It’s the most wonderful time of the year… No, not Christmas, though effectively we’re on a countdown to that as well. It’s coming up for Halloween season, and our friends across the pond at Universal Studios Orlando celebrate it like nowhere else on Earth.
The world’s premier Halloween event, Halloween Horror Nights, has just opened for it’s 28th and biggest year and we were lucky enough to be the only gay press invited to their media opening night.
The park opens after hours, re-dressed for the witching hour with multiple Haunted Houses and sinister Scare Zones. You can read all about the Halloween Horror Nights experience in the October 2018 issue of Attitude, but here’s our countdown of the best scares on offer in 2018...
As you navigate your way around the park at night, with scary music, smoke and sound effects filling the streets, you’ll have to make your way through different themed Scare Zones to get to each of the Haunted Houses… But that doesn’t include the hordes of chainsaw wielding Scareactors hidden elsewhere! Here’s our rundown of the five zones on offer this year...
5. Killer Klowns From Outer Space
Definitely one for hardcore fans – if you love this cult 80s classic, you’ll be in your element. And fans we saw were absolutely loving it. Almost everything you’d want from the movie is represented, it’s a labour of love - there’s just not many scares in it. Which actually gives you a welcome breather...
4. The Harvest
Somewhat based on one of the stand-out houses from last year, Scarecrow: The Reaping, but also including elements from each of the haunted houses, this is a much smaller-scale Scare Zone than we’d hoped for – but still providing plenty of jump scares as you enter the main street of the park. There’s something about old wooden fences and bales of hay that just make it quite creepy...
3. Revenge Of Chucky
To celebrate 30 years of Play Pal Toys’ biggest seller, the Good Guy doll, the company put on a parade… But Chucky uses voodoo to bring classic toys to life and they’re on the attack. Where else will you see savage giant Cabbage Patch Kids, a demonic Jem – complete with wig and microphone – and Barrel of Monkeys descend upon unsuspecting guests. Watch out for those monkeys – one of them has a habit of lifting its leg when you least expect it...
2. Twisted Tradition
Always a stunning display, the Central Park space of the park is this year given over to elements of Halloween that have gone bad – in many cases literally, with melting and rotting pumpkins lining the streets and lumbering from the dark. As ever, the glowing orange pumpkins filling the trees above is beautiful.
1. Vamp ‘85: New Years Eve
When a large ball descends to mark the stroke of midnight and the start of 1985, vampires attack the party-goers – to a killer 80s soundtrack.
We walked in to the sounds of Dance Hall Days by Wang Chung – also known for appearing in Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion. This felt like the largest of all the Scare Zones, with loads of Scareactors doing a fantastic job. In particular, there were vampire versions of 80s pop stars, including Freddie Mercury, Prince and Madonna. A great big scary party that we’d gladly stay longer at.
Between Scare Zones and Haunted Houses, you’ll definitely want to take time out to grab a seat for the Academy of Villains: Cyberpunk show.
A fantastic – and at times breathtaking – dance performance with lasers, light shows and interactive video effects, can the resistance fighters win out over the evil cybernetic corporation of the future? Well, we really need laser beam fingers now.
10. The Horrors of Blumhouse
A second run for this franchise as a Haunted House, though featuring two entirely different films this year – Happy Death Day and The First Purge.
Both particularly brutal, with some absolutely fantastic jump-scares. In particular, the first part of the house, Happy Death Day, features one of the best multiple scares, clearly set up to teach repeat attendees that ‘know where the scares are coming from’ – like us! – a lesson.
Very clever. We screamed a LOT. And then we laughed, because we’re butch. (We’re not)
9. Dead Exposure: Patient Zero
An original maze – as roughly half are based on existing films and TV shows – but a 1980s prequel to an original house from 2008.
This time you get to enter the lab that caused zombies to roam the world. Entering the maze you’re ‘vaccinated’ by gas – but the cure also causes short-term sensory deprivation.
Basically, you’re plunged into darkness with zombies that only show up when it flashes with ultraviolet light. Particularly impressive is the Paris Metro train filled with zombie passengers that you have to walk through before finding yourself in the catacombs under the city.
8. Slaughter Sinema
This is a celebration of all things kitsch 80s horror B-movie, with each scene/room depicting a different fictional film like Pumpkin Guts, Amazon Cannibals from Planet Hell or Cult of the Beast Baby.
It’s particularly brilliant in that any one of these original (crazy) fake productions could likely have been a house of their own. Instead you’re treated to a relentless barrage of hilarious, but also terrifying, moments.
Our favourite was probably the homage to, but in no way an actual reproduction of for copyright reasons, Critters aka Midnight Snack 2: The House Swarming.
7. Carnival Graveyard: Rust In Pieces
While all the Haunted Houses are cinematic (they’re built as sets on sound stages) this one feels particularly grand.
This is where all the bits and bobs from old fairgrounds go to ‘rust in piece’. Except they’re not alone - there’s a bunch of disgruntled ex-carnival workers living there too and they don’t want you on their property. Trespassers beware!
The sets feel particularly vast and impressive, with crashed cars, huge run-down amusement park facades – but also sprawling upwards, again with scares also coming from above you throughout. And those buggers catch you every time with mirrors...
6. Seeds of Extinction
Another original house – a meteor has hit Earth and wiped out all human life. Well, except for you and the other guests walking through this maze. And because everything looks like overgrown plants, you can’t see the monsters when they lurch out at you.
The scale is incredible, as you see the world at the point it came to a halt – there’s even an overgrown crashed aeroplane in the middle of the set. Brilliantly atmospheric and, once again, terrifying.
5. Scary Tales: Deadly Ever After
What happens when all your favourite fairy tale characters have gone bad, and the villains get even worse?
The Wicked Witch of the West – from the original Wizard of Oz novel – has cast a spell on the land of the fairies (stop laughing at the back) and made everything demonic.
And it’s fantastic. From the moment you turn the corner and see the Wicked Witch flying over your head as you enter the castle – yes, really, this Haunted House is on a huge scale – you’re being attacked from all sides. Even your sense of smell takes a hit during the scenes set in Hansel and Gretel.
A little girl – clearly meant to be Dorothy – is enslaved in chains as monsters roam the land. Rapunzel has had her wig snatched – literally, taking half her scalp with it! Come on, what gay man hasn’t wanted to face off against the Wicked Witch? This is AWESOME.
Also, it probably won’t be the last time that bears lunge at us in the dark.
4. Trick R Treat
Based on an iconic Halloween movie from 2007 – featuring pint-sized guardian of the season, Sam – this house truly is a thing of beauty and, in places, absolute wonder.
That the team at Universal can recreate a submerged school bus in a swamp is quite something.
Given that the film has several stories that are connected by one strand, this house is really given the chance to excel as you move from room to room and see every major moment from the film.
Our only complaint? Despite the fact that this is a large house with many scenes, we still wanted more. This really felt like being in the movie.
3. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
There’s something oddly comforting – given the fact that he’s a relentless, brutal serial killer – about having Michael Myers at a Halloween Horror Nights event.
And having absolutely smashed it with houses based on the first two installments in previous years (Halloween 3: Season of the Witch doesn’t feature Michael) they’re back to doing what they do best.
It’s clear the team absolutely adore the Halloween movie franchise, with the movie painstakingly recreated, with all major scenes – and kills – recreated as Michael tries to track down Jamie.
Throw the classic score on top of all that and your heart is in your chest as multiple Michaels crash out at you, while a ‘swooshing’ stabbing noise plays at extremely loud volume alongside the classic ‘sting’ from the films.
There can’t be many horror aficionados that wouldn’t want to put themselves right at the centre of a classic horror movie and this is a dream – well, nightmare – come true. Roll on the house for Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers!
2. Stranger Things
This maze is so cleverly constructed that it even has a pre-title sequence scene before you move through a room playing the theme music…
If you’re a fan of Netflix’s Stranger Things, you’ll likely never get closer to being a part of the show – with the creative team providing an immense amount of source material to allow the Universal crew to painstakingly recreate scenes and moments from the first series.
In fact, the Demogorgon – which attacks you at many, many points throughout the maze – is built here in real life for the first time, as the series relies on CGI to bring them to life.
Journey into the Upside Down – complete with the dust that floats in the air – as you search for Will (with some incredible look alike actors playing the cast) and escape via the laboratory with the help of Eleven. Yes, there are Eggos.
It’s genuinely difficult to rank the houses this year, because they’re all exceptional.
But Poltergeist has to rank highest – not only is it an absolutely classic horror franchise making it’s HHN debut, but the team have applied a similar artistic license that they took with The Exorcist in 2016 and moved the story on, allowing fans to see things the film couldn’t show.
In this case, you enter the Haunted House from underneath the Freeling family home – through the unfinished swimming pool and into the rapidly unfolding catacombs underneath. Because what’s the house in Poltergeist built on? That’s right, a burial site...and those skeletons are coming for you!
In one of the largest mazes this year, you get to experience the most iconic moments of the original 1982 movie, including the guy pulling his face off, the moving meat in the kitchen and the attacking tree. Oh, and if you’re scared of clowns then there’s lots to avoid here.
There’s even an appearance from Tangina, advising you not to go into the light...but that’s exactly what you do and all those lost souls are waiting for you.
This is totally brilliant, and on another level of Haunted House making.
Halloween Horror Nights is always an incredible experience, but this is definitely their best one yet. We already can’t wait to go again.
You can check out this behind-the-scenes video from the creative team of Halloween Horror Nights before you book tickets… After all, it’s Halloween – everyone deserves one good scare…
Attitude travelled to Universal Orlando with www.virginholidays.co.uk, staying at Universal’s Aventura Hotel.
Package deals are available. Halloween Horror Nights runs until 3 November 2018.
Words by Darren Scott.