Coast's Halloween Horror Nights XXI ReviewUniversal Halloween
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Posted 25 October 2011 - 08:52 PM
Just a little over a week and half ago, I had the pleasure to attend Universal Orlando's 21st installment of their annual award-winning Halloween event, Halloween Horror Nights.
I don't even know how to start off writing my thoughts on Halloween Horror Nights XXI. I'm pretty sure the words to describe how blown away I was don't exist.
This is the nation's premiere Halloweene event for a reason. The detail, the energy, the surroundings. I've simply never seen anything like it. Ever. The atmosphere is unmatched by any park event I have attended. It's hard to describe to someone who has never experienced it before.
This will be a spoiler-filled review for those who have not had the chance to experience some aspects of the houses or events and wish to see them in the final nights. I know that may not be many of you, but I put the disclaimer there!
Winter's Night: The Haunting of Hawthorne Cemetery- I was in love. Love at first sight, as a matter of fact. The second I entered Soundstage 22, I was knocked off my feet by the smply stunning facade. It was beautiful. The stone archway appeared to tower into the night. As the snow fell, I couldn't help but notice that it was everywhere: on the bricks, the trees, even on the bench. It's the little details like that that makes not only the whole vent but this house special. The teal lanterns that aligned the pathway had an awesome glow, and there were plenty of them. (21 of them I believe?) I wanted to sit and stare at it for the rest of the night. Passing the hearse from Van Helsing to your left, it was time to enter the gates where the dead walk with the living.
My first time through, I was a sucker for every scare (except the Weeping Angel in the first room; it was just too obvious it was an actor) just because of how captivated I was by the detail in the sets. My favorite part of the house had to be the forced perspective room, which also was the best scare in the house. By using larger objects closer to the viewer, and smaller, figurine-like objects behind it and in front of a backdrop, the cemetery felt like it went on for miles. The surprise in this house for me was the vine wall, where two actors thrust their arms through the vine gates and grab for you, to drag you into the darkness. I loved the costumes, particularly the girl's costumes (I don't want to say bride, because it's hard to tell if they were brides or not) and the makeup was beautifully done. This house, complete with the costuming and makeup, had the "traditional" ghost-story feel to it. Unlike many parks that rely on gore in their houses, Winter's Night, with the exception of a few corpses, used the awakened dead as their centerpiece. The house is immensely detailed, with just so much to see. It took me four trips through to see a good 75% of the details. I was able to go through this house a total of five times, and I walked out with a big smile on my face every time. I loved Winter's Night so much to the point where when I think about how we'll never see it again, I get pretty upset about it.
Rating: 10/10, no doubt about it.
The Forsaken- This house really, really, really wanted to be my favorite, but it just couldn't top Winter's Night. Very interesting choice to have the facade at the midway point, but when you do get to it it's a sight to see. The courtyard hits you in the face- literally. Rounding the corner after walking under the gallows, the blowing wind smacks you as you are surrounded by Forsaken. It felt massive, way bigger than it was. I couldn't tell who was real, who was fake, what moved, what didn't. The storm effects served as a distraction. I caught myself feeling like I was blowing in the wind as the Forsaken in the room that were in fact real swarmed the passerby. It's a very immersive room and a very impressive one as well. Easily my favorite room of the event this year. The chapel scene had a great distraction, using projection technology and set up a good scare that never failed. I was a little disappointed though that it seemed like there was only 3 or 4 Forsaken projected and not really an "army" as described, but it did the job. Another innovative highlight of this house is the "crooked path" room. The elevated path is thrown askew and you are forced to stumble along the uneven walkway. Even though I knew it was coming after hearing so much about it, I was still disoriented. Had I not compeletely accidentally fallen to the right (or is it the left? can't remember) and not seen that you could walk straight, I would have been disoriented all night and stumbled across like everybody else. The actors in here did a great job too at finding those who spent too much time setting their footwork, only to knock them off their path (pun intended) once again. You could see them easily in this room, but they were more in your face than I was expecting. Definitely had that "get me out of here, quick!" feeling to the room.
However, what kept this house at #2 for me was that odd part about half way (or three quarters of the way through, can't really remember) where it's just plain walls for a few corners with nothing going on. It felt like it killed the flow of the house. It's comparable to a roller coaster's mid course brakes, where it goes from "oh my gosh THIS IS AWESOME!" to slowing down. I think a few of you might agree, but it seems here the majority of you have this house at #1, so we'll see. I gave this house 3 chances, and that part still kinda knocked the house down from a 10 to a 9/9.5. (9.5 for the one really good run through I had where pretty much every scareactor got me) Another little thing I found just a little odd about the house is the lack of Spaniards at the beginning. There was one, maybe two that I saw. I guess it's kinda clear who won that battle, though with the blood in the cells and in the mutiny room that the Forsaken didn't leave many survivors.
A popular knock on this house is the fact that the costumes feature masks that have glowing green eyes. To some, the green eyes ruin the scares as it is easy to spot the actors before they spring into action. While this may have been true early in the event, it seemed the actors listen to their critics (or bosses for that matter) and worked around their handicap. I found quite a few Forsaken covering their eyes before scaring, and a few getting more in your face than others. Overall, the Forsaken was a very creative house that had very immersive rooms and like Winter's Night, felt so real.
Rating 9.5 or 9/10.
Nightengales: Blood Prey- Immersion is the name of the game here. World War I is the setting and the war is definitely ongoing. The second I walked in, I was thrown in the trenches. The gunshots and explosions echoed in the background while Nightengales surround you in every direction- left, right, and above. This was another house that used it's facade deeper in the house than the entrance, but it does not disappoint. The over turned tank was a sight to see! Talk about "wow factor"! I just wish it wasnt so on top of you like it was. I did stop looking up, though after a Nightengale caught me looking up at another and got me good. This means that I missed the flying Nightengales that I had heard about. The room with all of the bodies is what I remember the most about this house because it had that really unsettling feeling to it, like death was right in front of you. I had really good timing in this house and got to see pretty much all of the gun effects and got lucky enough to have a group of girls leading me so I saw probably every scare happen right in front of me. I wasn't THAT lucky, though as I missed the famous"rip" scene that is the rage within this house if you time it right. Overall, very immersive, yet simple house.
Nevermore: The Madness of Poe- Easily the most intense house of the night for me. You are thrown into the pages of Edgar Allen Poe's stories, and dark they are. I like to think that it's tough to get more than a startle (I was startled in every house; got a few "OH " exclamations too, (particularly the boo hole in Winter's Night) out of me from a scare, but this house had me screaming. Yes, a 6'1 18 year old male was screaming. I'm specifically talking about the Red Masque of Death room. I have never wanted to GET THE HELL OUT of somewhere so fast and had it not been for groups in front of me I would have run out! The actor on the balcony (or was it a ballroom-type of dance floor? I know whatever it was, it was elevated) got me right as I walked in and when I saw the dancers, with their male partners spinning,I knew this would be trouble. The dancers would lunge, and at the same time the actor above would lean in. I felt very targeted in this room, probably because of my initial reaction to the first actor right when I walked in. I was screaming profanities, telling the screaming folks in front of me to walk faster... I was a mess. Comparable to the 15 year old girls in the streets when they see chainsaws.The second I got into the next room, I burst into laughter. I absolutely loved it! Yes, I was the creepy kid by himself that was screaming like he was really being killed and then was laughing into tears... I did also enjoy the first real room, whose name I forget, which we were given the teaser image for and although I knew it was coming, the axe actor waiting in a boo hole still was a surprise. One of the more famous stories of Poe, The Raven is featured and ravens are aplenty in here, and they happen to all be real.
Overall, this house was very intense for me, thanks to it being very dark. I did, though feel "lost" in the scenes. It probably has to do with the fact that I have only read two Poe stories, but I think the fact that it was so dark that I couldn't see the details didn't help at all.
H.R. BloodenGutz: Holidays of Horror: I really enjoyed this house, I laughed my way through! This was the comedy house this year, and feature host H.R. BloodenGutz takes you through his holiday specials.. which all have a twist of course! Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas... the holidays we love! In this house, they become the holidays that make us scream! The segways between holidays were very simple, yet effective as you find yourself in a living room with a TV set explaining the next room. I wished we would have seen HR in one of them, at least, but they were small so I don't think it could have worked anyway. Abraham Lincoln was the star of the house in the Undead President's Day room as he got me good my first time! He caught me looking at his very gory victim on the couch, which unlike him was dead. I saw the "bomb scare" that was also in this room twice, and it was really cool, reminded me of an old school dark ride gag! The scares though, did wear off after the first go around. Only one part kind of had me scared all three times through and that was in the Valentine's Day room, where the fishing line hangs down and tickles you. I have a fear of spiders and creepy crawlies, so that had me freaked a little bit. This house of course had a water effect too, as the poor Arbor Day victim is chopped up. Overall, the tamest of the houses, but I really did enjoy it! I LOVED the concept of the story and it had a kick ass facade!
Rating: 8.5/10 from me!
I did not get to see Saws N' Steam, In Between, or The Thing. The lines by the time I got to them were all at 75-100 minutes and I was forced to pass on them, I'll be honest, those three were the bottom three on my "Must See List". It also didn't help that I did Winter's Night five times and the Forsaken four times. Do I regret not seeing the three houses I missed? Yes, somewhat. Do I regret going through Winter's Night as many times as I did? Not for a second.
Grown Evil: My favorite zone this year. The lighting was perfect, and it had that eerie, spooky feeling to it. This cast gave me the only scarezone scare I had, and that's thanks to great teamwork!
7: This was a close 2nd for me, it was really well done! The actors had great energy and the chicks were hot! I had "Beautiful People" stuck in my head all night!
Acid Assault: The projections really were jaw-dropping. I hope we see more use of projections in the future. The acid rain falling was a nice touch as well.
Nightmaze: Going to be totally honest here... I didn't get it. I just walked in, picked the path on the right hand side and went through without any gate changes... I don't think I gave it a fair chance, to be honest but I never went back to it.
Your Luck Has Run Out: Again, a very nicely done scarezone that had a really good distraction tactic and I could see it would get alot of people, especially the men being lured in by the Lady Lucks up top.
Canyon of Dark Souls: Should be Canyon of Dark "I Can't see Three Feet in Front of Me" Souls. Loved the claustrophobic feel and the fog. Some say too much fog, but I think it was perfect. I got to see a great moment early in the night when a wheelchair guest came through and the actors crowded him and took turns popping in his face, which he loved! I was laughing just as much as he was! Funny moment to see, great to see the actors having fun!
Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure: EXCELLENT! I loved this show last year and really liked it again this year! The new writer did a GREAT job with his one line jokes! The preshow video was hilarious, getting great reactions from myself and the crowd, almost the highlight of the show (which went to Osama bin Laden being killed by Obama and Bush and Conan the Barbarian)! The dancing parts felt slow though, this year, particularly the first one. The flashmob idea was cool, just the dancing felt slow and dragged out. Overall, very good this year and I'd say the dancing was worse than last year, but the jokes were better. Not everyday you get a Smurfette in a 69! Rating 8/10.
I could not have asked for a better two nights at a better event. Congratulations to the Universal creative team, actors, event staff, and to anyone who helped play a role in Halloween Horror Nights XXI on a phenomenal year. It's the best event in the world for a reason!
Images courtesy of Orlando Informer and are owned by Universal Orlando.
Coastin' East Owner, Host, Producer
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