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Zombieman's HHN 30 Review


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Hello everyone!  I visited HHN for 4 nights - 9/15, 9/16, 9/17, and 9/19, and took the Unmasking tour of 9 houses.  Here are my thoughts.  NOTE: I have not been to HHN Hollywood yet.


So, let me preface this by saying that 2021 was a JOYOUS return after the hell that was 2020.  I went to the event not expecting it to be 100% "back to normal".  And to be perfectly frank, the entire event WAS "back to normal" with the exception of the lack of Stuff In Face in the houses, the vinyl in the houses, and masked scareactors.

The reality is that 85%+ of the patrons are not masked.   Many Universal employees are also not masked.

The reality is that conga lines are exactly the same as previous years.  Seriously - zero difference.

The reality is that the shows are packed shoulder to shoulder.

If that bothers you, don't even think of attending.  It did not bother me.


It has to be talked about, so let me give my 2 cents about the vinyl in the houses.  Overall, it REALLY takes away from the houses.  It just sucks.  First of all, given that no one is masked and there are conga lines, it is pointless.  Aside form that, it is impossible to keep clean, so every day it gets scuffed, warped, and less transparent.  At some point it will look more like a scrim. And this was very early in the event.  It also points out scares - so much so that A&D actually installed vinyl in areas where there is NO scareactor just to throw you off.  Clever right?  Well, maybe not.  Because all of the CLEAN vinyl has no scareactors....


And here is 2 more cents regarding masks.  They are not helping the houses much either.  Sure, maybe seeing Bride wearing a mask when she is doing "surgery" makes sense.  But seeing icons masked?  Doesn't help.    It is what it is.  I am just pointing out that it detracts from the experience. 


So with that out of the way, how was the event for good 'ol Zombieman?


Let's start with the important stuff:  FOOD 😊

Such a wonderful offering this year!  They knocked it out of the park.  Went four times and there was so much I didn't even get to try everything I wanted to try.

There were hits and misses, but the great themed ideas were just fantastic.

What I really appreciate is that they didn't just slap a Horror Nights name on every item.  They added a twist to the dish in many cases.

The two signature drinks were both quite good, with the Poison Tea party being my favorite.  I gotta say, though, that if there was any alcohol in them this year it was by accident.  Seriously, these were .01 proof....

The donut sliders were ok.  I expected the donuts to be hot and fresh but they had been sitting around all day.  The meat and bacon jam were to die for.  Impossible to eat without doing so in layers.  Would have been FAR better had they sliced one donut and served patty between.

Skip the bloody ribs.  Not very tender and super sloppy to eat in the dark. 

Brisket grilled cheese - YAS!   1000x YAS!

Aepas (in San Francisco area) are good, but my, god, they are sloooooow.  They prepare them one at a time.  Meaning even if you order 3 they put one cornmeal cake in a giant oven, wait till its heated, then put the next one one.  It is not possible to do this less efficiently.  So expect a 30 min wait for your food.  No other booth was like this.  I saw this happening every night.



Holy crap, there was a ton of merch.  More than ever before.

What was especially different this year was that they went the route that Knotts did a couple of years ago, in that much of the merch featured the work of local artists.  What Knotts actually did was ask their A&D members, makeup team members, and costume team members to each do one piece of artwork for the event and they sold them in a gallery similar to the tribute store.  I get a lot of that vibe here.  As an HHN collector, this dilutes the hell out of collectability, as there are no real standout items that represent the year anymore.  What is nice is that the Scarezones and some original houses get their chance to shine in terms of merch.

ONE BIG COMPLAINT - CHUCKY?  Why the hell is Chucky so prominently displayed?  Other than Merch, he had ZERO appearance in the event.  I am guessing we were supposed to get a Chucky house but got TCM instead (I'll mention why later).  But it clearly seems as though Chucky was to be here but was pulled at some point.  In any event he does NOT belong on a piece of merch that features original icons.  Period.



I did not get much from the Zones this year.  Everything is a photo op these days.

It was nice to see Terra Cruentas, but it got the smallest zone.   As usual - beautiful zone.  Would have much preferred a Terra Cruentas house....

I didn't think it was possible for New York to have a worse zone than Zombieland, but Seek & Destroy managed to be much worse.  Just yuck.

CryptTV was a bit of a sleeper, and delivered more than I was expecting.  Still unfortunately a photo op.

The best was Eddie's Revenge, but not as good as the Chucky zone from the past.



Marathon of Mayhem was ok.  It had far too much to live up to from the 2019 show.  That show was perfect.  In every way.  This year's show was what I think most of us thought 2019 would end up being when it was announced.  I watched the 2019 show every night I went.  I've watched it on Youtube many times since.  I watched this year's lagoon show one time.  And that was enough...  Not bad, just not great.

Nightmare Fuel was very good.  I would prefer a Bill & Ted show or an AoV show over this, but it is 1000x better than a Jabbawockeez crapfest.  I liked how it incorporated magic, and the fact that it was a flesh-fest didn't hurt.  I only saw it once, but would watch it again on Youtube.


Express and queues:

The Express lines moved pretty well.  They were selling "until 10PM" and "until midnight" passes every night.  So they were keeping Express lines full.  In the last hour of the event, many houses were walk on even for non-express.  Best time to visit the SoundStage houses are in last hour.  Same with Shrek queue.

As in past years, Beetlejuice and Hill House is a full HALF MILE walk each - from the black and white marquee at the queue entrance to the house and back to the sign (and that is if you are using Express).  These are by far the longest walks you will endure.

Tents are about a third of a mile walk each.

Soundstages about the same.

Shortest is Scarey and Legendary Truth.

Doing all 10 houses one time each (Express) circling the park was on average between 4 and 4.5 miles for me. 

The 6 house UTH tour is about a 2.5 mile walk - DO THIS TOUR

The 3 house UTH tour is about a 1.25 mile walk - DO THIS TOUR

I say this every single year: Oh how I would love it if they coupled pairs of houses back to back.....


Online games:

Universal did something this year they have not done before - they make the games playable outside of the event.  You can play the trivia game.  You can visit the behind the scenes info.  You can even play Jack's Scattered Past remotely......sort of.

The Scattered Past game is interesting in that it is a scavenger hunt.  In New York and in Hollywood you will find QR codes in the windows of some of the facades (about 5 in each area).  The game has you going from QR code to QR code, scanning along the way.  Some of these are easy.  Some are not.  At all.  One problem is the weather.  If it is rainy or particularly muggy (hello, Florida), the window will be so full of condensation it will be hard to scan the code.  Also, the game must be played a couple of hours before closing as shades are drawn in some of the locations (Pizza and Pasta, for one).  More frustratingly, the order of the clues changes every day (hence the name Scattered Past).  So if you cannot complete the game in one day, you cannot come back and pick up where you left off.  I believe there are THREE games, with one unlocking the next.   And once again, you don't have to play the game DURING HHN.  You can play it in the park during the day. 

...and maybe even remotely:

When I was there I searched all the windows in the daytime and took pictures of the QR codes I found.  I haven't tried yet, but I THINK I can play the game now that I am home.   I just need to have my iPad take a picture of my phone...



Let me first say that this year, the Unmasking Tour helps GREATLY.  The house backstories are complex this year.  As last time, there is a 3 house tour and 6 house tour.  These do not overlap.  Go to both and you will tour all houses except Beetlejuice.

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND doing these tours.  For the best experience, do all the houses before the tour and then redo them after the tour.

I went through all the houses before the tour and felt aside from Wicked Growth, ALL of them were so-so.  Not very good at all.

My grades below are AFTER the tour.  Trust me - the tour gives you a much better appreciation for what is going on.


I went to the event with the following anticipation list:


Anticipation of the houses going in

  1. Welcome to Scarey
  2. Case Files Unearthed: Legendary Truth
  3. Tooth Fairy
  4. Puppet Theatre
  5. HHN Icons
  6. Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin
  7. Bride of Frankenstein
  8. Haunting of Hill House

The ordering of the first 8 is pretty irrelevant, as I had high anticipation for all of them.

       9.  Beetlejuice - I went in with low expectations

       10. Texas Chainsaw Massacre - Going in, I could not care less about this house


How the houses ended up ranking

  1. Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin - BY A LONGSHOT
  2. HHN Icons
  3. Tooth Fairy
  4. Bride of Frankenstein
  5. Case Files Unearthed: Legendary Truth
  6. Puppet Theatre
  7. Haunting of Hill House
  8. Beetlejuice
  9. Welcome to Scarey
  10. Texas Chainsaw Massacre


Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin (A++)

For the past few years there has been one standout house each year.....and then all the rest

2017: Scarecrow

2018: Poltergeist

2019: Graveyard Games

This year it was Wicked Growth.

Interestingly, none of these was very high on my list going in, and as I exited each one, I was applauding how fantastic they were.

Wicked Growth managed to tell a cohesive story (as did the others), and it builds as you go through (as did the others).  Holy crap, does it build to a crescendo.  Pay close attention to the music and chants, as you do the last third.  Listen to it build to the very end.  Amazing use of sound.

Wicked Growth feels like the best parts from The Hallow, Scarecrow, Gothic, and Graveyard Games all in one house. And there are two scares that are incredibly effective.  I was told by our Unmasking guide that  they are actually very old scares, but I have not seen either in the 17 years I have been going.  Based on the response, I suspect we will see them in future years.  One is very near the beginning and one is near the "lake" (which in itself is another very good effect).


So after Wicked Growth, there is....the rest.   A couple of the rest were particularly disappointing.  But the other 7 were good to very good.  But aside from Wicked Growth, none was anything I would make a huge effort to see again.

HHN Icons (A-)

This house shares something in common with three houses this year - it is a house where each room is an abrupt change (as in Slaughter Sinema).  Slaughter Sinema "worked" because each scene was clearly introduced with a movie poster.  This house doesn't do it as nicely.  You enter the realm of each of the main icons, and there is some sort of very minor cue that is supposed to clue you in.  Sometimes audio.  Sometimes video.  It is nice to see all of the icons you love.  There IS an entire room that is an allusion to Bloody Mary, though we never see her.  It was nice to learn something entirely new about the Storyteller!  And boy was she hiding something - and might be expanded upon in years to come.  Point is, this house was not a one and done.  It nicely left the door open for another chapter.  By the way, that Storyteller thing is explained in the Unmasking tour; it will otherwise be quite confusing to you in the house.  And the final scene with the throne is a wonderful kiss goodbye.  In my runs I got Lady Luck, Director, Usher, and Jack.


Tooth Fairy (A-)

Very cool house.  Very good story.  They took an entirely different path than Knotts.  Super gory house.  Probably the most gory of all of them.  Sets were beautiful. Once again, the Unmasking tour took this to a new level.


Bride of Frankenstein (B+)

This house takes an IP and presents it in an original manner - THIS is the way IP should be done.  It is very clear from the first scene as to what is going on.  But from there it is confusing unless you take the tour.  Why are there vampires?  Why are they fighting? Why can the bride talk?  Why does she want the Monster alive?  All answered in the tour.  It really helps the house.  


Case Files Unearthed: Legendary Truth (B+)

A person could do two dozen runs and still not catch much of the detail in this house.  There is simply too much to take in.  And it is a confusing house whether you have no idea what LT is or whether you think you know everything about LT.  To me, the most confusing thing is trying to understand the premise of the house itself.  We knew Boris Schuster as a private detective who created Legendary Truth.  Yet as we walk into this house we are introduced to a new character in present day who we have never met.  He has come upon old files that Schuster kept and is trying to unravel the mystery.  Then out of nowhere we are told that Schuster is also an author of true crime fiction.  Hold on - we just uncover that NOW?  They guy had a bunch of books published - under his real name - and no one on the planet knew that until now?  And if Boris created Legendary Truth, why would his files be locked away outside of the LT offices?  

Okay.  It's a haunted house.  Let's put that stuff aside.  Every room of the house takes place in a unique setting - a scene from each of Boris' books - with books representing the Legions of Horror.  Trust me - this is not a spoiler.  You could read the entire backstory and still not understand what is going on....

This house REQUIRES revisiting.  It makes you want to go back and understand more.  

This house is by far the BEST use of the Shrek queue.  It truly felt like a Soundstage house.


Puppet Theatre (B)

Another beautiful house.  Story is quite clear.  One thing the Tour does is explain what the heck the last thing you see in the house (overhead) is.  Honestly, I think they could have done so much more with this....   It's just there.  It needs to do something.  The house tries to straddle the line between comedy and horror, and I feel the comedy is out of place.  For instance toward the very end there is a little dancing puppet that is there for comedic purposes.  Sorry, but this doesn't belong here.  It is inconsistent with what you have seen so far and throws you out of the story.  


Haunting of Hill House (B)

I always felt that this IP would make a fantastic house, as the house in the series is a character in itself.  And much of the series feels like a haunted house walkthru.  The difficulty is that the series is not easy to follow or explain.  It jumps in time.  It tells many, many stories.  So to someone not familiar with the series, the house will be plenty scary but some sets will not make sense.  Those familiar with the story will be very happy.  HHN Hollywood did an IP haunted house (Crimson Peak) and it paled in comparison to this.


Beetlejuice (C)

Yup.  It was Beetlejuice. 

Yup.  Ghostbusters was Ghostbusters.

But Poltergeist was the GOAT.

Three great whales for the A&D team.  They took one in a unique direction and it was amaze-balls.  The other two were just another IP house.

Hoping that Jaws gets some original love...


Welcome to Scarey (D-)

Damn, what an utter disappointment.

They chose to make this house be a "best of".  That was a critical fail.

What they did was essentially turn Carey into an IP, and then cut and pasted scenes from houses based in that IP.   WTF?  And of course there was NO ATTEMPT to make the scenes flow.  To those unfamiliar with Carey, it must have felt like any carnival haunted house.

WHAT THEY SHOULD HAVE DONE: Carey is an original concept.  So EXPAND on the original concept!  Tell us the story BEHIND Carey.  Tell us what sinister force is lurking behind all the madness in Carey.  Hint at what is to come.

What a wasted opportunity.  Sorry, but this was unbelievably bad....

The only reason this doesn't get an F is that there was an even worse house....


Texas Chainsaw Massacre (F)

This house consists of two characters - Leatherface and Choptop.  You now know everything you need to know about the house.

There is no story.  No retelling of any one of the movies.  Grandpa is a static figure.  Multiple Leatherfaces are in the same room toward the end.  

Highlight: Gasoline pump from Jaws in the facade.  Think about that.  THAT was the highlight.

I wasn't expecting any new story to be told, but everything presented had been presented BETTER in previous versions.  Which turned the house into a big fat negative.

This house felt like it was thrown together at the last second.  Something tells me Chucky was planned here and was taken out at the last second and replaced with this hot mess.   It just feels to me that they reinstalled Carnival Graveyard which was in this same venue, put a TCM overlay on it, and called it a house.

Not even the Unmasking Tour helped this house....   


This and Scarey were the pits.

I am well aware that this house was at the top of many lists.  I do not get it.  Perhaps there was alcohol in the specialty drinks after all...



I would put this year in the 60th percentile of the 15 HHN Orlando events I have attended. 

So glad it is back.


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