After 671 days Halloween Horror Nights is back! This year’s event celebrates iconic slashers, parting poltergeists, reflections of Horror Nights past, and looks into horror’s promising future. We were in attendance the first two nights of the event and here are our first impressions.
Note: HHN evolves and changes throughout the event as actors’ roles changes and effects are removed or added. These adjustments positively and negatively affect the offerings – we will come back to update our reviews if necessary.
There are no “bad” houses this year, they are all worth visiting. If a certain house piques your interests we suggest checking it out, especially if it is based on a favorite IP. Additionally, if you feel hesitant attempting a house (or houses) we suggest watching a video online from our friends at Inside Universal to give you an idea of what to expect.
Wicked Growth features all the things we love about Halloween: jack-o-lanterns, witches, scarecrows, covered bridges, and the supernatural. The scares and effects in this house were terrifyingly jaw-dropping, we cannot wait to go through it again. Wicked Growth should not be missed. ★★★★ 1/2
Haunting of Hill House brings to life the ghosts, monsters, and hallucinations of the hit 2019 Netflix show. Effects like the bent neck lady are done using physical props and pepper’s ghost effects, some actors are on stilts, and there is even a disturbing practical effect involving someone’s stomach. Hill House should not be missed. ★★★★ 1/2
Puppet Theater traps a puppet troupe and us in a theater after a freak earthquake. Fellow acts and guests become gruesome new puppets for our creative captors. We enjoyed the elaborate sets, the use of puppets, and non-stop scares in this house. ★★★ 1/2
Universal Monsters: Birde of Frankenstine Lives returns after last year’s daytime Halloween event with more scare actors in the house. We believe this house lives up to the long horror history of Universal and think it is not to be missed. ★★★ 1/2
Halloween Horror Nights Icons is a love letter to the fans of the event, but do not worry if you do not know what an “Icon” is. The characters wreak havoc in their own themed areas in an attempt to be crowned the “winner”. We really enjoyed all the call-backs in this house. ★★★ 1/2
Revenge of the Tooth Fairy is a gruesome fairy tale warning of what happens when kids do not turn their teeth over to the tooth fairy. The goblin “fairies” torment and rip apart a victorian mansion in this creepy and startling maze. The scare actors in this house are short and pop out of all sorts of corners. ★★★
Case Files Unearthed: Legendary Truth is a mash-up of original monsters told through the eyes of a conspiracy theorist combing through old detective novels. We loved how the house faithfully recreates aspects of the New York section of USF and even includes a live jazz singer. We did knock the house for a complicated story that confused us. ★★★
Welcome to sCarey: Horror in the Heartland combines several original ideas from the past into an original concept. While we enjoyed the elaborate sets and call-outs, the overall house suffers from abrupt jumps from scene to scene. ★★★
Beetlejuice is a fun, funny, and entertaining house that features several memorable moments from the movie. Yet the house suffers from a lack of scare actors – there are just some scenes that feel oddly empty. We did enjoy the use of a microphoned actor playing Beetlejuice at the start of the house. ★★★
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is neither a recreation of the movie nor a sequel to the 2016 house. Instead, this new house takes concepts from various movies and incorporates them into one maze. We felt this house was among the weaker ones this year but did really enjoy the intense finally that incorporates multiple Leatherfaces coming at the guests. ★★ 1/2
30 Years 30 Fears is the first scare zone guests see entering the event. Massive fire plumes erupt over the scare zone as prior years characters scare and pose for guests. ★★★
Seek & Destroy takes the sterile white dystopia seen in THX 1138 or Logan’s Run, gives them chainsaws, and lets them loose at HHN. On opening weekend we found this scare zone the weakest with scare actors mostly milling about. Despite some changes to the scare zone it still does not land with us. ★★
Crypt TV brings the popular YouTube channel’s creatures to life. The monster designs are fun and clever but we did not have much interaction with the scare actors while in the streets. ★★ 1/2
Gorewood Forest features the most impressive effects in a scare zone ever: large throbbing veins attached to trees pulse with the music and atmosphere. The theme of rocks and plant life coming to life continue throughout but felt the use of the Terra Queen was a letdown compared to her use in HHN15. ★★★
Lights, Camera, Hacktion: Eddie’s Revenge combines a “lost” icon, Eddie, fan-favorite scare zones of the past, plus a very meta-theme of an under-construction movie set to create our favorite scare zone of the year. Actors lure in guests and startle them with Eddie and his chainsaw hoard chasing guests through the streets. ★★★ 1/2
Marathon of Mayhem lagoon show returns for its second year with the new Carnage Factory hosted by Jack the Clown. Choreographed fountains, lasers, lights, and music bring to life the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Haunting of Hill House, Universal’s Classic Monsters, and the original Halloween Horror Nights icons. Shows start at 9:00 pm, with a show length of 10 minutes, and operate on the hour. ★★★ 1/2
Halloween Nightmare Fuel is the new variety show and features a loose story based on waking nightmares that send our main character into madness. Expect to see aerialists, fire handlers, dancers, and a few “how did they do that?” magic tricks. While we believe this show is one of the best shows the event has ever done it is also the most provocative – we are amazed some of the choreography made it past Standards & Practices. If you can stand the heat, figuratively and literally, we give the show ★★★★★ and believe it is Not to Miss. Shows start at 8:00 pm, with a show length of 25 minutes, and operate every hour and 30 minutes.
Food, Beverage, and Merchandise
Universal stepped up its food and beverage game after the success of HHN 29, 2020 Mardi Gras, and 2021 Mardi Gras offerings. What previously only featured Philly cheesesteaks, chicken tenders, and random food hybrids (pizza with hot dogs in the crust, anyone?) has morphed into a more complex and delicious food program.
Our touring groups sampled a few of the food and drink items, here are our notes:
- Jack’d Donut Slider – our party’s favorite item, the slider (pictured above) is served on two mini donuts with bacon jam and melted American cheese and comes with fresh chips. We found the balance of the salt, sweet, smoke, and savory to be perfect. Will be ordering again.
- Bourbon Candied Pork Belly – Served on a stick, the pork belly was cured but not tough and the candied glaze was delicious.
- Field of Screams Goyza – One of our favorites from the event, spicy turkey and squash-filled dumpings. The dumplings are served four at a time with a delicious citrus ponzu sauce for dipping. Our first batch was fresh and the bottoms crispy, our second batch the dumpling exterior was a little tougher but still very good.
- Stuffed Brisket Grilled Cheese – Brisket, onions, tomatoes, and pepper jack cheese on a country loaf. We found the brisket’s saltiness to overpower the rest of the ingredients. Simply okay.
- Jalapeno Bacon Grilled Cheese – Our favorite of the grilled cheese options, the grilled cheese is stuffed with jalapenos, bacon, and cream cheese. What sets this apart is the grilling mechanism also seals the ends of the sandwich, making it a large jalapeño popper.
- Bog Slime Drink – Gin-based drink with a strong earthy taste that comes from matcha-cardamom syrup.
- Poison Tea Party Drink – A fancy spiked Arnold Palmer, this drink features iced tea, lemonade, rum, allspice, and huckleberry. Easily drinkable and our favorite of the drinks.
- Ghoul Juice Drink – Mango rum with cherry, lime, and allspice. Very traditional mass-mixed drink, we thought it was fine.
HHN still reigns supreme as the best theme park Halloween event – the houses remain world caliber, the streets are well done (if not exactly hitting the mark 100% of the time), shows are outstanding, and the food and drinks stepped up their game this year. We recommend this year’s event for all HHN and horror fans.
One final note, Universal’s COVID protocols “request” guests practice social distancing and mask usage indoors but these requests are not enforced by Team Members. While breakthrough cases of COVID-19 remain rare for vaccinated individuals keep in mind that only a portion of the guests will be masked, with even fewer social distancing. While at the event we wore N95 and KN95 masks whenever we entered an interior area (such as a house, restaurant, bathroom, or such) or when we entered a large crowded area in addition to being fully vaccinated.
Have you gone to Halloween Horror Nights 30 yet? What were your favorite houses and scare zones? Leave them in the comments below!