By ATD’s Florida experts Simon & Susan Veness
Looking for a fright-tastic time in Orlando? There’s only one place to go every Halloween-time, and that is Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights, a celebration of the most grisly, scary, gruesome – and downright fun – event on the theme park calendar.
OK, so you have to be a horror film fan, or just like being chased by demented zombies and chainsaw-wielding gangs to really enjoy this annual festival of fear, but no-one does it better than Universal and no-one has more big-name attractions for this year’s line-up, which runs on select nights from September 19 to November 1.
This big party-after-dark production at the Universal Studios park has become a bona fide trademark of Universal’s creative team, and the mix of haunted houses, scare zones, live shows and more is a true collection of ghastly genius.
Take your pick from Dracula, Alien, The Purge, The Walking Dead, From Dusk Till Dawn and Face Off for the out-and-out headline attractions in 2014, and that only begins to describe the gore-fest in store for visitors. For Simon, it is one of his favourite times of the year; for Susan, not so much!
But let’s back up slightly and provide a quick over-view of what Halloween Horror Nights is all about (just in case the title isn’t descriptive enough!).
This year will be the 24th incarnation of HHN (to give it its short title), and it is a separately-ticketed event after the regular Universal Studios park closure, lasting from 6.30pm until midnight, 1 or 2am (depending on the night of the week).
All the main rides and attractions are open but the principal draw is the fabulous array of horror elements that spring to life, both on the streets of the park and in the backstage haunted houses that are all prepared ahead of time, populated by live scare-actors whose make-up would not be out of place in the most gory films.
In fact, Universal now have a vast array of both professional make-up artists and actors who live (or, should we say, die!) especially for the Horror Nights programme, and the depth of theming and levels of authenticity are off-the-charts good.
The scare factor is split into the series of eight Haunted Houses and the equally terror-rific Street Experiences, where the scare-actors are at liberty to roam freely and find every dark corner possible from which to dart out at their unsuspecting ‘victims.’
For the Houses, visitors queue up as you would for one of the attractions, then go through the maze-like interior in single file as the horror unfolds all around them in full-on fashion. For the Street Experiences, you are on your own, and woe betide anyone who shows fear in the face of the zombie onslaught – they WILL hunt you down!
The good news is that the scare-actors aren’t allowed to touch anyone, but they can get really close, and they will whisper in your ear when you least expect it and, again, Simon thinks this is great fun while Susan simply wants to leave the state.
So, what can you expect for the great Halloween fiesta for 2014? Well, how about Alien vs Predator for starters? When Universal announced that this great movie franchise was to be one of their key Houses this year, HHN fans virtually went apoplectic with excitement.
This promises to be an undoubted highlight, as guests enter a top-secret weapons facility only to discover it has become an extra-terrestrial battleground between the two fearsome species, with visitors caught in the middle. Prepare for elaborate costumes, puppetry, animatronics and a host of new special effects as AvP threatens to deliver a whole new level of Halloween thrills, taking the Scare-ometer all the way to 11!
Then there’s Dracula Untold, another new House that trades on the forthcoming film of the same name, and which aims to put visitors in the middle of the pulse-pounding action as ‘Vlad the Impaler’ repels the ferocious Turkish army by any means possible.
Film-turned-TV-series From Dusk Till Dawn keeps the theme going with another delve into recent pop culture, as this vampire-filled creation becomes a Haunted House for the first time, while mega-popular TV programme The Walking Dead returns from last year, with its zombie-laden story of flesh-eating doom.
Although still unconfirmed, strong rumours insist that cult horror classic Halloween will return as a Haunted House this year for the first time in a while, bringing the evil Michael Myers back to life.
This year’s eight Houses will then be rounded out by three more newcomers, all fresh from the macabre minds of Universal’s creative team – Dollhouse of the Damned, which offers demonic dolls in a sinister old-time morgue; Roanoke Cannibal Colony, a historic settlement of crazed flesh-eaters; and Giggles & Gore Inc., where a clown factory has gone hideously wrong.
Following in their blood-stained footprints, The Purge: Anarchy is a recent horror film that will also spring to horrific life in its own Scare Zone, with masked vigilantes in search of new victims. Will you survive ‘The Purge’? Frankly, we have our doubts!
Syfy Channel series Face Off brings its own reality TV to the streets with some of its most famous make-up creations (all of the shocking variety, of course), while Bayou of Blood – a journey into voodoo sacrifice – and the skin-crawling MASKerade: Unstitched round out the Scare Zones.
One final unmissable part of every HHN is the Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure show, a magnificent parody of the year’s pop culture and celebrity lowlights, brought to hilarious life by a talented cast who sing, dance and laugh their way into your hearts. After all the horror elsewhere, it is a welcome piece of light relief and the highlight of several live acts that are part of the programme.
Having showcased all the horror elements in store, one of the most frequent questions we’re asked is, should I take my kids to Halloween Horror Nights? In a word, No. In a longer word, Nnnnoooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!
OK, if pushed we will admit it’s probably fine for those 15 and older, as long as they know what they’re getting into and have seen a horror film or two so they understand the genre. But, realistically, it is not suitable for younger children, unless you don’t want them to sleep for a month.
We’ve certainly seen children there in the past, but, as a scare-actor said to the father of one 12-year-old boy who was clearly NOT having the time of his life, “Way to parent, dad!”
So, why should YOU go? Because it is amazingly creative, it generates a great atmosphere, and it lets you scream your heart out at regular intervals! Take a big breath, now…