It’s Scary Out There: Halloween Horror Nights 32 Preview
This past weekend, I was invited by Universal Studios Orlando to cover the opening night of Halloween Horror Nights, and I am excited to share my behind-the-scenes experience with the Dread Central audience. As the thirty-second Halloween Horror Nights event, I’m comfortable saying this year’s will be bigger and better than ever. Universal Studios has gone all out with ten haunted houses and five distinct scare zones, ensuring this year’s event will be the premier destination for horror and haunt fans everywhere.
“Bigger” is principally the operative term here. As a whole, the event is as scream-inducing, jump-in-the-air terrifying as fans would expect. Thematically, the slate of houses is tethered by an undercurrent of celebration: the celebration of IPs, of Halloween Horror Nights mascots, and the celebration of state-of-the-art haunt effects guaranteed to send a shiver down one’s spine.
As was the case in years past, Universal’s original haunts prove more effective than the IP houses. Stranger Things 4, with its pristine attention to detail, is the best of the bunch, with its animatronics and pyrotechnics adroitly adapting the show’s scariest season for a haunt with longevity. The Exorcist: Believer is better than the trailer for its namesake, even if—as explicitly noted by studio executives—the house is itself an extended trailer for a movie that hasn’t even been released.
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The Last of Us and Chucky: Ultimate Kill Count amount to fan service, even if the scares regularly fall flat. Come for the clickers, stay for Jennifer Tilly in the bathtub. Universal Monsters: Unmasked is a secret winner. What it lacks in contemporaneous recognition, it makes up for with its twisted iteration of the Parisian sewers and some stellar scares (including an effect I won’t spoil here).
The original houses largely fare better. Dueling Dragons: Choose Thy Fate, touted for its four different endings, is more a gimmick than an effective haunt. The house does end with an announcement, informing guests whether the path they chose was one of survival or death. However, the environment was too loud to hear anything in, and our guide had to inform us paces away from the house. Otherwise, it was easily missed. Bloodmoon: Dark Offerings would make Robin Hardy grin with its gruesome foray into rural folk horror, and Dr. Oddfellow’s Twisted Origins has enough clowns to make Pennywise blush (and those with coulrophobia shriek).
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The strongest two are unequivocally The Darkest Deal, the story of Pinestraw Spruce and his deal with the devil, and YETI: Campground Kills, a new version of the long-running YETI house. More than the IP houses, The Darkest Deal feels distinctly cinematic, and YETI: Campground Kills delivers on its name. It’s yetis terrorizing a campground. What more could you ask for?
The houses are some of the best the event has offered in years. Tethered with living, breathing scare zones (Vamp ’69, with its music and vampiric lore, is a standout), Halloween Horror Nights 32 is a terrifying, must-see destination. What do you think? Have you had a chance to visit yet? Let me know over on Twitter @Chadiscollins where I’ll be talking haunts and scares all month!
Join me for a behind-the-scenes look at Halloween Horror Nights below!
Halloween Horror Nights runs on select nights from Sept. 1–Nov. 4, 2023. Purchase tickets here.