the latter, but guessing it may’ve been some form of the former. Also, kudos to the team at Halloween Horror Nights for creeping me out by included the man in the bear costume…

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5) American Horror Story – Following last year’s popular house (and one of my favorites), American Horror Story returned to Halloween Horror Nights with a very strong sophomore effort. First off, this house was LONG, so for non-Express Pass attendees, this is one haunt to visit if you want to get your money’s worth. The Asylum portion alone felt like it could’ve been it’s own house with the rec room and the surgical room being especially impressive sets. The Coven and Roanoke portions were shorter, but no less packed with familiar characters and a number of consistent frights, most notably Kathy Bates’ character Delphine LaLaurie coming out for a big scare once you’ve explored her torture chamber. Oh, and while you’re in queue waiting to enter the house, keep your ears open and you may just hear “The Name Game” song as featured in Asylum.

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4) The Fallen – If you’ve been keeping tabs, you’ve probably figured out that there are four picks left and there hasn’t been a single mention of any of the four original houses. That is, until now. As I said when they were first announced in August, 2017 is the year of the original house. First up is The Fallen, a shorter house that felt like a rock n’ roll cross between Game of Thrones and Hellraiser. Upon entering, our first image is of a horned red demon chomping on some unsuspecting victim. This was the perfect first impression because HHN didn’t try to hide the scares and the beautiful makeup and costumes until the end. Putting that giant demon right at the start felt like their way of saying, “Yeah, we’ve got demons. And they look badass.” The rest of the house didn’t disappoint. With gorgeous sets reminiscent of 2012’s Gothic house, The Fallen featured a number of demons swinging next to, above, and AT attendees, oftentimes giving the feeling of being surrounded by monsters from all sides. With such impressive visuals and terrifying imagery, I didn’t expect that my biggest scare would come in the form of a simple gag that I should’ve seen coming a mile away. Note to self: if you see a hanging torso with a giant hole in the mid-section, assume an arm is going to come out of it.

Come back soon for my top three houses of the year!

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-Freddy

 

Another Halloween Horror Nights 27 Review – Part I

It’s been quiet at HHNU, but fear not, we’re here and we’ve got another take on this year’s excellent haunts. I was finally able to attend the event on Sunday 10/16 with an Express Pass, and I’m happy to say that overall, it looks like the team at Universal Studios Orlando and Halloween Horror Nights outdid themselves with some truly stunning houses and scare zones that rank among some of the best in years. Hats off to the great Mike Aiello (of “Aiello Club” fame!) and his team for putting on a great show for us!

Now, onto the countdown!

The Horrors of Blumhouse Takes Possession of Halloween Horror Nights 2017

9) The Horrors of Blumhouse – This is the only house at this year’s event that I can honestly say I wasn’t a huge fan of. Personally, I didn’t enjoy the film Sinister, which the first quarter of the house is based on. As a result, the many Bagul scares didn’t really do it for me, especially considering that, like the film, most the scares took place in generic hallways. The next part of the house – The Purge – was unmemorable and lacking in scares, and quite frankly, the material of the film series makes for a MUCH better scare zone than a house. In fact, The Purge was the scare zone I spent the most time in this year. Next up in the Blumhouse haunt was Insidious, which was far and away the best section. The ghostly realm of The Further was recreated with wonderful bluish-green delight and the gold-hued room chamber of the villainous red demon was particularly well realized. The last section of the house felt like a fever dream and I wasn’t particularly sure what was actually going on or what film I was supposed to be experiencing. There was an electrocution room with a great animatronic, then another area that appeared to be some kind of morgue or hospital with a white curtain surrounding the center of the room. I’m not sure if these were locations from the Insidious sequels or from other Blumhouse films, but I can definitely say that I was a bit disoriented, which I guess could be a good thing.

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8) Saw: The Games of Jigsaw – At around 1:30am and after a few cocktails, this was my ninth and final house of the evening, and while I won’t say this one was a blur (I do take notes immediately exiting each haunt), I can say that I was not in the fresh and eager mindset that each of these haunted houses deserves. Some definite standout moments include a great Billy puppet on a tricycle emerging from a dark hallway, a frantic Amanda clawing at you and pleading to help her take off the reverse bear trap she has on her head, and what seemed like a full-scale recreation of the bathroom set from the original Saw film. This Saw house was a definite improvement over the 2009 iteration.

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7) Ash vs. Evil Dead – My group and I had the pleasure of going through this house during a short period of time where no other attendees were in sight. With a huge empty space to both our bow and stern, the experience of going through the Evil Dead universe felt specifically catered only to us. While not nearly the scariest house, I can say that as an Evil Dead fan, I traversed this haunt with a rictus grin from ear to ear the whole way through. From seeing Sam Raimi’s Classic Delta right outside the entrance to having Ash himself welcome us into the cabin (with authentic Bruce Campbell voiceover to boot), characters and demons from the films and the television series, the morgue gag featuring Ash’s head through a corpse’s midsection, and the Ashy Slashy puppet at the end. And just when I thought the house was over, Ash was standing outside in his Hawaiian shirt welcoming us back from our adventure with a spewing keg and a chainsaw salute!

Come back soon for numbers 6 through 4!

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-Freddy

HHN Prep Marathon 2017

It’s a no-brainer to say we’re excited for this year’s Halloween Horror Nights, but now that all of the event’s houses and scare zones have finally been revealed, it’s time to let the anticipation build to terrifying levels of – well, terror – with our very own HHN Prep Marathon. This year the team at Halloween Horror Nights is showering us with an embarrassment of riches in terms of original content and IP houses. To prepare for the event, we’ll be looking at the films and television shows that are being directly adapted for this year’s IP houses and scare zones as well as some movies that appear to have inspired the original haunts.

Depending on how much time you’re willing to spare and how much viewing you’d like to do, we’ve divided this marathon into three parts:

  • The Essentials– Obvious picks, but these choices are a must-see before stepping into this year’s event.
  • The Second Tier– Have a few more hours to spare? These are a few more flicks to get you hyped for this year’s HHN.
  • The All-Nighters– Calling in sick on Monday? Well, if you think sleep’s overrated, you can’t go wrong with these picks.

The Essentials

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The Shining (1980) – If you watch only one movie to prepare for this year’s Halloween Horror Nights, let it be the Stanley Kubrick classic The Shining. Like last year’s The Exorcist house, this maze has garnered the most buzz even before it was announced back in May. We’re all waiting to see how the talented cast and crew at HHN are going to bring to life some of the most memorable scenes in horror film history: the elevator of blood, Danny’s big wheel rolling through the hallway, the “Here’s Johnny!” scene, the chase through the snow-covered hedges, and too many more to name. Of course, none of these scares will compare to turning a corner and seeing a grown man in a bear costume…

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Insidious (2010) – The first of three series featured in the Blumhouse haunt, Insidious is a film ripe for the Halloween Horror Nights treatment. Featuring memorable monsters, some quality scares, and great locations like the ghostly dimension known as the Further, the only negative to having Insidious at HHN this year is that it has to share the spotlight with two other film franchises.

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Ash vs. Evil Dead (Pilot) – For the sake of time, we’re limiting this selection to just the pilot episode, but in reality, the entire series of Ash vs. Evil Dead is definitely worth a watch. Get ready for scares, gore, gallons and gallons of blood, and a few belly laughs along the way. Because the show is a direct continuation of the Evil Dead trilogy, there’s a good chance that this year’s house could feature some familiar locations from the original three films. Perhaps we’ll also see director Sam Raimi’s Classic Oldsmobile Delta make an appearance.

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The Purge: Anarchy (2014) – Although the Blumhouse maze will be featuring Insidious, The Purge, and Sinister, I really do think the house will focus primarily on the first two, as the films in both the Insidious and Purge franchises offer a greater variety of scenes and locales that would lend themselves to memorable HHN set pieces. Of the Purge films, specifically, I believe we’ll see a focus on the second installment in the series, Anarchy, simply because the team at Halloween Horror Nights may want to avoid some of the more heavy political content of the third movie, Election Day. Arguably, Anarchy also happens to be the best film of the trilogy.

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American Horror Story (Pilots for Season 2, 3, and 6) – As we all expected, American Horror Story is back at Halloween Horror Nights and this year’s house looks to focus on the events of season 2, 3, and 6, subtitled Asylum, Coven, and Roanoke, respectively. As a fan of the show though, I do feel these are the three weakest seasons, with Roanoke being the low-point in the series. Regardless, there is enough creepy imagery across all three seasons to make for a really terrifying maze.

The Second Tier

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Trick ‘r Treat (2007) – Perhaps the best film to utilize the Halloween holiday since John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), this anthology film weaves multiple tales all set during the same evening on October 31st. The film spawned one of the newest horror icons in Sam, the boy with the big bagged head. Expect to see Sam wandering the streets of Halloween Horror Nights in his scare zone along with witches, wolves, and all manner of ghosts and creatures from the film.

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Saw (2004) – This year’s Saw: The Games of Jigsaw maze is set to be a best of compilation of the most memorable and brutal traps throughout all the films in the Saw franchise including the soon-to-be-released eighth installment, Jigsaw (2017). While Saw 2 (2005) and Saw 3 (2006) are real standouts in the series, there’s no way we could recommend any film other than the one that started it all and created a tradition that ran for seven consecutive years: “If it’s Halloween, it must be Saw”.

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Hatchet (2006) – One of 2017’s original houses, Dead Waters, features a Louisiana swamp, voodoo, and a decaying haunted village. Adam Green’s 2006 film Hatchet features much of the same plus a hatchet-wielding mutant named Victor Crowley. Sure, there are probably better horror films set in New Orleans, but none are as purely joyous and visceral as Hatchet.

The All-Nighters

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Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987) – Frankly, the entire Evil Dead trilogy is worth watching repeatedly, but if you’ve only got the time to watch one, let it be Evil Dead 2. Essentially a remake of the original film, this Sam Raimi-directed sequel ups the gore, the gags, the goofs, and the comedy. Best of all, with most of the movie’s characters trapped and unable to cross a broken bridge, the bulk of the film rests on the very capable shoulders of the great Bruce Campbell. Hail to the king, baby!

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Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) – When Invasion! was revealed as one of this year’s scare zones, my mind’s eye immediately shifted to black and white and I couldn’t help but think of the classic sci-fi horror films of the 1950s. Movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), It Came From Outer Space (1953), and Howard Hawk’s The Thing from Another World (1951). If I had to pick one film from the decade though, I’d go with Ed Wood’s hilarious but totally earnest foray into extraterrestrial terror Plan 9 From Outer Space. For those unfamiliar, Plan 9 is one of the great original “so bad it’s good” movies. The film’s production and director were so bizarre that the story was later told in 1994 in the film Ed Wood, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp.

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Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) – It’s only appropriate to honor the dearly departing staple of Halloween Horror Nights that is Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure by watching the movie that started it all. For many HHN fans, the Bill and Ted show has been an integral part of their yearly Halloween Horror Nights experience and while we’re sad to see it go, we’ll always have the memories and we’ll always have the movie to remind us that while it’s perfectly fine to be bogus, we must never forget to stay excellent to ourselves and to each other.

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What do you think of our list? Any other suggestions we might’ve missed? Please let us know!

-Freddy

Why are we so excited for Ash vs. Evil Dead at HHN?!

Clearly, the team here at HHNU is thrilled over the recent news that this year’s Halloween Horror Nights will be featuring a house based on the Starz television show Ash vs. Evil Dead, the sequel series to the original Evil Dead film franchise from director Sam Raimi. Sure, we’ve caught a glimpse of the chainsaw-appendaged, boomstick-wielding Ash in a segment of the 2009 house Silver Screams, but this will be the first time we see a full haunt dedicated to this beloved horror hero. We can barely contain our enthusiasm over the recent announcement, but just why is Ash vs. Evil Dead a perfect fit for HHN?

Revisiting the Classic Film Series

MINOR SPOILERS FOR ASH VS. EVIL DEAD AHEAD:

Even though the newly-announced house will be based on the current television series, viewers are well aware that part of Ash vs. Evil Dead’s success and charm is its deep ties to the original film trilogy. Over the course of the show’s two seasons, Ash and his new sidekicks, Kelly and Pablo, revisit the cabin from The Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987), Ash battles a possessed Henrietta (once again played by Evil Dead II’s Ted Raimi), and reunite with familiar faces from the original franchise, most notably Ash’s sister Cheryl, played by returning actress Ellen Sandweiss. With the show revisiting classic locations and characters from the original series, this house will give die-hard Evil Dead fans the opportunity to relive memorable moments from their beloved film series.

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Evil Dead II’s Henrietta, played by Ted Raimi, brother of director Sam Raimi.

Great Original Set Pieces

Just because Ash vs. Evil Dead has a strong connection to the films that came before it doesn’t mean that the Starz series doesn’t have a few original ideas of its own. Without getting into too much detail, season two features an episode that sees Ash’s journey to retrieve the Necronomicon (The Book of the Dead) lead him to a morgue and features a grotesque but hilarious “fight” between our hero and a corpse. Although this episode goes into uniquely gross territory that may even be too hot for HHN, there’s no denying that this scene is a prime example of how Ash vs. Evil Dead is more than just a nostalgia trip resting on the laurels of the original film series.

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Different from 2013’s The Evil Dead

Halloween Horror Nights fans will recall that in 2013’s event, guests were already treated to a house based on The Evil Dead. Evil Dead the “remake”, that is. While the 2013 film surprised many by holding its own as a well-made and well-received gore-fest, the Fede Alvarez-directed picture is quite different from the original source material, most notably in tone. While the remake has a more intense and serious attitude akin to more modern horror movies, Sam Raimi’s original films are typically categorized as horror comedies, featuring both quality scares and gore as well as gut-busting physical gags courtesy of Bruce Campbell’s great performance across all the movies in the series.

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We may have run out of ways to proclaim just how excited we are about Ash vs. Evil Dead coming to Halloween Horror Nights 27. What moment from the series would you like to see recreated in this highly-anticipated haunt? Let us know and don’t forget to hail to the king, baby!

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-Freddy

Five Favorite Scarezones

One of my favorite aspects of Halloween Horror Nights year after year is the event’s uncanny ability to make me feel as if I’m fully immersed in another world. When at its best, HHN can make me feel scared and make my own experience seem unique and exclusive even when I’m walking through a scarezone surrounded by dozens upon dozens of fellow park goers.

Here at HHNU, we give a lot of time and focus to our favorite houses and the haunts we hope to see in the future, but I’d like to point the spotlight on the horror that happens on the streets of the event each year with some of my personal favorite scarezones in my years attending Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights (HHN 17-26).

War of the Living Dead (HHN 19)

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Ever played “Zombies” in Call of Duty and thought, “…I want to go to there”? If so, this scarezone from the 2009 event was as close as you were going to get without an X-Box Live subscription. Uniformed members of the undead littered the streets of a war-torn town, the sounds of artillery fire and a flurry of bullets buzzing through the air, dense gun smoke and fog obscuring your view, and to top it all off – literally – a zombie on a high turret firing shells (blanks, of course) at passersby below. I recall being aimed at directly, being fired upon, playing along and reacting to the gunfire, and then getting a thumbs-up from my attacker up top. Needless to say, I walked through this scarezone a few times throughout the night.

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Zombie Gras (HHN 20)

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While this wasn’t a particularly impressive scarezone in terms of set decoration, this area definitely excelled with its combination of both a festive and fearful atmosphere. This colorful and macabre zone was especially memorable because scareactors would lure guests towards them with Mardi Gras beads, dropping a shiny necklace on the floor and enticing brave guests to pick them up. If you were one of the lucky ones and made a quick dash towards the actor’s feet, you could grab the beads, escape with your life, and with a free souvenir. I’ve still got my beads.

The Purge (HHN 24)

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See you at Finnegan’s.

This is perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had in a scarezone. I won’t say that I was in a completely lucid state-of-mind after a few Dirty Shirleys, but this zone – modeled after The Purge: Anarchy – lived up to it’s name: the streets of New York were nothing but pure anarchy and chaos. Scareactors roamed the streets celebrating the annual Purge, trashed dumpsters and propaganda signs announced the event, and a white truck with a mounted Gatling gun rode by looking for fresh victims. The chaos would only stop when a live demonstration would take place featuring the New Founding Fathers from the film.

All-Nite Die-In – Double Feature (HHN 25)

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It’s always a thrill to meet your favorite celebrities, and my favorites happen to be famous monsters. Like Zombie Gras, this scarezone lacked any real decorations or sets, but I had a blast simply because I was able to see and take some pictures with my favorite Universal Monsters. And before you ask, yes, I did follow the rules for taking pictures of scareactors: ask politely, wait for the actor to agree and pose, and be quick. What made this scarezone special was the two sets of characters roaming the area depending on the time of day. Early in the evening, the San Francisco/Disaster area would be flooded with the aforementioned Universal Monsters – Frankenstein’s Monster, the Bride, The Invisible Man, and even a Count Orloc from the original 1922 Nosferatu – all dressed and painted in black and white to reflect their silver screen origins. Later in the evening, they would be replaced by full-color monsters of the modern age like Freddy Krueger and Chucky.

Dead Man’s Wharf (HHN 26)

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My love for this scarezone from last year’s event has everything to do with my love of the Bioshock video game series. With blue, green, and purple strobe lights giving the illusion of being underwater and bloated zombified scuba divers right out of the 1930s (not unlike the “Big Daddy” from the Bioshock series), enough can’t be said about the stunning architecture and ambiance of Dead Man’s Wharf. While the San Francisco-set scarezone did suffer from overcrowding, the claustrophobic location coupled with the exceptional attention to detail made the area feel more akin to an outdoor house than an actual scarezone.

As is the case with every house, no two guests have the same experience in a scarezone. Were you bored by The Purge at HHN 25? What’s the best scarezone experience you’ve ever had? Please let us know and share some of your best scare zone photos!

-Freddy

Can You Smell What The Wolfman’s Cookin’?

Another week, another rumor for Universal’s recently-announced monster movie series “Dark Universe”. It’s no secret that Universal has been going after A-list actors to bring their monsters to life, with Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe leading the charge as two of the stars of The Mummy (playing Nick Morton and Dr. Jekyll, respectively). Javier Bardem has also been cast as the Frankenstein Monster in the recently announced Bill Condon-directed Bride of Frankenstein, and Johnny Depp rounds out the list of confirmed stars as The Invisible Man in an as-yet-unannounced feature.

It has long been rumored that Universal is very much interested in Angelina Jolie to play the title role in Bride of Frankenstein, but just recently, another rumor has been making the rounds suggesting that Universal is sparing no expense in an attempt to land Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the role of Lawrence Talbot/The Wolfman, the part made famous by Lon Chaney Jr. in the 1941 original film The Wolf Man. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Johnson has proven to be a real draw for movie-going audiences, having found success throughout multiple genres and franchises. He’s been an action hero, a dramatic actor, and a great comedian, so why not try his hand at horror? In fact, let us not forget that before he was revitalizing the Fast and the Furious series, and back when the public knew him simply as “The Rock”, Johnson experienced his first real foray into acting in motion pictures playing The Scorpion King in 2001’s The Mummy Returns. Perhaps things are coming around full circle and the prodigal son is returning home to the universe – or Dark Universe – that helped make Dwayne Johnson a household name beyond the wrestling ring.

What do you think about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson possibly stepping into the furry paws of Lon Chaney Jr.? Will this be a welcome back to the universe that helped launch his acting career? If so, let us just hope the makeup looks a tad better than this:

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-Freddy

Universal Reveals the “Dark Universe”

We’re just two weeks away from the release of Universal’s The Mummy, the first in a presumed shared universe of inter-connected monster movies. Presumptions have now officially been made reality as Universal has not only given this shared universe a name – “Dark Universe” – but they’ve already revealed the next feature to follow after The Mummy.

Bride of Frankenstein will be released on February 14th, 2019 – a romantic date for Universal’s most delightfully frightful couple. The film will be directed by Bill Condon – right off the heels of his monster hit (see what I did there?) Beauty and the Beast – based on a screenplay by David Koepp (Jurassic Park).

Angelina Jolie has long been rumored to portray the role made famous by Elsa Lanchester in the 1935 James Whale original. While no official casting announcement has been made, Universal has stated that casting of the titular role will be announced soon.

Universal has already confirmed that Academy Award Winner Javier Bardem will be joining the Dark Universe family as the Frankenstein Monster, so we can only assume that he will be playing a major role in Bride. Bardem is the latest actor to join the star-studded Dark Universe alongside Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man, Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll, Tom Cruise as Nick Morton, and Sofia Boutella as the titular monster in The Mummy. Universal has assembled the stars in the first official Dark Universe cast photo below.

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Additionally, Universal has released a sizzle reel comprised of footage from the original Universal Monsters shared universe (more on that here).

What are your thoughts on the Dark Universe? Which monster are you most excited to see reimagined on the big screen? And most importantly, which of these movies will make the best future Halloween Horror Nights house?!

-Freddy

A Farewell to Bates Motel

Tonight marks the end of A&E’s surprise hit Bates Motel, a show that upon announcement may not have sounded like a great idea (didn’t we already learn that you shouldn’t remake Psycho?), but ultimately proved naysayers wrong with five seasons of solid drama and a unique place in television history, proving that with the right amount of care and passion for the source material, and a talented team behind the project, any idea could be worth a shot.

Now, I won’t go into a whole history of how or why Bates Motel came into fruition. For those full details please check out our very own Chris Ripley’s book, Psychos: The Story of the Psycho Film Franchise. What does interest me is that around the time Bates Motel first premiered, it carried a lot of baggage, which should’ve led to instant failure. Not only was the show yet another remake of Psycho, a franchise that was seemingly dead after the 1998 Gus Van Sant remake, but the show also premiered during a period of time where television networks were developing a number of shows – to varying levels of success – that were either adaptations of classic movies (Fargo, Parenthood), re-imaginings of horror properties (From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series, Rosemary’s Baby), or modern-day retellings of either (Sleepy Hollow, The Exorcist). Bates Motel falls into ALL THREE categories.

Despite the baggage, Bates Motel premiered on March 18th, 2013 on A&E. The show was a surprise hit, maintaining an audience of approximately 2.70 million viewers in its first season. A respectable amount for a scripted drama on a network primarily known for its biographies and reality programming.

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But why does the show work? Sure, name recognition and general curiosity might get an audience to check out the pilot, but where many new shows oftentimes suffer a drastic dip in ratings from the first to second episode, what made that audience come back week after week for five years? The answer, I think, is that the show is more than just a rehash of the films that came before it, and the quality of the performances are of the highest caliber.

Being the latest remake to Psycho is no easy feat, but expanding that story into a long-form narrative with multiple new plot threads, new original characters, while still remaining faithful to the original material (both the Hitchcock film and the novel) is damn near impossible. Bates Motel did the smart move of being both a respectable remake while also expanding the mythology and creating characters that were more than just disposable puppets waiting to be killed off. And while not every new character and plot thread was a home run (Bradley’s return, the marijuana farm subplot), the show always did of good job of righting itself and rewarding viewers who stuck with the series.

That’s not to say that all the adjustments on the show were the result of course correction. In fact, one of the best decisions Bates Motel made was in realizing what a captivating actor Nestor Carbonell (“Sheriff Romero”) was, a fact that fans of the television series Lost or Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight may already know. This is evident in the show promoting Carbonell from a supporting player to a series regular at the start of the second season.

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Speaking of the performances, there would be no Bates Motel without the lead players: Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates and Vera Farmiga as his mother, Norma. Amidst the multiple plot lines, the show’s main through line and primary narrative has always been the exploration of the relationship between the mother and son Bates and how that relationship yields the birth of a psychopath. That story and those characters, especially Norman, would be tough rolls to embody, especially considering the role was arguably already played to perfection with Anthony Perkins’ portrayal in the original Hitchcock film. Speaking as a fan of the film and Perkins’ performance, I was won over by Highmore’s performance fairly quickly. As a young child actor, Freddie Highmore was no stranger to giving great performances, having starred alongside Johnny Depp in both Finding Neverland and Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The innocence displayed in those two performances, specifically, were a perfect fit for Highmore’s interpretation of Norman Bates, a character who appears as a mild-mannered and collected innocent young man on the outside, but a monster with a bloodlust on the inside.

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Vera Farmiga’s Norma Bates is equally complex, and Farmiga clearly has a blast playing a role and bringing to life a part that was originally only portrayed as a skeleton in the Hitchcock film. Her Norma is equal parts haunting, sympathetic, funny, sexy, and absolutely terrifying, and Farmiga captures all aspects of the character with nary a misstep.

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What Bates Motel proved is that just because a movie is a classic doesn’t mean that it’s untouchable. Psycho was a landmark picture in the history of film, but in the current state of remakes and re-imaginings, it may not always be a terrible idea to go back to the well. Sure, oftentimes these revisits don’t work. For every Dawn of the Dead (2004), we get about fifty Red Dawns (2012). But sometimes, when made with the best of intentions and with a clear purpose and direction, you can breathe new life into an existing property. And if you’re successful, you’ll make audiences want to check out the original property. So pick up a copy of the novel Psycho by Robert Bloch, watch the Hitchcock original, and tune in to A&E tonight at 10pm for the series finale of Bates Motel. Will Norman kill again? I doubt it. Why, he wouldn’t even hurt a fly.

Bates Motel’s first four seasons are currently available to stream on Netflix.

-Freddy

Top 5 IPs Waiting for the HHN House Treatment

When entering a Halloween Horror Nights house, I anticipate experiencing something both familiar and new. With each consecutive year, my expectations are met as HHN welcomes a fair share of both original and IP (Intellectual Property) houses, and even though I do love and prefer an original idea, I can’t help but feel giddy when HHN gives me the opportunity to step into the worlds of horror properties I know and love. We’ve seen mazes based on well-known franchises (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th), previously-thought “ungettable” IPs (The Exorcist, Halloween), and even some properties that, although well-known to horror aficionados, are not so familiar to current mainstream audiences (An American Werewolf in London, From Dusk ‘til Dawn: The Series).

From the early days of Fright Nights and the Psycho house to the most recent HHN 26 event and The Exorcist haunt, a trip through Horror Nights memory lane plays like a greatest hits of horror cinema and television, with memorable franchises getting either their own unique houses or at the very least, a scene in one of the popular anthology houses (2003’s All Nite Die-In, 2009’s Silver Screams). As the event once again gears up to celebrate its 27th anniversary, and a history of horror cinema dating close to a century, we at HHNU have compiled a list of the top 5 intellectual properties that we’re SHOCKED have not been represented in a Halloween Horror Nights house.

We’ve set up only two rules to make this list: 1) The film/television show cannot have appeared in any capacity in a previous house. Meaning, no Army of Darkness or Shaun of the Dead, for example, as both appeared in 2009’s aforementioned Silver Screams house. 2) We’ve disqualified any Stephen King properties, as those could make up a list all their own. For my thoughts on what King properties would make great attractions, check out an earlier post here.

So without further ado, here are the five IPs that are ripe for the HHN treatment:

5. Suspiria

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Based on the cult classic by Dario Argento, I think it’s safe to say the main draw Suspiria has going for it is its visuals. Set in a dance academy and following a young ballet student who discovers that her school isn’t quite the prestigious institute she thinks it is, the film is often praised for its use of art design and color, specifically in how Argento frames and displays the film’s grisly deaths. The creative team at Halloween Horror Nights is known for successfully recreating pivotal moments in horror cinema (the “Power of Christ” scene from last year’s The Exorcist house is perhaps the best recent example), and I’m sure they’d be up to the task in bringing some of the glorious moments from Suspiria to life. Just imagine what could be done with the stained glass hanging scene.

4. The Conjuring

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The most recent franchise to make our list, James Wan’s The Conjuring has already left its mark on the horror genre with two very impressive and well-received (both critically and financially) films. Picture yourself entering one of the main sound stages to an exterior setting leading you up to the house from the first film, wood creaking, owls hooting, a faint jingle of a music box melody ringing in the distance, and the ominous tree as depicted in the film’s poster to the side of the main walkway, forcing you to walk under its crooked branch, the noose hanging from it gently swinging above you. And once you’re inside you can experience many of the film’s standout scares, from the kid on top of the armoire to the clapping game in the basement, and along the way, you come across the Annabelle doll, and end with the exorcism scene from the film’s climax. Personally, I’d rather the first movie received its own house and then leave the second movie for the following year, as there’s definitely enough content in The Conjuring 2 to warrant a follow-up house: The Nun, the ghost in the armchair, the room full of crosses, the Crooked Man.

3. Poltergeist

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Based on the Tobe Hooper classic, a Poltergeist house would allow HHN to use just about every technique and trick available to create all of the film’s terrifying set pieces. Static sound, ambiance, and performers for the “They’re here” scene, clown puppets, skeletons in the swimming pool recreated in water tanks, an animatronic tree crashing into the children’s bedroom, holograms and wind machines for the climactic confrontation with the poltergeist itself. Throw the kitchen sink at this house! Fog machines, lightning effects, all are welcome!

2. The Fly (1986)

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This is the personal favorite for one reason alone: I would love to see what HHN does with the gradual transformation of Seth Brundle into the eventual Brundlefly. Like the An American Werewolf in London, The Thing, and Alien vs. Predator houses before it, this haunt could be a masterclass in makeup, prosthetics, and animatronics. Starting with Brundle’s body parts falling off, the gross vomiting, the bad skin, and ultimately the final stage of full-on animatronic fly, the almost episodic nature of David Cronenberg’s film, and the sequential nature of the transformation makes The Fly the perfect subject for the HHN house treatment.

1. George A Romero’s Living Dead series

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Okay, this is the big one. Even though there are six films in the series to date, and while Land of the Dead has its occasional charm, I’m going to narrow this pick down to the original three Romero classics: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead. Now, I can see how the main argument against a “Living Dead” house would be that we already get a zombie house every year with the latest iteration of The Walking Dead, and an argument justifying its place as a Horror Nights house would have to be something more substantial than “Romero did it first”. I present my defense in two parts: characters and settings.

Currently, Halloween Horror Nights doesn’t have the likeness rights to include the main characters from The Walking Dead television series, which is why you don’t see Rick, Darryl, or Michonne in the houses. Romero’s films have some memorable characters with equally memorable moments and lines: Johnny popping up from behind a gravestone warning you, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”, Roger fighting off zombies yelling, “We got this, man! We got this by the @$$!”, and Rhodes being disemboweled by zombies crying out “Choke on ‘em!”

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As far as settings go, all three original Romero films offer a range of unique and immediately recognizable locations: Night of the Living Dead’s cemetery and cabin, Dawn of the Dead’s mall, and Day of the Dead’s military bunker are all vastly different and offer some things we haven’t seen from the various The Walking Dead houses. And let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to be saluted by Bub as they’re exiting what could be one of Halloween Horror Nights’ most unforgettable houses.

Do you agree with our list? What horror film or television show would you love to see given the HHN house treatment?

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-Freddy