It’s the best time of the year, Halloween Horror Nights has started! It’s the events 26th year and picks up for their 25th anniversary celebration left off. Chance, Jack’s cohort from the Carnage Returns, is left to suffer the consequences of last year’s mayhem. Being the twisted unique personality Chance is, it takes more than an asylum to contain her mind. Her real world experiences collide with the theater in her mind and Halloween Horror Nights 26 is born.
Again this year NEOZAZ was graciously invited to the opening night media event and experience all the Mazes, Scare zones, and the annual show “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure”.
So to kick off our annual coverage of the greatest Halloween Event on Earth here is our initial report of what Halloween Horror Nights brings to its legacy this year:
The Walking Dead
As cautious as I was entering The Walking Dead after my disappointment with the HHN25 version I was still really hoping to see the return of a great “The Walking Dead” maze. I was not disappointed. Focusing on the entire run of the series was a fantastic idea for this year’s offering. Starting with one of the most iconic vehicles from the early seasons greeting you as you entered, to walking through the mucked filled underground sewer pipes as you exited, every room in this maze is pulled from the series and will be known to every fan of the show. On the other side of that spectrum, there are a lot more scares and fantastic scenic elements that should be a lot of fun for anyone that hasn’t watch the series as well. All in all I think “The Walking Dead” is getting its due representation once again at this year’s event and as a huge fan of both TDW and HHN, that’s good thing for everyone.
Bottom-line: Huge improvement over last year. Not the best Walking Dead from HHN in my opinion but worth seeing. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s must see. If you don’t know the show you’ll still enjoy it but it’s definitely a fan focused maze.
Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch
Wow! I’m not sure where to go after that opening statement. Maybe the best way to explain how I feel about his maze can be best summed up in these two sentences: “Last year’s ‘Body Collectors: Recollection’ became my all-time favorite maze. In just one year that title may have changed hands”. “Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch” is the re-quel of the 2004 “Ghost Town” – not a “reboot”, not “sequel”, but a 2016 telling of the story. That story is of a gold prospecting town that was swept away by a massive lightning storm and the doomed souls haunt the abandoned borough. “Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch” not only had everything I wanted in that particular maze, it had everything I wanted from a maze ever! An immersive environment, scare-actor’s coming from ALL directions, touches of new technology seamlessly integrated, fantastic makeup, and a ton of Scares.
Bottom-line: Don’t miss this!! If for some strange reason you can only do 1 maze this year, this has to be it! That is all.
Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield
The maze based on the sequel to the original “Halloween” is also a direct sequel to the 2014 HHN maze “Halloween”. This maze starts with the last 2 rooms visitors from 2014 experience in the original maze. From there the story of the movie plays out in fantastic detail! This was a huge surprise hit for me. I honestly forgot for some time this was added to the lineup months ago hadn’t formed any real expectation of what the maze would be. Now that I’ve experienced it, I’m eager to report it absolutely delivers! It is a true follow up to the 2014 maze and pays great tribute to both the movie it’s based on and the maze it followed.
Bottom-line: A huge surprise! A true sequel of the 2014 maze, just as good, just as fun, and just as Michael Myers filled. If you like Halloween, don’t miss this!
Tomb of the Ancients
Another new additions of the Original IP lineage of Halloween Horror Nights, “Tomb of the Ancients” combines many facet of Mayan, Aztec, Egyptian lore and a lot more and places them in a recreation of a tight corridor, low ceiling ancient tomb. This was yet another impressive offering to not only HHN26, but to its extensive catalog of original IPs. One of the selling points of the maze during the media presentation was the claustrophobic nature of the design of this maze. While I can say I ever felt claustrophobic while going through this maze (or in subsequent visits after opening night) there is a definite feeling of being in an enclosed area of a solid structure which a very unique element for this maze. Add in the wonderfully costumed and made up scar actors and puppet of the likes I’ve never seen before and you’re got yourself a hit!
Bottom-line: A great new addition of the HHN Original IP Lineage. Incredibly unique, good scares, and a gorgeous maze. Another must see.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
If there was on maze that I might have over hyped myself on it would have been this maze. I expected, or maybe better said hoped, for so much in this maze! Based on the original 1974 film “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” HHN26 promised an immersive experience featuring every scene, every kill and more chain saws and Leatherfaces than you could possibly be prepared for. And wow, did they every nail it! The creative department obviously love this movie as much as I do, every scene I could think of and that I wanted see was indeed in this maze!
Bottom-line: If you like chainsaws, scares, and blood curdling screams, you are in luck! If you like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you can’t under any circumstance miss this!
Lunatics Playground 3D – You Won’t Stand a Chance
The 3D maze of HHN26 and Icon Maze that sets the story for the event. In this maze you are stepping in and out of the real world of Chance’s committal in the Shadybrook Asylum and into the twisted theater of the mind Chance is playing in her head. You’ll see how Chance has taken over the asylum and how she exactly views these events in her own twisted imagination. And all through the use of chromadepth 3D to add the next level of chaos to the mix. I really enjoy 3D mazes. I think the work the creative team has to do to create the specific effects they want with the color spectrum is amazing. I said in my HHN26 instant reaction recording that I usually find the 3D used fun and whimsical and for the first time I found this to be at times scary. I don’t think that was right word for what I saw, I think a better word would be “freaky” in that they bordered on gruesome and disturbing but didn’t cross that and kept the 3D fun intact. That is still a new element in my experience. As I said I do enjoy 3D houses and I enjoyed getting the full story of HHN26 by experiencing this maze.
Bottom-line: 3D. If you’ve never seen a “3D” maze before, Lunatics Playground is a good start. Moreover it’s the icon’s maze and if you want to experience the story this year’s event if build upon, you should really take the time to the check out this maze.
Another Licensed IP that I’m a big fan of add to this year’s lineup, the 2015 film “Krampus”. I really enjoyed this movie for the borderline horror butting heads with comedy throughout the whole film. This maze does the exact same thing. Krampus is fun and has some scares while recreating a lot of the best scenes from the movie. It’s another maze that takes us inside and outside several times and it always amazes me how the creative team pull that off while being inside a building the entire time. Another great adaptation and one maze that is just a ton of fun to experience.
Bottom-line: There’s always at least 1 maze in HHN that’s a little more fun that scary. This is a rare licensed IP maze that’s not really necessary to have seen the movie. This is a dark Christmas tales, the anti-Santa and his minions. That’s about all you need to know to enjoy this maze.
American Horror Story
As big a “Wow” as I gave “Ghost Town”, I have to give a nearly as big a “Wow” to “American Horror Story”! “American Horror Story” pulls 3 of the 5 completed seasons of the FX series and brings them to life in a most phenomenal way! “American Horror Story” pretty much a 3 in 1 maze, all three series are independently featured in their own sections until a brief overlap in the finale room. First “Murder House” pulls to the most memorable characters, moments, and sets right out the first season of the series. In this first third we see how much detail and work went into not only creating this maze, but casting as well. I cannot remember a licensed IP maze that had scare actors look so much like the actors from the IP more than “American Horror Story” – and not only in the “Murder House” third, that carries on when we enter “Freak Show”. Admittedly, “Freak Show” is my least favorite season of AHS. However, I have to admit this third of the house is actually better than that show for me because none of what I disliked in the series was represented – it was the things I actually like from “Freak Show!” And again, that scare actors where dead-on! And the amazing scare actor casting continues in the “Hotel” third when the first AHS Hotel scare actor you encounter might make you look twice! Sets, story, scare actors – this maze has it all and in my opinion is the best maze HHN has done on a licensed property to date!
Bottom-line: Without a doubt for me this is the best screen to maze interpretation of an attraction HHN has ever done. Maybe to a fault that if you don’t know the series represented in this maze you not understand how accurate it is. But if you’re a fan of “Murder House”, “Freak Show”, and/or “Hotel” – go and see this!!!
Up until now I’ve always been able to say “I love it” or “I didn’t like” it on any maze for Halloween Horror Nights. “The Exorcist” still has me wildly undecided. And I know exactly why. Having gone to HHN for years I usually know what to expect to an extent – now I’m usually never right I admit, but I’m usually in the ball park with my expectations. This time “The Exorcist” was so incredibly different from anything I expected that I’m not sure what my review is yet – I’ll need to see again if not a few more time to decide. Having prefaced with that, this maze is an interpretation of the 1973 classic “The Exorcist”. This is a movie with a lot of iconic scenes that involved many unnatural physical acts from the characters – a hard thing to do in real life. With that “The Exorcist” maze takes a lot of liberties with ideas and material from the film and presents them in ways you might not be expecting. This house is unique, and there are a lot of elements I think are fantastic – my trouble is I’m finding it difficult to tie these interpretive elements to “The Exorcist”. But I have only experienced once so far as of the writing with the initial shell-shock out of the way I’m curious how I’ll find it a second time around.
Bottom-line: I’m still not sure how I feel about this. I want to make it clear it’s not bad, it’s unique and many, many rooms are instantly recognizable. This is the maze I will thinking about the most as I return to more nights of HHN26. If you’re a fan of The Exorcist or curious at all, you owe it yourself to check it out and form your own opinion. I’m still working on mine.
The Scares Zones:
Survive or Die Apocalypse
This dystopian themed Scare Zone features 3 warring gangs fighting for control of the city machines that produce clear air. Each side needs to increase their numbers, and they’re looking right to you to do just that.
My first pass through this scare zone left me feeling a little underwhelmed. This walk through took place during the opening night tour so I didn’t get my usual casual “walk around and take it in” time.
Once the tour concluded, we went back and checked it out again. My opinion turned a complete 180. I took a better look at the scare actors, a good look at the scenic, and this time – saw the 3D mapped projections on the building facades I hadn’t seen on the first walk through.
This is huge scare zone, and there’s a lot going on once your take the time to look at it. When you get to the “Survive or Die Apocalypse”, take your time, walk down all the streets, and look up every once and while to take it all in.
Lair of the Banshee
I always look forward to this area of the park. Usually the scare actors are pretty varied with no real or obvious unifying theme – and that is the case again for HHN26. However, most of those scare actors look fantastic!
But what I really go to see in this area is the lighting. This is the only completely tree covered scare zone and the creative team does some interesting work with the lighting and use of fog in this area. Last year was one of favorite designs in regards to the lighting and I was almost expecting a slight alteration to that design this year. I was wrong, this year’s work with lighting is far different that the previous and once again and very visually fun experience.
I also want to reiterate our tip for the past couple of years for this scare zone and that is to walk the central park path between central park and the lagoon to get a unique perspective own this scare zone.
Dead Man’s Wharf
It’s the anniversary of the disappearance of the fishing boat “Annabel Lee”. A thick fog has rolled in and the spirits of the lost crew have returned to push the town that left them to die.
I could easily spend the majority of the night in this scare zone. The set, the lights, the fog, the scare actors all present fantastic photo ops. This is a beautiful scare zone.
It’s Hollywood High School’s 1995 Homecoming. A group of vampire greasers roll into town and attack the home coming crew.
I will fully admit when I heard about this scare zone I had zero desire to see it. But being a HHN fan and wanting to see it all I obviously had to check it out. I was pleasantly surprised on what I saw! The scenic was fun, the scare actors well created and the story of the attack plays out well with the greasers hunting you will the Homecoming victims turn to you protection. A lot more fun visiting than I expected!
A Chance in Hell
And finally “A Chance in Hell”. This I found a little disappointing but still not bad. The idea is that after you leave “Lunatics Playground 3D” you walk into the “A Chance in Hell” scare zone to experience the aftermath of the Chance taking over the asylum.
There are two things that made this scare zone a disappointment. First is that it is far too far away from the exit of “Lunatics Playground 3D” for the story to be effective for me. If the maze exited directly into the scare zone I think the overall story would play out better.
The other was the lack of stage scare actors. There are 4 stages in the scare zone – 3 are of Chance’s “creations”. The creations are props, not cast scare actors. The 4th stage is for Chance. I do think it’s absolutely great that there is a consistent and regular photo opportunity for the event Icon, no doubt there, I just would have liked to see some of her creations be more photo op scare actors to bring more “live” to this scare zone.
“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure”.
The annual inappropriate humor and stab at pop culture show runs its 25th production in HHN26.
Like all Bill and Ted’s the pat years most hyped, talked about, and over saturated pop culture moments are roasted in the comedy/music/dance show.
Without getting into too much spoiler details I can say this year’s show has a heavy “Star Wars” theme – you get that just by sitting down when you look at the set.
With all Bill and Ted’s there’s hits and misses – and sometimes more misses for the individual if you’re not 100% caught up on pop culture.
But again will all Bill and Ted shows it’s a big party with great music, scantily clad dancers, and enough laughs for everyone no matter how much of little pop culture you know.
Academy of Villains: House of Fear.
As of this writing, I have not yet seen “Academy of Villains: House of Fear”. We didn’t visit if during the media tour and it got rained out my next visit. I will be seeing it this following weekend and share my thoughts with in an update to this article.
The Big over-all Bottom-line: Halloween Horror Nights 26 is an extremely strong event this year. In terms of mazes alone it might be the strongest year in recent memory for me.
The creative team behind this event did not let last year’s anniversary event being an isolated benchmark, they’ve taken that success and built on it for HHN26.
Halloween Horror Nights 26 continues a new era of Halloween Horror Nights that is so far getting better each year in many ways. It’s not without some minor flaws, but they are so insignificant compared to what excels this year that they can’t possibly distract from an all-around amazing event.
More this year than most of the recent years past I say once again; “You have to experience Halloween Horror Nights 26!”
General Admission tickets to Halloween Horror Nights are on sale now at: http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/tickets.html
Learn more about the Frequent Fear passes and order your online at: http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/frequent-fear.html
Express Pass for HHN26 are now on sale now: http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/express-pass.html
RIP and Unmasking the Horror Tours can be booked now, for more information call: 1-866-604-7556
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