Another year moving further into family-friendly territory.
My 19th year attending Halloween Horror Nights and I guess I'm no longer in the target demographic. I've become one of those grumpy old guys who pines for the "Good Old Days" of HHN. The lineup of houses was actually an improvement from last year, but nearly every other aspect was about the same or worse. The overall atmosphere was incredibly unspooky. Most of the background music was 80's synth stuff that had no business being played at a halloween event. Why did they go with the 80's theme again anyway? I think a lot of people are hoping for more effort for HHN30. Fingers crossed for the return of Bill and Ted and the icons.
Until then, we're saving quite a bit of money that we would usually spend at HHN and have lots of extra time to check out other halloween events. From 2013 on, during the Bill and Ted years we always purchased the most expensive Frequent Fear pass with Express so we could see the show as many times as possible and make sure we could attend the final performance of the year. In 2017, we did 24 nights. Without Bill and Ted, we have made due with the Rush of Fear pass, attending 12 nights in 2018 and only 9 this year.
HHN has never been scary to us. We are mostly interested in the incredible scenic work and costumes / makeup. That being said, we like to see that there has been some effort put towards making the event frightening.
1 - House of 1000 Corpses (8.5 out of 10) This was absolutely fascinating for me and my wife. The people who put this house together should be very proud. We hated this movie and the only parts we liked were Captain Spaulding (barely featured) and his incredible looking Murder-Ride (missing entirely). Plus, the fact that this house was in the tent between MIB and the iconic Fear Factor theater, which had housed nothing but awful mazes up to this point, it looked to have no chance. Yet somehow this was our favorite house of the year right from the get-go. We're still shocked.
The facade and interior of the gas station are a note perfect way to start the experience. The transition rooms with the music video style footage projected on the walls and ceiling are as effective here as they are annoying in the actual movie. The sets, scareactors and costumes are all excellent. I love that we see several different environments and the scares are plentiful. They somehow turned a lame Texas Chainsaw Massacre rip-off movie into an exciting, fun haunted house attraction. We were incredibly impressed.
Also, the fact that a certain phonebooth was parked in front of this facade made me giddy each time I saw it. I like to think that Bill and Ted were trying to pilot the booth back to the Fear Factor Theater but just barely missed. Maybe they'll get it right next year.
2 - Graveyard Games (8 out of 10) I actually didn't like this one at all on the first night. But by our ninth night it had become one of my favorites. Beautiful facade. All the sets are incredible, as are the costumes. Great use of effects, namely the brick wall disappearing to show the reanimated corpse inside attempting to scratch his way out and the hallway where the mother blows out the candles one by one. Excellent energy from the scareactors, especially the one who sometimes attacked while on his hands and knees right before the pitch black hallway near the very end. The creepy kids section of the graveyard is also worth mentioning. This house managed to maintain a feeling of dread for us from beginning to end.
3 - Yeti (7.5 out of 10) Easily the best sets from this year's event, just stunningly well done. I like that you actually get pretty far into the maze before the first scare. I love that you go through several cabins, tents and a barn, getting hit with cold air each time you return "outside." Then the variety of environments continues with icy caverns and a dark forest. The costumes and action are just the right amount of silly for my taste.
4 - Us (7.5 out of 10) In contrast to House of 1000 Corpses, we actually love the movie "Us" and we loved the house. Huge kudos to the cast for this house, they totally made it incredible. Since they don't have elaborate costumes, the success of this attraction is entirely up to the performances of the scareactors. They absolutely delivered each time, the crazy facial expressions and movements were spot on. I always had a big smile on my face as we made our way through this one.
5 - Universal Monsters (6.5 out of 10) This house was pretty well done. Good sets, with a large variety of different environments. Good costumes, although some of the modern updates to the character designs were a bit cheesy to me. Was the Phantom of the opera's set an exact rebuild of the Wicked Witch's set from last year's Scary Tales 3? It seems like it was.
6 - Ghostbusters (6.5 out of 10) I should have liked this one much more than I did. My biggest issue with this house is that all of the dialogue has been re-recorded for some reason. Instead of hearing Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd's voices reciting iconic lines, we get other people trying to impersonate them. As someone who has seen this movie an unhealthy amount of times over the years, this is incredibly distracting.
The half-assed facade is sad, but the effects in the library rooms are well done. The Ghostbusters HQ set with a live-mic Janine is cool. The containment unit being turned off is also pretty awesome. I don't understand why they included characters from Ghostbusters 2 and the reboot, it is 100 percent unnecessary. The set and acting for the key master / gatekeeper scene is spot on. The hellhound puppets are perfect. The scene with Gozer atop the stairs is way too cramped to be effective.
7 - Depths of Fear (6 out of 10) The setting is so unique, the sets are incredible and the use of flat screens and water effects is very well done. Unfortunately, the creature costumes ended looking like super-hokey 1950s B-movie creatures to me and it really pulled me out of the whole experience. The creature inside the first room whose upper-body is suspended over the pool of water actually looks pretty solid, so I would have to guess that the problems came from making the design into a wearable costume. Some of them also seemed to have tiny T-Rex arms, making them hard to take seriously.
8 - Nightingales (4 out of 10) Too cramped, too much "stuff in face." Given the subject matter, it seems like this house should have felt more unique, but it didn't for us. I didn't like the creature designs, and the sets were repetitive and uninteresting.
9 - Killer Klowns from Outer Space (3 out of 10) This is the second year in a row that HHN has turned a Scarezone from the year before into a house. First with "Trick r Treat" and now with "Killer Klowns." Both times I felt that seeing costumes and props two years in a row really lessened the impact. The Killer Klowns costumes are absolutely perfect, I think if we saw them for the first time this year, in this house, it might have gone a long way towards covering for how cheap the rest of this house is. Klownzilla is pretty amazing, though.
10 - Stranger Things 2 (2 out of 10) We like this show, (although not as much as a lot of people seem to) but this was not a good house. Last year's version was very pretty to look at and the character look-a-likes were impressive, which kind of smoothed over the fact that it was not intended to be even slightly scary. The sequel isn't as effective. The sets this time around aren't really that great, (except for the cabin scene, which is glorious) and some of the look-a-likes are poor. We spend way too long in the tunnels in season 2. What is the deal with the repeating audio? "We're in the old junk yard, and we are GOING TO DIE! We're in the old junk yard, and we are GOING TO DIE! We're in the old junk yard, and we are GOING TO DIE! We're in the old junk yard, and we are GOING TO DIE! We're in the old junk yard, and we are GOING TO DIE!"
You can see by the wait times and people walking around in the merchandise that this show is very popular, but if it comes back to HHN, I hope they can do better than this.
Scarezones have been kind of useless for years. Mostly they are still just annoying bottlenecks that keep us from the next attraction.
1 - Rob Zombie's Hellbilly Deluxe (6.5 out of 10) I kind of enjoyed walking through this zone. The heavy fog and lights at both entrances made me think of old school HHN scarezones. I appreciated that the go-go dancers and blondes in skin-tight leather were trying to bring some sexiness back to the event. Now if we could get the adult humor and language back, everything would be excellent. The album that this scarezone is based on is not too bad, but I really feel for the scareactors who will have to pretend to be enjoying listening to these four(?) songs on repeat for two solid months.
2 - Anarcade (5 out of 10) Pretty to look at. Very photogenic. A good representation of the overall theme of the event, too bad this is the only place that really shows that theme, most of the rest of the park looks quite crap.
3 - Vikings: Undead (3 out of 10) Some nice costumes and decorations, but mostly just an infuriatingly slow walk. The worst thing was, once we walked through as the lagoon show was about to start and "Hungry Like the Wolf" by Duran Duran was playing loudly in the zone, completely drowning out whatever ambient sounds we were supposed to be hearing. It was
immensely silly, and something they need to address in the future. Having said that, the Duran Duran version was much more enjoyable for my wife.
4 - Vanity Ball (2 out of 10) We thought the fashion show idea had some potential, but they didn't go anywhere with it. Some of the makeup work was good, and it was fun to see some of the scareactors really work it, but it wasn't enough. More points lost for making me hear that awful dance cover of "In the Air Tonight" originally by Phil Collins.
5 - Zombieland: Double Tap (0.5 out of 10) Why would Universal choose this zombie "comedy" from another studio for a scare zone when they already own a far superior zombie comedy in Shaun of the Dead? I know, the answer is synergy because there is a sequel out this month. Another lazy scarezone in the NYC area of the park, where it's mostly just people in regular street clothes with some blood on them. The stage "show" was extremely poor, and it's identical for all four main characters. "Tallahassee" looks and sounds so little like his movie counterpart that it was only the banjo on his back that helped identify him. "Little Rock" looked pretty spot on, at least.
- Halloween Marathon of Mayhem (6.5 out of 10) The special Halloween version of the World of Color lagoon show was pretty successful. It's lightyears ahead of the old nightime lagoon presentations. The only real issue I had with it, as was mention before, was when the audio from this show spills out into the central park area scarezone. We only watched once from the official viewing area, but the fountains were nice to look at from many other places in the park.
- Academy of Villains: Altered States (-69 out of 10) I didn't like this show again. It just felt like more of the same high-school talent show level quality from last year. I know a lot of people like AOV. Cool, don't get rid of them. Just move them out of this location where they 100 percent don't work. I felt like they tried too hard to justify that this dance show belongs at a halloween event. Two Marilyn Manson singles in one show! Spooky. Also, the chorus from "Master of Puppets" being used about eight different times throughout the performance was annoying.
The reason that I miss Bill and Ted so much is that it kept the event fresh and gave us a reason to come back as often as possible. The actors were incredible at changing small things from performance to performance, and when something unexpected happened like a technical hiccup, they got creative in keeping everything moving, usually with magical results. The last show of the night was always the best way to finish a HHN visit. The performers were usually pretty exhausted by this point and anything could happen.
When we downgraded to the Rush of Fear tickets last year, we were afraid that it wouldn't give us enough nights and we would miss not being able to go the last several weeks. But we found that we actually were fine. The houses were the only reason to go anymore, and we had been through them enough. As I write this, HHN29 is still happening, but we have lost interest. We're off to Howl-O-Scream instead.