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As many of you have now guessed, Halloween is my favorite holiday; and it has been ever since I can remember. Maybe it’s the change of seasons, the briskness in the air, or how for some short period of time it’s ok to be spooky and dress up as someone else. My friends and I would talk about what were going to be for weeks and the annual Halloween party at school was always a blast. Of course, trick-or-treating would last a couple of hours as we scrounged the neighborhood in search of candy.
Sadly, many of those things that made Halloween so great from my youth have long since disappeared. Most schools no longer have Halloween parties (they call it a “Fall Festival” or some other crap) and a lot of neighborhoods are eeriely quiet and devoid of trick-or-treaters. But in the midst of my sadness comes an event aimed at adults like me who yearn for Halloween greatness. You can find it on select nights in October at Universal Studios in Orlando and Hollywood and it’s called Halloween Horror Nights (HHN). The greatness of this event is one that must be experienced, but I will do my best to try and summarize my experience in hopes that other like me might make the trek down for future spooky good times.
For those who have never been to either theme park, Universal Studios celebrates movie and television in an extremely fun way. Unlike Disney, these parks pander to a more intense experience with wilder roller coasters and more elaborate stage shows. I have visted both Disney and Universal several times and my family has always enjoyed their stay at Universal more. The one thing about both theme parks that few people realize is that they are working studios. The Hollywood park was several working movie sets and many films are shot there everyday. The Orlando location films most of the live Nickelodeon shows and is also the home for TNA wresting. Having large sets at your disposal is something important to remember as we discuss Halloween Horror Nights.
Essentially, HHN is an outdoor Halloween experience that includes EIGHT haunted houses, various scare zones, and some insane stage shows. Planning for each Halloween Horror Nights production begins immediately after the close of a successful HHN run. Teams of producers, artists, graphical and lighting designers all gather to create what will be the ultimate Halloween experience. Each house has an elaborate theme and a movie pre-show that would get you into the mood before entering. Each haunted house is meticulously designed and elaborately produced. Because the park has working studios to produce their creations in, the sky is literally the limit. For example, one year they created a full-scale castle. Visitors would enter the castle and be greated by myriad of vampires attacking them from wire harnesses (that’s scary shit, yo). This year, the haunted houses included a full-scale rendition of the gates of hell and a spook house being monitored by a team of ghost hunters.
The fun of HHN isn’t limited to the awesome haunted houses; as each guest must traverse several “scare zones” in order to get to the next attraction. These scare zones are simply areas of the park that have been set up to look spooky and they house an army of free roaming monsters Fog machines cover these areas and if you are not careful you may get chased my a madman with a chainsaw or a witch with burning eyes. These areas are very cool, and at times they can be scarier than the elaborate haunted houses you are traveling to get to.
The event is incredibly intense and certainly not for kids. In fact, the consumption of alcohol is encouraged as many liquor stands were set up to entice people to partake in the festive beverage. Very naughty and bloody nurses were in every line selling Jell-O shots to those old enough to enjoy them. Geek magic shows that demonstrate the limits of the human body were also scattered throughout the park; a grusome sight indeed. Add a touch of spooky music everywhere you go, and well you can easily find yourself lost in the experience that Universal so beautifully creates.
Now this isn’t say that the event isn’t without its flaws. For one, the tickets were not cheap, and unless you know someone, prices on a Saturday night can come close to $75 a head. Lines for the haunted houses can grow to be quite long as well. By the end of the night we saw lines that were well over 90 minutes in length. Universal does sell an “Express Pass” which gets you in a much shorter line for every house and ride. These passes are not cheap ($60 a pop or more) but for someone who wants to experience the entire event, they were well worth it. My family and I got discount tickets and express passes and it cost us around $100 a piece to experience everything.
Probably the worst thing that Halloween Horror Nights does is it makes the local scare attractions seem incredibly lame. Paying $15 to ride in hay while some teenager pops out of the corn to say “boo” does little to scare you after Halloween Horror Nights. Where are my vistas of cobweb covered walls? Where are my legions of evil chainsaw wielding zombies waiting behind dark corners? Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still visit these places back home and enjoy watching my friends jump in fear, but it won’t be the same for me.
All these things aside, Halloween Horror Nights is simply an amazing experience. I sat with my family and I overlooked the park. I marveled at the lights shining through dense layers of man-made fog as I listened to orchestral renditions of John Carpenter’s Halloween theme. I smiled as a familiar feeling came over me: Halloween was back, it was RIGHT HERE! And I felt like I hadn’t in years…I felt like a kid again.