Around this time of year, as the sun sets on Universal Studios in the movie capital of the world, changes begin. Fog floods the empty streets, peace is banished by the roar of chainsaws, and monsters of every kind creep out of the shadows to stalk unassuming guests. It’s that time of year, baby: Halloween Horror Nights has returned for another season.
For over 20 years, Halloween Horror Nights, stylized as HHN, has transported diehard horror fans into nightmare worlds with its signature haunted house attractions. What makes Halloween Horror Nights so beloved is that many of its houses are based on famous horror properties and that each year brings new terrors — no two years are exactly the same. Boasting elaborate sets, jump scares to send you running and shocking imagery to churn your stomach, HHN has become the centerpiece of horror entertainment.
This year, eight houses have been established. The studio tram, which typically offers tours of the famous studio backlot, has once again been transformed into the Terror Tram. As the title suggests, this article will go over the pros and the cons of this year’s attractions.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space
Once again, “Killer Klowns From Outer Space” lands at Halloween Horror Nights after lifting off in 2019. From the winding, multicolored halls of a massive circus spaceship to a sleepy town overrun by Klowns, your fear of clowns is more than justified tonight.
Pros: The costumes are easily the best part of this house; the oversized rubber Klown masks are a real delight to see in person. Throughout the house, you’re hit with different smells: cotton candy, popcorn, mint — you might even think you’ve entered a candy shop. If you wish to have a break from the gore and violence, come stop by, as this house is easily the tamest. But that doesn’t make it any less scary.
Cons: This year’s “Killer Klowns” is nearly an exact replica of 2019’s version; the only difference is that it’s been flipped. Even the black halls, which were prevalent in its previous iteration, are still present. With this year’s high standards, the house feels kind of old.
Walk the gloomy streets of Haddonfield, Illinois, as you follow the trail of bodies left behind by The Shape, also known as Michael Meyers. This is not a remake, nor is it a sequel. This is John Carpenter’s original 1978 classic in full glory.
Pros: From Michael’s abandoned home to the Doyle residence where Michael faces off against Dr. Loomis, the house faithfully captures the essence of the original film. Since this is the second time “Halloween” has arrived at Halloween Horror Nights, it is great to see the improvements to the original house, including an improved hedge section that gives you a rising sense of anxiety. The hall of mirrors with dozens of frozen Michaels, who may or may not be real people, is probably the scariest part.
Cons: The scares can be hit or miss in this house; sometimes they’re predictable, and other times they land just right, particularly toward the end.
Universal Horror Hotel
In the 1920s, the Universal Horror Hotel opened its doors to tourists and stardom searchers. Soon after, a series of violent deaths were reported, and it was revealed that the hotel’s charismatic owner was to blame. He was tried and sentenced to death by gassing, but moments before the fumes hit him, he declared, “I’ll be back!” Decades later, the hotel was reopened for new guests, including you. As you navigate your way deeper and deeper into the hotel, you’ll find that the owner’s words might’ve actually come true.
Pros: Originally, the house used to serve as The Walking Dead Attraction, a year-round house themed to the Emmy award-winning show. Universal Horror Hotel uses the space well by making you feel like you’ve stepped into a real hotel. The rooms are spacious and lavish, and some of the effects are neat, including an effect involving a drowned ghost rising out of a tub. There are also a few rooms in which several actors pounce on you all at once, making you feel surrounded and helpless. The house’s backstory also helps give it that extra creep factor.
Cons: Between the rooms are several long hallways that can feel tedious to walk through. While the masks are fine, for the most part, the mask of the hotel’s owner looks a little too much like Two-Face, making you think this is some sort of off-brand Batman house. And unfortunately, while the house excited fans when it was first announced at Midsummer Scream, average HHN attendees might find it forgettable, especially when it’s sitting in the same park as Halloween and The Weeknd.
The Horrors of Blumhouse
In recent times, Halloween Horror Nights has opened houses in which guests can walk through a small collection of Blumhouse horror films. These houses, all titled The Horrors of Blumhouse, give attention to films that wouldn’t work as standalone houses but can work as part of a larger house. For this year, enter a shuttered Blumhouse video store to experience the body-switch horror comedy “Freaky” and the supernatural thriller “The Black Phone.”
Pros: While it isn’t the scariest house, The Horrors of Blumhouse is fun to walk through. The “Freaky” segment is especially entertaining: You might not get scared, but you’ll like it so much that you’ll come back for more. There’s one particular kill from the film that’s been perfectly recreated, and the final confrontation between Millie and the Blissfield Butcher near the end feels like the cherry on top.
Cons: The “Freaky” segment takes over almost the entirety of the house, leaving very little room for the following “Black Phone” segment. In fact, the “Black Phone” segment feels so short that it ends even before you realize it; had the house been solely based on “Freaky,” it might’ve been completely solid. The set design also feels much more simplistic than other houses.
The chilling tale of a woman who drowned her children and then herself has haunted children for generations, and now her story serves as HHN’s latest house. This is not the first time the deathly cries of La Llorona, the weeping woman, have been heard at the event. In 2011, La Llorona: Villa de Almas Perdidas sent you to a rural Mexican village haunted by the infamous spirit. The house was so popular that it returned the next year as La Llorona: La Cazadora de Ninos before hibernating for 10 years. Now the hibernation is over and La Llorona returns to claim more victims.
Pros: If disturbing imagery makes you squeamish, don’t go into this house. La Llorona has some of the most horrifying scenes at Halloween Horror Nights, like a bedroom where La Llorona has burst through the ceiling and is devouring a struggling child. The masks and makeup in the house are some of the event’s very best, both very visceral and unsettling. Through the house, you might catch the narrations of an old woman who speaks of La Llorona, making you feel like a child listening to your grandma late at night.
Cons: The only real flaw of the house is that, when compared to its 2011 and 2012 predecessors, it feels a tad bit short, mostly because the venue it sits in is smaller than others. Aside from this minor critique, the house stands well with its predecessors.
Universal Monsters: Legends Collide
In 2018, Halloween Horror Nights graced horror fans with one of their greatest houses, Universal Monsters, a get-together of some of horror’s most iconic figures like Frankenstein, the Mummy and Dracula. The house was such a hit that HHN has opened at least one house themed to Universal Monsters ever since. For this year, Universal Monsters returns with the Wolfman, Dracula and the Mummy, all of whom have arrived in Victorian London to seek the sacred Amulet of Ra to break their curses.
Pros: To most, monsters such as Dracula or the Mummy might seem tame by today’s standards, but Universal Monsters manages to give them a terrifying makeover perfect for modern audiences. The set design is some of the best at the event, from an overgrown graveyard to a large warehouse filled with priceless artifacts. If you love finding Easter eggs, the house has more than plenty: For example, scattered throughout are props from films such as 1999’s “The Mummy.” Also to consider is the original score, once again composed by Slash.
Cons: There are two black hall sections in the house, one in the middle and one at the very end. The middle one is the most problematic, as it’s quite long and distracts from the story. The story itself can come across as a bit incomprehensible to those unfamiliar unless you watch the preshow at the front of the house. The three iconic monsters, which were advertised to duke it out, only seem to do so at the very end. And while Slash’s music is as great as ever, it feels like mere background noise when compared to previous years.
The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare
The mind of The Weeknd has unraveled itself for you. Watch as the music of his “After Hours” album springs to life in the most disturbing fashion. Familiar hits such as “Blinding Lights” and “Save Your Tears” overwhelm you as you pass by grotesque imaginings only The Weeknd could conjure. You’ll be dancing, but you’ll also be screaming.
Pros: Fans were skeptical of The Weeknd’s appearance at HHN, but fortunately, with its secret magic, Universal turned a property with low expectations into a fantastic house. Surrealist scenery reminiscent of a David Lynch production and a distinct lineup of monsters makes one feel as though they’ve stepped into a mad visionary’s dream … or nightmare. And with the vocals of The Weeknd to guide you, this house is as scary as it is fun to enjoy.
Cons: Unless you’ve watched The Weeknd’s music videos, this house may come off as a bit confusing or random. It’s also not the scariest, as it relies more on scenery than scares.
Scarecrow: The Reaping
At a dilapidated farm devastated by the Dust Bowl, the scarecrows, silent watchers of the land, have been awoken by vengeful forces to take back the soil. The farmers are helpless as the scarecrows take them, mutilate them, and begin the macabre process of turning their flesh into straw and their skin into burlap. It’s going to be a bloody harvest this season.
Pros: The crown jewel of Halloween Horror Nights, the theming for this house is next level. Every square inch has been meticulously cared for with gorgeous detail — a true work of art. Once you leave the house, you’ll be going back in hopes of spotting a detail you might’ve missed earlier. Unnerving sights like dangling intestines and dead farmers strung up like scarecrows make you squirm; the pungent aroma of hay and manure surrounds you, and gnarled, sentient scarecrows leap out at every corner brandishing sickles and axes. You won’t be forgetting this one for a long time.
Cons: To be honest, finding any real flaws with this house is difficult. The only real “flaws” of the house are that it isn’t as claustrophobic as Orlando’s counterpart from Halloween Horror Nights 27 and that the theming completely overshadows every other house.
The Terror Tram
The demented clown Hollywood Harry returns to the Terror Tram and he invites you to attend his Halloween party. There will be costumes, pumpkins, and of course, plenty of candy. There will also be plenty of violence, but don’t let that turn you away. The scares don’t end once you leave — or escape — because this year’s Tram comes with a special addition: a walk through the Jupiter’s Claim set from Jordan Peele’s “Nope,” overtaken by the Tethered from “Us.”
Pros: The Halloween characters we grew up with, from sheet ghosts to black cats, have been given a terrifying twist only Halloween Horror Nights could produce. The Tram has sections dedicated to each, and they’re all a fun romp to walk through. Plus, if you’re willing to wait for it, you can take a picture with Norman Bates in front of the “Psycho” house. But the Tram’s strongest part has to be the “Nope” set with the Tethered. You’ll feel powerless as the Tethered slash their way through everyone they see fit, from frightened Jupiter’s Claim staff to you.
Cons: The “Nope” and “Us” section completely overshadows the rest of the Tram, making it feel like an afterthought. The sections are fun in themselves, but they feel brief and like a bit of a downgrade from previous years.