Annual Vacation to Universal Orlando

So I recently got back from my annual fall trip to Universal Orlando to take in the wonders that are present at Halloween Horror Nights.  I’ve been attending this event for the last 8 years, with my first being Halloween Horror Nights 21.  The headliner for 2018 is a house based on Netflix’s “Stranger Things” show.

The trip also gave me the opportunity to play around with a new camera lens called a “tilt-shift lens” I had purchased some time back, but wasn’t finding much inspiration to use.  I decided to bring it along with me, and give it a go.  I had primarily wanted to utilize the effect of such a lens to make things appear to be miniature in nature.  It took much trial and error, but I finally got some decent results.  The above banner photo of the Universal globe is one such example.  You can see the small gallery I took by clicking here.  I’m happy with the photos I did manage to get, but think I might need to practice a bit more with the lens.

Now, for the main attraction, the Halloween Horror Nights, which this year carried a heavy 1980s theme!

Of course, Universal doesn’t let you take photos or video inside the houses they set up.  But, they also have various “scare zones” around the park with scare actors prowling the streets.  Each zone has a theme/story, and there were six zones this year.  For photos of the zones, be sure to click here.  (This album also includes some other random photos I took during my trip.)

The zones were:

  • Vamp 85: New Year’s Eve — bunch of music stars turned to vampires on New Year’s Eve 1984/85, ready to ring in the new year and claim some victims.
  • The Harvest — some creepy pumpkin guys, weird witches, and more in a small zone with props and imagery from the various houses at the event.
  • Twisted Tradition — in the town of Carey, something has turned Halloween into a bizarre version of itself.  Jack-o-lanterns come to life, trick-or-treaters get turned into living versions of their costumes, etc.
  • Killer Klowns from Outer Space — based on the 80s movie, a group of alien Klowns has come to earth for victims.
  • Revenge of Chucky — Chucky the killer doll from the movies is back to celebrate his 30th anniversary (of being a serial killer trapped in a doll) with a cavalcade of killer toys.  Chucky himself makes several appearances a night, interacting with the crowd.

The scare zones were all great fun this year!  But wait, you say, that’s only five zones and you said there were six.  Well, yeah.  Often at Horror Nights there are in the scare zones actors brandishing chainsaws.  This year, none of the above zones had any chainsaws.  Instead, there were a bunch of actors with nothing but chainsaws roaming around the Springfield area of the park.  This crew isn’t listed in the event guide, but I include it here as the sixth scare zone.

As for the houses this year, let’s look at them in two categories, licensed properties, and original/unlicensed.  There were five of each.

Licensed Houses

  • Stranger Things — Not necessarily scary, but an impressive recreation of scenes from the show and the demogorgon monster.  This house had the longest wait times, which is not unexpected since it was the “star” of this year’s event.  It utilized massive set pieces to recreate the forest, Will’s house, the laboratory, and of course, the “upside down” from the show.
  • Poltergeist — Based on the 80s movie, not the recent remake.  I loved this house.  Then again, I’ve seen the movie countless times.  The house was very impressive to me, with massive props and puppets to represent many of the scenes from the movie.  The huge bird skeleton was fantastic; the creepy clown doll is here; the boy-eating tree.  Just overall a great job.
  • Horrors of Blumhouse — Last year saw the first Horrors of Blumhouse which covered three Blumhouse studios movies.  This year, they cover two recent Blumhouse movies, “Happy Death Day” and “The First Purge.”  Neither really work well as a haunted house.  At past HHN events, they used The Purge series as scare zones, and that was particularly effective.  But as a haunted house?  Not so much.
  • Halloween 4: Return of Michael Myers — A very good house.  Follows the plot of Halloween 4, but you really don’t need to know the story to appreciate it.  Definitely loaded with jump scares and cool scenes, and lots of Michael Myers scaring the crap out of you.
  • Trick ‘r Treat — A fun house.  If you don’t know the movie, I recommend you watch it.  It’s fun, and tells a few stories woven together on a particular Halloween night.  This house captured it very well, including some of the humor from the film while still having some scares.  I don’t think any story from the movie was excluded, so we  had werewolves, serial killers, creepy kids, and the film’s most famous character, Sam.  Last year’s event featured Sam and company in a scare zone, but this time they got the full house treatment!

Original Houses

  • Carnival Graveyard: Rust in Pieces — This one was just…very meh for me.  Something about a junkyard, some carnies, murdering people, I don’t know.  Didn’t really like it, didn’t really get scared (jump or otherwise), and just overall didn’t get it.
  • Scary Tales: Deadly Ever After — This one was very fun.  Twisted fairy tales such as Wizard of Oz, Three Little Pigs, Red Riding Hood, etc.  Lots of really cool (and huge!) set pieces and scenes.  In a warped scene from Hansel and Gretel, you can actually smell gingerbread.
  • Slaughter Sinema — Very fun as well.  The local drive-in showing silly B-movies.  The house is set up so you walk into each of the movies.  You pass a fake poster, with narration of the tag line from the “trailer” then walk through a scene or two of the movie.  I did this one twice I enjoyed it enough (and was able to at the start of each night before lines got long).  As you enter the house, they pump in the smell of popcorn.
  • Dead Exposure: Patient Zero — I hated this one.  Apocalypse, zombies, blah.  They even warn you before you go in that the house is very dark so stick with your party, etc.  Well, it wasn’t just very dark, it wasn’t visible.  They have a ton of strobe effects going off, so you can briefly glance at things, but frequently you are just left in darkness.  I wasn’t scared at all, because even with actors jumping out at me, all I could see was a silhouette.  The worst part was how often you’d bump into the person in front of you, and how often you get bumped into by the person behind you.  Darkness isn’t scary, it’s just an annoyance.
  • Seeds of Extinction — Meteor hits earth, most humans wiped out, plants become sentient man-eaters.  It wasn’t that great.  They used the same monsters over and over through the house, which might not have been a problem if they used them better.  They squandered, I think, what could have been a fun B-movie vibe.  Heck, could have even done a triffids rip-off.  Instead, people in fuzzy green suits.

HHN 2016 and 2017 both featured performances by the Academy of Villains, who tell stories through funky and unique acrobatic dance performances.  This was always done on constructed stages in the park.  This year, however, they got to take over one of the park’s amphitheaters for a roughly 25 minute long performance they called “Cyberpunk.”  It was excellent.  I was able to video it, and that video will be forthcoming.

Universal Orlando truly put on a great HHN this year.  Even though some of the houses may have been off, they did have more houses than ever with 10.  So, really, a couple clunkers wasn’t that bad in my opinion, especially countered with the great scare zones this year.  Plus, the houses I liked were really really good.  The props, the sets, the makeup effects, all extremely well done.

Except maybe in that Dead Exposure house.  Probably well done, but who could tell?

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