Formerly known as Fright Nights, starting in 1991 with one haunted house that ran for three nights, Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights has grown into a blockbuster event – running 41 nights with 10 houses and five scare zones. Its reputation brings together horror fans and scare junkies, fans of cult favorites, and mainstream hits. Some people return year after year, donning “I Survived HHN XVI” shirts.
Opening night on Sept. 6 kicked off the 29th anniversary of the event. From the twisted minds of the theme park’s Creative Development Group and the Art & Design Group, each maze is incredibly detailed with a high production value. The all-new haunted houses range from original stories, like Universal classic monsters, to intellectual property – or IPs in industry speak – from Netflix’s “Stranger Things” to Jordan Peele’s “Us” to “Ghostbusters.”
Returning for a second year, this year’s Stranger Things house brought to life scenes from seasons 2 and 3 of the popular show. It starts off right where it left off last year from season 1, with Eleven battling the demogorgon, all the way to the Mindflayer at the Starcourt Mall. With 14 scenes, this attraction ran longer than the other houses, which had an average of eight scenes. It was a huge hit, with the opening night posting 120-minute wait times shortly after the 6 p.m. opening.
The house based on Jordan Peele’s “Us” is also laid out using chronological scenes from the movie. At the funhouse entrance, the creepy “tethered mix” remix of the Luniz song, “I Got Five on It,” welcomes you inside to a hall of mirrors where young Adelaide Thomas meets her doppelganger. Scissor-wielding members of the Tethered (doppelgangers that live underground) and blood-spattered murders ensue, with a final room that will send shivers down your back.
Jordan Peele's Us house starts off at the funhouse. Photo: Jessica Montevago/TMR
A little less sinister, but promising incredible visual effects, the Ghostbusters house was another fan favorite. The maze took you through iconic New York City scenes from the 1984 hit film, with all of your favorite characters, from Zuul and Slimer to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
After being a popular scare zone last year modeled after the 1988 cult classic B-movie, “Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” this attraction has been upgraded to a maze of its own. Walking through, smells of cotton candy and popcorn waft through the halls of the big-top tent, as a massive Clownzilla and other film favorites make an appearance.
Killer Klowns brings to life the cult classic B-movie. Photo: Universal
“A love letter to Universal’s monsters,” each room in this house is dedicated to a classic monster, including Frankenstein, Wolfman and Dracula, as well as Phantom of the Opera, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Other houses include Graveyard Games, set in a Louisiana cemetery; Yeti: Terror of the Yukon — think blood-thirsty Yeti played by actors standing taller than six feet; House of 1000 Corpses, based the disturbing scenes from the Rob Zombie movie, and not for the faint of heart (take it from me); and Depths of Fear, which has the added layer of providing the claustrophobic feeling of being deep beneath the water’s surface, in addition to monstrous sea creatures.
Nightingale’s Blood Pit, where beaked creatures feed off of dead gladiators in ancient Rome, “gives us the opportunity to blend that historical aspect of it, which I think is fun because it gives a time period an aesthetic that is not similar to anything else we have in our slate,” said Patrick Braillard, creative development show director and writer at Universal Orlando, at a media preview. “It also gives us the chance, much like the Yeti but in a completely different fashion, to have a group of aggressors going after our guests, which leads to a lot of fun as far as the scare tactics.”
Universal's classic monsters are the stars of this house. Photo: Jessica Montevago/TMR
The streets of Universal Studios are transformed into scare zones, where zombies or actors carrying dayglow chainsaws may run up to you. Rob Zombie makes another appearance with Hillbilly Deluxe, where gory scenes accompany Vikings Undead, and plastic surgery horrors.
If you should find yourself in need of a break, there are two brand-new shows to take in. The “Academy of Villains: Altered States” features acrobatic and choreographed dances. This year, the show is set to a mad scientist storyline, and features a scene-stealing contortionist who had the audience gasping. The “Halloween Marathon of Mayhem” show displays visuals from some of the IPs the houses are based on. Set to music, scenes are projected onto fountains of water at the lagoon.
Halloween Horror Nights, an after-hours/extra ticket event, runs select evenings through Nov. 2. The best way to see all the houses is the R.I.P. tour, where a guide takes you to the front of the line (passing even the express line) and provides you with fun facts about each house. The four-hour tour visits all 10 houses, making it perfect for non-Florida residents who might not have multiple nights to spare. There’s also a private group option. It runs $199 per person, in addition to a regular ticket price.