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Fallow

A Negative (But Loving) Review

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Hey everyone. So far I have attended HHN three nights this year (opening weekend as well as an additional peak night) and I will be attending two more nights this coming weekend (Hell Week, may the express pass save me). I've given it plenty of thought and have decided I am ready to give my overall review.

I'm going to come out and say that there were quite a few things wrong with this year's event that I (and evidently some others) find very troubling. I know Alone's negative review has caused a lot of controversy, and some of my points mirror his - I ask that you please treat my review strictly as one fan's opinion and to not flame. Friendly debate is always appreciated and I'd love to discuss some of the points I raise (both positive and negative).

I'm not going to post my individual house reviews here - I've written 3 of them so far, and they can be found in their respective threads. I'll only summarize the main points.

First of all, let's go over some things I enjoyed about this year's event...

The Coven. The Salem Witch Trials have always interested me, and a unique fictitious twist on a historical tale seems to be the Shrek Alley's specialty (see American Gothic & War of the Living Dead). I really love this location for zones due to its narrow space... this allows the theming to be packed in tightly & cohesively, requiring the actors to congregate to a smaller space than some of the other zones, and thus requiring the audience to have to proceed through a slightly claustrophobic zone. This has worked exceedingly well in the past 3 years I have visited the event: The Coven's theme as I mentioned before is inspired, with some clever theming, a good choice of barker, and some well-done costumes. One of the best things to come from this zone, though, are the Willow Huts. I know this sort of scare tactic isn't anything new, but it's ridiculously effective and it's a shame it isn't used more frequently. If I had to offer any sort of constructive criticism to the creative design of this zone, it would be to place more than 2 Willow Huts... I'm picturing literally six or so, one in each corner and two in the center. That way, you're never safe from the huts since they're literally all over the zone.

Legendary Truth's concept & part of its execution. The idea of a classic haunted house with a paranormal investigation going on isn't particularly unique, but A&D has made a living off of taking previously tired concepts and turning them into some incredible mazes. The Legendary Truth has gorgeous sets with an awe-inspiring facade. What I really loved about this house, though, is its commitment to try new ideas in scaring... yes, there were several plain old booholes, but a majority of the scares presented were new to the event or at least very unique. The ghost in the floor, the scrim hall, "burn-image-into-eye-lightup-window", the bronze statues, the living chair, etc. were all well-conceived and executed. I'd like to continue to see this type of innovation from A&D, with more of these types of effects in the other houses. Legendary Truth was a showcase of new ideas - a new age of darkness, indeed. I had other issues with this house (despite it being my current #1) but I'll get to that eventually.

The Orfanage's incredible, incredible, INCREDIBLE atmosphere. This house had its faults (mainly a lack of finale and plot vagueness), but this house awed me in how it enveloped me into the location. The music - Cindy's voice - the falling ashes - the moving swingset - the fire! - caged beds - lockers - etc... I dug it. The Jaws queue was perfect for this house, considering I completely forgot the physical location of the maze while experiencing it. This and Legendary Truth (though I'm going to give this one a slight edge in the atmosphere department) are really the only two haunted houses I've been at in my three years of HHN where I've truly felt uncomfortable due to some sort of presence. Ladies and gentlemen, A&D made these two mazes truly feel haunted, as silly as that sounds.

Twenty Years of Fear Zone. The props here are abundant, and like The Coven the set restricts the audience to an enclosed, claustrophobic space, one that is conveniently pumped with fog and scatters your attention with various eye-catching memorabilia... and then of course you have a very talented set of scare actors who are doing an excellent job balancing photo oping & scaring. I love the soundtrack choice for this zone (even if it is almost identical to Shadows of the Past) as well as the lighting. There's something about hearing The Usher rattle on followed by Chucky & Jack's laughter and The Caretaker's haunting voice all underscored by brilliant Midnight Syndicate. A well-conceived & executed zone.

FEAR Revealed to a certain extent. I love the idea of a "last chance" photo zone and as someone who's only been attending since HHN18, I really appreciated the chance to see all of the icons & almost icons. It's disappointing to me to not have Mary around but I understand A&D's decision to not pay an exorbitant amount of fees to only include her on a non-starring role. That said I do wish the Terra Queen had made an appearance, though I would guess she was omitted as someone felt she would've drawn comparison to FEAR (notice how their head shapes are remarkably similar). The balance between photo ops & actual scaring was much better than I was expecting - all of the icons get into scare mode when they are physically able to, and then there are several characters that seem to almost-exclusively scare - Cindy & Eddie as well as several of the Minions. This is a good strategy that provides the best of both worlds. The sets here are good, the soundtrack is solid... I'll be talking about FEAR in a bit.

Zombiegeddon's general quirkiness & chaos. It's been covered a lot, but obviously Zombiegeddon isn't all scary - it starts horror comedy before quickly devolving into hell on earth. Similar to how The Orfanage & Legendary Truth inspire dread & terror, Zombiegeddon's latter half inspires a true sense of panic. As I'll explain below sound and light bleeding was a pretty big problem in several houses - for this maze, however, it worked. The fact that loud gunfire, alarms, zombie moans, & strobes could be seen & heard from other rooms actually helped sell the idea that the zombie breakout is occurring all around you, even in places you aren't presently viewing - it created an excellent sense of immersion that I really appreciated. In addition to that you had the clever dark humor that sold the first half of the house - I'm not sure if A&D created all of those de-motivational posters, but the jokes were either well-written or well-chosen as it was a riot spotting new details spouting anti-zombie propaganda. And of course, the inclusion of the obligatory burning flesh is always welcome. In my original review for this house, I noted that in the first part of the house you get very little scaring due to the nature of the scenes... I'm happy to report that the Carnival Zombies are on their game and are really going for scares while staying in character. It's a noticeable improvement and really raises my overall enjoyment of the house.

Catacombs casts & general set design. I originally envisioned this house as being generic & a tad uninteresting... thankfully A&D provided an excellent framework for some ridiculously great casts to rock hard. Catacombs is more old school in its scare-style... and that type of tactic only works if the actors come from unexpected places. Thankfully, the house is designed rather masterfully, using the jagged edges of the rocky underground & scaffolding for the ongoing excavation to its advantage. The idea of proceeding through the hallway with the scares coming at an angle from behind you was brilliant and prevented me from seeing where precisely the actors would arrive until it was too late. The scaffolding gave the Plague Doctors a variety of locations in which to pop out, and some actors were very lucky in getting some especially great spots (the always surprising "ceiling scare" and the epic finale). Overall a well-crafted house that I hope gets a sequel with equally masterful design, maybe in a soundstage...

Hades costume work. I wasn't a big fan of Hades' sets (more on that later) but the costumes were fantastic. In particular I loved the Fury, Minotaur, Undead Soldiers, & Medusa… the Cyclops masks and the Lizard were just a little on the rubbery side (this isn't a slight on the actors, they have to work with what they're given) but that would be only complaint. The costumes sell the creatures very convincingly (as do the actors that play them!) I hope these masks are brought out again at some point in the future, as they are a high mark in A&D's costume construction.

The direction chosen for Escueleto Muerte. I initially pictured this zone as sort of the "fun", party zone… apparently that was a misconceived expectation. The result turned out to be some of the some greatest set work I've seen for a zone and some absolutely stunning lighting & costumes. Now there are two weaknesses to the zones - daylight (I refused to go through until night had fallen, thankfully) and for a time lack of scares. The bright costumes sort of make it hard to do much actual scaring, despite the coffin based booholes (a great idea). This was rectified by the second weekend with some black hooded wraiths of some sort blending in perfectly with the environment, getting some great scares. Again, atmosphere is stressed here - the music is foreboding, the costumes eerily attractive though creepy, with scares coming when you least expect them. A well crafted zone.

Saws'n'Steam. The zone's placement is perfect - very narrow space (gotta love Sting Alley) clogged with fog and some very cool set pieces. The barker is great and entertaining. The chainsaws are well-casted and great at what they do, I just wish they were in the actual alley a little more… I'm essentially blinded in there, they could nail me ever so easily. That said, the glowing goggles are a neat effect, but I feel like those guys needed more of a noise-based scare… holding a rubbery weapon with glowing goggles isn't all that frightening to me. The inclusion of a victim was cool, though. Another great zone.

The inclusion of the Chainsaw Drill Team (and chainsaws in general). Some might argue that there was a chainsaw over saturation this year, with the saws appearing in 3 zones and 2 houses (though pre-recorded), + the drill team. Having them out at the entrance courtyard (followed by moving to the Apocalypse/Streets of Blood area) was a great idea that fills up the void left by the aforementioned zones. The Drill Team is entertaining and a great throwback to the past - here's hoping they return in subsequent years. I hope Universal takes note and in the future includes another roaming zone (or two) that isn't advertised - i.e., the zombie gang near Men in Black back in 08. Scare opportunities in the back of the park can be rare but are oh-so appreciated and go a long way to improving the cohesiveness of the event.

FACADES. Man, was this an excellent year for facades! Legendary Truth, Psychoscareapy, Hades, Zombiegeddon, HAVOC (wow!), & Hallow'd Past all had incredible facades, and Catacombs & Orfanage's entrances were nothing to sneeze at, either. The Shadow Creek entrance was the best facade I've ever seen on a tent and a significant improvement over past years. The soundstage houses' entrances were excellent as always, with Legendary Truth as my favorite for the year. Keep up the great introductory work A&D!

Now let's get on to the things that I felt went very, very wrong this year… starting from roughly the least significant to the most significant…

Zombie Gras. I'm sorry, the scare actors were trying very hard and their energy was high… but I just could not get into this zone. I dug the tie-in to Zombiegeddon, but flow between the two did not exist at all… you departed from the chaos of Zombiegeddon's finale into a brightly lit mess of crowds. The costumes are actually relatively well done (though some make-up jobs looked significantly better than others)… the concept is interesting… I really blame the set design for this one. The inclusion of a Mardi Gras float was cool (and necessary), but it really only served as a backdrop… in fact that sort of describes most of the set pieces. I appreciated the bloodied up Mardi Gras decorations, but there was absolutely nothing in the actual street… this led to just zombies wandering around in an open expanse of people, making it very easy to spot where the zombies are (again, no fault to the actors). Another Mardi Gras float parked in the middle of the street would've helped this zone A LOT by diverging the crowd into narrower spaces, as well as making the area feel much more like an actual parade run amok. I did enjoy the remixed zombie tunes. Long story short, the San Francisco street is a wide open area - if you leave it as such, the zone will likely be ineffective - crowd blending is difficult when you're in brightly colored costumes with outlandish hats.

HAVOC's recycled sets. I'm surprised there haven't been more complaints about this… with a few tweaks, HAVOC has an identical layout to that of The Spawning. Same sequences, room order, finale, yadda yadda. To add insult to injury, like the Spawning, most of the rooms look the same visually and feature actors with roughly the same costume with no special scare tactics - pure fury is the only thing that can make the house scary. Now let me say here that I enjoyed HAVOC considerably - there were a few tweaks as I said that surprised me (gas mask in the first room, red sheet room, surprise chainsaw, & machine gunner are standouts) and both casts here are on FIRE much like The Spawning was early on in its run. They're effective at getting scares with what they have - truly a cast that can make the best of the worst. I imagine budget was the reason for such a blatant regurgitation of a house, but the striking similarities are inexcusable if you're going to claim this is a "new" house. Hopefully we'll get some new sets in this tent next year. Scareactors, great job. (And while I'm on HAVOC, let me mention one other thing - what happened to the whole half DOW/full DOW thing? I was imagining some sort of actual super soldier creature based on those role descriptions - would've made the house's plot a bit more effective. Oh well.)

Psychoscareapy: Echoes of Shadybrook. This was my first Psychoscareapy house, and I have to say I wasn't very impressed. There were a handful of memorable scenes (electroshock therapy, the jail cells w. hands, and the HHN14 cameo+red button), the latter of which was a fun inclusion that I enjoyed verily - a great tie-in to a previous house without being obnoxiously obvious. That said… this honestly did not feel like an asylum. WIth the exceptions of the rooms I mentioned (and the second room with the windows, which I did not find scary), the house sort of ran together in a bunch of rooms that really didn't resemble an asylum. In fact, the place felt like a prison - I'm not sure if Hellgate in 14 was like this, but I certainly would imagine it did! All of the rooms I mentioned would've been equally suited or better suited for a prison. This is evidenced even further in the fact that the patients/doctors weren't allowed to act insane… my question is, what's the difference between an asylum and a prison? The former contains people who ACT INSANE! I know this isn't the actors' fault, but because they can't actually go crazy, the house becomes a big stream of stare-n'-glares. They're going for the "serious" tone of the house, but if the actors don't act criminally/dangerously insane (which I assure you can be VERY seriously scary as opposed to amusing) the house fails as an asylum. As such, I felt the entire house was a bit of a bore and had an identity crisis. The sets were alright (though I despised the gray scale for some reason, I guess it was just uninteresting [i do prefer colorful houses]). I also did not find the make-up convincing as ghosts… they went with a different idea with Legendary Truth to portray the ghosts, but then here we have your standard white make-up… I feel like they should've gone with some sort of "some patients were still locked in" plot or something.

The damn carnival games. These things are HIDEOUS and an absolute disgrace to the event. I'm referring to the ones from the Plaza of the Stars to Twister - they're obnoxious and ruin the mood. I've seen people playing the racing game a grand total of one time. Carnival games have their place at Universal Studios, and that's Amity - don't clog up the streets and kill the atmosphere with fairground junk. I know they've been here for several years now but that doesn't make it any less acceptable.

Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure. I tried really, really hard to get into this year's show… but it just didn't work. You can't make a show out of movies no one saw due to being terrible… because no one's seen the films in question. The jokes were stale, the dance number at the end shockingly sloppy, characters poorly chosen, and the music absolutely horribly remixed - I don't know who decided Telephone & California Gurls sounded good together, because it doesn't. And Bon Jovi at the end? Seriously? This year's show was a mess, and the rest of my party (who are casual fans of the event who do not follow any speculation & visit once a year) thought it was straight up garbage.

Light & sound bleeding. Yes, I'm gonna complain about it again - the houses do not have roofs. I understand in some areas the roofs aren't feasible. But in some areas it's NECESSARY for the rooms to remain convincing - Dead Exposure was ruined by the non-black state of the room, and I felt Treaks & Foons was negatively impacted as well. Light leaked in quite a lot in Catacombs, too, but it didn't have nearly as great an impact as Hallow'd. I felt it really got in the way of Hades, too - what could've been an immersive underground house became very… well, half-finished feeling, since I could look up and see the soundstage roof high above us at any time. This isn't nearly as prevalent a problem in Catacombs, HAVOC, Orfanage, or Zombiegeddon as their roofs are much lower and blend more with the scenery… it's more of a problem in the 3 soundstages + parade building. It's especially bad when there's some sort of effect that calls for you to look up - the water dripping near the Stygian Witches being a big example. The black tarps need to be reintroduced in certain spots, especially for the facade of Shadybrook - I could see the strobes for the house well before even entering. Dracula & Frankenstein had more complete facades in hiding what's to come as well as being visually impressive. One other thing was some serious sound bleeding, particularly in Hallow'd Past - I could hear the Alice in Wonderland sound effects throughout the entire house. It was quite distracting and really reminded me that I wasn't in the respective scene I was supposed to be in… sound bleeding works well for most of the houses since they're all supposed to take place in a single location, but Hallow'd Past is supposed to be completely different environments, meaning seeing/hearing things not related to the scene you're in kills the immersion.

Hades' sets. We were hyped up for an unprecedented sense of scale for this house… and while I found the facade delivered on this promise, the rest of the house failed to do so. The house really felt more like a collection of random Greek mythical sets with no ties to Hades itself… the Cyclops, Minotaur, Fury, & Medusa scenes were awful cool, but they didn't feel like they truly belonged in the Underworld… the lack of roofs contributed to this, as did the lack of some key elements of Hades. The entrance over the River Styx was vague, though at least Charon was imposing and cool - the lack of a Cerberus is a major disappointment since that's a key part of any interpretation of the Underworld myth, but no matter, I can get past it. There seemed to be some dead space from cut elements - the aforementioned Cerberus, the absent Hydra scene, and worst of all the absent Hades… of all the cuts, this one is the most offensive. How can you have a house about Hades without encountering Hades himself - and on his throne no less!? I don't know, but it's a major flaw in the house, along with the generally kind of dull sets… more torture would've been appreciated, as much of the Underworld is indeed a place of suffering. (Apologies for being so critical of this one in particular, but I'm a big fan of the Greek mythos so the imperfections really stand out to me.)

Lack of gore. Blood day must've been quite brief this year, as it really felt like the amount of gore has steadily been decreasing in the three years I've attended the event. Hades should've been filled with it but kept to only one or two scenes (thankfully we did have some fun stuff like a skinned corpse, but give me more of that!)… HAVOC, like The Spawning before it, needed more gore to sell the idea that these Dogs of War are crazy to the point of fatal danger (the only example of gore I recall was the bloodied soldier in the 3rd room)… Catacombs needed a few more of the sick & deceased to balance out the doctors… Orfanage really needed some sort of conclusion through a mutilated teacher or something… Zombiegeddon had a healthy dose, as did Hallow'd Past. The biggest offender in my eyes was The Legendary Truth. The house was about a bunch of murders and the victims' ghosts - and yet we're treated to absolutely no eerie blood'n'gut remains! I'm not saying this needed to be crime scene investigation, but murderous spirits, bloody/mutilated ghosts, and eerie bloody sets would've really sold this house completely for me. Luckily the zones fared better, with some classic blood'n'guts prevalent in Zombie Gras, Sawsn'Steam, and Twenty Years of Fear.

The Legendary Truth's missed potential. I outlined that above, but basically it was a house with a backstory of horrific murders - with no gore or killings in sight. Where was our killer? There were vengeful ghosts, yes, but what were their purpose? And the paranormal aspect was great at the beginning and sort of ran through till the middle… then kind of dropped out at the end. There's lights, some air blasts, huh…? House over. I loved Legendary Truth for the sets, scares, and innovativeness, but the plot was quite muddled and some potential to make this above and beyond insanity level was missed.

Halloween Horror Nights: The Hallow'd Past INCREDIBLE amount of missed potential. Sorry, I know a lot of people love this house, and I do find it very fun & enjoyable - but it could've easily been the best house of the event and it failed to deliver. The warehouse scene at the beginning was PERFECT, but where was FEAR? Shouldn't he be at least talking, welcoming us to where he steps in and shifts HHN from an event to a sinister reality? I love the spinning tunnel, but this year's was lame as hell - three little caricatures of the icons does not a good tunnel make. What would've been cool (and much closer to the commercial/backstory) is having the tunnel be you "entering" the lantern, with painted flames and ironwork to simulate you moving through it. They could've even placed a prop lantern above you as you entered the tunnel, or in the room afterwards. The next room was cool and clearly communicated that the HHN characters and worlds were "coming alive" - Marvel Chainsaw & Midway of the Bizarre clown (yes?) were good choices. This room, however, should've again displayed the presence of FEAR…. his voice, his roots beginning to grow in over the event, god forbid an appearance, SOMETHING. The Treaks & Foons room was a bit of a copout (easy excuse to throw up some simple sets), and it would've worked if it had more going for it… but one actor there 50% of the time (mind you the actor I saw was quite good at his role), a dummy, and some non-confusing mirrors did not make the scene a standout. Couldn't foam have been included somehow? That would've made this set very memorable. At least this maze was from 2002, aka a year before 08 - next we had the Alice in Wonderland room, which while good was a carbon copy of the just-seen 08 version. Fine, it's an effective room and I enjoy it. Now we have Dead Exposure… wait, another 08 room? The set is nowhere as near effective as the actual house since they throw you into the original's climax head-on. Moreover, the set has no sense of depth, making it rather easy to find where the actor is within seconds. And there's TWO of these rooms? Come on… then you have Ship of Screams. Much better, a house from 98 (I think… maybe 99? Someone correct me). THe set was good and scares were there. Then we have… ANOTHER 2008 house. Mind you I don't dispute that the Body Collectors should've been included - they're great and the spine rip is a classic. But did it have to be the 2008 version? Why not the 05 version, or maybe even a Terra Cruentes set that happened to include a Body Collector with a spine rip or something? Then we have a pointless push-through sequence into… another Body Collectors segment. Seriously!? The Assistants were fun and the scene's sort of startling… but enough is enough. That's 3/5 2008 sequences. We're back in the warehouse, which is lit up a bit too much thanks to the exit, but at least the icons are here! Except Jack doesn't seem to really come out 2 of every 3 run-throughs… And where is FEAR again, where's the climax…? Oh bother.

Basically, this house was a 2008 retread with Aiello's nostalgic room (Ship of Screams) (not that I blame him on this, it's a good choice & scene) and a Treaks & Foons copout. In other words, a massive disappointment. Alice in Wonderland deserved to be there thanks to it being a 3-part franchise house… Dead Exposure, while my favorite from 2008, should not have been. It was a very awesome stand alone house (that deserves a fully-fledged sequel mind you) that did not work in this setting, especially with 2 identical rooms. Body Collectors deserved to be included but didn't need 2 rooms, and certainly not the 2008 version. Spread out the love! The two Dead Exposure rooms easily could've been RUN & Dungeon of Terror (or Screamhouse, or Ghost Town, or Hellgate) sets, while that last Assistant hallway could've easily been a Psychopath shower scene. And don't get me started on this not being the true "FEAR" Icon house - the concept was begging to involve FEAR bringing the props to life and taking over. The finale should've had that last warehouse being engulfed by FEAR, with an actual appearance of the character SCARING! It's a fun house, but a shadow (heh) of what it could have been. The warehouse parts are definitely the high point, with a wide range of nostalgia-happy props & costumes that span most (if not all) years.

Weak Finales. While this year was excellent with facades, the finales didn't fare so well… out of all of the houses, Catacombs was the only house in my eyes with a truly effective finale. It wrapped up the story in a meaningful way and scared the living daylights out of you - a proper climax for any haunted house. Legendary Truth's last "machine" (?) room made no sense and was very anti-climactic… the last few ghosts here don't have e-prompts or hiding places, making scare potential minimal. Couldn't they have done something a little more creative given the genius nature of the rest of the house? How about a Legendary Truth ops member making another appearance, perhaps dragged off or killed by a ghost or something? HAVOC was the same room from Spawning redressed, with seemingly less reduced strobes… the room seemed understaffed each time I went through it, and it was still too familiar regardless, with no actual conclusion to the story. Orfanage was closer, but didn't offer a true wow moment - Cindy being there was appropriate but I didn't get the feeling the place was burnt out or falling apart. Psychoscareapy's padded room was a good idea, but just didn't scare me - it's some strobes with more stare'n'glare grayscales, with very weak hiding spots… just not very exciting. Hades would've been INCREDIBLE had the god himself showed up (still a huge WTF). Zombiegeddon was alright and chaotic, but just didn't really feel like a finale or proper climax - maybe a ZAP member being eaten or something would've worked better. Hallow'd Past was decent, but the lost potential with a FEAR finale kind of killed it for me.

Merchandising. I thought we were going to get a larger variety of merchandising this year, with it being the 20th anniversary and all? We actually got a merchandising CUT from last year - only 2 shirts + Bill&Ted vs last years 3 + B/T. The two shirts are quite good (the inclusion of the glow-in-the-dark print on the House shirt differentiates it a bit from the 06-09 blood shirts), but why couldn't we get more? The marketing department seemed hellbent on plastering FEAR's molars everywhere they could, so why not include a "fashion tee" with that image, going off the Jigsaw/Wanna See Scary/Freddy shirts from 09/08/07? The pins this year were well-designed and in 2 varieties, so no complaints there. The shot, shooter, & sipper glasses were nice as always, too. But that was essentially it when it came to merchandise… where are the hats? Maybe a simple HHNXX polo? An event poster (06)? A scarezone shirt (we have six of them and the artwork already exists…)? A ZAP or Legendary Truth shirt? Some collectibles (totem replicas or a Lantern replica, seeing as the pieces already exist)? A new documentary DVD (so much has changed since 02!)? HOODIES!? Universal, I was literally looking for things to buy past the $70 you got for my shirts, pins, and shooter - if you were to actually put out more merchandise I guarantee I (and many other fans) would buy it. More well-designed shirts are almost a guaranteed seller. I'm pretty sure the limited edition items put out in 06 sold well or out. Give us (the diehard fans) some limited edition production runs that'll earn you some money and please us in the process - especially if you're sitting on the designs!

Ops & Drunks. I've placed these two together since they seem to relate quite a bit. I've seldom had issues with drunks at HHN - and because I don't drink and tend to stay quiet, I've never had an issue with security (to which I understand is still as arrogant as usual). That said, the high amount of violent, obnoxious, or otherwise destructive drunks seem to be the reason for the Ops. I know it's a not a fun job - it's gotta be excruciatingly boring - but goddamn, the Ops are truly ruining the house experience. Everyone keeps saying the Ops team is great and there's only a few rotten apples - I disagree. Most of them are rotten apples and there only a handful of good ones. I can't even begin to count the amount of times I was told to "hurry the hell up", "move it along", "keep going this way", "stop walking so slowly", and whatnot… I did NOT pay $225+ to be told to run through the amazing sets. I understand the Ops team needs to be there in some capacity. But there job needs to be to move the line along if someone STOPS or is LOST, NOT if they aren't moving 10 MPH, and when a guest is being destructive or dangerous in any way. I've hardly ever heard about the effectiveness of the latter, and they don't seem to get the former. Stop waving the flashlight in my face, please, I know where to go. Them yelling at me completely kills the immersion and frightening nature of the environment I'm supposed to be in. I said it last year, I'll say it again - other Halloween events can get away with far smaller Ops team in less obstructive/obvious places (when I see 15 of them in plain sight a house, there's a problem), so HHN should be able to, too. But there are too many drunks, you say! It's not safe! Well that's why I included drunks in this complaint - one side of this equation is gonna have to change if the event is to continue to be fun. I'm not saying stop the sale of alcohol, but it is NOT hard to remove a clearly intoxicated person from the queue of a house preemptively (or from the park altogether) and significantly scale back the Ops teams. I'm not going to keep coming back if I get yelled at for enjoying what I paid for… Ops nearly ruined several houses for me this year. Make the event more about the haunt than the ops team yelling at you to go faster.

Marketing having a complete disconnect from the event itself. I really did not get the marketing for this year's event. You have this giant, cool-looking, cool-sounding, menacing super icon, who supposedly supposedly outstrips all the rest. And they choose NOT to advertise him?! This isn't Cloverfield, you need to actually show us what he looks like to get anyone to remember him or keep us interested. Three fourths of the general public probably do not even understand that FEAR is the guy with the wings between the Xs. Why? Because it was never shown to them time and time again through the advertisements. I liked the lantern image, but it really said nothing about the event, and made little to no sense in the commercial. As for the commercial? A highly polished turd. The set is great, the premise is great, but it falls flat - it's not scary nor does it communicate who the hell this "master behind the screams" is. A creepy mouth… does… something to the security guard? The marketing was incredible for 2008, with every TV ad, radio ad, poster, billboard, and internet ad being creepy and unsettling due to Mary's terrifying imagery. 2009's began to fall apart but at least communicated that Wolfman, Saw, and Chucky were all to be at the event - completely ignoring the true icon. And now we have 2010, where literally all we have to go by is a lantern and some creepy mouth. Universal - if you want an icon to be memorable to the general public, you have to put FEAR EVERYWHERE. That's why The Usher fails to an extent and why Jack & The Caretaker are still so damn popular. I hope Universal's marketing can get on the same vision as the A&D in the coming years, or this problem will persist. For the record, the website this year was also weak, with very little additional backstories for the houses (as well as our icon, which I'll get to now.) The game was fun and provided a cool preview, but we obviously were craving a great preview site that we received in 07 through 09 but did not get this year for whatever reason, sans the confused Legendary Truth.

FEAR himself… yeah, I'm sorry. In case it wasn't obvious in the prior complaint, FEAR was yet another missed opportunity. The idea of creating a personified essence of FEAR is a pretty damn innovative one (if not hindsight biased-ly obvious)… truly an icon to end all icons. But consider what made all of the other icons special… They all had creepy, open-ending backstories. It was clearly communicated that they killed and could kill you. They were present in all advertisements leading up to the event, building excitement. Their behavior is charismatic, creepy, freaky, or otherwise engaging & memorable. They are omnipresent at their event. And they all have had a house in which they got their chance to scare the living shit out of you. All of the official icons (including Mary) meet these expectations, and even some of the almost-icons meet many of them (Eddie, Terra Queen, Cryptkeeper).

Now let's look at FEAR. What is his backstory? He… was always present at HHN, always running the show quietly behind the scenes. How? Why? Was he imprisoned somehow, unable to show himself? Was he always a demon, or was he originally a person? Why did he need the fear in the first place? Would enough of it free him of his bonds (if there were any to begin with)? Now that he's been revealed (somehow, or for whatever reason), what does he intend do? Moreover, what can he do? We never see FEAR "kill" anyone… it might be implied that he, um, "eats" the security guard? He just seems to sit in the shadows doing nothing. Why should we be afraid of this guy again? Because he has wings…? Well, his mouth was in the advertisements, and there were a few quick little videos of him talking if you knew where to look… but all of the advertisements of this lantern and/or just the mouth. Why is the latter scary? And moreover, what the hell is up with that lantern, anyway? It contains all of HHN, apparently - but how? Again, why? Who made the lantern? Why has it suddenly appeared, and what happens if you open it? Is FEAR inside the lantern, or what? Where the hell is this lantern at the event? (Yes, I know the gates at the end of TYoF are representative of the lantern, but it isn't really called to attention… and most don't even notice it's there…) Okay, so we have this FEAR guy… and he seems pretty pissed off, or arrogant, or something. He keeps talking about how important he is. How he's going to relish your cries, and take your fear… okay… but again, why? He doesn't seem to have any sense of personality. It gets more interesting in the last video where he grows impatient and gets angry, but once you're in the park, he just stands there repeating the lines you've already heard… where'd that rage go? Why is he still saying he's eternal? You can't say you're the best icon ever if you can't even match what the past icons have done! So maybe at least we'll find FEAR around the event… the projection system they hooked up for Bloody Mary & The Usher was pretty sick, let's see what they do with FEAR! Wait, what? No projections of him around the park? …Just his voice occasionally, and so mumbled you can't hear a word he's saying? Well maybe he'll be in the Hallow'd Pas- SON OF A BITCH!

FEAR was frankly a failure. His costume and appearance are killer (though his mouth being unable to move is a serious con given the amount of focus placed on it in the buildup). You can see FEAR a whopping ONE place inside the park while you can see Jack in a total of 5 locations (Revealed, Scareapy, Zombie, Photobooth, and Arch Screen). In that one location, FEAR does nothing but stand and talk about how important he is… zero interaction with the crowd, no killing whatsoever, just standing. (This isn't a slight on the actor - he works with what he's given.) FEAR should've been given a legitimate backstory with how he came into existence, how he used the HHN to slowly gain power, and what he was going to do upon his reveal. We should've seen him in all of the ads with a full shot of him appearing in the commercial, brutally slaying the guard. He should've been omnipresent throughout the park with cameos in most of the houses (ala Mary), projections on the large buildings, and actual representation in a house (hello Hallow'd Past). For every media-based video, FEAR should've appeared at the beginning or end (full shot) ala Mary, Usher, or Jack to continue reiterating the character into her minds. Goddamnit, we're supposed to FEAR-FEAR! The only good things I have to say about him are his costume (which is very well-designed and menacing-looking, but no mouth movement was a serious miscalculation) and the idea itself (which clearly did not pan out in my eyes). You can't say I was expecting too much when I was only expecting as much as past icons, which A&D has proven it can effectively pull off. Not to mention it should've done that and more, given the "super-icon" status.

The consequence with the failure of FEAR is the lack of cohesiveness of the event overall. In 2005, we were enveloped in a supernatural, undiscovered world of horror known as Terra Cruentes, dreamed up by the creepy Storyteller. In 2006, we attended an enormous Sweet 16 birthday party with our favorite icons as hosts. In 2007, we found ourselves in the Carnival of Carnage, led by Jack and finding many attractions brought forth by the Cane of Souls. In 2008, we entered Mary's World through her mirror to find a land of myths, fables, & legends with Bloody Mary playing host. In 2009, we ripped through the silver screen into the Universal Palace Theater, led by The Usher into a multitude of horror movie films & genres. In 2010… well… we, uh… FEAR… did… something…

You see? You can't pass off this year as an overall theme without making it sound like a half-baked idea, FEAR's one-dimensional character included. One of the incredible differences between Universal's HHN and other Halloween events is its ability to envelop you in another world that is neither the real world or even Universal Studios - whether it be a sick birthday party, a mythical land, a carnival, or a movie theater, with all of the attractions (save the staple shows) being connected in some major way. This year, the house and scarezone quality remained quite high, but I felt like I was experiencing them at Universal Studios, not any sort of larger idea. I did not feel like any malevolent presence was always in the air. That scares me more than anything - that one day HHN will deform back to its roots with a bunch of unrelated horror tropes. HHN evolved from the fabled Fright Nights which was just that - and acceptable for the time as a fledgling - but not in the supposed flagship year. I would hope that "A New Age of Darkness" doesn't refer to a sort-of Dark Age for the event in the form of total operations failures rendering the event unenjoyable and theming returning to the 1991 standards. And here's hoping the loss of any real theme and icon this year was only due to JMR leaving or a last minute change of some kind and things will get back on track next year.

So there's my review. I enjoyed myself this year, there wasn't a single waste house (even though I disliked Psychoscareapy, it's well-made and does have its merits) and only one of the zones was blah (and Zombie Gras was colorful and the costumes fun). My complaints either lie with the operation of the event (which really was horrid this year) or some key design screw-ups (FEAR & the entire event's cohesiveness being the biggest blunder). I still had fun, I still love the event, and they'll get my money next year. Regain my confidence, Universal - show me what this new age of darkness you've been trumpeting about can really do.

Edited by Fallow

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Great review. I pretty much feel the exact same way... Only with less words. :)

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this is one of the most well thought out reviews I have ever read in my life.

I enjoyed everything I read and I disagree with you on a few things, but I appreciate that you wrote WHY you didn't like it other than "well, it sucks because it's not scary."

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I read the review and can honestly say I understand and can agree with most if not all you've said. You had the same disappointments as I did, but I understood a lot of why Universal did some things that they did, however, I don't think a lot of their cuts and holding back should have been this year, being the 20th year of HHN.

Only thing I found myself disagreeing with was the 08 rooms in Hallow'd Past; I don't really count the Body Collector room as an 08 room because it wasn't the 08 version of the room(I liked the 08 version better) and they were around pre-2008; I definitely agree the sewer Body Collector room could have been something else. And I loved the inclusion of Dead Exposure, but also felt it didn't need two rooms and it needed a tarp ceiling.

I'm happy you at least enjoyed my house. :)

p.s. regarding negative reviews and the alone comparison; We don't mind negative reviews, we just need more than vague blanket statements about what wasn't liked which alone is not good at giving.

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Thanks for the review, i (being cast in the DE room in Hallow'd Past) agree that it only needs one room, with 3 actors in the one room its so BA but then you put one in the second room and it kinda is hard to make it as awesome. But what you called Ship of Screams is actually Frightanic, and i believe its from '97(confirmation anyone?)

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Thanks for the review, i (being cast in the DE room in Hallow'd Past) agree that it only needs one room, with 3 actors in the one room its so BA but then you put one in the second room and it kinda is hard to make it as awesome. But what you called Ship of Screams is actually Frightanic, and i believe its from '97(confirmation anyone?)

I'm thinking it was '98. It was a nod to the popularity of the movie "Titanic", which wasn't released until December 1997. Also, '97 was my first year at HHN, and I was so frightened at the event that I only went in one house. I did go in all the houses the year the Frightanic houses were presented.

I do enjoy the DE rooms, I get scared just walking in there, I find it very disorienting. Then the actor interaction really freaks me out. But I also agree that if they could combine the elements of the two rooms into one, with all the actors in one room and the hanging zombies, plus some type of covering at the ceiling level, it would be outrageous.

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Wow, couldn't of said it better myself. If Uni reads one review this year I hope it is this one. You hit the nail right on the head. Exactly what I was trying to get across in my review, but you made it sound 20 times better. Great Job!!

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FEAR Revealed to a certain extent. I love the idea of a "last chance" photo zone and as someone who's only been attending since HHN18,

18 was a fantastic year for scare zones, 14 had some classic houses & scarezones & duel park (awesome), 15 for the atmosphere and Body Collectors.

The ghost in the floor, the scrim hall, "burn-image-into-eye-lightup-window", the bronze statues, the living chair, etc. were all well-conceived and executed.

I didn't see the ghost in the floor & the living chair, but did see a desk that was shaking and drawers came out. What were these two effects?

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@alone....ghost in the floor was in the first hallway after you entered the house and living chair was about halfway through...you go into a hall/room with a whole bunch of equipment set up and there's a chair there near the end of the room that is the living chair :)

@Fallow, great review...your problems with Hallow'd Past were the same that I felt...I was like BC needs to be '05 reference and they needed like original DoT and RUN in there...would have been nice to experience a taste of other houses from way back when...not most from '08 (which was a great year, but I wanted like really classic rooms in there hehe)

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Excellent Review, and I don't Agree with Everything, I still Hades is The Best house of the Year, and Havoc Is Amazing, Much better use for the settings than Spawning,

I do Agree that Hallow'd past was a Huge waste of opportunities and rooms, Each room should have been a different house, The thing that Made me the angriest was that There was no Hallow

Room, In fact, Nothing from the house was present this year, I specially would have Loved to see the Goat Man-Samhain He was my favorite Character from 2008 and is Nowhere, that really pissed me off, I Would have loved to see him

The house Finales you are totally right, Legendary truth and Orfanage were Huge missed opportunities,

I Do like Legendary Truth, but I do Agree I was expecting a 13 ghosts thing, With the Ghosts Killing the Research team one by one, They felt more like Casper's Uncles to me

You're totally right.

and Fear, I agree Worst Icon of all of them, I really hate that he looks human, he is supposed to be Fear, I thought he was going to be a creature, or maybe his body full of roots, but I really don't understand where they were going with his look, he looks like a bunch of ideas mixed together.

I love the event, and I love this year, There are a lot of Really awesome things about this year, More good things that bad things, But being the 20 year, the bad things really stand out

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Now THAT was a well written review, even if I don't agree with it all. My only hope is that Uni reads your merchandise section, and takes heed-WE NEED BETTER MERCH

As far as Fear goes, no comment, since that's my scarezone. Maybe he could have had more of a presence, and I honestly don't know what they could have done to appease the fans more.

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Well said. See I agree on many of your points and you fully explained your qualms with the event.

Your review shows the difference between a horrible, mud-slinging review and a well-thought out concern regarding negative aspects.

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Awesome awesome review! Very well written and you make some amazing points. We disagree a little on different houses but there are certain things where you hit the nail right on the head:

-The Merchandise! Do you know how much $$$ they could rake in by offering us some unique items. Especially a retrospective DVD!

-Finales! They were weak this year.

-The cohesion of the event as a whole! It just felt so random and slapdash.

And most importantly... the mishandling of FEAR. I said almost exactly the same thing on my review (http://www.horrornightnightmares.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=1414). It was like I was reading my own thoughts all over again.

Well done! Bravo!

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Now THAT was a well written review, even if I don't agree with it all. My only hope is that Uni reads your merchandise section, and takes heed-WE NEED BETTER MERCH

As far as Fear goes, no comment, since that's my scarezone. Maybe he could have had more of a presence, and I honestly don't know what they could have done to appease the fans more.

The merchandise situation has gotten ridiculous. I started in 08, and all of my shirts are VERY similar - icon shirt, blood shirt w/ houses, fashion tee (except this year), and Bill & Ted (except 08). It's ridiculously predictable. Why did they stop experimenting after 07? You don't have to fill a store with stuff (though that would be AMAZING), but at least throw the fans a bone, we want to GIVE YOU MONEY. I literally had amassed about $150 for HHN related merchandise this year and only spent half of that. And trust me, I would've paid quite a bit of change for any of those FEAR totems (which they clearly made multiples of...) or a prop lantern (relevance to the event or not, it's a damn cool set piece).

As for your zone - I do enjoy it. All of the icons play their parts well (Storyteller, yes? I've seen both casts and they're both quite good), and the sets are great. I love the big XXs, and hell, I love FEAR's costume and his minions. The problem isn't in the execution of that zone - it's just they should've done so much more with FEAR, through advertisements, more of a park presence (they have the projections systems, use them!), more lake audio (I know they do it, but it's very infrequent, and his dialogue is inaudible), and a damn haunted house (Hallow'd Past, please). Most importantly though I really needed a justification for why he was there - and I kept expecting a backstory, and unfortunately never received one. I can't just accept that some demon has been controlling HHN - I need a story to sell that concept, and a personality to the character that will make me be afraid of him. Universal did that for all of their other icons (admittedly with varying success), so they can do it for FEAR, too. My only complaint regarding FEAR in the zone itself is that the building rage expressed in the "Revealed" website videos is lost as soon as you see him there. Unlike the other icons, he doesn't really have any personality or the ability to interact with the crowd, and his dialogue is all recycled from the videos (why would he be talking about how important he is if he's already out of the lantern)? I mean, if anything, I feel like I should be SCARED of this guy, and instead he's really more of a prop.

Thank you for ALL of the compliments, I'm glad you find my review well-written and my qualms justified. If you disagree with me I'd honestly love to hear your perspective - you might have one that shifts my own by presenting information I wasn't aware of, etc. And it's always good to get other peoples' opinions!

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