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For my 11th year, an honest review of HHN24. [spoilers, long]


criticalanalysis
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Background: I have been a lifelong fan of this event. Since stepping into Horror in Wax at HHN14 I've realized that haunted attractions are not merely the local farm's haunt. The immersion may envelop you within a dark world that'll heighten your anxiety induced goosebumps as guests face horrors unseen out of their imagination. Because of this, I've set aside personal budgets to travel from North Carolina every year since 2004. Through these years, I've come to personally meet many creative individuals behind the scenes, have seen the best and worst of the event, and seen the metamorphosis of the event. For my 11th year, I was cautiously optimistic. Below is my honest review of the event.

Houses:

  • Halloween: Going into the event this was the house I was looking forward to the most. I was surprised to hear it was going in a tent - why is the house with the 2nd longest lines, and arguably the most popular IP the event can have, deserving of a location in the back of the park, one that limits the creativity due to space, height, and other limitations? None the less, I was excited. To sit in the queue line hearing the actual Halloween theme (as opposed to the fake one playing in the reveal video) was great. Yet, it wasn't enough - the house's facade was, surprisingly, bare. We borrowed nice projection effects from the Hollywood event - fantastically making the crowd wonder where Michael is in the house as the lights turn off after the murder. But, that's it - the pumpkin isn't lit, there isn't foilage around the house, nothing. Compare this to the event's house - ours is surprisingly limited. I concede that putting the house in that tent allows the facade to be seen and anticipated by the entire queue rather than a part of it. The facade is better in the tent, but the soundstage would've been more conducive to more elaborate, well deserved sets. As for the house - I was a fan, and a fanboy at that. Michael was everywhere, which was great. The "Trick r Treat" sound effect was perfect, and arguably my second favorite scare of the entire event. Still, I'd like to see it in a more spacious area with a bit more decoration. The car kill scene was excellent and the best piece of any house this year in my opinion. The sound effects, the car, the lighting, the Myers dummy wrapping around the actor, the garage - outstanding. I loved it. Contrast that with the worst piece of the event; the laughable (as far as I know) dummy strangling his victim with a phone cord...terrible. This house had a story, it was EASY to follow, and that added a lot to the house. We see he's still alive and I wanted to go do the house again hoping his reign of terror would end. Another great, smaller scare - but wonderfully done - was Michael swiping through the closet door sideways at the house's guests. If I could've seen one additional thing in this house it would've been a bit more detail to some sets, a bit more "Halloween" air (a soundstage would've permitted trees, wind blowing, colder air, leaves, etc). 9/10

  • Roanoke: Did you know this house was to be done a few years ago? In addition, this house was always going to be here, no Boogeyman house was scrapped so Roanoke can take its place. The facade was fantastic, and a lot more elaborate than I was expecting. A minor criticism of it would be that there corn stalks were sparse, and the pole holding them up was obvious. Still, I loved it. Good use of smells in the house - tobacco, wood, etc. The theme sounded fantastic on paper, but in execution it fell extremely flat on its face. The wendingos weren't scary, the cannibalism was too fake, the costumes were surprisingly simple, the sound effects played by triggers were laughably corny, and the last room wasn't good. However, if you take a daytime tour you'll see a lot more gore than I was expecting and that I could see in the dark. Dug the flame video, and some of the orange lighting, but I'd like to see genuine flames (a la The Orphanage). Overall, nice idea that fell terribly short. 4/10

  • Alien vs Predator: You know what? I'll hand it to them. They took a sci-fi theme and did it (overall) well. The house was surprisingly intense, but the effects were surprisingly simple. Great sets and anticipated nervousness not backed by actual scares. The egg room was beautiful, the lighting, fog, cracking sound effects, wetness of it all - great. But the only scare there, the face hugger? Awful. The cloaking effect of the Predator was not good - I wonder if they tried to create a mirror effect with a projection but couldn't figure it out. The melted face (sorry, don't know the android's name) wasn't good - I'm not sure if in a movie it speaks, I'd assume it does, but if it did the android's mouth should've moved. The Predators were not as intimidating as the (seemingly) larger Frankenstein monsters in the house bearing the same name. The sets were a bit too tight - but, when done well, it worked. The room where you were in an enclosed corridor by the jungle, hearing the Predator, wow - amazing. But the only scare is the face hugger? Terrible. It's as if the house did a LOT well, but a LOT poorly. The puppets of the aliens were good - but too frequent - the AWIL's puppets were done a lot better, too. I'd like to see more expansive sets, or something about the confrontation taking place in space. Take the house Interstellar Terror, add AvP, and it would've been great. That house had a lot of genuinely excellent effects. Two final notes, the house's ending was abrupt and odd, crawling out of it. And, there was no actual real confrontation between the two creatures - shame. 7/10.

  • The Walking Dead: Please get rid of this. The short-lived welcome expired its stay years ago. The house was not scary at all. Selling it by "longest house ever" means it had a big budget better used elsewhere. The facade was huge, but extremely plain. The house itself? Not detailed, in fact barren. Thankfully, and hopefully a foreshadow - the nods to the icons were fantastic (note: Did you know that the Storyteller was never meant to be used as an icon, but instead the Terra Queen?), and the nod to the house Hellgate Prison through Strickland's name on the door's window was exciting. Makeup was not good, the rolling horde of zombies in the convenience store was terrible. Honestly, it just was too long of a house, too long of a stay, and the zombies/TWD need to go. 3/10

  • Dracula: Untold: Not much to say here, generally thought about as the biggest disappointment. The story was not clear, the facade was surprisingly disappointing, the sets weren't that elaborate, the finale was simple. Clearly a push by Marketing/Management to use this "IP" and, in effect, is going to turn people off from seeing the movie (that has a bad trailer). 2/10

  • Dollhouse of the Damned: Yes! A very good piece of original content that hints as the old-school Halloween Horror Nights. Toyishly creepy music and a great facade invite the guest into the odd house to experience the terrors within it. The first room really set the tone for the house. I disagree with others when they say it's like stepping into a mad man's toy house, it didn't give me that vibe. It felt more like a twisted nursery. If it was more like I hoped, a creepy individual's odd, delapidating dollhouse I would've loved it a bit more. Still, it was fantastic. The lady with the doll's face on her lips was the best costume of the year. I was shocked to see her and stared in odd admiration each time. The nursery room's mix of baby powder and feces (civet, I think, is the real smell) was fantastic. The elaborate room with the large white doll faces and colorful lighting was great, too. Interestingly, I don't remember the ending - could it be that the ending didn't set enough of an impact on me? Not sure, maybe it was the colorful room. Probably was. Either way, this should've been a soundstage house. 7/10

  • Giggles and Gore: More like "Saws and Steam" with clowns. It was not that gory in actuality. It wasn't necessarily "fun", nor "dark" but a combination of the two. It was pretty good, but they should've played up one side of the house more. Make it more a dark comedy house like Leave it to Cleaver did (notice the recurring point that a house with a clear progression in story is fantastic, like LITC, Halloween, etc was?). I liked the guest activated trigger(s) in the house, and appreciated the scene where the person was being crushed above and their blood dripping on it. The house was good, just not exceptional. 6.5/10.

  • From Dusk till Dawn: Went from being an average house to a good house the second time around. It felt like a mix of Castle Vampyr (with its comparatively lower lust exhibition) and Demon Cantina (this house must've literally been inspired by FDTD). Let's be honest, the women looked fantastic here. I loved seeing Seth and Rich Gecko shooting all around, not just at the guests, by the pool table within the large room that ended with Santanico Pandemonium exotically dancing. Probably the best room of any house. The room with the shorter, full form vampire jumping outside the rooms was too obvious and cheesy. Having a scareactor introduce the house similar to how Ghost Town or Dungeon of Terror: Retold did was GREAT! Overall, I did appreciate the IP being here, and it seemed to reflect how a house in the past would've been executed. 6.5/10

Scarezones:

  • The Purge: I do not like the movies, the concept is interesting for a movie, and translates okay for a scarezone. But, the problem is the IDEA is scary, but the SCAREZONE is not scary. People walking around with fake firearms that make no sounds, silly and simple costumes, and clear visibility are not conducive to a scare zone. Not using Sting Alley was a poor decision. I appreciate the size of the zone, and like the traffic signs. But nothing was immersive because nothing actually happened. The auctioning show set itself up well but literally nothing happened. I didn't see the dirtbikes actually driving around like they did in previous years. 4/10

  • Bayou of Blood: Lovely looking atmosphere in the gardens, nice looking setpiece outside of the gardens, but because the house is not in the "bayou" part of the scarezone it looks out of place despite being designed well. Monsters weren't creepy, and the stilt walkers were very plain looking. Nothing notable on the music front that I remember either. Great looking, but not scary. 5/10

  • Maskerade: Genuinely found the concept beautiful. The costumes were that, beautiful. But, everything else fell short. The candles in the front looked nice but felt a bit out of place. Why are there such massive candles? Why not strattle the entrances of the zone? The chandelier looked nice but being the only piece of lighting and relatively cheap it didn't look great. The music should've been more loud since it was near the Rocket coaster and games (why games? I really don't know. PLEASE get rid of them). 5/10

  • FaceOff: C'mon, this had no immersive experience. Very good makeup work on the characters, but this is simply a photo-op. Embarassing zone. 4/10

Shows:

I did not see Bill and Ted nor Rocky Horror. But, I did see the sacrifice in Bayou of Blood and The Purge's offering shows. Neither were good in my opinion. Bayou was, partly, not that great because the thematic elements of the zone were located in the garden's corridor, not the open area by Mel's Diner. Thus, you weren't (literally) "immersed" in the zone while watching the show. The actual performance was very long and what did happen was not that enjoyable. Moreover, compare - I guess her name is the "Voodoo Queen" to The Caretaker (in the commercials, at least). Night and day level of comparative creepiness. Having a character that is more relateably creepy is much better for guests. The Purge, and this is hard for me to admit, started out interesting but literally NOTHING happened - "Bid! Okay, and that's it, chainsaw time." They should have done things with the bought actors.

Suggestions for Improvement / Other Information:

I've spoke with a few individuals within the Creative team behind HHN. Without giving too much information away, I want to let you all know that the team is split on IPs. They're happy how the event continually is doing better - and, in effect, how the event's budget is increasing. However, please note that while they are very happy to do houses like Nightmare on Elm Street, American Werewolf in London, and Halloween, their hands are forced by management to use IPs. It becomes difficult, then, to determine, "Is the success of the event due to general popularity, or due to the increased use in IPs?" Still, they do know that outside of the aforementioned houses, IPs are not as well received by the general public. They want to experience the house, but the favorites are typically not IPs. Creative is pushing for the 25th year to have much more original content, including an overall theme, more ambiance, and more creative freedom without Marketing's influence. The reason the "passion" is seemingly lost compared to yesteryears, why the website is becoming more bare, etc is solely because of different groups within Universal. And, fortunately, rumor has it the "IPs" that needed to be used were dumped onto this year's event, and next year it's going to be pretty open to more, or total, original content.

The event is severely missing its spark that put the event on the map. With rising ticket prices and greatly increased competitiveness from Howl-O-Scream needs to make decisions about what its going to do. Personally, I did not buy souvenirs this year because I did not feel the urge to back the event like I once did. The memorabilia is fine, a bit generic, but because the event feels more Corporate I don't get the urgency or pleasure from sporting shirts like the "golden years" do.

Moreover, HHN should take a lesson from Howl-O-Scream's store. Walking into Universal's stores in the front of the park compared to theirs is night and day. HOS's has gory props, ambiance, more unique products being sold, nightmarish decor, etc. HHN's is the same store in the daytime and has a touch of pretty plain IP heavy items being sold. Though I know the store may seem nitpicky, it's the little things that add to the event's overall experience.

HHN very much needs genuine street experiences with amazing ambiance. There needs to be less "photo ops", streets that cover all parts of the park, more interesting set pieces in the scarezones, etc. Back in HHN14 and HHN15 as soon as guests walk into the park they were treated with an initial zone that set the mood through its beautiful, dark atmosphere that permeated from the gates to the first time guests can go left-or-right in Islands of Adventure. They had monsters speaking to the guests, massive amount of fog lurking in the air, Midnight Syndicate (yes, they genuinely make better ambient horror music than most of the music played now) playing, etc. The last few years did not have it at all. HHN18's scarezones were fantastic and rivaled the first two years I attended.

A goldmine that the event does not take advantage of is selling a Bluray covering the event documentary style. Meaning, show the initial stages, designing stages, other behind-the-scenes, construction, walkthroughs with multiple angles of each house, interviews, etc. I've asked and other than one employee telling me they had an incident a few years ago with recording houses (which does not pertain to this suggestion), I don't know - at all - why they would not sell these. Many guests would purchase them and show the videos to other people, thus creating a web of free marketing and could potentially bring in many new guests.

The website and social media campaigns need to be massively improved. Go to Horrornights' website and look at previous years. Amazing, right? Shame they don't have it as its part of the overall horror experience they should be striving for. The past two years' social media campaign is pretty embarrassing - disappointing reveals, open comments against the park's reveals, lack of interesting games, etc.

Finally, there absolutely needs to be a cohesive, overall theme to the event. It elevates the experience to a new level. If you haven't experienced those years, you're missing out. Have an icon, bring back endless scarezones, be more creative (eg: Field of Screams, a cornfield scarezone bringing the two parks together), be more adult, have more (if not total) original content.

Closing:

Given my opinion on the event going into it, my average feelings leaving event the first night, and noted passionate for the previous years, I did have an enjoyable time - especially the second night. The second night the actors were better timed and my feelings on certain houses changed. Still, there is a lot of room for improvement. I'm glad a lot of IPs are now (supposedly) out of the way and the 25th year looms with more Creative flexibility. Its time for the event to reclaim the title of the actual best horror event. I've seen some haunts with less budget do more interesting, detailed things and its odd that HHN doesn't achieve that level of might. I hope Management does not take for granted its success because HOS is becoming better received by the general population - including my friend, who noted "HOS is doing what HHN is not, and on much less of a budget."

Rating: 6/10

Edited by criticalanalysis
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and the nod to the house Hellgate Prison through Strickland's name on the door's window was exciting.

The use of the name Strickland wasn't necessarily a nod to Hellgate.

A fan (Taylor Strickland) of HHN won an auction at the Designer's Forum. The item being auctioned was a backstory to be included into this year's HHN event. His photo is the employee of the month photo in TWD.

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Sorry if I wasn't clear. I meant specifically in that hallway, not what is at the end of it. Felt there could've been something more in the windows other than the one face hugger.

That would have been nice admittedly. Hell, I would have been fine with just doing another Predator cloak effect there. Might have looked cool in the jungle.

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That would have been nice admittedly. Hell, I would have been fine with just doing another Predator cloak effect there. Might have looked cool in the jungle.

Yes! Great idea! The cloaking effect looked awful in the one room. With the creepy Predator noises, blowing leaves, maybe some sound effects of the Predator walking on the roof of the hallway. And then show, as you said, a more realistic cloaking effect.

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" Still, they do know that outside of the aforementioned houses, IPs are not as well received by the general public. They want to experience the house, but the favorites are typically not IPs"

that Walking Dead wait for the past 3 years begs to differ.

People like IP stuff just as much as they like original stuff, if not more so. To say that the GP doesn't like IP stuff, or that it's "not as well received", is just silly.

And sorry, but I disagree with most of your suggestions for improvement. Also, NIN>Midnight Syndicate. All night, every night.

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