First off, the theme. The theme and icon for this year were zombies, specifically the ones from the hit show The Walking Dead. I have already caught up with the third season and while not a big fan of the show, the theme and icon/icons actually were pretty good. I feel that Zombies are quickly becoming stale with how over used they are, but HHN found a good use for them. Once you walk in, you are essentially walking right into the zombie apocalypse. There's not much variety in the costumes or masks, but these zombies were still fun to interact with and did dish out a good deal of scares.
Luckily, this year marked the return of scarezones, though they all shared the theme of scenes from The Walking Dead and all heavily featured zombies. There was a tank, the burning barn from season 2 (that you could walk thru and explore, at the exit was a well-zombie prop. Pretty cool), the camp from season one, and a forest infested with zombies (aka the Central Park zone). All of these were pretty cool and really impressed me, helped that they each had some really impressive props.
Ok, so with the theme, icon, and zones out of the way let's move on to the main course...the houses. Now, I only got to go once this year and I was only able to hit 5 houses, but I believe the houses I hit were most likely the best ones at the event this year. Let's get started shall we?
The Walking Dead: No Safe Haven- This house was based purely on the 3rd season of the Walking Dead. It had a pretty decent facade that was themed to The Shatterdome from Woodbury (I think that's what it was called.The place where they chain up zombies and hold gladiator matches). In the house you get to explore Woodbury and the prison. There were good scares and theming, I just wasn't as impressed as I thought I would be. It honestly didn't leave much of an impression (except the part where I literally walked right into a wall, my eyes were still adjusting from going from day to the dark inside). With how great the third season was, I was expecting a great house. What I got instead was a decent house, but the one that I would say was the weakest I walked through at the event this year.
La Llorona- This was a pretty ballsy move on Universal's part. This house has been shipped from HHN Hollywood to Florida this year. Apparently it received enough positive reviews from it's stint at Hollywood that the powers that be decided to send it on down to the sunshine state. The house is based around an old Spanish myth/ghost story that was used to scare children...apparently, it was fairly well known up in Cali. The story goes something like this: A woman falls in love with a man, and in an attempt to win his heart she drowns her children in a nearby river. Naturally, the man is horrified and rejects her, leading her to kill herself. Now, her specter wanders the land, looking for children she can take as her own. This house had some good scares, but the real appeal here is the atmosphere created. The facade is an old spanish monastery complete with a ghostly bell, and most of the inside is themed to a creepy but beautiful spanish town that La Llorona haunts . Near the end we are transported into her realm where she lives. The house does contain a neat water/mist effect as we enter her realm, the costumes are quite good, and the sets and atmosphere are gorgeous. It's kind of like the Winter's Night of this year, except maybe not quite as scary. Yes indeed, there is a fond place in my heart for this maze.
Havoc: Derailed- It's hard to believe we have gone 3 years without the DOW (Dogs of War), but damn if it doesn't feel amazing to have these guys back. In 2010, we were introduced to Shadowcreek, a secret military facility that was testing a new super soldier serum when things got out of control and shit hit the fan in a big way. A gas leak occurred, and the DOW (the code name for the super soldiers) got loose and wreaked havoc on the area. Now, the military and government have intervened and cleaned the mess up, gathering together the remaining DOW and placing them into containment on a train headed for a place where they could stand trial. Naturally, it's all a bunch of BS as the trial story is just a cover to commence testing on the train as Shadowcreek wants to prefect the serum. Of course things go very wrong, the DOW get loose once again, and the train derails freeing the DOW. The facade for this house is the train that we will be boarding. I appreciate how they have some machine gun turrets firing off outside, a clear nod to the original house. In the first few rooms we get to see as the testing begins to go wrong and the DOW begin to lash out. For these rooms it feels like you are in a real train, and they have some cool effects that simulate motion and movement. Then, we get to witness the train derail while we are on it (via a pretty cool effect) and the rest of the house is some woods and a tour of the wrecked train as the DOW wreck havoc once more. This was a very cool house with a fantastic story to it (it also had a fantastic queue video). It looks like Universal has a real winner on their hands, and this may become the next big HHN franchise. The house also had my favorite moment of the night, where one of the DOW who was behind bars reached out for me and said: "Hey...you....I'll remember you." I grinned and shot back with: "I'll remember you too." I'm a huge fan of the DOW and while this sequel house isn't quite as great as the original house was, it still rocked my world (DOW lashing out from above you, yes please!). I can't wait to see what they decide to do with the DOW next!
Cabin In The Woods- One of the greatest horror movies becomes one helluva fantastic haunted house. The theme is that we are new recruits to the shady facility from the film that specializes in the ritualized slaughter of teenagers via monsters and nightmares. We signed up at the exact wrong time, right during the events of the film. We are sent into the cabin to contain the situation, and things quickly spiral out of control. The whole house is extremely well paced and fantastically themed (it's got some of the best theming in a house this year). The cabin and the facility are exactly as they were in the film. Included in the house is the living room (complete with the wolf head), the exterior of the cabin, the elevators (soooooo damn scary), the purge room (I missed the purge effect though), the Buckners, the Merman, and many many more (No unicorn that I could see though). It really does feel like you are walking thru the movie, and it's a really damn cool effect that most houses don't always pull off. Beautifully themed, perfectly paced, and VERY scary I am happy to say that Cabin In The Woods is one of the best. DO NOT MISS IT!
An American Werewolf In London- Yup,you read that correctly. Those crazy guys at Universal actually made a haunted house based on the CLASSIC horror film.I had heard only good things about this house, and I walked out grinning from ear to ear. The house is full of photo-realistic and fully realized sets from the actual film including the Slaughtered Lamb (which also serves as the super-cool facade for the house), The Moors, The Hospital, David's Family's Living Room (complete with Nazi Demons), Alex Price's Living Room (complete with transformation scene), Porno Theater, and the London Street from the end of the film. As great and superb as the scenes/sets are (and believe me, they are superb. They got every little detail correct, this isn't an imitation or copy, this stuff is for real!), the stars of this house are the full sized and movie accurate werewolf puppets. These things are big, lifelike, and they get up in your face A LOT! A neat effect is that even when they aren't actively attacking they are still breathing and moving a bit. As you pass by you know these things are going to come after you and boy do they. They slash and claw at you, heads turning this way and that, their fangs gnashing wildly...it's heart-stoppingly terrifying and thrilling in all the right ways. Did I mention that each of these puppets is controlled by a scareactor much like the actual puppets in the film were? What else can I say? This house is perfect. It's clear the people that worked on this house loved this film and had a passion for it, they got all the details correct and the werewolf puppets are beautiful and terrifying (easily the best creation I have EVER seen in a haunted house). The creative team behind this house knew they had to do the material justice, and they did. If you are a fan of the classic film, then this house will be your wet dream. I know I loved it (damn shame I only got to do it once). This is easily the best house of the event, and the best house I have seen in a very long time. DO NOT MISS IT!
Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure: As you should all know by now, I am a huge fan of Bill and Ted. I always try to see their show at HHN, and I'm glad I didn't miss it this year. The story this time is that BnT travel to Camp Morning Wood (clearly modeled after Camp Crystal Lake) via their time traveling phone booth. Ted wants to introduce Bill to his new girlfriend, Taylor Swift (naturally, Bill is not pleased by this). When Taylor finds a book resembling the Necronomicon from The Evil Dead, she decides to read from it and is quickly possessed. Now evil, Taylor decides to use the book to possess as many pop culture icons as she can, while killing others along the way. Of course, it's up to Bill and Ted to stop her. This is easily the best show of their's I have seen. The show opens with the usual dance number, except this time it's done with the sexy chicks dressed as female versions of famous horror icons (just wait till they shed the villain outfits to change into more traditional sexy outfits, which are some of the hottest I have seen) and the song that plays during this part is Fall Out Boys' The Phoenix (a seriously bad-ass song, it thrilled me to hear it as the opening song). The opening number is the most impressive one I have seen so far. The jokes in the show are also super funny...funnier than usual actually (another 69 reference, HELL YES! Also loved Super-Man, Sheldon, Kanye West, Ron Burgandy, Avatarland, just to name a few). The closing dance was fantastic with Suit and Tie, Blurred Lines, Power, I Knew You Were Trouble, My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Another Fall Out Boy song, this one is the final song and it is the perfect way to end the show. Glad to see that the Bill and Ted show creators clearly are fans of Fall Out Boy), and many more. Once again, this is the best show of theirs I have seen in my 6 years attending this event, you would be wise not to miss it.
Needless to say, I was not at all disappointed with the product Universal churned out this year. HHN went back to it's roots this year, this was classic HHN all the way (I would compare this year to 2008's HHN). It's good to see them really step it up this year after the disappointment that was last year. HHN 23 is easily an out-of-the-park home run, and if you have the chance to attend this year's event you definitely should. Seeing as I may not be able to return next year due to the end of my college experience, I'd have to say HHN 23 was a completely perfect end to 6 straight years of horror-ific fun.
Overall Rating: 10/10
ALSO: A LOT more fog in the streets, many times where I walked right into a thick screen of fog and couldn't see where I was going.....LOVE IT when that happens. So, that was pretty damn cool too!