I've been to HHN26 nine out of the first ten nights, and feel ready to put down my thoughts up to this point. It might be fun to see how much my opinions change by the end, if at all. This is my 16th HHN, I've been every year since 2001. I think my enjoyment of this year's event was really helped by watching nearly all of the movies and episodes for the IPs involved in the couple of months leading up to opening night. We bought the Ultimate Frequent Fear Pass with Express this year. Even though it was extremely expensive, it has been great so far. Besides the opening night hiccups, we haven't had to wait more than twenty minutes in any line.
I'm not going to spend much time on the scarezones. Until people's obsessions with selfies go away, scarezones are basically ruined, becoming nothing more than obstacles keeping us from the next house. I'll start with the rankings of the houses, from the ones I enjoy most, to least. Then I'll review the shows.
I'm most interested in the atmosphere and the designwork involved. I don't really get scared, I'm more looking at the set, costumes and how they tell the story.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (10 out of 10)
In the tent location that they seem to like to put some of their best offerings in recent years, we get a house based on the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie. The facade is nice and faithful, but not as impressive as 2014's Halloween or 2015's Insidious. Obviously they can only work with the source material, but it's too bad it doesn't have much presense for me.
Inside the tent all is perfection. Loving re-creations of all of the rooms in the house. The second room is the entryway we first see in the movie, with the staircase going up on the right and the sliding metal door on the back wall to the left. I love seeing the victim slide the door open, attempt to escape, only to get brained by Leatherface. Then the door is slid shut again.
Perhaps my only disappointment is in the dining room. Grandpa is only a dummy. I thought the Grandpa character was the creepiest thing in the movie, I'd love to see a scareactor in that wheelchair instead of a non-moving prop.
The rooms depicting the evidence photos are genius, with outstanding use of lighting and sound effects.
Finally, the last room inside the tent is great, but we've only timed it right three times in our eleven trips through. The female victim comes into the room pursued by Leatherface. She briefly looks to us for help before jumping out the "window".
Halloween 2 (9.5 out of 10)
This house is actually better than the movie it is based on. Which is good, because the movie is very cheesy. Also, there are better Michael Myers masks in the house than in the film. I felt kind of cheated by the facade at first, but you kind of get a more traditional facade for the hospital inside the maze, so I think it's kind of clever that it starts with you walking behind the poster for the movie. I love that it picks up right where 2014's Halloween house ended, with Dr. Loomis shooting the shape in the bedroom and off the balcony. Great use of the sounds from the film. "I shot him six times! I shot him in the heart! He's not human!"
Good representations of most of the kills from the movie, including the most ludicrous of all, when Mr. Myers stabs a nurse in the back with a scalpel and proceeds to lift her off the ground using only the tiny blade in the her back.
What really shines about this house is the end. It may be my favorite ending to any haunted house I've ever done. First you have a well executed mirror fake out next to where the doctor is bleeding out on the gurney. Then you head into the room with the oxygen tanks where sharpshooter Laurie Strode neatly shoots the Shape in each of his masks' eyeholes. When my wife and I were rewatching this movie, this was the one thing I most hoped to see. "Please let there be a Michael Myers with blood running out of his eyeholes swinging his knife blindly all around. So ridiculous!" Amazingly, there is! It makes my night every time. Then we move on to some absolutely gorgeously designed and executed rooms representing the explosion and it's aftermath, including a burned Mikey Myers. Outstanding.
American Horror Story (9.5 out of 10)
No real facade for this house, but projecting the actual opening credits for the seasons as you enter that section of the maze works extremely well. It's interesting to me that this house is basically the opposite of what they have done with all the Walking Dead houses, it's basically just your favorite characters from the series. So, obviously everyone's enjoyment level will probably depend on familiarity with the source material.
The Murder House portion looks great, but it feels to me like they had to stretch to find characters to fill this section, like Piggy Man who was only briefly featured in one episode. I was very surprised to see that Tate's room was basically the school massacre. It was done in such a way that it shouldn't offend anyone, but still... ballsy. I love the way they used both versions of the housekeeper Moira.
The Freak Show section is incredible. Walking up between the trailers with the sideshow posters all around could not have been done better. The scareactors playing the various freaks are outstanding. Great use of lines from the show for Ethel and Mordrake. Then the very creepy Twisty the Clown. The one with his mouth mask half off is perfection. Twisty's murder bus has a Jack hood that was put over a victim's head during HHN 25's icon show.
The room representing the Museum of Morbid Curiosities is a nice touch, especially since they added Ma Petite. I keep hoping to see Jimmy's hands in there before the end. Dandy's room and appearance are great, love the audio clip.
Hotel. Excellent use of music from this season for the area with the Countess in the elevator, and the amazing scene of Liz Taylor and Iris coming in guns blazing. The costumes and casting results in some eerily impressive recreations of the characters from the show.
Ghost Town (8.5 out of 10)
Absolutely some of the most beautiful set design the creative team has ever done, just staggeringly good. I've heard that there is a corpse somewhere in the house for each of the ghosts, very cool. All of the scareactors look great. The "outside" portion with all the storefronts, traincars and watertower... just wow.
The only reason this didn't score higher for me is that it doesn't really have an ending, and the mirror gag trying to create a feeling of being over a large drop wasn't all that effective this time around.
The Exorcist (8 out of 10)
I thought it was pretty brave, choosing to attempt to turn this iconic movie into a haunted house. The material doesn't seem ideally suited for this kind of representation, so I was very curious as to how they would do it. I hadn't watched this film in a couple of decades, i just remember that it scared me as a kid. It didn't effect me much this time around, but I was a bit nervous as it started. I felt the same way as we approached that gorgeous facade. I think it's the best facade of the year, it's just so recognizable.
The first real room of the house uses some fantastic effects to integrate the archaeological dig in Iraq into the house in Georgetown. The all-black hallways after that are supposed to show what Regan is experiencing while her body is possessed, I'm guessing. I did like the subliminal and scareactor appearances of Mr. Howdy.
The biggest challenge in translating this property from a movie to a haunt is obviously that 90 percent of the action takes place in one bedroom. So that basically means you walk from Regan's bedroom into Regan's bedroom, then onto Regan's bedroom, and so on with an occasional hallway to break things up. Regan herself is sometimes played by very enthusiastic scareactors and sometimes by extremely accurate props.
The pea-soup puke section is appropriately nasty. The creative team also found a interesting way to end the house by showing Pazuzu possessing Father Karras, his leap through the window and onto the stairs. This is a house unlike any other I've experienced. Well done.
Tomb of the Ancients (7.5 out of 10)
I've seen a lot of praise going around for this house, and there is quite a lot that I like about it. Such as the extremely loud slamming doors in the first hallway, the costumes, the sliding floors (before they were taken out) the glowing hieroglyphics room, the claustrophobic passageways, and the Croco-lion creature. A lot of people prefer this maze to Ghost Town because it has more scares. Since that's not a factor for me, I'd take the old west themed house any day of the week.
Here's the stuff that keep this house from scoring higher for me: Too much stuff hanging from the ceiling. The facade is god-awful. Completely half-assed. Look at the spray paint for the roots all over the stones of the temple entrance. Too much stuff hanging from the ceiling. The body just inside the first room is the cheapest, most unconvincing prop corpse I've ever seen, and that includes many no-budget home haunts. Maybe this a prop from the first ever HHN and they try to use it somewhere each year, but if so it needs to be better hidden and further from the conga line. Too much stuff hanging from the ceiling. The sacrificial alter effect with the priestess pulling out a victim's innards is very poorly executed. You can clearly see the shirt sag between the scareactor's shoulders and the fake torso, it bugs the hell out of me. Lastly, too much stuff hanging from the ceiling.
Krampus (7.5 out of 10)
I didn't enjoy this movie as much as I hoped I would but I thought the creature and set designs were top notch. The maze has beautiful sets galore, but doesn't take advantage of enough of the creatures. The facade is huge, but I think it's placed too close to where you enter the building to be fully appreciated. I love the smells, the snow, the xmas decorated house interiors and the fact that you go into a couple of different homes. I don't like fact that most of the scares are handled by Krampus' elves. The kitchen scene with the gingerbread men and the attic with the Teddy Bear and Jack in the Box are outstanding, the rest just needs more of that variety.
I like the Krampus fake out using his cloak and an Elf, and I would be cool with not really coming face to face with him until the end if it had more impact. The Krampus' design is insanely creepy, but the only time you get a good look at him, he's tucked into a corner and the only thing I've seen him do is move his left hand a small amount. Missed opportunity.
The Walking Dead (7 out of 10)
I think everyone is tired of The Walking Dead being at HHN. This house is much better than the one from year 25, but not as good as 24. It's kind of neat going through sets from all of the seasons, but I keep thinking if they are going to keep forcing this house into the event, we need actors representing the beloved characters. I think seeing Rick, Daryl and Michonne taking out walkers could be great. But, as with the last few years, I'll hope this is the last year for this franchise at the event.
Lunatics Playground 3D (6 out of 10)
Yeah, this house is not great. Chance deserved something better. But, I think we get spoiled going to HHN each year, this isn't an awful maze. It's just clearly the least good out of this years lineup. For probably the first eleven or so years of HHN that I attended, creative seemed to spend tons of money on two or three houses, making them top-notch. Then two of three houses got enough budget to make them decent. Finally there would be one or two houses they seemed to have forgotten to save any money for, and they were crap. The example I alway think of for this is 2006s People Under the Stairs: Under Construction. That was an entirely awful house in every way, i would rate it a 0 out of 10. Lunatics Playground is nowhere near that bad.
The 3D house gimmick is tired. If we are going to continue having a 3D house each year, they really need some new ideas. I had hoped that they would run with the "theater of the mind" idea in the promotions versus Chance's dull reality locked up in Shadybrook. You could enter a monochrome, grey cell with chance in a straight-jacket, then the blacklights come on to reveal crazy vibrant 3D colors or something. I don't know, it just feels rushed.
I appreciate that it has a queue video tying into the events of last year's Icon stage show. I also love the drawing of Chance on the newspaper facade. it reminds me of comic book artist Jason Pearson's style.
Now onto the shows:
Bill and Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure (9 out of 10)
This makes three years in a row of really enjoying the Bill and Ted show. Some years don't connect with me at all, and I actively hated it in 2012, but it's been on a roll recently. I love the villain this year and how they structured the show so it doesn't feel quite as random as it could. I was most impressed with how they handled Hillary and Trump. They could have easily focused on them too much, but I think they found a good balance and didn't go too easy or hard on either. The actors and dancers are all doing a great job and seeing how the show evolves, how they try to mess each other up and how they recover from the odd technical problem, or wardrobe malfunction has been the most fun we've had at HHN this year. It gets better each time you see it, and we have seen it many times.
Academy Of Villains (4 out of 10)
I'm not a fan of this show. I wish we would have had a great icon stage show at this location again. The music choices are just so generic and uninspired. The shadow portion was pretty neat, and the dancing was alright but I don't feel like this should be at HHN. My wife and I made it through a whole show on one of our first nights, but haven't bothered with it since.
... and that's all I have to say about that. I can't believe how long it took me to put this review together. Congrats to you if you read this whole thing. Thanks. I wrap this up as I am confined to my house waiting for Hurricane Matthew to arrive. I should be recovering from another night at HHN and preparing to go again tomorrow. Screw you, Matthew! Hopefully, everything will be ready to go Saturday night.