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.

02-1.jpg
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.

03.png

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.

05

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!

04

-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)

IMG_1360

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.

i-want-to-go-to-there

Zombie Gras (HHN 20)

IMG_3062

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)

IMG_0422.jpg
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)

IMG_2824

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)

image

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

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

suspiria

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

conjuring

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

poltergeist

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)

thefly

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

NightOfLivingDead1

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!”

dawnof

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?

CnvBV0TWAAAk_hB

-Freddy

A Sincere Thank You From the HHNU Team

Well after months of speculation, teasing, and finally getting to live the event, Halloween Horror Nights 26 has come and gone. This year brought us unbelievable experiences, incredible houses, some of the most immersive and entertaining scare-zones, and of course more cherished memories of HHN passed.14938109_1479869852042081_8749950505396506563_n

I wanted to write this post as a thank you not only to Universal Studios for creating this event some 26 years ago, but to all of you who bring this event, its characters to life each year. As an administrator for the HHN Facebook fan page I get to see and talk with so many of the scare-actors for the event, and I love all of the characters each of you has created and made their own over the course of the season. I especially revel in how much you all love what you do! To scare on such a large scale is no easy task, and certainly not everyone can do what you do, but I am absolutely thankful for every scare and every ounce of sweat put into the event. img_0292

As much as those on the front lines are a huge part of HHN, I would be leaving out so many important people if I chose to stop there. A huge thank you needs to go to everyone at Universal Studios for the hard work they have put into the event this and every year. From Mike Aiello and everyone on his creative team to the A&D Department for the amazing treatments and scenes they have created. From Security, for keeping all the employees safe along with the couple hundred thousand guests who attended throughout the month, to the lighting, sound, and stage technicians that allow us to have a completely immersive experience.img_9561

To every employee at Universal Studios, both onstage and off, I want to say thank you. I grew up loving the idea of “riding the movies”; Halloween Horror Nights has always been my passion and it’s a dream to be a part of the event even just in a small way. Without all of you that make it happen every single night and every single year, my dream wouldn’t be possible. While many of you may be tired of the rushes and more so the drunks, I want to say never stop thinking that your job is crucial to every guest. It means so much more than you know, especially to those of us that have followed the event from the start.img_9483

Before I begin to ramble I will wrap myself up. Thank you to every single employee who had even the smallest to do with Halloween Horror Nights and every day operations at Universal. As a fellow theme park employee myself I understand how hard it can be while working, but what you do is creating a whole other world. By doing so, you allow people to escape and have fun. We here at the HHNU team want to personally thank every scare-actor that we had the privilege of seeing at the event,  and we wish all of you safe scaring in the many years to come. Stay tuned to HHNU for more updates throughout the year!

Journey into The Repository – Full SPOILER Walkthrough and Review

halloween-horror-nights-26-028-the-repository-800x433

2016 marks Halloween Horror Nights’ first foray into the increasingly popular realm of virtual reality (“VR”). The Repository is a brand-new interactive experience accessible through a premium add-on ticket marked at $50.00. The ticket can only be purchased by calling a phone number provided on the Halloween Horror Nights website speaking to a representative that will assist you in booking your reservation. Please note that you must also purchase a Halloween Horror Nights event ticket to participate in this unique experience.

Ever since The Repository was first announced back in August, there’s been much controversy surrounding the new experience. Most of the controversy is in regards to the steep price point. With the prices of general admission tickets and Express Passes already at an all-time high, is it worth shelling out an extra $50 for what is essentially one more haunted house? Personally, the idea seemed intriguing, I’ve never had any kind of VR interaction beyond a View Master, and in order to celebrate my 10th HHN anniversary, I figured I’d “reward” myself with something special. So, I was all in. But, like many others, I was still concerned with whether or not the money would be worth it. For $50, how long will this house be? And how exactly does the virtual reality work? When I called in mid-September to make my reservation, I asked the customer service agent these questions and was told to set aside 90 minutes altogether for the event: 30 minutes for the initial preparation including signing of safety waivers, and 60 minutes for the actual experience.

img_5091

Fast-forward to 6:00pm on Friday, October 21st. My buddy and I picked up our tickets at a Will-Call kiosk and were instructed to head over to the Blue Man Group area to check-in. After having our tickets scanned, we entered a large waiting room filled with maybe a dozen round tables where groups of eight were assigned to sit and wait. There was a bar off in the corner, a server going around the room taking drink orders, and on each table were waivers for everyone to sign and one folder containing multiple printed documents. The documents ranged from textbook pages to an article on the Philosopher’s Stone to an eBay auction for a camera that was used to photograph the dead. After approximately half an hour of signing our waivers, ordering some drinks, and chatting with the fantastic people we had the pleasure of sharing this experience with, everyone in our eight-person group was handed a lanyard (4 red and 4 yellow), and split into two groups of four based on our lanyard colors. One of the employees emphasized to make sure to pay attention to details and be very observant of our surroundings as anything could be a clue that would be crucial to solving the event’s final puzzle. My group of four (red lanyards) was summoned we were instructed to head over to an exit. And thus began our journey into The Repository…

Our fearful foursome was led into a dimly lit room filled wall-to-wall wooden shelves stocked with ancient artifacts. Think the haunted artifact room from The Conjuring series mixed with the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. A soldier in black riot gear stood in the corner of the room next to a podium and telephone. Then, from the darkness appeared our first scareactor. He was a professor of sorts and in a very convincing performance explained the general story, which involved keys and portals to other dimensions. I will say right off the bat that the best aspect of the entire experience was the interaction with the scareactors. Each performer stayed in character at all times and always had some kind of improvised response to any question or action I or any of my groupmates would make. Unlike the regular houses, the actors in The Repository are allowed to touch you and they used this freedom to great effect while never being invasive or crossing any inappropriate lines. At one point, the professor moved to one side of the room, looking away from us, and as I examined the contents of the table in front of us, my friend picked up a hand bell and rang it. The professor responded by yelling “Don’t ring the bells!” and came running back to chastise us for setting some kind of evil free. He grabbed my lanyard in frustration when suddenly a phone rang and the soldier answered the call.

07_the-repository

Our group was hurried into a small room made to look like an asylum cell. The guard told us to stay in the room, warned us not to touch anything, and assured us he’d be right back. He left the room, but not before noticing that the young woman in our group was crossing her arms because she was cold. “Rub your chest,” he said. “Your arms will take care of the rest.” He was clearly as big a fan of Batman Begins as I was.

From behind a pillar appeared another actor dressed in a hospital gown. He had long and greasy blond hair and spoke in whispers with the occasional outburst, which included a loud “Look at me!” clearly inspired by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. The inmate led us into another asylum room with writing covering the walls, a safe in the corner, and a locked wooden crate atop a table. He whispered something that only the girl in our group could hear and then came over to me and whispered, “Do her a favor and give her those numbers on the wall right over there.” He was pointing to a specific piece of the wall that read something along the lines of L50R70. I realized that it was a locker combination meaning I had to turn the dial left to one number and then right to another. After the first try, the locker opened revealing a small box containing a key. Using the key we opened the crate, revealing four cubes, each emitting a different colored light: red, blue, green, and yellow.

repository-keymaster-900_c1-0-899-524_s885x516

Cubes in hand, our group was quickly shuffled away to another room designed to look like a high-tech laboratory. Our new chaperone was a no-nonsense woman who instructed us to gather around a metal table while she stood on the other side of it and tried to bring her lifeless colleague back to life. She explained the significance of the cubes, but not before yelling at us and telling my friend to spit out of his gum. Her colleague jolted to life for a second and fell on the floor. As she continued speaking to us, I experienced my one and only scare in The Repository when the presumed dead body grabbed me by the ankle and screamed in agony.

Another soldier burst into the lab and rushed us into the next room, grabbing me by the shirt collar so that I’d hurry. The concrete-walled room was empty. We were ordered to stand at different corners with our backs to the wall. A drill instructor explained our mission and prepared us for the VR portion of the experience. Finally! Our group was split into pairs. My partner and I were led to an adjacent square room approximately fifteen feet long on all sides and told to stand in the center back-to-back. We were fitted for our headsets and I will say, as someone who wears glasses, the headset was a bit tight and pressed my glasses into the bridge of my nose. As for our mission in the VR world, we were instructed to look for symbols and colors and remember the order we saw them in. The instructions were very vague and we weren’t exactly sure what kind of symbols to look out for. With my headset on, I was handed a wand and told that my cube was placed on the end of it, an image that was reflected in the VR world. As for the VR world itself, this is where the negatives begin.

repository-8-1170x731

After a short countdown, my partner and I were “transported” to a library setting. With Playstation VR and Oculus Rift allowing players to see fully-realized beautifully-rendered environments, I was immediately shocked to see that the level of detail in The Repository’s VR world was no more impressive than the graphics of an early Playstation 2 video game. As you may recall, we were instructed early on to examine everything, as anything around us could be a clue to solve The Repository’s final puzzle. I recall being told specifically to look in books. I walked over to a bookshelf expecting to be able to interact with a book, but as I pointed my wand at it, the wand avatar simply went through the book and the shelf. Why would we be instructed specifically to look through the books, then transport us to a library packed wall-to-wall with books, and then not allow us to interact with anything? I turned to see a ghostly avatar that represented my partner in the room with me. Eventually, I noticed different brightly-colored symbols throughout the room and pointed my wand at them. I tried to remember the look of each symbol, but they were all pretty elaborate designs that looked very similar to each other.

After finding four or five symbols, the setting changed and we were warped onto a stone cliff in the night. Cold wind breezed past us and as my partner and I looked down at the floor and identified the same colorful symbols, pieces of the cliff started breaking away, shrinking our platform smaller and smaller until we were once again back-to-back. This short portion is where the VR was most effective because I clearly felt a sense of vertigo as I looked down over the edge of the cliff.

We were then transported to our third and final dimension: a graveyard. Once again, we looked around at the graves searching for more symbols, with the occasional poorly-rendered grim reaper appearing when I turned. I should’ve been scared, but I couldn’t get past how bad the visuals were. After finding all of the symbols, our headsets were removed and we were whisked away to the final room, rejoining our two other group members.

Let me take this moment to explain that for a house that was billed as a revolutionary VR experience, the entire VR portion lasted no more than five minutes. Not only was it short, but as I said before, the three short environments that we visited were poorly-rendered and offered very limited interaction no more immersive than an old point-and-click computer game. For $50 I was expecting a house set predominantly in a virtual reality landscape. But regardless, even if the philosophy was for the house act as a build-up allow for a short but sweet visit to the VR world, I would expect to be blown out of the water for those five minutes. With the software released for Playstation VR and Oculus Rift, we know the potential is there. This visit was definitely short, but unfortunately, it was anything but sweet, making it the weakest part of the experience as a whole.

repository-7-1170x731

The final room was the setting of our final puzzle. Resembling something out of “Legends of the Hidden Temple”, we were told to find the two remaining cubes somewhere in the room and then match the six total cubes to six square pegs. The solution would be based on the colors and symbols we saw in the different dimensions. We were locked in the room and told we had three minutes to solve the puzzle. Needless to say, neither of the four of us had any clue what we were supposed to do. We found the two remaining cubes (purple and orange), but had no idea how to match them. We placed cubes randomly into slots and a trail of light told us if we we’d made the right choice (white light) or a poor choice (red light). With maybe 45 seconds remaining, I realized that we didn’t really need to know what to match, but rather just randomly place the cubes in the pegs until the white light glowed for that particular slot. With that logic, we quickly arranged the cubes until all six emitted a white light, triggering and a plume of fog and a light signaling our victory. Another soldier came into the room to congratulate our team and led us outside to the exit. We were given green stickers to place on our lanyards, signifying that we had made it through The Repository and successfully completed the puzzle at the end. If we’d failed, we would’ve been given a blue sticker. Basically, a participation ribbon.

Outside, there was another bar, some snacks for purchase, and one scareactor dressed as an inmate who hung out with us for a while, congratulated us on our win and eventually escorted us out into Halloween Horror Nights.

img_5350-jpg

And that was the end of The Repository. So was it worth it? I hate to say anything negative about HHN because it’s something so close to my heart and my favorite event to attend all year, but I can’t say in good conscience that The Repository was worth the $50 I paid. When I originally made my reservation, The Repository was inaccurately sold to me as a 60-minute VR house when in reality, the entire experience lasted no more than 25 minutes, with only a fifth of that being dedicated to the use of the virtual reality technology. At the very least, if the VR segment was impressive or more immersive, I might be more forgiving, but when the number one selling point of the house is the use of this new gimmick, then the gimmick needs to be extraordinary and memorable. The interaction with the scareactors was, again, the best aspect of the event, but it was still not enough to warrant such a high price tag.

Would I pay for a follow-up VR experience next year? As it stands, the answer is no. But could I be convinced otherwise? If the price is lowered, the length of the experience expanded, and the VR technology dramatically improved, I could see myself putting the headset back on and taking a trip into another dimension. I’d definitely take my glasses off this time.

Have you or anyone else you know experienced The Repository? If so, please give us your thoughts in the comments. Do you agree with me or am I completely mad?

-Freddy

Halloween Horror Nights 26 SPOILER Review – Yet Another Take

image

2016 marks my tenth consecutive year attending Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights. I’m happy to report that after a decade, I am just as thrilled and chilled by the results of this year’s showcase as I was after 2007’s Carnival of Carnage. Please note I won’t be reviewing the scare zones, as I didn’t spend a great amount of time in either of them to really form a cohesive opinion. Dead Man’s Wharf was definitely the most visually interesting, but as someone who can only go to the event once, and even with added benefit of an Express Pass, it’s tough to get everything done in one night without rushing.

Now, as if the title wasn’t enough warning, there be SPOILERS ahead…

Top 3 Houses:

img_9565

1) The Texas Chain Saw Massacre – In the weeks leading up to HHN 26, whenever I was asked which houses would be featured in this year’s event, I’d just about always forget to include this one. Not for any particular reason. Among heavy-hitters like The Exorcist and American Horror Story, it would just slip my mind. Color me surprised to find that my favorite house this year would be the very one I just about forgot existed. Although perhaps the shortest in length, this house was densely packed with a barrage of scares. The set dressing, sound design, and overall precise attention to detail were all top-notch. From the couch made of bones to the dark room lit only by the light of a camera flash, and accompanied by the sound of the film’s familiar screeching, sight and sound worked in perfect harmony to bring to life all of the film’s most memorable moments. The familiar sliding door kill from the film is presented in all it’s gruesome glory, and just when you think you’ve made it through the exit and out into the night sky, no less than two more Leatherfaces are ready to give you an extra rush.

Best Moment: Approximately three-quarters of the way through, I was already sure this would be my favorite house of the year. Then, amidst a cacophony of chainsaw whirs coming from all directions, a performer playing the role of the film’s protagonist, Sally, leaps through a window, followed closely by Leatherface in pursuit, dramatizing the movie’s climactic chase scene. A genuinely impressive stunt cemented 2016’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre house as not only my favorite of the year, but one of my absolute favorites of all-time.

img_9538

2) American Horror Story – If American Horror Story is going to be a recurring staple for years to come, then the creative team at HHN has made a great first impression. As a greatest hits from the first, fourth, and fifth seasons of the popular FX series, this house gave us all the scenes and characters we wanted to see, mostly to very satisfying results. The red room with the rubber suit figures was a little too small and rushed, but the inclusion of just about every memorable character from the show was a delight. We got a heavy dose of Twisty, a few versions of Lady Gaga’s Countess, the Murder House maid, and Jessica Lange’s Elsa from Freak Show with David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” echoing through the room. The inclusion of actual dialog from the show helped give the house a look and feel that was very authentic.

Best Moment: The bed scene from the Hotel season was the most terrifying and well-realized moment in the house. As the faceless creature comes out of the bed, the room’s flickering lights give the monster’s movements a more otherworldly and jarring effect.

img_9543

3) The Walking Dead – With the popularity of the show only growing, I don’t expect this year to be the last time we see a Walking Dead house, but if it is, this would be one hell of a swan song. I’ve never been a huge fan of the TWD houses, but I’ve also never been against having them included in the event, as they’re genuinely decent enough experiences. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this haunt. Perhaps the longest house at the event, this year’s iteration of The Walking Dead at HHN played as a greatest hits of the show’s first six seasons. We got the famous “Don’t Enter Dead Inside” hospital scene, Dale’s trailer, the bloated zombie at the bottom of the well in Hershel’s farm, and countless other scenes all fully-realized in gory detail. If I have one main criticism, it’s in the use of masks versus makeup. I felt the zombie scareactors were more effective and terrifying than the actors in covered in rubber masks, which were very limiting and seemed to add extra bulk, giving the actor a bigger head that just doesn’t compare to good old-fashioned prosthetics and natural facial performances.

Best Moment: The bathtub throat slit room in Terminus was perhaps the most effective, not least of all because you not only see and hear it happen, but if you happen to be in front of the victim as I was, you might just feel a spray of blood on your shirt

Middle 3 Houses:

img_9572

4) Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield – This house, based on Halloween II, faithfully followed the film’s chronology from start to finish. The house opens, as the film does, with the ending of the John Carpenter original. We walk through the closet and hear Michael Myer’s struggle with Laurie Strode. We’re then brought quite literally into the middle of the battle between Michael and Dr. Loomis with the dialog from the film echoing around us. Hearing Loomis shout “I shot him six times!” was a particular treat. We’re then transported into the rest of the movie, through the suburban backyards of the homes of Haddonfield, and into the film’s main set piece: the hospital. We see a projection (an effect used in a number of this year’s houses) of a nurse undressing and getting ready for a bath before moving into the next room and finding Michael Myers dunking her head in boiling water, a very effective mix of animatronic (nurse) and scareactor (Michael). While the majority of the house was a real treat to behold, I was a little underwhelmed by the ending, which recreated the film’s explosive climax. Granted, I wasn’t expecting to see any explosions or pyrotechnics, but I thought we’d have more fire effects showing the hospital in flames rather than just the aftermath showing the scorched walls and burned Michael. Still, a great house nonetheless and a worthy follow-up to 2014’s popular Halloween house.

Best Moment: As a fan of the Halloween II movie, the moment that brought me the most joy is one that may go completely unnoticed by most. As you are exiting the house, you can hear the song “Mr. Sandman” being played. The song was also used in Back to the Future when Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly first wanders Hill Valley in 1955, but in Halloween II, the song is played during the film’s ending credits. Although not a major moment in the house by any stretch, it’s a very nice touch for fans of the movie, and a testament to the love and dedication that goes into creating one of these houses.

img_9569

5) The Exorcist – Although suffering from a slow start and an overabundance of empty white hallways, the much-anticipated house based on the William Friedkin classic gets a lot of things absolutely right. How do you make a haunt with multiple set pieces when the majority of the best moments in the film all take place in the same room? HHN’s answer isn’t to just simply repeat the same room – although that is done numerous times – but to also include manifestations of Regan’s demonic possessions in the form of hellish settings of pure terror and macabre. Yes, we get the famous spider-walk and head spin, both brought to life by excellent animatronics, but between those classic moments are scenes of caves of red and brown rock with depictions of the movie’s terrifying demon face projected onto the cavernous walls. And speaking of projections, like the Halloween II house, The Exorcist features a very impressive projection effect where an entire wall seemingly disappears and reveals the Iraq setting from the film’s opening.

Best Moment: The “power of Christ” room was a real standout. This was a great blend of voiceover, scareactor, and prop that blended seamlessly to create a memorable room inspired by a classic moment from the film.

img_9511

6) Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch – This house was enjoyable, but I can’t exactly say it’s very memorable. I’m a sucker for a good western, and I will say that the place where Ghost Town shines brightest is in its set design and atmosphere. Unfortunately, not much else from this house really stood out to me as unique, including the scares and character designs. On a recent episode of the Scare Zone podcast hosted by Logan Sekulow and HHNU’s own Chris Ripley, I recall hearing that each time you saw a corpse in Ghost Town, the subsequent scareactor would be the ghost of that dead person. Knowing this information, I still had a difficult time identifying which actors were supposed to be ghosts and which ones were living townsfolk.

Best Moment: In the saloon scene, there’s a corpse sitting on a stool at the bar. While my attention was captured by the body, I was given my best scare of the house when suddenly a woman appeared from behind the counter with two handguns and fired them directly at me. Of course, I played along and reacted to the shots accordingly.

Bottom 3 Houses:

img_9512

7) Tomb of the Ancients – Like Ghost Town, the scenes in this house seemed to blend together into a haze. I know many have pointed to Tomb of the Ancients as their favorite house of the event, but unfortunately, this was one of three houses that just didn’t work for me. I can’t say there’s anything this house does particularly wrong. In fact, it does a lot of right: a great forested entrance, a claustrophobic setting, good animatronics. It may’ve been the hype and the early buzz for this house that got my hopes up, which ultimately places Tomb of the Ancients in my bottom three of the year. One last note: I will always give credit where credit’s due. One scareactor was particularly good at his job and scared me sober twice. This gentleman popped out of a wall, reached out with a gloved hand, and gave me a good audible expletive-filled jolt. Then, as I turned the corner and completed a U-turn into the next room, the guy pops out the other side of the wall and was the recipient of another few good F-bombs.

Best Moment: The giant alligator animatronic at the end. ‘Nuff said.

image

8) Lunatics Playground 3D – This house had the makings of a great double act, but one side was ultimately favored over the other. The scenes in Chance’s house are divided into the asylum setting of the “real” world and the bright neon fever dream of our icon’s lunacy and fractured mind. I was most intrigued by the asylum sets because they featured a darker tone and a truly terrifying harlequin that seemed to find real pleasure in the pain and suffering of her victims. However, these scenes of the straightjacket-wearing Chance were few and far between and by the midway point of the house, ultimately scrapped in favor of the more colorful 3D scenes. These scenes did nothing to distinguish themselves stylistically or tonally from previous 3D houses, and instead relied on an overuse of flickering strobe lights, which actually got a little nauseating by the time I reached the exit. Like previous icon houses (Bloody Mary’s house in Reflections of Fear or Jack’s 3D house in The Carnival of Carnage) I hoped chance would get her own unique iconic house (pun intended) with a great story, but ultimately, character and story suffered in favor of flair and spectacle.

Best Moment: My favorite thing about this house wasn’t exactly in the house itself per se, but rather in the queue. The music played while in line is a fun mash-up by a band called The Black Sweden featuring the melody to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and the vocals from Abba’s “Take a Chance on Me”. You wouldn’t think it’d work, but it does.

img_9524

9) Krampus – The biggest disappointment of the year. This house had the potential to be the sleeper hit of the year, but ultimately felt like a house of missed opportunities. Where to begin? The opening exterior of the house would’ve been the perfect place to include the creepy snowmen from the film. In fact, they could’ve been used as hiding places for a scareactor or two. Instead, we get repetitive scares from elves throughout the entire house even though they only appear in the film’s climax. Speaking of the elves, their masks were underwhelming and too big. Picture the elves from the film, but with a “Big Head” filter like in NBA Jam. Yeah, I went there. Additionally, I don’t recall seeing the winged fairy doll from the film, which is probably the creepiest creature design in the whole feature. I hate to be so negative, but with the exception of the kitchen scene (see below), each room seemed to produce a response of “That’s it?” I loved breathing in the smell of gingerbread in Krampus’ lair, and anxiously awaited one final confrontation with the title character, only to see an exit sign and an open door signaling the end of the haunt.

Best Moment: While re-watching the film the night before going to HHN, the scene I was most hoping to scene recreated in the house was the kitchen scene with the horrifically adorable killer gingerbread men. Although, the most of the house was a letdown, this particular room was a diamond in the rough. Rest in pieces to the little gingerbread man spiraling in the kitchen sink.

Well, that’s my review of this year’s Halloween Horror Nights’ nine horrific haunts. But that’s not all. Come back very soon for my full review of Halloween Horror Nights’ new VR experience, The Repository. That’s right, I paid the $50. But was it worth it? Visit us here at HHNUnofficial.com soon to find out.

-Freddy

HHN Prep Marathon

If you’re a disciple of Halloween Horror Nights, there’s a pretty good bet that you’re anywhere between a moderate-to-hardcore fan of all things horror, particularly of the film variety. Now, if you’re like me – equal parts column A and column B – your ideal HHN experience includes a healthy blend of both original houses and existing IPs. With just over half of this year’s haunts gaining inspiration from the worlds of film and television, there’s no better way to build up anticipation for this year’s (or any year’s) event than by having your very own Pre-HHN Prep Marathon.

Depending on how much time you’ve got to spare and how much viewing you want to do, this marathon list is split 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

Image result for the exorcist poster

The Exorcist (1973) – There’s no better place to start our marathon than with what many consider “the scariest movie of all time”. The Exorcist also happens to be the longest movie of the bunch, with the Director’s Cut clocking in at just about 132 minutes. For this viewing, you’ll want to catch the aforementioned Director’s Cut, as this is the only place you’ll see the famous “spider walk”, which is sure to be replicated in this year’s house. Note to first-timers: the opening 45 minutes are a slow crawl, but the payoff is definitely rewarding.

Image result for halloween ii poster

Halloween II (1981) – Although not officially named after the film, this year’s Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield appears to be a direct adaptation of the sequel to the original Halloween. While the 1978 John Carpenter classic continues to be required viewing for many during the fall season, few are familiar with its sequel. It may not be as ground-breaking as the original, but it’s still a more-than-worthy follow-up and an essential watch before walking into Halloween Horror Nights.

Image result for texas chainsaw massacre poster

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) – While there are a number of reboots and sequels in the franchise, this year’s house is based on the 1974 Tobe Hooper original. Therefore, this is the one to watch. Considered at the time as one of the most violent movies ever made, modern audiences will be surprised at just how bloodless and tame the film is by today’s standards.

Image result for krampus poster

Krampus (2015) – How about some Christmas viewing for Halloween? From Michael Dougherty, the director of the underrated Trick-r-Treat (2007), Krampus is required viewing for anyone visiting Halloween Horror Nights this year. It’s a family comedy wrapped in a horror film sprinkled with equal parts Christmas cheer and, well, Halloween horror.

Image result for american horror story poster

American Horror Story (Pilot Episodes for Seasons 1, 4, and 5) – While our first (and surely not last) AHS house may possibly include bits from all five (now six) seasons of the FX series, the focus appears to be on the stories and characters seen in seasons one (Murder House), four (Freak Show), and five (Hotel). While viewing of all three full seasons is encouraged, it’s not required. All you need is a taste of the terror and HHN’s haunt will provide the full meal.

The Second Tier

Image result for halloween poster

Halloween (1978) – It wouldn’t be Halloween without Halloween. Although it may seem like an obvious pick, make sure to pop this one in before watching Halloween II, as both films are set during the same day, with the sequel beginning exactly where the original ends.

Image result for texas chainsaw massacre poster

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) – This remake surely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, I won’t even go so far as to say the film is “good”, but if this Michael Bay-produced reboot does anything right, it’s upping the ante in terms of gratuitous violence and bloodshed. If this movie doesn’t make you want to immediately go take a shower, I don’t know what will.

Image result for walking dead poster

The Walking Dead (Pilot Episode) – Rick without a beard. Pre-pubescent Carl. Remember Shane? Let’s go all the way back to where it all began for the AMC monster hit. All the way back to before we started referring to zombies as “walkers”.

The All-Nighters

Image result for my bloody valentine 1981 poster

My Bloody Valentine (1981) – This one’s a bit of a stretch, but bear with me. Based on early reactions to HHN 26, the runaway sleeper success of this year’s event appears to be Tomb of the Ancients. Our very own “scottyrif” ranked it as his #1 house of the year. While not based on an existing IP, the first image that came to mind when researching the theme of the house was the killer miner from this 1981 film. In a nutshell, My Bloody Valentine is a slasher flick set in a small mining town featuring a central killer dressed in mining gear. I said it was a stretch.

Image result for texas chainsaw massacre 2 poster

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) – Unlike Halloween II, this film has just about nothing to do with its original. This sequel, also directed by Tobe Hooper, is as disturbing as it is hilarious. Anyone who’s watched this one would probably agree that the less said the better. Anyone who HASN’T watched this should be prepared for a few “WTF” moments. I mean, just look at the poster!

Image result for walking dead poster

The Walking Dead (Season 1) – Now that we’ve watched the pilot, why not continue with the remaining five episodes of the first season of the AMC hit? To think, only six episodes were ordered for the first season to gauge whether or not the show would be a success.

Image result for american horror story hotel poster

American Horror Story (Seasons 1, 4, and 5) – We’ve come this far, so why not add three more seasons of television to the marathon? I said they weren’t essential viewing, but if you’ve got the time, you can’t go wrong with the basis for this year’s American Horror Story house.

Image result for jaws poster

Jaws (1975) – As one of the greatest movies of all time and the inspiration for one of the greatest theme park rides of all time, there’s no better way to end the night (or weekend, at this point) than with Universal history. With the Dead Man’s Wharf scare zone having a nautical haunted harbor theme, it’s not that far of a stretch to get feelings of nostalgia for the now absent classic Universal Studios ride. Besides, do you really need a reason to re-watch Jaws?

Anything missing from the list? What would you add? Feel free to let us know and happy viewing!

-Freddy