HHN 25 is only my third time attending the event. The other two years were 2009, and 2013.But I’ve followed the event for many years and consider myself a “fan from afar.” When it was decided that I’d be attending this year I was excited. I’ve never been present during an anniversary year nor a year that Jack was present and he, as clichéd and typical as it is, is my favorite icon. I got really in to this year even before the event started, taking advantage of the whole “Jack’s Maniacs” craze to inspire a short webseries. So, truthfully, I was more than excited for this year. I was excited for the shows, the number of houses as well as the type of houses we were getting this year (save for one,) and I was excited because my girlfriend would be attending with me and she’s never experienced anything like HHN before. Sure, we go to plenty of haunts in our area (suburbs of Chicago) but she had no idea what an event like HHN entailed.  So when we got there on the 24th and waited in line and watched those actors walk up to the gate, I could barely contain myself.

When we first entered we made a B-line for FvJ, which I knew, based on people’s experiences the weekend before, would be a very busy house. So I wanted to get my first walkthrough out of the way as I felt like I’d defiantly want to do it at least twice during our trip.

Freddy vs. Jason

We did end up doing this house twice during our trip. The first time we went through it was still fairly early, and we had only waited in line for ten minutes. The second time was on or second to last night I believe, the 26th, and we did it fairly early as well due to the fact that on Friday it had gotten up to about a 100 min wait time at one point! I was hearing nothing but good things about this house so I had some really high hopes, and boy was I not let down. Doing this house first was a great way to kick off the event for us.

Upon entering and feeling that cold Crystal Lake air hit my face I couldn’t help but smile. My girlfriend latched on to my backpack and tagged behind me, not wanting to go first. Right off the bat, the first Jason got me. As we continued on several more of the hockey masked killers got me. Entering into Freddy’s world was awesome and there were some really cool “kill” scenes (including one of my favorites- “prime time.”) It seems like, in general, the house starts off wanting to scare you with Jason and then turns in to eye candy and less focused on scares during Freddy’s part then ends with a mixture- which makes perfect sense.  The dream/woods area was such a trip, and by far my most favorite section of the house. Defiantly harkens back to La Lloroa but still just as effective. In fact it’s in this area that I got my biggest scare. The last Jason in this area got me really good both times I went through. The final battle scenes were fun, especially with Freddy’s dialogue going on in the background. Both times we went through Jason was the victor, and that final Jason got us good as well.

The sets were amazing, especially once we got to 1428. The woodsy smell pumped in in Crystal Lake and the dream sequence was a nice touch, and (once again) the call backs to some of the best kills in both franchises as well as some great moments from the FvJ film itself really make this a slasher fans dream come true.

Scares: 4/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

Overall: 4/5

Right after FvJ we hopped in line for Body Collectors, since it was right next door. We ended up doing this house twice during our trip as well

Body Collectors: Recollections

I have never experienced a Collectors house and was highly anticipating this one. It ended up being my second favorite house of the event!

Upon entering I just stood in awe of the façade. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen, and the snow effect just really was the icing on the cake. But… damn it, why haven’t they done a 30 Days of Night house yet!?… I digress. Anyway, the mood was set before you even enter and once you enter your skin is crawling from start to finish. The atmosphere in this house was nonstop amazing and really made this a complete world for me.

There were startles aplenty to be found here, but the scare that really got me the best was the assistant in the room with the spine. So to your right when you turn you will see one of the Gentlemen ripping out the spine of a poor victim. While you pass by gawking at the act there is one of the assistants who comes out snapping at you. Jesus, those actors got me good both times we walked through. I will say in general I experienced fewer scares the second time I went through, but I feel like timing had a lot to do with it. It’s fine though because the second time going through I got to experience a lot more of the scenery and set which was equally as chilling as the actors.

Another note is the theatrical techniques used in this house are absolutely splendid. This is actually across the board true at HHN but there were some real stand out moments in the event this year and BC has some of those moments. The shadow and scrim work in various points of the house along with the audio tracks on top of all of the splendid acting just sold this house for me. There was no weak link in this house. Also- that opening music at the façade, the edited version of Voca Me sends chills down my spine, I love it. I wish I could find it some place.

Scares: 4/5

Atmosphere: 5/5

Overall: 4/5

After leaving Body Collectors we decided to take a walk through some of the street zones since it was getting later and the sun was finally starting to go down.

PsychoScareapy: Unleashed

This was probably the zone we spent the most time in during our four days, as was my second favorite scarezone. While actors are obviously the key element to all of HHN, the actors really sold this zone for me. Especially on the stages where they would ask people from the crowd to come closer and tell them very intimate, deranged stories. It was freaking fantastic and if you have an opportunity, listen.

Also the actors in the street were just plain fun. They were scary, but they were fun at the same time. They actually acted along with you a lot of times, building a really nice sense of security that they weren’t going to “do anything” but then when you least expect it is when they’d absolutely turn or come at you with a weapon. It was great. And the set pieces, especially the flaming gazebo were also really nice and helped set a mood for the area.

Scares: 3/5

Atmosphere: 3/5

Overall: 3/5

Scary Tales: ScreamPunk

This is the first scarezone you encounter once you enter the park.  While the centerpiece and the gobos (once it’s actually dark outside) offer some great sources of atmosphere this zone offered very little for me. It really depended on the actors for me as far as my level of enjoyment of the zone. My favorite one by far was the Wicked Witch whenever she was out. The costumes and makeup is gorgeous, it’s just that the actors seemed to do nothing but roam around, and only really ever tried to scare you if a.) you had a camera, or b.) already looked scared.

Scares: 1/5 (I will give kudos to a Wicked Witch at around 9 on the 25th though because as I came through the fog she leapt out at me and startled me)

Atmosphere: 2/5

Overall 2.5/5

RUN: Blood, Sweat, and Fears

This was the third house we did, and we only ended up doing it once. We could’ve easily had done it two or three times during our visit and a little part of me wishes we had been able to but at the same time it’s not that big of a deal for me.

I was excited for this house just because, once again, I had never experienced a RUN house. Judging by what others had said RUN was either a love or hate house in the past. Houses that have been in this location (Disaster) before in years that I’ve attended (which would be Havoc: Derailed and Leave it to Cleaver) were never houses that I enjoyed so I tried to remain neutral overall, and I’m glad I did. By not really expecting much I think I had a better time but this still proved to be the first house of the event to fall a little flat for me.

The sets were amazing, and the actors looked intimidating and great… there just weren’t a lot of scares going on. It was a lot of noise in this house and it just got to the point of a sensory overload for me so I kind of shut down during my walk through of it. While I loved the premise of it being in Hellgate and the general idea of the house I couldn’t help but feel like sections were simply just recycled scares from when the prison was used for TWD in HHN 23. Not a big gripe though as, once again, the sets are stellar to look at and the same thing was kind of done in FvJ as I’ve mentioned before. The actors though, for me, really lacked the energy that I was expecting- which is exactly what happened in Derailed a few years ago. In a house like this the actor energy is going to be everything and most of the time they just seemed to stand there. The only ones that seemed active to me were the ones you experienced once you got “outside” in the fenced area.

Scares: 2-2.5/5

Atmosphere: 3/5

Overall: 2.5-3/5

All Night Die-In: Double Feature

Once you leave RUN you enter the Double Feature. This is probably my third favorite scarezone and while it does offer up many a chance for pictures, the actors do a brilliant job of scaring as well. Never once did I see one break character.

I keep going back and forth about which “feature” I like more, the old or the new but I think ultimately I have to go with the new. While I LOVE the costumes and makeup of the classic monsters and seeing so many of them in one place, the new slashers and monsters are obviously more vivacious and active.

There are some really good moments here like Jason trying to kill a young girl who then runs away in terror, and others. I always seem to get scared the worse in street zones when I try and take pictures. That’d probably because I’m so preoccupied trying to snap the shot that for a few seconds I don’t mind my surroundings. In the middle of trying to snap
a shot of one of the Strangers one of the female vampires snuck up behind me and hissed. I nearly toppled over. The same thing happened to me at a zone in HHN 23! My girlfriend had a good laugh!

Scares: 2.5-3/5

Atmosphere: 3/5

Overall: 3/5

After this point the rest of the event and the order we did things kind of becomes a big jumble to me, so the rest happened in no particular order.

American Werewolf in London

This was my favorite house in HHN 23 and while obviously I’d love for newer things I was still excited to experience this house again. My girlfriend and I had watched the film a few days before hand (her first time seeing it.)

Not a whole lot to say about this house other than it’s still great for all the same reasons it was before, and the few added scares were a welcomed change. Another welcomed change was the size of the wolves… just… wow. I loved the puppets from HHN 23 but these new puppets made those old ones look like puppies.

While I did coax her in to doing it twice, this was my girlfriend’s most “hated” house just because it freaked her out so much. Seriously. After the second time through she B-lined it out of the exit to the nearest bench and said “we’re sitting until I’m ready.” She refused to do it a third time, although wait times would have easily permitted a third walkthrough.

Scares: 4/5

Atmosphere: 5/5

Overall: 4.5/5

Asylum in Wonderland 3D

I’m not a fan of 3D houses. Never have been and don’t think I ever will be. I don’t know but I just feel like the sensory overload that I experience when walking through these houses just makes it impossible for scares to really be effective in any way.

I will say though that AiW3D had some really awesome costumes and characters so even if 3D houses aren’t your thing there is plenty to at least look at in this house. It’s better than Afterlife, for me at least, which was probably the house I like the least in HHN 23. But still I only hit AiW once and that’s okay with me, although my girlfriend actually loved this house.

Scares: 0/5

Atmosphere: 3/5

Overall: 2/5

The Purge

I was torn when what happened, well… happened to this house. I was looking forward to a house based off the Scream films but not the show. But a Purge house was something I always thought could work well and I was very interested to see what A&D did to the house post-debacle to turn it in to the Purge and to see if I could make out any of Scream influence anywhere.

You defiantly can, if you know the films and that’s all I’ll really say on the matter.

As far as it being a Purge house I thought that the creative team did a good job of changing things up. While I really disliked the constant gratified on the walls (some would have been okay but to me it was just absolute overload) other changes such as “purge security systems,” anti-NFA members, and other things here and there were welcomed additions. Something that people who have seen the Purge films would recognize and obviously something that really had to be worked on and added to the house.

Also the actor energy seemed to always be really good in this house, although the scares really depended on timing (although that’s really true of any house at HHN.)

While this house wasn’t my favorite house I will say that it probably incorporated one of my most favorite elements of ANY haunted house I have ever visited (or been a part of for that matter, since I’ve worked haunts for ten years.) That actually threw in “victims” into the crowd of guests who would then be taken by the purgers and killed. While this sort of thing has happened plenty of times before at HHN (see All Night Die-In: Double Feature review, as well as throwing in civilians into other street zones this year and past years) this was the first time that I ever really experienced it very intimately in a house setting. The first time it happened was the first time we went through the house and this young woman came out of a corner and cut us (my girlfriend actually went in before me our first time through.) This young woman said “sorry and she had gotten cut off from her group” and was wearing a Universal Orlando hoodie so we said it was no problem and that she could go in front of us. As soon as we rounded a corner a purger grabbed hold of this girl with a knife and dragged her screaming into a closet and slammed the door. My girlfriend screamed and had reached out for a second and I was just dumbfounded at what had just happened. We looked at each other and it had taken a full moment to realize that it was a part of the show. It happened again when were outside waiting in line to do the house a second time, only this time to the people in front of us. Another lady with a Universal hoodie, without asking, just cut them and they were all like “hey, what the hell” and the male purger with the mic outside noticed and said “Oh, you think it’s okay to cut in line?” and that started a back and forth between them which eventually ended with him saying “I think it’s time to purge. What do you people think?” I looked around and the crowed was all kind of looking at one another or awkwardly smiling so… I yelled out “PURGE!” This actress spun around and looked at me in shock (whether she was simply acting or just not used to people saying anything I don’t know) but that’s all the purger needed to start his advance towards her and then they ended “off stage” and we heard a big bang. This kind of visceral interaction is exactly what I want to see more of from HHN and the haunt industry in general. We’re starting to see it more and more with houses but I was glad that Universal’s creative team added that in because it was such a huge thing to me and just made the experience that much better for me.

Scares:3/5

Atmosphere: 3/5

Overall: 3/5

The Walking Dead: The Living and the Dead

This was the worst house for me, as it was for many other people. It also consistently, during or visit, had the lowest wait time of any of the houses at the event at any one time. I think the longest I saw it get was around 35 minutes on Saturday, but in general I don’t remember seeing it going about 25 most of the time we were at the event.

While the sets looked great and some of the gags were cool in the house (the slit throat at the beginning was probably the most wet I ever got in a blood gag in a house, and that poor horse (although awesome looking) was a low blow) in general there was just nothing. No energy from the actors and most of the other effects that were there just didn’t work… it just felt like it was thrown together because it “had to be there” (which depending on who you ask, that may be the case.)

Scares: 0/5

Atmosphere: 2/5

Overall: 1/5

Evil’s Roots

This was by far my favorite scarezone. Full of creepy atmosphere and amazing imagery it’s really what I wished HHN 23: Evil Takes Root was instead of full on Walking Dead fest (while I love the show it was just too much that year.)

The actors in this zone were really spot on for the most part really playing into the darkness and fog. During the day it’s not as powerful or intense as it is as night progresses. It’s really a zone made by Halloween lovers for Halloween lovers.

Scares: 3.5/5

Atmosphere: 5/5

Overall: 4/5

INSIDIOUS

This house… I only got to do this house once during our visit, and it was on the last day, and it frustrates me to no end. It was a great house, and I mean absolutely great in every way. The problem was everyone else seemed to think so too as the wait times typically ranged between 45 min to an hour or more while we were there. On our last day we B-lined it to this house wanted were some of the first people to go through it that Sunday.

The sets were amazing and intricate and there were a lot of really great memorable moments from the films present in this house. Now typically when there are “scenes” from the films being staged the scares (for me) generally lack in those moments in the past, but that was not the case here. Even though you were watching the scene played out the scares were perfectly positioned to get you at exactly the right moments. The timing is EVERYTHING in this house and every single actor was spot on from start to finish. Some hard work from the creative team and the actors was put into this house, and it pays off.

Scares: 4/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

Overall: 4/5

ICONS- HHN

This scarezone may not have been the scariest one but it had some really great atmosphere and some amazing vignettes by the main icons from Horror Nights past. My biggest gripe… where the hell is Bloody Mary!?

Defiantly spend some time here if you can, just to watch the stage shows. I wasn’t able to catch them all but I’m sure eventually they’ll all pop up on YouTube.  Also it’s great to see a bunch of lesser known characters and icons traveling around in the streets as well.

Scares: 2.5-3/5

Atmosphere: 3-4/5
Overall: 3.5/5

Jack Presents 25 Years of Monsters and Mayhem

My absolutely favorite house at HHN25. It’s funny to me because really this is the kind of haunted house I’m used to- the kind where it’s mainly a bunch of random rooms thrown together that cover a wide range of fears and characters.

From start to finish this house oozes atmosphere and character. Some really great moments and characters that I have never experienced before were all present in this house and it made me so happy as a Horror Nights fan. I loved how it not only covered the history of HHN but also, in part, the horror history of Universal- including monsters such as The Wolfman, Hunchback, and Frankenstein. This house reminded me a lot of Silver Screams which is one of my favorite houses from 2009.

A lot of actors got me good in this house, but the one that consistently got be both times I went through was the first Ringmaster Jack, so kudos.

This house, on top of some spot on acting and breathtaking sets had some really neat effects as well- my favorite one being the scrim used in the picture hallway. As you walk towards the picture of Jack, if you look to your right there will be a ghost which appears through the wall and seemingly floats by you. As you’re distracted of course there is a scare (which admittedly got me as well.) But that effect is just brilliant and absolutely amazing. That was one of those moments that will be engrained into my memory forever.

Scares: 4.5/5

Atmosphere: 5/5

Overall: 4.5-5/5

The shows this year are amazing. Bill and Ted I don’t have much to say about other than it was funny as per usual, and The Carnage Returns was just plain fun. Defiantly hope that Universal decides to keep doing shows like Carnage because it’s incredibly obvious that the creative team loves putting them on. The number of inside jokes was well appreciated and the kills were brilliant. Wish that there was more of a “big finish” like there was in the original Carnival of Carnage show, but beggars can’t be choosers and overall the show was really entertaining.

I loved this event overall. I felt like there was a real return to some great creativity as well as a ton of callbacks to various things that has made this event so great for the past 25 years. Universal’s creative team really went all in with this year and it shows. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to another 25 years of this horrific event.

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