By: Heather Seebach
This past weekend I got the pleasure of attending my very first Halloween Horror Nights! If you are unfamiliar with the event, it is Universal Studios' annual October event where the amusement park gets turned into a giant haunted spectacle each night. It is held on both Coasts, though the attractions vary a bit. There are impressive haunted houses, scare-actors wandering the park, and horror-themed snacks and booze. Plus, many of the Universal rides remain open at night, and often the lines are way shorter! For instance, this year the popular Transformers 3-D ride and The Simpsons area (an amazing recreation of Springfield) remained open.
There are eight haunted houses altogether at Halloween Horror Nights 23 but seeing as Viewer Discretion Advised is a movie/television site (and my body was murdering me after park-hopping and line-waiting), below I'm only going to cover the five houses - and scare zones- that are related to horror movies or The Walking Dead. Keep in mind, the following is for HHN in Orlando, not Hollywood. That Universal Studios does not have all the houses. For instance, Cabin in the Woods and An American Werewolf in London are exclusive to Orlando BUT Hollywood has an exclusive Insidious house!
**My reviews of each house/zone will briefly touch on the characters, locations, and references from their respective source material, so if you plan to attend HHN 23 and don't want to know anything, it may be best you read this after you attend! Otherwise, read onward!**
The Cabin in the Woods
This was my second most-anticipated house of the HHN 23, but it was the one that prompted me to plan this spur-of-the-moment trip to Orlando in the first place. How could I resist a first-hand look at the elevator facility where the monsters are held, and the subsequent purge?! Director/co-writer Drew Goddard worked with Universal to make this house awesome and they did not fail. While waiting in line, you see footage of a scientist discussing the program and an educational video about the various creatures and their stats.
Once you enter the house, you first go through the cabin and the Bruckners. If you have time and enough light, keep your eyes peeled for all the movie references and props! From Jules' furry kissing buddy to Marty's bong-mug, there are treats abound for fans of the film. I was especially delighted to see the creepy painting make an appearance.
Next, you'll go through the basement where all the creature totems can be found. Then comes the best part - the elevator and the monster facility. Some of the film's most memorable creatures make an appearance and their costumes/make-up look amazing! I only wish this portion of the house could have gone on forever! I did not notice the famous dry-erase board, but it's possible I missed it. There is SO much to see, I wish I could have gone through slower, and repeatedly, and with lights on.
The biggest downfall with The Cabin in the Woods house is they did not know how to end it. The ending of the film is not touched on at all - the maze just kinda tapers off after the purge. Still it's a fun time, especially for fans of the movie. For those just seeking scares, it's on-par with the other houses. You will certainly be startled, especially by the Bruckners, but I went for the love of the film and I was not let down!
Resident Evil: Escape from Raccoon City
Before experiencing it myself, I had read some pretty unfavorable reviews of this one. I guess some people were expecting it to be more like the Paul WS Anderson films, or have more generalized spookiness. For fans of the video games, or people like me who just love elaborate costumes, FX, and set design, it's a good time! You first walk through the streets of Raccoon City where Leon is fighting off the infected atop a police car. Then you are taken through a derelict Italian joint, where a zombie is having a snack, before encountering Nemesis (and an awesome Gatling gun effect). Beware of lickers and zombie dogs!
There are countless nods to the games (specifically Resident Evil 2 and 3) and cameos from monsters and characters you'll recognize (blink and you might miss Jill Valentine). The coolest bits are the very game-centric gags, like a moment where the "game" gets paused. I hope this house will inspire a similar Left 4 Dead game-heavy attraction for a future HHN because that would be freaking awesome (and that's a game I know a lot more about).
The Walking Dead: No Safe Haven
For me, this house was quite the opposite of Resident Evil, in terms of fan reactions. While everyone seems to love this one, it was easily my least favorite of the bunch, even as a fan of the series. I was excited at the prospect of seeing Woodbury and the prison but ultimately it felt a bit too generic zombie for me. And Woodbury was very disappointing - I think it was limited to a zombie on a leash, pretty much. I never got that Woodbury vibe in this house, except maybe a little outside in the queue. There are some delightful moments, though. Namely, the Governor's aquariums and the appearance of three zombie characters from season 3 you'll likely recognize.
This house proves once again that the appeal of The Walking Dead is characters and story, not flesh-eaters. A bunch of generic zombies leaping out does little for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed the nods to the Governor. Some human actors, as Rick & company, could have improved this house. It's possible I missed some cool details, as I only went through this house once. Watching a video walk-through, I noticed a ringing phone that I guess is supposed to be Lori calling, but it's hard to tell. It's a shame, they really could have done a lot more with this maze.
An American Werewolf in London
Once I got wind of this attraction and John Landis' involvement, it became my most anticipated house. Still, this house exceeded all expectations. Not only are the FX and sets perfect but the maze itself is designed so beautifully. It walks you through every moment of the film and completely captures the atmosphere of it through sound, music, and FX. It begins with you entering the Slaughtered Lamb, where dialogue from the movie plays. A spotlight draw your eyes to the star on the wall as Jack (Griffin Dunne) asks about it.
The haunting audio continues, Stay on the road. Keep clear of the moors, as you pass through the ghostly fog. It proceeds to play out every major scene of the film in glorious detail, from the initial werewolf attack (which looks fucking amazing) to David's nightmares (Nazi wolves FTW!) to his famous transformation. "Blue Moon" plays over a perfect recreation of the scene (or as close as you can get without Rick Baker's touch). Next up, we get to see the chaos his wolf wreaks upon the subway and Piccadilly Circus. Even the movie theater scene is in here! It's all so brilliant! Oh, and the wolves themselves look AMAZING. Seriously, jaw-dropping stuff.
This house is well-made and full of scares for those not familiar with Landis' film, but fans of the movie will have their mind BLOWN. Everything about this house is perfect. Time and bodily pain only allows me to go through it twice, but I would have done it a hundred times if able.