AWESOME-tober-fest 2008!!! I survive Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights!!
Welcome to Week 3 of AWESOME-tober-fest!!! Hope you’ve enjoyed the first two weeks so far. I started off week 1 talking about creepy Halloween sodas. Then, on week 2, I discussed a few of my favorite scary movies. What’s on deck for this week? Well, as teased to you at the end of last week’s article, Steph and I took the plunge and went to our first Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights this past weekend. Universal Studios theme parks hold this event annually and this year marked the 18th year they have done it. I’ve been wanting to go since we moved down to Jacksonville but we never did and thanks to some cheap, discounted tickets at work, we were able to do it this year. In case you didn’t know, ever since around 1990, during the Halloween season, Universal Studios closes its doors (along with Islands of Adventure) around 5:30 – 6pm and clears out all the people. Universal then sets up the scare zones and haunted houses and opens the doors again for people who bought Halloween Horror Nights tickets (yes, it’s a separate ticket). There are as many as 8 haunted houses that are setup in various parts of the park as well as what are called scare zones. In these scare zones are park employees who dress up in scary costumes and follow around patrons trying to creep them out or scare them. Like the haunted houses, each scare zone has a different theme, usually based around what haunted house is near it. Halloween Horror Nights usually has an overall theme each year, too. Last year, with Freddy, Jason and Leatherface it was called the Carnival of Carnage. The year before that they did a “best of” theme with all the best haunted houses and scare zones from the years prior. This year, the overall theme was Bloody Mary; which included famous myths, legends and fairy tales. Bloody Mary is the spririt that would appear to you in a mirror if you said her name 3 times. She’s in the picture below on the right.
It’s a pretty cool theme if you ask me and I was very excited to see what Universal did with it. So, after work on Friday, the wife and I took off for Orlando and our scary Halloween adventure. We went straight to the park and walked in around 9:15 or 9:30pm. The first thing I noticed was that the majority of the lights in the park are off. They also had mist machines working overtime to cloak the areas in fog. This made it extremely difficult to know where in the park you are. I’ve been to Universal Studios several times and know where everything is, but with the lights off and the mist and scare zones setup, I got confused very quickly, which also added to the fun and atmosphere. Here’s a map of the park for Halloween Horror Nights including locations for the haunted houses and scare zones. You can click it to see a larger version on my Flickr page. All of the black boxes denote the haunted houses. The yellow areas denote “scare zones”. After coming into the park we immediately went right and walked through the Asylum in Wonderland scare zone and The SkoolHouse scare zone. The zones were very elaborate. Creepy versions of Alice, Little Miss Muffet, Queen of Hearts and others were all walking around and scaring people. There was even a giant mushroom setup with a smoking “caterpillar” on top talking to people. Very awesome. The first haunted houses we came upon were Scary Tales: Once Upon a Nightmare and The Hallow. Now, before I talk about the haunted houses, I just want to say one thing about Express Passes…they are awesome and you want to buy them. Since we got such a cheap deal on the main admission tickets, I splurged for them. The Express Pass lets you bypass the standard lines and queue up in a “VIP” line. There are only a certain amount of these passes handed out each day, so you have to buy them early. And since there’s only a certain amount, you are GUARANTEED smaller lines. Walking past the other patrons without Express Passes is almost embarrassing once you see how short your lines are. Also, they are very expensive. Like, surprisingly expensive. While walking through the Express line I had several people in the regular line yell, “There go the high rollers”. But, honestly, they are worth every penny. I was skeptical at first, but after all was said and done, it was worth it. We were able to swing through 7 of the 8 haunted houses as well as two or three of the regular rides, something that would have been impossible without the pass because the lines for the haunted houses were LOOOOOOOOOOONG. Like at least an hour, easy. With the express pass, I don’t think we waited longer than 15 minutes, and that was the longest. Most of them we walked right into the haunted house. So if you go, get the express pass, it’s a bitter pill to swallow at first, but when you are done you’ll be glad you did. Now that all that is done, let’s take a look at the haunted houses for this year and what I thought about them (in no particular order).
Scary Tales: Once Upon a Nightmare This was the one I was most looking forward to. A haunted house featuring macabre versions of popular fairy tales? Yes, please. However, since this was the first house of the evening and it takes me a bit to warm up to the haunted house experience, it was probably my second least favorite. I wish we could have done it a second time, after all the others, but the park closed on us before we could get back. Steph got pretty scared, she said that she wasn’t doing anymore houses after this one, but she wound up doing all 7 with me. She even ended up enjoying them by the end. However, this particular house was only okay to me.
Body Collectors: Collections of the Past This one may be tied as my favorite. This house’s theme was based on a gruesome group of people known as “The Collectors”. All through history they have used plagues and disasters to cover up their hideously gory activities. Room after room of these ghastly “Collectors” torturing and slaughtering innocent people was terrifying. The Collectors themselves look a lot like “The Gentlemen” from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, “Hush”. Very well done and detailed house design. The Collectors would also appear in the streets outside this haunted house for the scare zone “Streets of Blood”. They were super creepy.
Dead Exposure This is tied with Body Collectors as my favorite house. I really expected nothing out of this house but its design and execution were so cool and clever that I have to give it props. The entire house and its rooms were bathed in strobe lighting and everything was painted with black and neon paint so it was unbelievably difficult to see and you were disoriented throughout. Literally, things and people would pop in front of you and scare the crap out of you and then be gone again. I screamed several times. I really had trouble getting through this one. Very, very good house design.
Reflections of Fear This was the main haunted house. It was based around the character Bloody Mary. The legend that goes along with Bloody Mary says that she was Dr Mary Agana. She was trying to get over her fear of death by killing people and watching them die. So the entire house was designed as different rooms in a mental institution/hospital which made for a very creepy atmosphere. Several times you could see “Mary” sitting on a gurney shaking and mumbling to herself then she’d bound up off the gurney and charge you like some devil-rhino from Hell. It really did scare me a few times. But, on the whole, it was disappointing, probably because I was looking forward to the main haunted house. I still really like the set design of the mental hospital, though.
Interstellar Terror I was also unsure about this one. It seemed out of place, but it was a cool idea. The first manned spacecraft to leave the solar system has returned to Earth, with an unexpected visitor. I guess you could say it was loosely based on the movie Alien or Aliens. The spaceship based rooms were cool, but really the whole house was disappointing. I really thought it was hokey and underperformed.
Creatures This one sounded cool. Steph and I thought it would be based on famous movie monsters (this was Universal Studios, am I right?). However, this house was based more on the redneck killer families of Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes. One part terrifying, one part silly. Once again, the set designs were awesome, but the characters and scares were bad. The first guy we saw was the big jethro looking dude with a creeped out monster/zombie face and a mullet. Yes, a mullet. It just went downhill from there.
The Hallow This one had a cool premise, too as it was based on a haunted forest or meadow. Appropriately, the whole place smelled like fresh dirt. Appropriate, yes, but weird. There were also a bunch of monster trees and plants and pumpkin headed creatures. It was more odd than scary. Like I was in the Garden Department of a haunted Home Depot. Those are the 7 haunted houses we went through. There was one more called Doomsday. Reading the description in the event guide above it seems the house was based on the movie of the same name. Post-apocalyptic world, cannibalistic zombies, you get the picture. It really didn’t sound interesting to us. For all I know though, it may be the best one, but I don’t see how it could have topped Dead Exposure or Body Collectors.
We did a few other things that weren’t haunted houses:
This is an annual show done almost every Halloween that takes over the Fear Factor stage. It stars Bill S Preston, Esquire & Ted Theodore Logan from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The whole show is an excuse to lampoon popular movies and TV shows from the past year. Let me tell you, this show was hilarious. We loved it. It made fun of Sex and the City, Indiana Jones, Speed Racer, Rocky, Rambo, Kung Fu Panda and Hellboy. Actually, the name of the show was Bill & Ted Meet Hellboy. There was language and adult situations. The pre-show featured two actors as McCain and Obama and a drunken Hilary Clinton. I tell you, there were no taboos. It was really a lot of fun and I would have watched that show again. Actually, you can see the video from this year’s show on YouTube here. That’s only part 1, there are 4 more parts. The video and sound isn’t great, but you can at least see the show.
The Simpsons Ride Being such a huge fan of Back to the Future The Ride, I was very sad to see it go last year. Also, I was not surprisingly curious to see what took its place. It was tough walking through what used to be the Institute of Future Technology but what is now KrustyLand, but I have to say, Universal did a good job with this ride. The mechanics and environment areas are geographically the same, they’ve just been re-painted and redressed for the Simpsons. Even the ride and it’s mechanisms are the same (I’d almost say the program that runs the ride is the same, they just animated the Simpsons Ride to make the same maneuvers as the BTTF ride). However it’s a lot of fun and I enjoyed it very much. It still made me motion sick, though, just like it’s predecessor. We also rode the Mummy’s Revenge roller coaster in what used to be the King Kong ride. We rode it a few years ago and we love it. It’s very fun. So, that was our Halloween Horror Nights experience. We got there around 9:30pm and we didn’t leave until well after 2am. We were exhausted and sweaty and ready to be back at the hotel in our beds. After all, the next day, we were going to get up and go to Disney Epcot for the annual Food & Wine Festival, but that’s another story for another day. If you can make it down for this, I highly recommend it. Hopefully Steph and I can go again next year and bring some friends. That would be a blast. I have no idea what’s on deck for next week, it’s like Halloween Roulette over here. It may be an article about candy, maybe it’ll be about a certain book series I’ve teased you about. We’ll see once it gets written. Have a good rest of Week 3 of AWESOME-tober-fest!!!