The first night we arrived through the front gates on opening night and media night so there was definite excitement in the air as a spatter of monsters, from the petite weaving through the crowd to the stiltwalkers towering above, worked the crowd outside the park’s opening arch and a large screen broadcast images of some of the 20 years of icons we could expect to see inside. The fog machines were fired up, the soundtrack of screams were rolling and in the distance chainsaws revved. It was time for some Halloween Horror Nights.
Author’s Note: When doing this review the reviewers ran into a strict policy of no photography of the mazes and shows. As a result most pictures will be of the street scare zones or of maze signs.
*All images in this article courtesy of IsItOctoberYet?
Catacombs:Black Death Rising
In 1534 an outbreak of the Black Death spread through Paris and Marseilles and a small group of doctors quarantined the infected in catacombs where they turned and waited until the day they would be unsealed and released upon those who dared enter. Trying to be historically accurate while terrifying guests the Catacombs were beautiful in their richly and disturbingly accurate detail. From piled-up skulls to The Plague Doctors who were famous for their carrion beak masks (think Spy Vs. Spy, it was actually a primitive gas mask) this maze was a creepy, claustophobic journey underground with sporatic signs telling true facts of the catacombs and plague conditions. It was a little like climbing into woodcarvings and drawings of the time and it was not a pleasant time to be alive, or undead. Makeup and props put a lot of love and care into the details in this maze so that even those who didn’t scream were in awe of the sights.
Hades:The Gates Of Ruin
Based on creatures of mythology, this maze was alive with demons and detail. In one room you walk amongst pillars where statues stand in strange poses all about the room and if you are unlucky enough you may see their snake-haired creator. In another maze of corridors you turn down one path to find strobe effects disorienting you while your path is blocked by a tall figure with the head of a bull. On your journey through you may see a few characters you hadn’t heard of before but they will be memorable from then on.
Horror Nights:The Hallow’d Past
This maze is a real treat to repeat visitors and newcomers alike. Designed mostly as a prop warehouse with a few memorable scenes recreated, you walk past some of the best props from the last 20 years while above you hang the banners for each season. Seeing a ‘thing’ from The Thing maze and the dummies from Dead Silence particularly brought back memories and seeing some scenes recreated from years I missed were wonderful. There were a few scares set up in this maze but it is mostly about nostalgia and showing some of the wonders you have missed if you haven’t made it all of the last 20 years.
Havoc:Dogs of War
By far one of the best mazes of the year, it took a theme which has been toyed with and amped it up to full blast. The government hired Shadow Creek Enterprise to experiment with genetic enhancement of our nation’s fighting forces and they went a little too far with the rage factor. The project name is Havoc and the participants are simply known as Dogs of War. Having seen some of the scare actors outside the maze and video online I know that ‘the soldiers’ actually shaved their heads to work this maze, both the GI Joes and Janes, so that their barcodes would show clearly on their scalps. They scream and rampage, they scramble from bunks and crawlspaces, they pound of the doors and slam into reinforced glass walls. It didn’t matter what time of night we went through or how slow or busy the maze was, these Dogs were always ready to bark and bite.
One of the weaker houses, it was a good idea that just didn’t quite translate right. The concept seemed solid enough: it is Z-Day +6 months and the U.S. government has taken back most of the continental United States and Canada and have knocked down most infestations. They have now liscensed companies to capture ‘unlive’ subjects for target training and public learning. The project is called the Zombie Awareness Plan, Z.A.P. for short and if you have the money, you get the lessons. The only problem is the company you came to train at just learned their safe measures aren’t as effective as they thought. Once you got past all this it was a standard zombie maze with propaganda posters from the Zombie Wars scattered across the walls. The posters are funny but the soundtrack is way too loud causing all the scare actors to wear bright colored ear plugs and making it so that the spiel from one of your ‘trainers’ goes completely unheard. There is a few good scare spots and a decent couple of misdirections but I spent most of my time just reading and laughing at posters. At one point I noticed a zombie had jumped out at me and had for several moments been trying to get my attention but the soundtrack was too loud and I had been reading a poster so I missed the whole scare.
Legendary Truth:The Wyndot Estate
Favorite house by far. The idea of Legendary Truth as investigators isn’t a new one, the community used a group known as the Collective at 2008 HHN and has a fairly expansive website. This year one of their groups known as the Spirit Seekers are investigating a house that was the scene of a grisly murder suicide on October 30th, 1929. They are also testing out a machine designed to pull spirits to them. The house has been fully wired with cameras and the team is in place to try a live broadcast onsite. The real question is, how friendly will the spirits be when they had not gone quietly into the night? The house uses excellent effects to pull off unusual and realistic ghost tricks as well as just plain eerie ones. The talent is top-notch from the Spirit Seeker co-ordinator who meets you on the house steps and tells you to go in and meet up with the team to the last ghost to go bump on your way out. I don’t want to give away how the effects were done or what they were in case some readers are still planning on making it out there but it is definitely worth waiting in line for, more than once.
Psychoscareapy:Echoes of Shadybrook
This house was kind of middle of the road, not a bad housee but not particularly memorable. It was the fourth in Psychoscareapy and having done Psychoscareapy:Home For the Holidays a while back I had pretty high hopes for this maze. It starts pretty solid with a front desk nurse walking around with a syringe sticking out of her eye. From there, well it just becomes another asylum house. PS:Home For The Holidays did an excellent job of twisting the Christmas spirit into a Halloween nightmare giving it a strong and distinctive theme. It was refreshing seeing a real person instead of a dummy in the electric chair, though having an electric chair instead of an electric gurney seemed a bit out of character and almost made it feel more like a prison asylum rather than a long term house for the insane. I have seen the chair used in the past both as an electric chair and as a gas chamber chair, but always in a prison theme and never as a electric therapy chair. There were walkers and gurneys about to try to help the theming but is still came down to being another asylum maze and though the talent worked hard, it really didn’t stand out from other ones across the country.
The Orphanage:Ashes To Ashes
This was a nice strong house with a distinct feel and definite flair for the creepy. Though the story is shrouded in a bit of mystery apparently a lonely and misunderstood orphan named Cindy got tired of her playthings at the orphanage and started a fire. Now the lost children reach out from their ashes that still litter the burned building’s remains with one name on their lips: Cindy. The maze definitely gave you the feeling you were going through a charred building whose ghostly flames still burn hauntingly hot from time to time. The perished orphans are often dressed in old style animal costumes and carved animal masks and cry for help from locked cages, burnt timber or in one case, floating in mid-air. Cindy herself can be seen throughout the house giving you her mischeivous smile and gleeful laugh. The overall effect gives an excellent suspension of disbelief and it is easy to quickly forget you are in a theme park, probably one of the top three houses this year.
Zones &amp; Attractions:
This area tried to cover pretty much every witch conception out there. From the naughty sexy witch to the old hag who sees through an eyeball in her hand, if you had a witch preconception it was represented. There were some solid scare spots in the zone and excellent locations for misdirection and sneaking up on folks. It was flanked on both ends by Puritans burning on a pyre, who could at anytime walk up to the edge of their flaming heap and tell you how evil the sexy witch you are getting your picture taken with is. The scare actors held character well and made the zone not just fun to walk but fun to watch. The whole zone I believe was about 100 yards.
This seemed like a fun idea for a scare zone that just kinda failed. The idea is simple, zombies infected all but one person at Mardi Gras so that one person is hiding on a crashed float to stay alive. When the undead get too close he throws out beads toward the passing patrons so that the shiney things will distract the zombies long enough for him to find a new place to hide on the float. Having been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and loving zombies I was pretty excited to get to this zone. I got there and I laughed and watched, then stopped laughing, sat down and watched some more. Event attendees would stop and ask for beads and get them and move on. The zombies would interact a little with the guests, nothing too exciting, then back to chasing the guy around the float. Tied loosely to the Zombiegeddon maze, the events are supposed to depict the North American zombie infestation breaking out. It was a really small zone, not much bigger than a building front, and if you weren’t paying attention you missed it.
Saws N’ Steam
The earth’s crust has cracked and so the new power source is steam. Due to steam misting up all the water, water has become a very precious commodity so watch out, you may be rounded up by chainsaw wielding steampunks for your body’s most valuable fluid. Due to the social issues that all this has created, the inhabitants of New Yorkshire work at this single-mindedly and every body’s harvest is a show they hate to miss. It is like a steampunk street gang and you have wandered onto their turf which is a considerable size of two streets with a connecting alley.
Revelling in the seductive taunts of Death you wind your way through a skeletal nightmare… though it really wasn’t so seductive and the skeletons were all black light so it wasn’t too nightmarish either unless the idea of velvet black light posters always gave you the willies. It felt more like a festive Day of The Dead zone, and was enjoyable but fairly short and uneventful.
HHN:20 Years Of Fear
This was a scare zone that at first appears to be a really long one but in reality overlaps with XX:Fear Revealed. You walk into an area that seems to be a prop storage zone. As you go through you see all kinds of characters and icons from the past popping in and out of props from houses and scare zones over the years. It was a true pleasure to see Mary Shaw in all her creepy glory as well as to bow to the Ice Queen and stare up at the Tree Monster. As you progressed out of the maze of props you find yourself passing sets as you enter the XX:Fear Revealed zone.
A small zone at the end of the 20 Years of Fear zone this area is mainly meet and greet sets with such past HHN icons as The Storyteller in front of her rocker and reading room, Jack in front of a Circus tent, the Director and many others. The end of the zone consisted of a giant XX with flames shooting out of it and loud music and voice tracked speeches. Don’t get me wrong, Fear himself was huge, his minions that slithered into the crowds were creepy and the flame light could be seen from the other side of the park and it is not a small park! Plenty of people spent plenty of time standing and gaping at the spectacle that was their new icon, Fear himself!
Bill And Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure
This show is an iconic returning symbol of HHN on both coasts and is a playful, sometimes stinging parody of pop culture delivered by two symbols of 1980s pop culture. Though plenty of the fans packing the seats weren’t alive or at least old enough to have seen the Bill and Tedd movies in person, everyone enjoys the shots taken at celebrities and trends that are the top searches on Yahoo these days. Excellent as always I hope rumors of their show’s future demise are bogus.
Bryan Brushwood: Menace And Malice
We weren’t able to time working this show in so we cannot give a personal review of it. Locals, some die-hard east coast haunters, suggested that it was a show that could be missed.
This is an interesting idea they tried out this year and though not original, it is the first time I have seen it used for passing time while waiting in a house line. USA Network has been doing this with both Burn Notice and Covert Ops and it is a fun way to pass time. When you get in line or if you check your park map you are given a number and a word to text to it on your mobile phone. Sending the word starts a kind of choose your own adventure game where you are given different choices to make with different outcomes each time. As an example, maybe at the Orphanage house you are told to send the word CINDY to a certain number. It will tell you that you are in a yard next to a tree, to go in the house send the word HOUSE, to investigate the tree send the word TREE. You may wind up getting crushed by a tree branch or discovering the secret of the Orphanage fire if you make the right or wrong choices. It was a fun little game to play while waiting somewhere and good for some laughs.
How About This Weather?
There were only a couple of issues with the whole celebration. One was the over 85% humidity which HHN could not have any control over and tried to help alleviate with misters and fans. When the humidity gets that high though it gets more difficult to enjoy the fact that it always feels like you put your clothes on fresh out of the washer without letting them dry first. The other was the size of the scare zones for the most part were kinda small, you could easily stand at one end and see the scares the whole length of them. Lots of strong fog machines helped a bit with this but you still generally ended a scare zone wanting more.
HHN Orlando is a Halloween mecca for the east coast and for good reason. For 20 years they have been building quality houses and scare zones and hiring excellent scareactors to fill them. This year was no different and it was a spooky pleasure to walk down 20 years of memory lane with them.
*DISCLOSURE: I went through five shirts over three days of humidity for the purpose of this review.