Well, Halloween Horror Nights is just about to finish another great year of scares and screams and there is no better time to look back at the event than the present. Don’t worry, there is still a few more chances to get to the best annual Halloween event in Orlando if you haven’t had a chance to see it yet, but let’s look at the best, the worst, and the rest of HHN 26.
Academy of Villains: House of Fear
If you told me back in August that my favorite part of Halloween Horror Nights 2016 would be high energy dance show, I would’ve laughed in your face. Little did I know that I would end up watching the show on almost every visit to HHN and sometimes even multiple times in a night.
Academy of Villains is a California-based theatrical dance company that you may have seen on So You Think You Can Dance or America’s Got Talent. If you haven’t seen them before or won’t see them at HHN, please take a couple minutes and watch the video from this show. The dancing is highly energetic, the soundtrack never slows down, and there is one sequence that will leave you wondering how they manage to pull off the special effects without any mistakes at all. Hopefully Academy of Villains builds a long relationship with Halloween Horror Nights, because this show was a true winner.
American Horror Story
There was a lot of hype surrounding the American Horror Story house due to how beloved the FX show is and it did not disappoint. The incredibly long anthology house took us through Murder House, Freak Show and Hotel and they nailed it. If there is any complaint to be made about the house, it would be that Murder House was not represented as well as Freak Show or Hotel, but they were done so well that it is difficult to be harsh. American Horror Story recreated scenes from the show with stunning detail, but then populated the house with scareactors that genuinely looked like their television counterparts. Mix that with the audio straight from the show and this house immersed you in the television series the same way The Walking Dead has been trying to, but failing at for years.
Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch
This original concept house isn’t the scariest Universal has ever come up with, but the beauty was in the details. Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch took us back to the wild west to a ghost town that was inhabited by the spirits that once lived there. There were plenty of scares throughout the entire house, but the selling point was the environments. The rain effect in the first act of the house helped to set the mood, the wide open spaces like the saloon and street in the second act created a depth unseen in any other house this year, and the constricted mines of the third act left you feeling claustrophobic and unable to avoid scares. Add in some easter eggs like the Storyteller and a super creative piano scare and you have a house that will be sorely missed in the future.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
This house ended up being a favorite of mine due to some very consistent scares. Just like American Horror Story, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre impressively recreated details from the movie. Not only that, but the house followed the story of the movie for the most part and let you jump out the window at the end and run to your safety. Even if you’re not frightened by chainsaws out in the open, it was almost impossible not to jump once or twice inside this house when you hear the saws revving up and see the menacingly large Leatherface coming right at you. No, it wasn’t the scariest of houses, but it was easily the most consistently scary.
What do you get when you mix Grease with vampires? Vamp ’55. Between the parade floats, atmospheric ’50s music, and engaging scareactors, Vamp ’55 succeeded as the best scare zone at HHN 26. Everything about this area worked – really well. When you find a scare zone that you’re willing to just sit in and watch what happens, you know you have a winner.
Survive or Die – Apocalypse
What started as a mediocre scare zone eventually evolved into a fully immersive environment with more than meets the eye. The apocalypse style setting for the zone wasn’t inherently scary, but the mini-shows in the zone brought it to the next level. The minute this zone became a hit for me was when I watched one faction initiate a grandma into their group and had big ceremony surrounding the occasion. The perfect example of how some things at HHN don’t need to be scary if they are still wildly entertaining.
Chainsaw Drill Teams
HHN without chainsaws wouldn’t be HHN, and this year the drill teams were out in full force. This year we saw many different varieties – the best being the cheerleaders in Springfield. Something about tiny little girls with loud chainsaws just terrifies guests like nothing else.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure
It’s rare that the best of the best was a show and the worst of the worst was a show, but that is HHN 26 for you. What is usually a highlight of event, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure, was just a bore this year. The problem started with the antagonist, Emo Kylo Ren, which felt dated and no longer relevant, and continued with subpar movie and TV references. Normally, the Bill & Ted script feels like the writers have their fingers on the pulse of pop culture, but this year it felt like they just wrote one long inside joke for each other. It is a shame to see so many good actors and dancers have to perform mediocre material so many times a night.
Lunatics Playground 3D – You Won’t Stand a Chance
3D houses are typically the weakest of the houses, and Lunatics Playground 3D kept that stereotype rolling for another year. The house had so much potentially, especially since it starred the HHN 26 icon, Chance, but it was completely by the numbers and relatively boring. As for 3D houses, it was definitely a step down from last year’s Asylum in Wonderland, which also wasn’t very good but was at least visually interesting.
The Walking Dead
Hopefully we have seen the final year of The Walking Dead at Halloween Horror Nights, because this year’s house solidified the fact that there can never be a good Walking Dead house. And this is coming from a huge fan of the show. Yes, it is fun to walk through scenes from the show, but zombies are slow and boring. The show has slowly shifted to become a drama with zombies instead of a zombie horror show with dramatic moments, and the house just can’t accurately represent it. If HHN wants to keep using zombies, it might be time to create an original story or use another classic zombie movie for source material.
Dead Man’s Wharf
This scare zone had so much promise, but it just did not translate well. Was the environment spooky? Yes, but that was about it. Unless it was early or late in the night, you usually just dealt with a massive bottleneck due to the protruding ship sticking out in the middle of the construction plagued area. There was just no room for scareactors to do there job and that led to a bad scare zone.
A Chance in Hell
This scare zone suffered due to its location, but also the fact that it was just a glorious opportunity to get a picture with a Chance who looks nothing like the Chance you saw in all of the advertisements or in last year’s The Carnage Returns. I went out of my way to avoid this scare zone and leave the park via Vamp ’55 and that says a lot.
Tomb of the Ancients
This house suffered from too much hype before the event even started. A mixture of Indiana Jones, The Mummy, and other mythologies! What could go wrong? Well, the house could just end up loud, claustrophobic and dark and that is what happened here. There were a few good jumps, but there is nothing frightening about an alligator with a strobe light.
Lair of the Banshee
Located in the Central Park section between Hollywood and Kid Zone, Lair of the Banshee is usually congested, but always full of scares. This is one of the few scare zones where people can’t escape unless they run and there was a lot of that this year. The hands down best part of this zone was the stilt walkers who somehow find a way to move faster and hide better each year.
Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield
The Halloween house was one of the best houses I’ve ever been through, so of course I was pumped for the sequel house that picked up right where the first ended and explored the story of Halloween 2. It was great to see Michael Myers back. It was great to see them recreate the second movie with the same attention to detail they did with the first, but the scares were repetitive and easy to predict.
This house was so impressive from the start. The team behind HHN found an interesting way to convey a scary movie that mostly takes place in one bedroom and like so many other houses, they paid attention to the details. You knew the house was going to be good when you walked up and saw the iconic house facade from the movie poster. The problem is the lack of scares, which wasn’t really noticeable until a few walk throughs of the house. If you only did it once, you probably walked away thinking it was a hit.
This house is almost the opposite of The Exorcist. If you only did Krampus once, you probably hated it. The scares in this house weren’t timed extremely well, but the more times you walked through the more you discovered something you maybe didn’t see before. To give an example, there were two well placed Sam lollipops from the movie Trick ‘r Treat, which was also directed by Michael Dougherty who made Krampus. Also, many of the snow globes in the final scene featured the best houses from classic horror films and HHN history. Pretty house, but not scary.
There it is – a look back at everything offered (without an extra cost) at Halloween Horror Nights 26. After an iconic 25th year, HHN 26 had a lot to live up to and it didn’t disappoint, but it didn’t quite surpass the previous year. That being said, it was another solid year of screams and I couldn’t be more excited about the event next year!