Not only is the spooky season here, but Halloween is already upon us. We’re starting to seriously doubt your chances of making it through the season as a frightening camper if you haven’t started a horror movie marathon, picked pumpkins, hunted for apples, or gone on a ghost tour.
However, you’re in luck since today, the second Friday in October is National Haunted House Day (and a day that sadly never quite gained prominence). So it felt appropriate to suggest Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando Resort, one of my favorite seasonal events.
Yes, HHN is also taking place at Universal Studios Hollywood, but as an Orlando native, I have a soft spot in my heart for the chills from the state of Florida.
In fact, I’ve been to HHN Orlando so many times since I was a child that I was eager to speak with Lora Sauls, Senior Manager of Creative Development and Show Direction at Universal Orlando Entertainment Art and Design, for my Talking Strange paranormal pop culture podcast and Livestream show (available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and youtube).
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But I digress. The 31st annual celebration includes 10 scary house attractions, five walkthrough Scare Zones in the park, two live shows, and a tonne of themed food. The festival was postponed in 2020 owing to the global pandemic.
The haunted attractions this year include Universal Monsters: Legends Collide, The Horrors of Blumhouse, which is based on the movies The Black Phone and Freak, the John Carpenter Halloween House, and After Hours Nightmare, which has characters, themes, and music by the musician The Weeknd.
The mad scientist creatives of Universal Orlando have also created original concept homes, such as Spirits of the Coven, Bugs: Eaten Alive, Hellblock Horror, Dead Man’s Pier: Winter’s Wake, Descendants of Destruction, and Fiesta de Chupacabras.
It can be difficult, but not impossible, to visit all of the haunted houses in one trip because, as you might guess, there are a lot of spooky lands to cover.
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Purchase the $110 Express Pass and the $35 Scream Early ticket in addition to the $80 single-night ticket to make the most of your fright night. You can enter the Universal Studios park at 3 p.m. with the Scream Early option, wander around, and enjoy various rides.
You’ll be kept in a Stay & Scream pen starting at 5 p.m. until the event’s regular ticket holders may enter at 6:30 p.m. The advantage of this is that you’ll be in the park when HHN starts.
I advise picking a pen close to Finnegan’s Bar & Grill and the Revenge of the Mummy ride. In fact, I would advise coming to Finn’s straight at around three and reserving a table for some adult beverages and a bite to eat while you wait for HHN to open.
I was able to quickly move through Halloween, Coven, and Chupacabras from there. I focused on Halloween first because I anticipated a long line there. (Note: If you visit the houses right as the event begins, I have found that they are not always completely staffed with scare actors. If you are committed to seeing every jump, which is in and of itself nearly impossible, take that into consideration.)
I visited all 10 haunted houses in one night thanks to my perseverance and commitment, possibly helped by the torrential downpour that delayed some other ticket holders (and regrettably washed out the Scare Zones for most of the night). However, you’re doing well if you can visit five or six houses in a single evening. Here are my top five picks for Universal Orlando’s 31st annual Halloween Horror Nights.
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Since 2009, Michael Myers has made numerous appearances at Halloween celebrations in Orlando and Hollywood. This year, he will give a reprise of his 1978 John Carpenter film “Halloween”-inspired act. While there are many jumps to be had, what makes this frightening is the anxiousness of always feeling as though The Shape is stalking you.
Michael appears everywhere as visitors walk through crucial sequences from the film. The creep is particularly amplified in the funhouse maze conclusion, which serves to remind viewers why Michael is still such a terrible monster.
Although musician The Weeknd (aka Abel Tesfaye) frequently uses horror imagery in his music videos, I was initially dubious of this mansion because I thought it would just be an ego project with no real scares. I was mistaken.
The home is a hallucinogenic body horror experience that is actually creepy and scary as well as rather visually appealing, and it is filled with hideous characters like slashers, bandaged maniacs, horrifying toad-like creatures, and other unfathomable horrors from the artist’s head.
Naturally, a lot of his music is played throughout, but not in an annoying way. From Dusk Till Dawn and the nightmare nightclub seem to be from the same universe (and are great fodder for any psychotherapist who wants to analyze the musician).
The original concept homes are where the creatives of Universal produce their best work when they are not bound by intellectual property restrictions. A great event that was not only eerie but also lovely comes to mind is the Urban Legends: La Llorona house from 2013. I also had the same thoughts of Winter’s Wake at Dead Man’s Pier.