By IVY VELAZQUEZ
With Halloween season comes ghosts, demons, and monsters. It’s when those who find thrills in being scared out of their minds are really able to have some fun. Every year, Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) haunted houses promise to cause even the bravest of guests to scream in terror. Usually, they’re quite successful. But this year, they fell short of expectations.
This year was the 26th anniversary of HHN and Universal had quite a few big titles for their haunted houses, from Halloween to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The most popular of the night was probably their American Horror Story house, in which scenes from the first three seasons, Murder House, Freak Show, and Hotel, were shown. The line for this house hardly ever went under an hour, reaching a 120 minute wait time within an hour of the event opening for the night.
However, it felt like Universal tried too hard for its “big name” houses, focusing more on presentation rather than actually scaring guests. For most, the placement of the actors was very predictable and one had to simply look around corners to find the person who was supposed to be jumping out at them.
Even in the moments where the actors were actually well-placed, the close proximity of groups often allowed those behind one group to see the actor scare the one ahead of them, leaving them knowing what to expect. There were also some cases where there were just too many actors back to back, not allowing for suspense to build. Really, many of the houses provoked laughter rather than screams.
This of course does not mean that there weren’t good houses. The best of the night was probably “Tomb of the Ancients,” one of the few that wasn’t inspired by a well-known movie or show. As the name suggests, the premise of this house was that of the guest entering an ancient Egyptian tomb, in which the immortal beings that once ruled over mankind resides. Some couldn’t help but hum the Indiana Jones theme song as they entered.
What was done so much better in this house versus the others was that along with a great presentation, “Tomb of Ancients” actually managed to produce fear. There were great special effects that made guests feel like they were in an actual tomb, complete with booby traps; the floor even shook. The actors were more evenly spaced out and better positioned for jumping out and inciting some actual screams.
Along with the houses, the event featured “scare zones,” themed areas scattered throughout the park for guests to walk through. Some of these were scarier than many of the houses. In the past, scare zones, such as the Purge used the last couple of years, have been more about aesthetic and less about scariness. But this year, a bit more of an eeriness was added, especially in one called “Lair of the Banshee,” where mist was added, making it harder to tell where the actors were and easier for them to catch guests off guard.
For guests wanting to take a break from the thrills, quite a few of the park attractions were open, including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, which hadn’t been open in past years. However, it does feel that Universal missed a great opportunity to exploit the Halloween theme that can so easily comes with the air of Harry Potter.
The event also featured two shows. Academy of Villains: House of Fear, presented a dance troupe of an evil scientist and his experiments. There was also Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure, an annual show that parodies the pop culture of that year. Needless to say, Bill and Ted had a lot to work with for 2016, which they exploited quite well. They especially had fun in using the political candidates as the butt-ends of their jokes; Clinton was largely exploited—her attempts to gain the millennial vote were perfect for provoking laughter. The jokes based on Trump mainly stemmed from his face—specifically his bulging lips and eyebrows. However, neither show is meant to be scary, just another way to entertain guests and provide some relief from the haunted houses.
While this year’s Halloween Horror Nights didn’t quite live up to its scary reputation, it still allowed for a fun night to spend with friends and family. If you didn’t go with Student Productions earlier this month, there is still time. The last night for the event is Halloween. the event is Halloween night.
Ivy Velazquez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org