SATURDAY SIX – 6 Reasons We Love Universal’s 2019 HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS

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This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS 29 at Universal Studios Florida!

The iconic entrance arch at Universal Studios Florida. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

The theme park calendar is filled with special events that fans treasure. For some, it’s the Christmas season, with things such things as Disney’s Very Merry Christmas Party, elaborately decorated hotels, and Universal’s Grinchmas. Some enjoy the spring, with pleasant weather and the bloom of Disney’s Flower & Garden festival. Generally speaking, the summer brings the debut of new E-Ticket rides and experiences, such as Toy Story Land in 2018 or Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge this year. However, for many of us, the season we look forward to most hands down is HALLOWEEN SEASON.

Disney has upped their game in a major way with Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, but the premier spooky event in Orlando – in fact, THE WORLD – is down the street at Universal Studios Florida’s Halloween Horror Nights (HHN). For each night of HHN, the theme park completely transforms itself through the combination of original concepts and well-known IPs to produce and unforgettable event. Today we’re going to take a look at some of our favorite parts of this year’s HHN, and let’s kick off the countdown with…

# 6 – The Food

The SATURDAY SIX has long considered HHN to be the “International Food & Wine Festival for the workin’ man.” While Epcot may offer frou frou plates along with wine pairings where you need to hold your pinkie out when drinking, Universal offers items such as pizza fries, deep fried Twinkies, and a doughnut in the shape of Dracula filled with Oreo flavored Bavarian cream.

In fact, let’s start off with the HHN-themed offerings from our beloved Voodoo Doughnuts. Last year Voodoo had one exclusive doughnut offered during HHN season, but this year they have three. We mentioned the Dracula donut, but they also have two more tasty treats themed to Stranger Things. One of the cool parts of HHN is that the event isn’t contained to just USF, with CityWalk restaurants and even the onsite hotels offering unique food offerings. For example, at Bread Box you’ll find a Stranger Things-inspired chicken and waffle sandwich, while guests staying at Lowes Sapphire Falls Resort can have haunted desserts – such as ghostly chocolate covered strawberries – delivered via room service.

Voodoo Doughnuts HHN-inspired offerings. (photo by @drubov)
The Dracula donut pictured in front of a piece of artwork at Voodoo Doughnuts that was created solely out of duct tape. (photo by Felipe Quiroga)

The wheel. Electricity. The personal computer. All mere child’s play compared to mankind’s greatest invention: pizza fries.

Nina Thompson basking in the glow of PIZZA FRIES. (photo by Darren Schmidt)
Pizza Fries. (photo by Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog)

This year we have the addition of a new fries platter joining our culinary rotation with S’mores Fries (sweet potato fries, marshmallow, chocolate chips and cracker crumbs).

S’mores fries. (photo by @BazTastic77)

The grilled street corn is an E-Ticket, and may be the overall winner of the new food items introduced this year.

Grilled street corn. (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
Szechuan beef pot stickers with wontons. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Bento Box. (photo by Megan Stump).
Fried Twinkies. (photo by Captain Cruiseline)

Of course there were returning favorites as well, including the Stranger Things inspired Triple Decker Extravaganza.

The triple decker extravaganza as shown by “Eleven.” (model Insta: @chickypuffcosplay photo by Michael Carelli)
Normally stocked with cookies and Rice Krispie treats, the Universal snack cases are now filled with horror-themed treats, including these waffle sandwiches. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Cupcakes that Nightmare on Elm St‘s own Freddy Krueger looks to have taken a swipe at. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Aside from the massively popular Stranger Things, several other HHN IPs have snacks based around them, including the cult classic Killer Klowns from Outer Space.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space themed popcorn. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Killer Klowns cotton candy. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Killer Klowns candy bar. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

If this Ghostbusters popcorn box had been made out of plastic instead of cardboard, it may have been the best item of 2019.

Ghostbusters themed popcorn box. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
(photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
The themed items allow for some great cosplay pics. (model Insta: @chickypuffcosplay coplay (photo by Michael Carelli)

Universal often has unique flavors in their Coke Freestyle machines, and for HHN guests can get a taste of the Stranger Things world with Coke and Coke Zero from “the upside down.”

Coke Freestyle options. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Coke Freestyle. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

 

# 5 – The Merch

For many years, one of the only weak links in HHN’s armor was the event’s selection of merchandise. Not anymore. In fact, not only has merchandise become a strength of the annual Halloween event, but the shopping experience itself has become elevated. There are some wonderful photo ops available to guests, including this great display using the Universal Classic Monsters.

Classic monsters at the main store in USF. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Starting last year, Universal introduced some classic video games into the park as a tie-in to the Stranger Things franchise. One of the more memorable moments early on in Season 2  of the hit NETFLIX show is the main cast playing video games in an arcade. One game they are shown playing is Dragon’s Lair, and another game – Dig Dug – gets a spotlight when the boys discover someone has beaten their high score. In the main gift shop near the entrance of USF, Universal set up a miniature arcade featuring both these games along with several other classics that were in the background of Stranger Things (including Ms. Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Defender). As a person who spent way too many quarters in arcades growing up, this was a wonderful bit of nostalgia come to life. To take it up a notch, Universal allows guests to play the games by buying a special token, which also in-turn creates an instant souvenir. The tokens themselves were also updated for 2019.

Universal’s “Palace Arcade.” (photo by Hedgehog’s Corner)
HHN-themed arcade tokens. (photo by @HedgehogsCorner)
The boys playing Dragon’s Lair. (Stranger Things Season 2, Episode 1. Available on NETFLIX)
“Eleven” playing Dragon’s Lair at HHN. Insta: @chickypuffcosplay (photo by Michael Carelli)

Even better, there is a dedicated HHN Tribute Store that is filled with great merchandise and a bunch of amazing photo ops with elements from Stranger Things and Ghostbusters.

Entrance to the HHN Tribute Store. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
At the Tribute Store, “Eleven” is pictured in front of a Demogorgan. Insta: @chickypuffcosplay (photo by Michael Carelli)
More Stranger Things. (photo by Hunter Underwood)
For anyone who saw Stranger Things season 3, they saw the New Coke references. Your Humble Author purchased a limited edition New Coke can and was surprised to discover his girlfriend did the unbelievable and drank it. (photo by Hunter Underwood)
Ghostbusters photo op, including Slimer. (photo by Hunter Underwood)
This frame features a whole bunch of great references to Ghostbusters. (photo by @TheDCLblog)
Including artwork by Shelby Denham. (photo by Michael Carelli)
More fantastic Shelby Denham drawings.

It wouldn’t be HHN without a “blinky cup” and this year the cups were themed, including this one to Ghostbusters.

Ghostbusters blinky cup. (photo by @TheDCLblog)
Universal Classic Monsters. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Lighting feature of cups. (photo by Shelby Denham)
Killer Klowns blinky cup. (photo by @TheDCLblog)

Those of us a certain age remember when fast food places like Burger King would release glasses based around movies like Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. HHN brought a bit of that nostalgia back with similar style glasses.

HHN glasses. (photo by Michael Carelli)
HHN 29 shirt. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Killer Klowns shirt. (photo by TheDCLBlog)

One item this year was a neat Ghostbusters fleece that converts into a backpack.

Combo fleece/backpack. (photo by @Hedgehogscorner)
HHN themed pins and magnets. (photo by Michael Carelli)

Ghostbusters themed socks came in this retro style VHS tape packaging.

Socks. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Stranger Things items. (photo by Michael Carelli)

One item that made its debut at last year’s HHN was this light up skull. It has returned with a much lower price point.

Light up skull. (photo by @TheDCLblog)

The skull is just one of the many “light up” items you can buy, many of which look great at night.

Light up merch. (photo by @TheDCLblog)
Light up swords and axes. (photo by @TheDCLblog)
Light up cat ears. (photo by @TheDCLblog)
Light up sunglasses. (photo by @DrunkATdisney)

You should know by now that one of the hills I will die on when it comes to theme parks is Carnival Games. When done right, such as the games in Springfield USA or out in California at Pixar Pier, they are a great addition to theme parks featuring something both adults and kids can enjoy. When they are done wrong, they are called the Fossil Fun Games in Animal Kingdom. Universal brings out a separate set of games for HHN, and generally has really fun prizes based on horror films, such as these Ghostbusters plush.

HHN prizes. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Slimer plush. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Slimer plush. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Of course some merchandise is absolutely free, so remember to stop by the ticket booths or guest services for a UOR button.

Button. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

 

# 4 –  Academy of Villains

Taking place on the Fear Factor Live stage, The Academy of Villains returns with a new show that offers a unique combination of horror, hard rock, and hip hop along with a pinch of Cirque du Soleil added on top. I miss Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure as much as anyone, but the AOV troupe offers a mesmerizing show filled with some top-notch performers.

Academy of Villains. (photo by @BazTatic77)
Academy of Villains. (photo by @BazTastic77)
AOV contortionist. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
AOV contortionist doing best impression of Disney fan tying themselves into a pretzel trying to explain the opening summer of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Academy of Villains. (photo by @BazTastic77)
A silk aerialist at AOV. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Academy of Villains. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Dancing at AOV. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

 

# 3 – Marathon of Mayhem

The huge surprise of HHN 29 was the debut of the Marathon of Mayhem show located on the lagoon, with many saying it is their favorite part of the event. Using the water mist screens, fountains, and projection technology that are regularly seen in Universal’s awesome Cinematic Celebration show, Marathon of Mayhem involves moments from HHN properties such as Ghostbusters, Killer Klowns, and Stranger Things. This show is Not To Be Missed.

Marathon of Mayhem. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Marathon of Mayhem. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Stranger Things in Marathon of Mayhem. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Killer Klowns from Outer Space in Marathon of Mayhem. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Ghostbusters !!(photo by @bioreconstruct)

 

# 2 – The Scare Zones

Even over just the last several years, the Scare Zones located throughout HHN have become a bigger part of my personal experience. Previously, my TouringPlan consisted of “gotta get to a house, then another house, then another house,” etc, but now I enjoy taking my time and just walking around. Taking it all in. People watching. During one of our Unmasking the Horror tours, we walked backstage and saw the area where scareactors were getting ready. It was amazing just to see the process, along with how many moving parts there are to HHN. It made me truly appreciate the scareactors and the people behind the scenes who help them get ready every night. It’s also fun just to see people get the daylights scared out of them, and that can happen right into front of your eyes in a scare zone.

This years scare zones include Vanity Ball, Vikings Undead, Zombieland Double Tap, Rob Zombie Hellbilly Deluxe, and the drop dead amazing Anarch-cade. Each of the zones has show elements and some wonderful performances by scareactors.

Vanity Ball. (photo by @TheDCLblog)
Vanity Ball. (photo by @schmoofy of Insta: @hhnorlandopics)
Vanity Ball. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Scareactor. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Vanity Ball. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Vanity Ball. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Some scareactors may seem to have a simple design, but I can appreciate the brilliance behind them. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Zombieland Double Tap. (photo by TheDCLblog)
Zombieland Double Tap scareactor. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Vikings Undead prop. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Vikings Undead. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Vikings Undead. (photo by Michael Carelli)
I Am Groot? (photo by @schmoofy of Insta: @hhnorlandopics)
Rob Zombie’s Dragula car photo op along with possibly my favorite walkaround character of the year. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Living Dead Girl. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Bathooms? (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Boo! (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Killer Klowns photo op experience. (photo by @schmoofy of Insta: @hhnorlandopics)
One Killer Klown and 8 regular clowns.

We’ll close with some shots of my personal favorite scare zone, Anarch-cade. You can’t go wrong with neon and larger than life arcade games!

Anarch-cade. (photo by @Calloushearts13 who has a Must See instagram feed of jaw dropping good pics at @photrographybyanniem)
Anarch-cade. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Anarch-cade (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Stilt walkers at Anarch-cade. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
(photo by Thrillgeek‘s own Clint Gamache)

 

# 1 – The Houses

The signature part of any HHN are the haunted house experiences. Like many, I always avoided HHN because I wouldn’t consider myself a “horror fan.” I finally decided to get my feet wet when Universal first got the license for AMC’s The Walking Dead, because I was such a huge fan of the TV show and Walking Dead comic book. I immediately realized how much different HHN actually was from what I imagined it to be in my mind. While I wasn’t a fan of some of the movies used for the haunted houses, I could appreciate the design of each house from an artistic standpoint. It was also just fun being “scared” by the scareactors inside,  and even more fun watching other people get scared. Where I thought Universal really shined was in their original houses that weren’t tied to an IP, but even I had to admit it was an IP that got me personally into the door.

This year’s IP houses include Stranger Things, Jordan Peele’s Us, House of 1,000 Corpses, Killer Klowns from Outer Space (graduating from just a scare zone last year) and one of the most anticipated houses in HHN history: Ghostbusters. When it comes to the IP houses, delivering on iconic moments and places is key, and Universal Creative does that and then some. Original houses include Yeti: Terror of the Yukon, Depths of Fear, Nightingales: Blood Pit, and Graveyard Games. The cherry on top of the sundae is a house dedicated to the Universal Classic Monsters.

(NOTE: it is basically impossible to film anything inside a house during an HHN event. Most of the pictures you will see below were taking during an Unmasking The Horror tour. These tours are given during the day, as small groups of guests are given a “lights on” tour while having a Team Member given a lot of behind the scenes info. In my book this is an absolute MUST DO as you not only get to see a ton of things you will probably miss during the actual event, but you also get a fascinating look into how HHN is put together.)

Facade of House of 1,000 Corpses, including a certain telephone booth that should be recognizable to HHN fans… (photo by Michael Carelli)
Detail inside House of 1,000 Corpses. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Jordan Peel’s Us. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Stranger Things. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Stranger Things. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Outdoor projection on Universal Monsters house. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Gotta love that! (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Nightingales: Blood Pit. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Nightingales: Blood Pit. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Nightingales: Blood Pit. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Ghostbusters. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Ghostbusters. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Ghostbusters. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Some of the details in these houses you will only see during a lights-on tour. It’s mindblowing how much time is spent on set design that 99.99% of the guests will never actually see. However it’s the little things like that which gives these house’s “life” and makes you feel like you’re stepping straight into the story.

Ghostbusters. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Ghostbusters. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Ghostbusters. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

 

Honorable Mention – The Art of SHELBY DENHAM

We are blessed in the theme park community to have a wide variety of talented artists of various genres (including SuperWeenie’s “Disney Wall” shirt, @CraftyAshley’s pressed penny jewelry,  and Rob Yeo‘s pins). One of my personal favorite artists is Shelby Denham, in fact I commissioned her for a drawing in 2017’s Turkey of the Year Awards. Universal commissioned Shelby to create artwork which guests could buy prints of based on houses and scare zones. This year Universal is offering both prints and magnets. Supporting local artists is a good thing for anyone to do, let alone a major theme park, and I could not be more proud of Shelby seeing her work displayed inside Universal (and now on my fridge too!).

Shelby Denham drawn HHN prints featuring two scare zones. (photo by @Schmoofy)
Shelby Denham drawn magnets. (photo by Megan Stump)
Prints featuring characters from the Yeti house and Nightingales: Blood Pit. (photo byMichael Carelli)

If you didn’t take a picture of Mel’s Die-In, did you REALLY go to Halloween Horror Nights?

::chef’s kiss:: (photo by @TheDCLblog)

So there you have it: Six Reasons We Love Universal’s 2019 HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).

If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following: 

SATURDAY SIX SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: An in-depth look at theme park photography

6 Surprising Secrets of the Universal Orlando Resort

6 Reasons We Love TRANSFORMERS: The Ride 3D

Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood,the mistress of merchandise @hedgehogscorner, photo wunderkind Mike Sperduto, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will  enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.

One thought on “SATURDAY SIX – 6 Reasons We Love Universal’s 2019 HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS

  • October 20, 2019 at 3:14 pm
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    This was our first HHN and we were pretty underwhelmed. We spent three nights there and on all three had at least one line that made us give up each night. The scare zones were much better than the houses, which were full of mistimed scares due to the constant stream of people. The Anarch-ade area had been much hyped all for some lasers, girls on stilts incorrectly wielding nunchucks, for some reason, and scareactors clumped together with zero “scaring” going on. The Vikings, Rob Zombie, and Zombieland scare zones were way more interestingly themed and had great actors.

    We had many soggy snacks and sugary boozy drinks, but nothing was a standout. It was also irritating to see that this separately ticketed event also had a separate express pass option. In three nights we experienced five haunted houses total, leaving the park each night well before closing exhausted and ticked off because we weren’t willing to buy yet another ticket (we already had park-to-park, express, and HHN multi-day tickets, with the express daytime options turning into a total waste of money). I think I’ll stick to off-season visits from now on.

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