Halloween Horror Nights 26 SPOILER Review – Yet Another Take

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

Confirmed Rumor: The Walking Dead is Coming to Hollywood

As rumoured previously, a year-round The Walking Dead attraction is coming to Universal Studios Hollywood, to open this summer!

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Nothing beats a truly scary all-year-round maze, and Universal studios is trying to take proper advantage of this by creating a top notch walk-through maze that would blow the minds of visitors. One of the most popular ways to spend Halloween for Southern Californians is by visiting Halloween Horror Nights at Universal studios. Universal is therefore trying to merge visitor’s high expectations with a quality spooky experience.  The previous year-round house of Universal’s House of Horrors did grow stale, long before it was demolished.  It is hoped that the new attraction will be open year round and be “plused” just for HHN.

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Universal theme parks have long been renowned for their ability to aptly recreate scenes from movies, giving visitors a complete feeling as if they are within the movie. The inclusion of year round walk-through of ‘The Walking Dead’ is certain to captivate the hearts and minds of visitors and promises to be the perfect balance of fun and fright. Greg Nicotero (the show’s creator) summed it all up when he said “There are so many iconic moments that it is really difficult to pick and choose which ones”. The re-enactment of the show is sure to be a hit with both fans of the show and HHN.

The new rumored attraction is said to contain all new sets, landscapes, special effects, props, animatronics, staging, costumes and makeup and will be packed with real actors depicting survivors and walkers from the hit AMC show.  Both Nicotero and his team from his special effects company, KNB Efx, who manage the effects and makeup of the show have already designed every inch of the attraction.  They will also fly out in due course to manage all the finishing touches, to enable the attraction to mirror the show for every exacting horrific detail.

Universal Studios Hollywood president Larry Kurzweil said in a statement:

“We’re taking its intensity to the next level by collaborating with the show’s award-winning production team to create an authentic living representation of the series that can only be experienced at Universal Studios Hollywood.”

AMC was then quoted:

This summer, fans can venture into the post-apocalyptic world of The Walking Dead at Universal Studios Hollywood in an all-new, year-round attraction.

Follow in the survivors’ footsteps for a fully immersive journey, using both animatronics and live performers — the next best thing to actually being on The Walking Dead.

The attraction’s landscapes, special effects, props, staging, costumes and makeup were all created in collaboration with the show’s award-winning production team, including executive producer and director Greg Nicotero.

In the meantime, don’t miss the next episode of The Walking Dead, Sunday at 9/8c on AMC, or watch full episodes on amc.com and the AMC App right now.

The (persistent) Walking Dead

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The Walking Dead has quickly become the HHN equivalent of Justin Bieber, Vegemite, Marmite, Mondays, knuckle clicking and bubble wrap – when it comes to TWD at HHN you either LOVE it or HATE it.  So let’s look at where we started with the TWD and whether it will be back for Orlando (#HHN26) or Hollywood this year…

The Walking Dead premiered in the US on October 31, 2010, on the cable television channel AMC and then internationally on November 2010 on Fox International Channels. AMC has renewed the series each year because of its consistently increasing Nielsen ratings, which have been unprecedentedly high for a cable series, including averaging the most 18 to 49 year-old viewers of any cable or broadcast television series during its fourth and fifth seasons. The sixth season premiered on October 11, 2015. A 16-episode seventh season will debut in October 2016. An AMC companion series, Fear the Walking Dead debuted on August 23, 2015.

The current viewing figures show that year-on-year the show has been attracting greater and greater audience figures:

Season 1  2010  5.2m
Season 2  2011  6.9m
Season 3  2012  10.4m
Season 4  2013  13.3m
Season 5  2014  14.4m
Season 6  2015  14.6m

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The show started with HHN in both Orlando and Hollywood in 2012.  Both events had the same house named ‘The Walking Dead: Dead Inside’, and although the houses were not entirely the same, they also committed their famous ‘Terror Tram’ to the series along with their whole marketing campaign too.  Orlando’s house was located in the now defunct Disaster Extended queue which made for a pithy house with fast pacing, whereas the Hollywood maze was lengthy and had exceedingly high makeup standards throughout.

On both coasts the herald of the zombie franchise was well received, so-much-so that the houses returned again for 2013.  Orlando received ‘The Walking Dead: No Safe Haven’ which told the tale of the third season whereas Hollywood done a repeat of using the franchise within the Terror Tram and throughout all their marketing.  No real great changes other than the fact the Orlando house was pushed undercover in the Parade Tent.

2014’s event swept in with news that once again TWD would be coming back to HHN, which was met with a few grumbles from the diehard fans.  Grumbles that were met by priming the largest house ever built for Orlando’s HHN.  Both events following the pattern of the two previous years (house, house, tram, marketing), the two studios repeated what had been done with their new house, ‘The Walking Dead: End Of The Line’.  For which we all felt MUST be the end of the line by now…

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But we were all wrong, the franchise returned for 2015. Orlando received ‘The Walking Dead: The Living and The Dead’ and Hollywood received ‘The Walking Dead: Wolves Not Far’, yet The Purge took over residence in the Terror Tram and the marketing was cooled down a little for TWD in Hollywood.  Despite this watering down of the franchise at the event, the houses have been consistently excellent, and if you don’t believe me I will be spelling out why in the new edition of the unofficial guide to HHN.

So that brings us to 2016 and will the popular brain eating zombies be returning for a fourth outing?  Well, we asked our the HHN fan community via our various social media channels and the answer was overwhelming clear.  We had hundreds and hundreds of responses and the people of HHN say, “we don’t mind”.  The Walking Dead coming back will not affect the vast majority of fans from attending the event.  Here’s the results:

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52% of people didn’t mind it returning as it won’t affect their decision to attend, 31% said the decision to bring it back would make them angry and a much lesser contingent of 17% said ‘awesome please bring it back’ (thank you to the hundreds of peeps that voted by the way).  So technically, 69% of voters were okay about it returning.  So if it does return what can we expect?

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Season 5 was done in 2015 with both coasts attempting to recreate the various iconic scenes from the season; some scenes were undertaken to perfection with others delivered well but unfortunately missing the mark.  This means that unless something radical occurs, the houses of 2016 (if it returns) will be based on season 6.  Season 6 has so far contained raids, herds, plenty of flashbacks, lots of wolves, and loads of action and the season doesn’t even finish airing until April.  All of which could be easily be portrayed by the creative geniuses behind HHN.  But do they dare bring it back?

Well yes probably. Greg Nicotero, executive producer and special effects makeup supervisor for The Walking Dead recently said:

“I couldn’t be more delighted to continue and expand ‘The Walking Dead’ universe with Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando than by having fans experience some of the most harrowing and suspenseful moments of our show.”

The Walking Dead and HHN are more popular now than ever before.  The Walking Dead is a worldwide phenomenon right now, and it is no where more popular than with the Georgia neighboring Floridians, as the show is only filmed up the road in Senoia, Georgia. Cast and crew regularly attend the event, the critics keep giving it a favored rating (8.6 on IMDB currently!), the audience figures are continuing to grow, theres even a supposed ride in development and a vast array of TWD merchandise is available which appears to be more popular than ever.  All of which pointing to the fact that the franchise will be returning.

Neither coast have spelled out which houses we will be enjoying (expect announcements in May or June at the earliest).  So despite the larger segment of fans complaining of the annual TWD rehash, there is a larger portion who would welcome the house back with open arms.  Though there is one slight problem.  Hollywood has always had space issues, and has in the past had to build temporary buildings dotted all over their estate just to provide the six houses they did in 2015.

Whereas Orlando which was haunt space plentiful in 2015 is about to enter a huge rebuilding program where a number of the former house locations are now no longer with us.  In 2015 there was record 9 houses offered, so will Orlando be able to provide as many houses again, and if not with space a premium, can it afford to bring back a house like TWD?  Especially if bringing it back will knock another unused before IP or original house off from the lineup.

My opinion: It’ll be back.  In the old days, people moaned about Bill and Ted coming back every year, but they soon learned to embrace the duo who are now HHN legends.  Will this decision make people happy?  Some won’t be.  Others won’t mind and many will love the return.  Others, who aren’t fans of HHN, will probably see the cross-marketing and attend the event never even knowing that TWD had been at HHN before.  Whatever the decision, I like the over half of people surveyed, will still be coming and we simply won’t mind.

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Well I will mind actually, can Orlando finally spruce up this prop – its been seen every single year!!!

So would you be happy for the return of this popular franchise?  Let us know…