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A critical look at HHN 25.


criticalanalysis
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Backstory: I have been attending this event since 2004. Though I've not been around since its inception I certainly have seen some magnificent work and lived through the creative controversies of recent years. Therefore, and please pardon any unintentional arrogance, my experiences enable me to speak quite confidently on how the event is. What allowed the event to explode is not because it is Universal. It is not because it was a haunted attraction. It's because they had a carefully calibrated concoction which delivered cinematic experiences others could not. Unfortunately, as competition increasingly creates detailed haunts those behind the event need to ensure they keep delivering the consistent formula that works. Because I am a self-proclaimed critical analyzer, I hope what is contained herein permits those who read it to question their own views and to work against an echo-chamber of support that is dangerous for the event.  It's merely out of love, I want to see the formula permeate everywhere in the event. 

Halloween Horror Nights 25: My critical, disjointed review.

Overall: 

The event gets an overall 7/10. I do NOT think the houses were as good as they could've been. I do NOT think the scarezones were as good as they could've been. But that said the event was "good." There was a consistency of "good" in this event. Note, though, I am hesitant to say the event is a true return-to-form because much of this year absolutely was reused, intentionally (but to a flaw), to celebrate its 25th year. Outside of the Body Collectors I do not think the original content was as good as it could've been. Unfortunately I will never give IPs the love they apparently get because it's less difficult to copy a successful horror movie than it is to create loved original content.

I am very glad they increasing the number of scareactors in scarezones so that guests have a greater chance of being startled, but the money was wasted. The scarezones felt incomplete. Yes, the parade exists, but the parade does not stop vertical decorations, does not stop other items from other mobile props from being placed, etc. The wage cost for the extra actors could've been better spent on hiring less, but more talented actors and increasing the ambiance through props, effects, etc of the event. Many of the costumes looked ESPECIALLY plain or really amateur.

The second night I went, Sunday, seemed to have the event firing on all cylinders. It was dramatically better than the Friday I went just two days prior. I have absolutely no idea why. It's critical they bump the event up to that level of intensity. That along brought the event up from a 6 to a 7.

FYI, there is no excuse for the event to NOT have all the props/effects/makeup ready and working by the opening night of the event. Period.

Jack:

I do not think he was used effectively. Having a show, commercial, and house does not make an icon. The icon needs to add to the atmosphere. Jack did not do that.  Plastering his face on every piece of memorabilia actually hurt a consumer's ability to choose. Why not get a mug with another icon on it? Claiming the event to be a carnival while having no actual sense of a carnival is pretty lame. This year could've been a perfect opportunity to really make Jack darker. Now, he seems like a "jackass shock rocker." If they wanted to a return to form they should've brought Jack back a la Director, Caretaker, etc. They must've flirted with the idea because I get SOME vibe from his early teaser and the Commercial, but someone, somewhere, must've jumped in and forced him to be more accessible. Going forward it'll limit how he can be developed, again. They should've used this year to develop his story more, but they didn't.

Jack's Carnage Returns:

I watched Jack's show on YouTube and was relatively impressed. Jack's makeup looked great. I liked how the show was more adult in nature. Acknowledging the event had gone soft is GREAT, too. Loved the stage itself, too. Knocking The Walking Dead was funny. Chance and Jack were great actors. I liked the playful incorporation of the other icons. I wished they'd stop the "HELL YEAH JACK" nonsense, though. Forcing crowd interaction seems to be a filler for a lack of material. Would've been nice to see a story develop on stage. The name of the show speaks to HHN17 which is a nice continuation nod. I didn't like the dancers at first but thought it played out well since they assisted Jack/Chance and made it seem more carnival like. There needs more action, though.

Store & Memorabilia:

Perfect idea to bring this type of store to the event. It's, frankly, long overdue. Speaking of stores, at Orlando airport they no longer have an HHN display, just a few items for sale. I think the shirts and mugs were definitely good, but it would've been nice to see something fantastic like the full Bloody Mary shirt, or some diversity to the icons face on the mug. We all have our preferences, let's cater to them. Jack is not the only thing people want. Location wise it was a fantastic choice. I loved seeing them label which props came from what year/house.

Park Entrance:

The entrance to the park was was very poorly decorated. I miss the days where it had more decorations. Yes, there is a cost element involved, but it absolutely makes people excited. However, I will complement Jack's voice playing over the speakers at times. 

Marketing:

This year's marketing and website were pitiful. I've never been so disappointed by the event. They had a perfect opportunity to nail the hype for the event and it fell terribly short. The days of websites past are long gone, apparently. There is no excuse for the poor release schedule during the Scream fiasco. Release the original content to hold fans over. There is no genuine interaction with the website. The Twitter account, unless Creative took its reins momentarily, was embarrassing. Jack's Maniacs intuitively made no sense. Why would we become a maniac and then go get attacked in his houses? Some social media posts also spoiled far, far too much. 

Pricing, Dates, Time:

I love that the event is open an hour later early in the season. I hope they're making money during the last hour and a half. By 11:30 both nights houses had their average wait time drop to, at most, 30 minutes, mostly averaging to 20 minutes. An hour before that they were hovering at 60. The Rush of Fear pass is a PHENOMENAL, intelligent offering priced very wisely and so is their express pass.

(I will get the houses/scarezones up as soon as possible, but this is the first part. Hopefully by tonight something will be up).

 
Edited by criticalanalysis
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  • 2 weeks later...

RUN: (6/10)

Let's start with the tidbit that most people don't know. When you walk through the facade and see the RUN sign you'll notice two guys behind metal grates, one on each side of you. Did you hear what they were saying? "Oh, they're gunna like you!" This is a direct reference to the inmate(s) that were speaking the same way as you walked past them at the beginning of the Hellgate Prison house in HHN14. So, did they really use Hellgate Prison well? No. Did they capture the "gameshow" vibe well? No. Did they get the 80s, retro vibe the logo gave off well? No.

But i still liked it. I have a total weak spot for horror comedy houses. There should've been a host outside welcoming you into the arena. But I loved walking through the initial facade (which looked good) to see the "RUN" sign lit up. Absolutely beautiful. Arguably my favorite single thing to look at the entire event. They nailed what I thought the house would be like through the rest of it. 

Inside, I was pretty impressed with Japan's room. I loved the makeup, their "attack", seeing the (excuse me for not knowing what these are) darts in the wall killing the victim as the sound of them flying plays, seeing the Japanese language on the wall, the glow of the room, etc. Outside of this I remember the candy area, which was alright I guess, but that's it. I honestly don't remember any other room two weeks since the event ended. Oh, seeing the ticker play with the score was cool.

I would've liked to see more gridlines from the logo, more retro-neon vibe I was expecting, etc. Have the prison be more visible. The house wasn't particularly scary, but I did enjoy it for what it's worth. I also love exiting the house and getting placed into a scare zone.

Edited by criticalanalysis
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Insidious (7/10)

Definitely an overrated house. This house was not creepy despite what people oddly say. Many of the rooms were very poorly done and there were numerous scares missing. Scenes were out of order and felt extremely crammed together. What it has going for it is that it felt like the darkest house of the year (in terms of tone), length was good, everything felt intimate, and the actors were into it.

Let's start from the beginning. The facade was not done well. You could see the construction beams through the curtains extremely easily. You could see behind the house from the side and back. I couldn't even tell you if there was any ambient music to set the tone for the house. Video projection of the lady in black in the windows? Didn't happen! The house itself looked great, though.

Going in you're right in the conjuring scene. That quickly? In hindsight that single room set the tone for the house: immediate jumping scene to scene. This house sincerely needed to axe a few scenes, add some unnerving transition scenes, and improve what's already there. Anyway, the actual conjuring scene was pretty bad. The dummies looked extremely fake. The bulbs were flashing WAY too fast. The sound of the bulb flash was not loud enough. Unfortunately for this movie the red demon came out and ruined the entire scene because he is not scary. Why did Universal even make him come out? That never happened in the movie. Worse, the monster's starting point was REALLY obvious.

As for the rest of the house I liked a few things a lot: The scene with the two girls acting frozen was PHENOMENALLY executed. The coloring, makeup, sound, actor proximity, etc. Fantastic. Those two girls, and all who played them, were on point. I liked walking into the further and feeling the hands brush against you in what felt to be a steamy foggy hallway. The room with the covered ghosts was neat - first time I remember the Creative team actually put a mechanism to make what is typically stationary dummies elevate.

Outside of that though, I cannot speak many other complements for the house. Makeup was otherwise garbage. Some scenes which work well in the movie were missing (clock girls) or were poorly executed (moving baby "cradle" or whatever that type of thing is called). Actors were into it hence why the bump from 6.5 to 7, but that's it.

Perhaps, admittedly, I didn't give it better credits because 1) it's an IP, and 2) the IP, like in the first movie, had 2/3rds done well, and 1/3rd done ATROCIOUSLY.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Looking forward to read the rest of this. I too thought the event never hovered above "good". It was a very consistent event but nothing really rose above that consistency. 
I don't claim to know why that is but my theory is, with the extra house, the budget was spread far too thin; not allowing the extra oomph some of the mazes needed. A friend of mine claimed "this is what 2010 should've been like", referencing the previous anniversary year. And while that was an underwhelming year for what should've been an opportunity for Universal to pull all the stops, at least I walked away thinking there was some definite highlights that towered over the average fare. Hades, Legendary Truth and The Orphanage were all show stoppers. There were none this year aside from individual moments within the houses.

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Looking forward to read the rest of this. I too thought the event never hovered above "good". It was a very consistent event but nothing really rose above that consistency. 
I don't claim to know why that is but my theory is, with the extra house, the budget was spread far too thin; not allowing the extra oomph some of the mazes needed. A friend of mine claimed "this is what 2010 should've been like", referencing the previous anniversary year. And while that was an underwhelming year for what should've been an opportunity for Universal to pull all the stops, at least I walked away thinking there was some definite highlights that towered over the average fare. Hades, Legendary Truth and The Orphanage were all show stoppers. There were none this year aside from individual moments within the houses.

Thank you for your kind words and support! I don't get too much around here thanks to the influx of newcomers to the event. I would definitely agree the budget was too thin. They had:

1) An extra house

2) More scare actors

3) A genuine stage show

4) Longer hours (this ties to #2), and I believe more dates.

None of the houses, as you said, killed it. I had a favorite this year but it still didn't come out to what I thought it would be like. I'll get back to writing my reviews shortly!

I'd honestly also argue that Mike A. & Co are simply in a creative rut.

Edited by criticalanalysis
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Thank you for your kind words and support! I don't get too much around here thanks to the influx of newcomers to the event. I would definitely agree the budget was too thin. They had:

1) An extra house

2) More scare actors

3) A genuine stage show

4) Longer hours (this ties to #2), and I believe more dates.

None of the houses, as you said, killed it. I had a favorite this year but it still didn't come out to what I thought it would be like. I'll get back to writing my reviews shortly!

I'd honestly also argue that Mike A. & Co are simply in a creative rut.

Since there probably won't be a mega house next year that should help with the budget.

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Thank you for your kind words and support! I don't get too much around here thanks to the influx of newcomers to the event. I'd honestly also argue that Mike A. & Co are simply in a creative rut.

 

I wouldn't presume they are in a creative rut (although possible). More likely they are constrained by what the higher ups want. It's become increasingly obvious the event is trying violently to reach out to the public who normally wouldn't do this sorta thing and watering down the proceedings to achieve that goal. 

As for my budget theory it's the one thing that makes the most sense (your list only adds to my assumption). Even a previously excellent house (American Werewolf) suffered. Those wolves looked drastically cheaper than the did in 2013. Were they even puppets(?) or just animatronics? 

I can't stress enough it is only a theory of mine though. I don't want to give the impression I know what goes on behind closed doors.

As for the non-support you're getting ... try to ignore it. I've learned most people are incapable of admitting the emperor has no clothes sometimes.  And it's the same the other way around too. Vehement dissenters can usually never see the sunny side of things. 

I get what you're doing. Keep at it.

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I'd honestly also argue that Mike A. & Co are simply in a creative rut.

I thought 2015 in Orlando was smack dab in the middle - not great and not awful.  I've been attending Orlando since 2004 just like you, BTW.  And Hollywood's was the weakest year ever.  

Creative rut is interesting - I lean toward the notion that they are growing weary of the creative handcuffs slapped on by management's desire for park synergy.  Each coast presented a house unchanged.  Each had the rotting corpse that is WD return yet again.  And Orlando once again had the rug pulled out from under them on one house at the 11th hour.  It felt as if A&D got to run wild with the anniversary house, Body Collectors, and Alice (which I thought was their second best 3D of all time), but they phoned it in on Run and the IP.

Edited by zombieman
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Asylum in Wonderland (3/10)

Abysmal. There is no excuse to have a house this weak when the base content and idea was so phenomenal. 

What they should've done: Have the entrance of an asylum as a facade. Make it half normal, have twisted colorful Alice content that leads you into the asylum. Led it "bleed" in and out of Alice's world and real world. Truly integrate them together. Drop the 3D glasses, they're a massive inconvenience and don't work well. Let the house just be surreal, disorientating, twisted, dark and colorful woven well. Add blood.

What they did:  Took a facade designed to be outdoors (though I love the consistency of Ultraviolent Comics), add nothing else beside it, and put you in a colorful house with no 3D effects. I really don't know why Universal wastes money with these. They're never good. I've rarely seen these type of houses done well. The jumping dodo birds weren't scary, the room was terrible. Next room, if I recall, was the flashing Christmas lights. The actors had neat masks in that room but the design of it is severely limiting so scares were obvious from a mile away. Unfortunately, they took a potential HIGHLIGHT of the house and made it the worst example of an effect ever. A flat, non-dynamic, cheshire cat - truly an insult to what it should do. Add in a room of words on glass and then a jungle with laughably bad cartoon plants (how is that scary?) to this bad mix. The mad hatter's teaparty room pathway made it so you could see what scares were coming ahead of you. Then we go into the suits room and supposedly this makes it hard for us to see them? Finally we get to a room I am a fan of. A live actor actually/supposedly speaking to you (SCAREACTOR INTERACTION IS NECESSARY IN HOUSES HHN, PLEASE ADD IT BACK CONSTANTLY) and you get distracted by a freaky monster that's in and out QUICKLY and, most importantly, that is not on an average person's eye level. Phenomenal scare. Then you get to the end, to the asylum, which is so short lived but loved. This part is basically how the house should've been the entire time (but add some coloring). A twisted blend of two worlds. Alice hiding in her hands on the patient bed, the slit of the throat by the Queen, visceral inmate masks. Excellent. I would've cut the metal music out of this room to add more to the experience.

Next year please don't have a 3D house. If anything have a dark comedy house - they're always favorites and Universal seems to be good at those.

 

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It's been a month since I went. I've pretty much forgotten it. I wasn't really memorable. I remember I truly hated Alice. It was just bad. No scary, too bright, not interesting. I agree with you on the Cherise cat. What a waste.

Overall, This year left very little lasting impression on me. Well... nothing all that positive anyway

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While I did enjoy it a bit more than you did, the main thing that bothers me about Insidious is that it feels completely out of place this year. Every other house and scare zone at the event is a call back to something from past years, making this just feel like something that came out of nowhere. They should've saved it for next year.

I definitely agree that the carnival theme was very poorly conveyed outside of the Carnage Returns show and the Icons zone. Not sure what they could've done with PsychoScareapy, but it would've been easy to incorporate Die-In, Roots, and Scary Tales into the carnival theme with a few minor alterations. The least they could've done is add more carnival decorations to the rest of the park, such as that ferris wheel they had by MIB in 2007.

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I've been going since 2003 and would never dream of missing a year. We decided to skip this year (partially to take our 4 year old to mickeys Halloween party). At first I was upset about not going but then I realized most of this year is a rehash, some even a rehash of last year. And, TWD 4 years in a row! I felt much better about my decision after reading your review. I miss the days of truly original content (I don't think anything could top 2005). I appreciate your brutally honest review. 

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I've been going since 2003 and would never dream of missing a year. We decided to skip this year (partially to take our 4 year old to mickeys Halloween party). At first I was upset about not going but then I realized most of this year is a rehash, some even a rehash of last year. And, TWD 4 years in a row! I felt much better about my decision after reading your review. I miss the days of truly original content (I don't think anything could top 2005). I appreciate your brutally honest review. 

Honestly if you go online and simply watch the Youtube videos of the walkthroughs you'll get a comparable effect to how it feels walking through the houses this year. As you inferred, a "been there done that" feel. Even Body Collectors, which I will get to in time, was not executed as well as it could've. It's been a month since and while I enjoyed my time, there simply was nothing "new."

Edited by criticalanalysis
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Honestly if you go online and simply watch the Youtube videos of the walkthroughs you'll get a comparable effect to how it feels walking through the houses this year. As you inferred, a "been there done that" feel. Even Body Collectors, which I will get to in time, was not executed as well as it could've. It's been a month since and while I enjoyed my time, there simply was nothing "new."

Thanks for the advice. Will definitely check out the YouTube walk through. I guess we are going to see less original content and more movies, tv shows as the event grows in popularity and becomes more mainstream. It's unfortunately, I much prefer original ideas and story lines as opposed to just copying a movie. 

Edited by Scareapy
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