Posts Tagged ‘Halloween Horror Nights’

 

 

First I want to start off this blog post by saying that I am in no way an “insider,” or know really anything about anything. I’m a die hard fan of Jurassic Park (big shocker there,) and Universal theme parks in general. I can only speak on behalf of the experiences I’ve had, what I’ve read in articles as well as other postings online, and also from what I’ve heard from interviews. I’m just a nerd, with big thoughts and big questions.  Also, for a majority of this post I’ll be talking mainly about Universal Orlando although it does not totally negate the dynamic of Jurassic Park at Universal Hollywood.

Secondly, I’ll start with this:

 

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I received this letter… oh, back in 2004 when I was 12 years old. A little bit of context to the letter: in 2003 my family surprised me with a trip to Universal Orlando for my birthday. This was a BIG deal. Literally ever since I knew that Universal Hollywood had a Jurassic Park ride I had wanted to go. When Orlando announced Islands of Adventure and their Jurassic Park island (called Isla Adventura for those who are wondering) I was dead set on going at some point in my life. The problem was a trip like that is that it’s obviously expensive and I was never sure I was going to be able to go. Then came my 12th birthday and my parents absolutely shocked me when I was handed the plane tickets for our Florida getaway.

That trip in and of itself is an entire grand memory and filled with stories I may sometime divulge. But for now all you need to know is a few things:

  • From that moment on Universal was set in stone as my theme park destination of choice
  • Jurassic Park awed me
  • Not all of the Jurassic Park area was open.

You see, unbeknown to us at the time Universal had closed down both the bottom half of the Jurassic Park Discovery Center, as well as their Triceratops Encounter. At this time Universa was working on that years Halloween Horror Nights, and they were using the Jurassic Park area for a zone and these specific areas for two houses- Jungle of Doom, and Psycho Scareapy.

Once I got home my first instinct was the write to Universal and tell them how amazing of a time I had (mind, this was the days before Twitter and other forms of social media like that.) In that letter I told them how much fun I had, as well as how much I hope to attend again in the future so that I could hopefully get the full experience (since two of the attractions were closed) as well as attend Halloween Horror Nights- which I very quickly became enamored with as well.

Months went by and I had all but forgotten about the letter, until the gem I posted above arrived at my house. I was so excited when I got this. Like, beyond excited. Not only was I getting a letter back from Universal directly, they were telling me special information about their Jurassic Park area. A new attraction was going to replace Triceratops Encounter? No way! While I always wanted to experience Trike Encounter, I couldn’t not be excited for the idea of the Jurassic area getting some new love! It had been two years since Jurassic Park 3 and this was right on the cusp of Jurassic 4 going in to perpetual limbo for a LONG time. I was excited.

But then years went by and… nothing happened. Nothing came of this “new” attraction, and Trike Encounter remained closed. So now not only were we not getting any new movies as the years passed,  but the Jurassic Park rides/areas at the Universal parks were seemingly getting little to no attention as well.

 

Then came 2009 and this is when I made my second trip to Universal. It was kind of an early high school graduation and birthday gift to myself. Not only would I be returning to the park, but I would be going to HHN for the first time that year as well.

Much like the first time I ever went I had an amazing time. Construction was just beginning on Hogsmeade and while I felt a little territorial about Harry Potter encroaching on the Jurassic area’s space- it looked awesome. This time I also got to experience the Discover Center in all its glory. But two things really were itching at me in my mind: one being that I just couldn’t understand why Trike Encounter was still closed if they planned on doing nothing with it. The second being, despite all my love for it and how technically amazing it still was… once I removed my rose colored glasses it was hard to deny that Jurassic Park River Adventure was aging. It had been around for over a decade now, and some aspects were just really not up to par with where you could tell they originally were. Slow mechanics, and several effects and dinosaurs not working at all. This caused me distress because I realized that the license I loved most just really was getting no attention or care for at all. Period. All around. Nobody seemed to care about Jurassic Park. I’ll hit more on this point later but just know that at the time, while I don’t mean for it to sound as overly dramatic as this does- it stung.

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Image from Behind the Gates

There was a final note though to this trip. Anybody who’s ever been on the River Adventure may recall a giant mockup of the island at the beginning of the ride. Each area is pointed out with a red tag. If you go to the back side of this island though you will see a red tag that reads “Jeep Safari.” Literally every other tag on this model corresponds to an area physically in the park… except this one. My first thought was that this had to have been the ride that was originally planned to replace Trike Encounter. But what happened to it? We’ll get to that later.

 

Hop forward to 2013. I am going to Universal in September of that year again for research concerning my senior thesis covering horror in theatre. To say that was all I was doing down there would be a downright lie because obviously I spent the days at the park, but at night I was doing “research” by attending HHN. By this point Hogsmeade had been opened, and literally a week after Jurassic Park 4 (before it was given the title Jurassic World) had been announced and had a release date. I was PUMPED. When I got to Universal it hadn’t seemed like a lot had changed in terms of their Jurassic area. And it wasn’t like I expected a complete overhaul overnight because of the new film. But I was excited for the future. I though “hey, this could really get things started” and JP could finally be getting some much needed love. The ride still was aging, and there seemed to be even more mechanical problems now than there was when I last went in 2009. The only thing that the JP area was getting that was new (at this time) was street games where you could win prizes, and they weren’t even operational yet.

Earlier in 2013 there was an official notice that went online for the JP ride going through refurbishments. While  it’s well known that many/all the rides go through yearly maintenance word of this spread like wildfire in the JP fan community, as everyone was expecting something big to happen with the newly announced Jurassic World AS WELL AS the fact that Jurassic Park was reaching 20 years old and Universal was re-releasing it on 3D. When the ride reopened though… nothing had changed. The animals got a few color tweaks on their skins, but that was it. Nothing majorly new had been done.

Then came 2015. Jurassic World was literally around the corner and… it seemed like Universal had nothing planned. While I still tend to think that Jurassic World had some fairly decent marketing, I do concede that it wasn’t as strong as it could have been and many fans though it was even less than that. Many felt that Universal was not pushing it as hard as they should have. Now I know everyone thinks their fandom or interest is special, and obviously I’m no different. Jurassic Park really helped shaped my life; my interests, creativity, goals- everything. So I wanted it to get the attention I thought it deserved. What I couldn’t (and still don’t) understand is why Universal seemingly couldn’t see it. Jurassic Park was, for the longest time, Universal’s highest grossing franchise and was only recently passed by the Fast and the Furious franchise (which I would like to point out only surpasses Jurassic by $300 mill, but has seven (soon to be eight) films. In other words Jurassic has done WAY more for Universal with less. ) And Universal is treating it like it’s this outsider property. The fourth film took more than a decade to develop, the rides at both parks have been slowly wearing down with only minor upkeep, and even with a new film finally underway it seemed like Universal wasn’t pushing it or doing anything exciting at their parks for it.

As the release of the new film crept closer everybody was surprised at the kind of presales Jurassic World was doing. A few weeks before the release of the film Universal Orlando surprises everyone with the opening of their Raptor Encounter (quickly followed by Universal Hollywood- both inspired by the “encounter” at Universal Singapore.) While it may not have been a new ride or anything many fans were excited to see Universal parks finally back in on Jurassic and hoped that it led to more soon.

Jurassic World released and smashed box office records just like the original film back in 1993. Nobody expected it to do that well, and many fans hoped that this would grab Universal’s attention. Yet there was seemingly nothing on the horizon. I made my fourth trip to Universal in September of 2015, and while the Raptor Encounter was everything I had hoped it would be, and I had an amazing time I couldn’t help but feel that there could be more. Why wasn’t Jurassic utilized at HHN (they don’t have to use the area at IoA, they could have just made a house)? Why wasn’t there any real updates to the ride, or elsewhere? Obviously there was tons of Jurassic World merch and signs, but… that was it. And there were no substantial news or new rumors anywhere that Universal had anything planned. Even with Universal Japan announcing that October they were going to build a new Jurassic themed roller coaster,  Universal stateside was mum on everything about the prehistoric franchise.

 

Now that I’ve recapped a lot of my personal park going timeline and experiences I’ll tack on some other info and rumors that have been long standing. Ever since 2010 (perhaps even before) there have been rumors of Isla Adventura/Jurassic Park being shut down and removed. I don’t know if there is any true substance to this, or if is just forum talk- but I’ve conversed with many who have suspected it. Jurassic Park was an expensive ride to build to begin with, and it has a lot to upkeep. There is a reason why not very many rides nowadays utilize animatronics and practical effects the way JP rides do and are now leaning more to “dark rides/screen rides”… their cheaper. Take Jurassic Park: The Ride’s $100 million price tag (and JUST for the ride mind you, that doesn’t even cover the rest of area) and compare that to the $256 million it cost to create the entirety of Hogsmeade. (that’s the Hogwarts ride, the area- everything.)  The thought was that Universal felt they were losing money in the JP area. By not having a new film or any new interest there was no point in the island. They could easily dismantle it and fit several cheaper rides in that area which would a.) bring in more guests, and b.) save them money in the long run.

A lot of fans have wondered why not just “fix” the problems with the River Adventure? Well, it kind of goes back to the price tag. The cost to completely rip out the existing mechanics of the current ride and replace them, or to add anything new is theorized by some to be “too much” for Universal. So while it’d be amazing for them to not only update their animatronics but perhaps update some of the dinos with more film accurate molds (I.E- like the stegos we see at Universal Singapore) overall it’d be easier  and more cost efficient to rip it all out and replace it with a newer, cheaper ride.

So why not replace it with a new Jurassic Park ride? Two theorized reasons:  One being contract stipulations with Spielberg possibly.  And two being that before 2015 Universal felt that there was no real interest in Jurassic Park as a brand anymore. No film, and not a lot of new merch meant that Jurassic Park was going extinct.

Now that there IS a new record breaking film (and let us not skim over the fact that the very limited 3D re-release of the original film tacked on an EXTRA $45 million)why don’t they build something new? And THAT dear readers is the ultimate question.  Luckily because I have nothing else to do with my free time, I have some thoughts on the matter.

 

 

The original ride, which first opened at Universal Hollywood took five years to develop and cost $100 million. That’s more than the actual movie itself. But the ride was a mega hit, and Universal quickly gravitated to copying and theming one of their islands at IoA around Jurassic Park. When IoA opened, once again Universal had a mega hit. Not only was there the ride but there was the Trike Encounter, the Discover Center, and Camp Jurassic with Pteronodon Flyers. Now, remember that little “Jeep Safari” tag on the model I mentioned earlier? Apparently it’s always been there.  Rumor has it that there was a “phase 2” prepared for the Jurassic Park area. In Jurassic World Claire Dearing says “The park needs a new attraction every few years in order to reinvigorate the public’s interest.” That was the idea here. Universal had plans on future rides happening because JP was so popular. The Lost World had just been released and there were already rumbles of Jurassic 3 in the near future. JP was a hot franchise. While spacing and land had always been an issue for Universal, they had specifically spaced out several parts to build on eventually.

Then11892202_1454710778189750_1240067115970479703_n came and went Jurassic Park 3, as well as all the plans Universal had for their Jeep Ride at the time. From what I’ve gathered it’s officially unknown as to exactly why it was fully scrapped but some theorize it was due to a number of reasons, the main one being that Universal feared that the Jeep Safari would have been too similar to Disney’s Countdown to Extinction/Dinosaur ride at Animal Kingdom.

Apart from the concept sketches of the ride not a lot is known about it other than the fact that it basically would have been a vehicle tour (like in the first film) that followed a similar plot to the River Adventure- everything is nice and calm until the final moments and you have to escape. A secondary theory I have about this ride pertains to another hidden Easter egg in the JP

Discovery Center. On the bottom floor there is a mural that crosses over the entire wall. On that mural (as well as the corresponding mural upstairs) every single species of dinosaur/prehistoric animal that is on there is represented… except for two.

One being these guys:

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Yeah. That’s right, Carnotaurus. Keep in mind that this area was being developed around the time that The Lost World was in production, and Michael Crichton’s book was being written. It’s long been thought that carnos were originally supposed to be in the film adaptation of TLW (like they were in the book) but were scrapped. My theory is Universal liked the animals, and wanted to use them in the Jeep ride eventually. But because a.) they weren’t in the films and b.) because of Disney’s use of those specific dinosaurs they didn’t use them.

 

The second animal not represented is this guy:

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Elasmosaurus. Not this is interesting because I’m not sure where it may have fit- but it’s a fun little find no matter what and makes me wonder if Universal had originally intended on having an animatronic Elasmo neck and head in their lagoon near JP.

All that being said, I want to give a shout out to current Universal character actors in the JP Discovery Center- I always ask them about these creatures and where they are in the park whenever I visit, and I always get really unique and interesting answers from each of them.

 

In-between the Jeep Safari being scrapped and 2013 there was rumors of another new ride being developed. It was supposed to take place in the mines on the island and while you were going about, raptors had also escaped and start attacking. Basically along the lines of The Mummy ride, but  Jurassic themed. Your cart would start in the open, then go through dark tunnels. During that transition though scratches and dents would appear on your6 cart after it had been in the dark or exposed to special kinds of light.

 

 

It’s also important to note that for a short span in the late ’00’s Universal reopened the Trike Encounter, but only seasonally- during the winter months.  They only did this for about two years though and then announced its closure forever.

Once Universal obtained the rights to create their Harry Potter world though is when a lot of fans of JP started becoming a little nervous. The new island would mean creeping in to some of the land that was specifically set aside for an addition to Jurassic Park and for many that signaled that perhaps Universal really didn’t care about Jurassic anymore. Slap on top the removal of one of JP’s main gates and the construction of Kong: Skull Island (which, oddly enough, is incredibly reminiscent of the scrapped Jeep Safari ride) fans were really starting to feel their paradise get smaller. No matter the fact that Kong too has dinosaurs… it’s just not Jurassic Park.

 

As it stands there are now two areas in the Jurassic Park area that currently have nothing in them. One by the Discovery Center, and the other is the entire rest of what used to be the Trike Encounter.

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While the area by the Discovery Center is seemingly small, it is feasible that something could indeed fit down there.  And where the Trike Encounter was is indeed large enough to fit something new.

I admit though that it becomes disheartening when seemingly everything else gets the attention you wish your favorite properties did. Universal Orlando is opening their Jimmy Fallon ride, Volcano Bay this summer, and their currently constructing their Fast and Furious ride. They’re also set to build and open their Nintendo Land  by 2020, and there are rumors of even more in store for Harry Potter, not to mention they also  purchased 450 acres of land to build on recently. That is all well and good, but what about Jurassic Park? When, if ever, will we see anything new?  That’s the question. I honestly think it would be unwise of Universal not to have something planned or be currently planning something. While I praise the work that Universal Creative does all around, and am thankful for the experience we already have- when compared to what Universal Japan has been doing, I don’t understand why we don’t have that here in the states.

Take a look at what is at Jurassic Park Japan:

 

 

 

The Raptor Encounter is hella cool, don’t get me wrong. I’m glad we have that! But why stop there?  I am sure the reason we don’t have these things boils down to costs, but the question I reiterate is- obviously Jurassic Park has pull, so why doesn’t Universal exploit that more? The movies make ridiculous amounts of money, and the current Jurassic World traveling exhibit is doing real well! So why such an absence of anything new at the parks? Even if it’s little things like trying to fit a mold of a trike from the closed encounter on the

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Art by Joshua Malone, inspired by new research on psittacosaur and their appearance in the Jurassic Park River Adventure 

Ride as an easter egg, or updating the look of the Psittacosaurus , or having a special screening event, or… well, anything?

 

 

In 2018 we have “Jurassic World 2” on the way, and Universal just recently announced they are re-releasing Jurassic Park once again next year in honor of it’s 25th anniversary. I’ll be really curious if Universal will announce something this year or next to coincide with that films release.  And Jurassic World gave Universal a TON to play with. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t enjoy a gyrosphere ride through a jungle filled with dinosaurs! I’ve also heard a rumor that Universal has considered closing their current Jurassic Park area and opening a new one/Jurassic World area on a part of their new 450 acres.

I’m also really interested in the future of the River Adventure. It needs some major work, and these yearly referbs I feel like just aren’t getting the job fully done. It’s still an amazing ride, don’t get me wrong. I will love it until the day I die; not to be too cheesy but it’s special to me (as is Universal in general.) But something obviously needs to be done with it to fix it. Universal has spent so much time and effort in to creating this immersive world for you to experience at their parks, and when you’re on a ride where the animatronics flake out halfway through their routine… it ruins the illusion. At the Hollywood ride the car doesn’t even fall anymore.  I would love to see these rides restored to their full glory, but also acknowledge that for something like that to happen they would a.) have to be closed for a while and b.) Universal would have to feel like they’re getting out what they’re putting in.

 

The love for dinosaurs is… ahem, universal. I think the recent success of Jurassic World (despite if people think it is a good movie or not) proves that the franchise still has life in it yet, and that the general public craves more. Universal has a great opportunity here to take this franchise and run with it again- the ball is in their court. When I look at classic promotional videos like this:

It makes me incredibly nostalgic and giddy. They put so much care and pride into these rides/parks originally and I would love to see that come back.

 

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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.

Man, how I wish I had this book two years ago when I was writing my senior thesis in college! I did my SI on the evolution of horror as a theatrical art form (a paper I have revised many times, and am now attempting to publish) and I devoted a whole section of the paper to Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights.

This book was just released, and I knew right away that I needed to get my hands on a copy. I couldn’t resist a text solely dedicated to the history of HHN. Although I have only attended the event twice (this upcoming season I will actually be attending for my third time) I have been a fan of the event since around its thirteenth year. I’ve followed the event online, chat on the forums, watch countless videos, and am even working on my own short webseries based around this year’s event. I’ve known that the history of HHN has had a very interesting past, and that the amount of work that goes in to each event is overwhelming… but I wanted to know more. Thankfully Christopher Ripley and his new book gave me exactly that.

The book starts off describing Universal’s history with its monsters, as well as the original Horror Nights that originated in Hollywood years before Orlando took a stab at it. Horror Nights died, and when Universal Orlando opened it was met with many technical problems. So, in order to make money, the creative team at the park had to think of something. Enter Fright Nights (the first HNN before HHN was the title.) While I was aware of this history, the way that Ripley describes it so in depth and with rich facts and statements from newspapers and archives really adds so much more to the story. It also really hammers home the interesting parallel between how HHN really saved Universal Orlando much like the original classic horror films saved Universal Pictures.

Subsequently, with Fright Nights being as much of a success as it was it soon became a staple for Universal Orlando. The name was officially changed to Halloween Horror Nights for the second year, and has been that way ever since. The rest of the book outlines each year in its chapters. The chapters are broke down [basically] with some quick preproduction info for the year’s event, then production, and finally opening and closure of the event. There are obviously more layers to each one, such as many interesting facts about how marketing changed from year to year, as well as facts on various problems the creative team had to overcome. For instance, one of the main ones, is the well-known changes Universal made to its event post 9/11 in 2001. The book really describes in depth what was indented for that year and then goes on to describe what was changed and how the creative team went about doing this.

It’s also interesting to read about Universal’s evolution through the years and the subsequent effect it had on the event. You essentially relive the growth of Universal from the 90’s to now when reading this book and also get a great sense of how HHN grew during this time. It’s easy to see how the event had grown (I mean, for cripes sake, this year we have NINE houses!) but we overlook a lot of the internal workings and growth the company had to have gone through throughout the years to stay ahead of the curve. All of that is laid out in this book.

The book is actually quite fun to read. While it is a factual history book on the event, Ripley writes it very personable and I got a real sense that the he cares for the event just as much as I do. My only complaint is that I think the book maybe should have been proofed one more time before publishing, since there are noticeable typos and some odd sentence structure- but all in all it isn’t a huge hindrance. The text comes from the mind of someone who’s passionate for the event, and it reads that way. The information is golden and really insightful and that’s all that matters.

I also do also wish that there was some more focus on the HHN Hollywood event, as well as more of a satisfying closing chapter- but it’s just a me being greedy an wanting more. Hopefully in the coming years someone will write a separate book containing all of that (or… possible future revised editions?!)

This book is an absolute must have for HHN fanatics. It’s also a great read for anybody interested in haunted houses, theme parks (especially Universal) or just loves a good factual read on entertainment. It’s chock full of interesting information and facts you probably have never heard/read anywhere else. As someone who lives in Illinois and doesn’t get to visit each year and wasn’t even aware of the event pre-2003 (I was young, what can I say) the author does a brilliant job of taking the reader back to each event by painting eloquent pictures of Horror Nights past. Do yourself a favor and nab this book, especially since there is only 10 days left until HHN 25.

Halloween Horror Nights: The Unofficial Story and Guide (2015) is available in select stores, as well as on Amazon.

List price: $18.99

Eskdale & Kent Publishing

Hey everyone! I know it’s been a while, but things have been pretty crazy as of late for me and it’s not letting up in the immediate future. That being said I wanted to give this little update:

With having just wrapped production on Traveling Without Moving in Aurora, IL I am now focusing my creativity on a mini-webseries based around Halloween Horror Nights 25 at Universal Orlando. Jack’s Maniacs will look at a variety of different characters essentially “prepping” themselves for the event. While some of the various videos will be inspired directly from themes or houses that will be present at the event I’m creating this series as an overall commentary on us HHN fans. Many of these videos start off with average, fairly ordinary people… but we slowly discover that each one of them has something that they are hiding or something dark they are preparing for. Just like us. We are all ordinary people by day, but come this time of year we bask in that small thirst for darkness. Something inside us loves the macabre and the terror, and we relish it… just like the people in these videos.

I hope all who watch enjoy the series. As of the time of this post we have posted the first two and there is more to come, leading up to (and possibly after) the opening of Halloween Horror Nights 25. You can find the videos on the Forever Malone Productions YouTube channel- here!

Note: Halloween Horror Nights, and Jack the Clown are properties and copyright of Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Entertainment. All rights reserved.

When my girlfriend saw the first official HHN 25 promo released today was an instantaneous “NOPE.” That, in turn, got me even more excited. This will be my fourth time attending HHN, and it’ll be her first. Based off of her reaction I can’t help but feel like Universal’s top notch A&D department hasn’t lost their tough with making a thoroughly horrifying and exciting event.

Rumors have been going around for some time now about what Uni has planned for this years HHN, but I try and avoid that kind of speculation at all costs. The main reason being sometimes they’re wrong, and I don’t really like to get worked up over nothing. I try and stick to the facts- info, pictures, etc. that is actually released.

Last year, at the end of HHN 24, Universal released a teaser for this year‘s event- something that to my knowledge they’ve never done before. And the video ends with everyone’s favorite Halloween clown making a brief return- Jack. But what did that mean? Was year 25 going to be another anniversary year? Would all the icons return yet again? What was going to happen?

Well, it seems as though we’re going to start getting some answers…

I can’t explain how excited I am. This will be the first time I’ll ever be visiting while Jack is there, and on top of that the official Halloween Horror Nights website promises more than ever before. Nine houses, five scare zones, two shows, more actors than ever before all spanning over thirty gory-ous days of Halloween fun. I am so stoked.

I’ve noticed some people groaning over the fact that Jack is back, but I can’t help but be excited. Even though I’ve never been to HHN when he’s been a part of it (directly that is) he’s still my favorite icon they’ve ever had and I personally think that Jack is essentially the poster child of HHN. Ask anybody who’s been going to the event or follows it fairly faithfully who is the one icon that pops into their head when they think of HHN and it’ll be Jack, I assure you.

And this year he looks more menacing than ever. Jack’s outfit is very reminiscent of  his Carnival of Carnage ringmaster garb (an outfit he donned for HHN 18, HHN 20, AND HHN 23 (in the Cabin in the Woods house,) but still somewhat changed. It’s more rugged, seems leathery, and more sinister. Jack himself seems… darker somehow to, which I like. For HHN 20 we found out that Jack along with all the other icons (except for Bloody Mary apparently) have been trapped in Fear’s lantern, which is essentially a sort of Hell. And Jack looks like he’s been through Hell here. I’m REALLY hoping that Universal’s A&D has a great story planned out for us this year, that informs us of exactly what Jack has had to do in order to escape and what he’s exactly been through.

It’s only mid-May; we’re MONTHS away from HHN’s opening, and I’m already stoked. I guess it takes very little to get me excited, but I expect in the coming weeks and months we’ll be learning more and more. Construction is already well underway for the event. I’m greatly looking forward to what Universal has in store for us.

hhn-logo

 

Tonight was/is Halloween Horror Nights Orlando’s Media Preview night and next Friday is HHN Hollywood’s annual Eyegore Awards. After seeing the numerous images and videos already, all I can say is wow, this year looks amazing and I am totally jelly that I won’t be able to attend this year. I keep staying up late at night number crunching to see if I can swing it, but alas, it won’t happen. I just need to face the facts. The one year that collects some of my favorite horror franchises, as well as some really cool original content I won’t be able to experience. Oh, WOE IS ME!

But seriously, this year looks like it is gonna’ kick some major tail. Halloween alone is worth going in book. But The AVP house along with The Purge scarezone, and a Walking Dead house larger than any other house in history at HHN just clenches it. This year will rock, period. Plus houses like Dollhouse of the Damned, and Roanoke provide the potential to go into some pretty dark places HHN hasn’t fully ventured in recent years. I loved HHN last year when I went, don’t get me wrong. But things felt a little restrained somewhat. This year, based off what I have seen, it looks like HHN creative has just thrown everything they can at the event as a whole this year. This Purge scarezone is MASSIVE, and rightfully so. I am so glad to see the return of scarezones this year. I love Walking Dead as much as the next person, and the streets last year were amazing, but it was just all too much last year. Besides, unique scarezones are just a part of HHN’s blood. And Purge is one of those IP’s that screams potential for HHN zones. In my interview last year with Universal Hollywood’s John Murdy (director of HHN Hollywood) I exchanged words at how impressive their scarezone dedicated to the Purge looked. In fact I told him the opening scaremonies, which used the Purge’s now mildly iconic sirens and “broadcast announcing the annual commencement,” for the event sent literal chills down my spine. And that was only through videos I saw on YouTube, since I did not attend HHN Hollywood last year. I can only imagine what it is like to go through the streets with characters trying to purge.  Universal will do the property proud at the event… dare I say probably more so than the movies actually do.

When doing my research for my SI project, which I even now am still working on (I’ve since graduated) I would constantly go back to HHN and compare other houses and events to them. Universal does it the best. Through the years, yes you can see ebb and flow of interests and creativity, but no matter what Universal has always done it the best and always will. Horror is in their blood and they take pride in their work. My main critique this year is the lack of marketing and the website. Maybe it’s because fans such as myself have been so spoiled in the past with in depth characters, stories, and what not that were released over a period of months leading up to the full reveal. Last year we even got the LT game, as well as the mysterious PS giving vlog updates along the way which helped reveal houses. This year it was just house reveals via twitter and FB and the website, for Orlando at least, it just a typical scrolling site with info on it. But that is my only complaint, and it probably has more to do with the fact that since in the past when I couldn’t go I could at least always rely on the website for HHN to offer some fun and entertainment for me. This year not so much. So, once again, woe.

But really, I think this has got to be the year that I am the most saddened that I cannot go. Because marketing flaws or not, the event will rock. I want to come face to face with Michael Myers and xenomorphs dang it!

Sigh.

I’m going to continue watching the event though, hoping that some good videos pop up so that I can experience it vicariously through them! And I’ll also be trying to get in contact with people again, for more interviews for my paper/book.

Universal parks do it best due to their scope and quality. And I’m sure it’ll only get better year after year.