Originally written: October 21, 2014
So how did it all turn it out? Let’s delve right in.
I won’t spend too much time here, because frankly 95% of people reading this won’t care too much, but I feel like a few things need to be mentioned.
The event has reached a tipping point where it has gone from “busy” into “Gameday at the Swamp”. Worse, this is like a horrifying, Twilight Zone version of Gameday, where no one can afford to be properly intoxicated! Over the last few years, HHN has begun to get too popular for its own good, to the point where the queue for every house is 75+ minutes from 8 PM onward.
Crowding’s effects are felt most prominently in the streets, however. The back of the park is crowded, but the streets from the entrance back to The Mummy in New York are worse than fricking I-4. Everyone’s cramped together – which is annoying by itself – but it makes it nearly impossible for any atmosphere to be established. Set pieces and theming are routinely placed off to the side, so as to provide as little impedance to foot traffic as possible. Of course, this leaves the actors without much to hide behind besides the other guests, leading to reduced street scares.
While you can’t exactly fault corporate for boosting the popularity of their product, but you can blame them if the quality of the product continues to drop as a result, and nothing is done to fix it. If the number one thing that guests start taking away is that they waited in line all night and got to do only half of what they desired, popularity will drop.
HHN has to go to two parks, and soon. This has only been attempted once before, but now with increased revenue and experience, Universal is in much better position to pull it off properly. While the vast majority of the good house locations would likely still be located in Universal, another two houses could easily be added. The extra rides, as well, would thin lines out further. There would be extra dead space, but the scarezones that are present would be able to thrive with the reduced crowd-flow.
As a final unrelated note, I’d just like to point out how lazy it seems to me that Universal couldn’t even think up a tagline for this year. I know we’ve kind of reached a point where a theme, icon, or any kind of interconnectivity of the haunts is forgotten, but how hard would it be to think up something – anything – to tack on to “HHN 24” to remember it by? I think it’s the first year they’ve ever done this, though I’m sure I’m the only one who’s concerned about it.
Thank God, scarezones are back. No one – no one – can look me in the eye and tell me that they liked hearing the theme music for The Walking Dead playing on loop for 8 hours last year, as they ventured through an endless montage of photo-ops. Though none are spectacular, this return to what works is a big plus for this year, and it gives us the best street experience since 2011.
This zone takes guests through a creepy, everlasting masquerade ball, where the dancers – still stuck in a surreal dance – have long-since begun to rot away. It yields some of my favorite costumes of the entire event – most of the dancers have either crudely stitched their skin back into place, or they’ve made their ball room masks out of the more youthful faces of unfortunate interlopers. The set pieces could use some work – I like massive candles with the blank human expressions melted into the wax, but is that really it for this zone? Perhaps Universal doesn’t want to drop in too many obstacles in this high traffic street (which is a direct funnel to all four soundstage haunts). If that’s the case, however, then I’d rather they just move zones like this to nearby streets where they can be fully realized, even if it forces guests to travel a little out of their way to see them. In spite of their disadvantages, the actors do bring just enough energy to keep this one interesting.
Atmosfear: C+ Characters: A Design: C Intensity: B-
Face Off: In the Flesh *Zone of the Year*
This is based off the SyFy reality TV show, not the movie where Nicholas Cage and John Travolta wear each others faces for two hours (unfortunately…). The TV show is basically a horror make-up artist competition, and the zone showcases a lot of the better creations. I was frankly worried this would end up being a photo-op zone, but luckily I’d liken this more to 7 from 2011. The most impressive creations stand atop pedestals, generating a lot of interest and pictures. Their minions, however, weave in and out of the crowd, attacking anyone who distracted by the main attractions on the pedestals. Much to my own bewilderment, it’s the most all-around solid zone this year, and gets the nod for Zone of the Year.
Atmosfear: B Characters: A Design: B Intensity: B
The Purge: Anarchy
Atmosfear: B+ Characters: C+ Design: C Intensity: B
Bayou of Blood
Atmosfear: A Characters: B Design: C+ Intensity: C-
From Dusk ‘Till Dawn
Story: C+ Atmosfear: C+ Set Design: B Intensity: B
The Walking Dead: End of the Line
Story: D+ Atmosfear: C+ Set Design: C+ Intensity: C+
AVP: Alien vs. Predator *Honorable Mention*
Story: B+ Atmosfear: B- Set Design: A- Intensity: A
Dracula Untold: Reign of Blood
Story: C Atmosfear: A+ Set Design: C+ Intensity: C
Giggles & Gore, Inc.
Story: B- Atmosfear: C Set Design: C- Intensity: C+
Halloween *Co-House of the Year*
If creepy and detailed atmosphere is your thing, just keep walking – Halloween doesn’t give much of a damn about these subtle nuances. This house only knows how to attack repeatedly, and without mercy. The sets here are among the event’s most basic and uninspiring. Granted, the movie takes place in a house, so it’s not exactly providing a lot of rich visual scenes to draw from, but even so, it really feels like HHN forgot to fill in a hell of a lot of blanks. Now, while I said these sets were simple, I did not say they were ineffective. In fact, Halloween puts on a clinic of effective set design, overwhelming guests with misdirection, ambient noise, and clever hiding locations for the cast. A great example of this is the winding hallway of hanging linens, where every individual closet door rattles as if an actor stands right behind it. Only about two or three hold an actual Michael Myers. The cast is bar-none the best at Horror Nights this year. None of their appearances are half-assed – if they’re there, they’re coming full throttle, with a booming sound-effect to maximize the effect. It’s one of, if not the, house to see this year. Can’t miss.
Story: B- Atmosfear: C Set Design: A+ Intensity: A+
Dollhouse of the Damned *Co-House of the Year*
Story: B Atmosfear: A+ Set Design: A Intensity: A
Roanoke: Cannibal Colony
Story: B Atmosfear: B- Set Design: B- Intensity: C
Halloween Horror Nights 24 does a lot of things well. The return of scarezones is a return to form for an event that has struggled with a repetitive and lackluster street experiences the last two years. The quality of the houses is very evenly distributed this year, pretty much ensuring you won’t catch anything truly disappointing. However, the “wow” factor is a little hard to come by this year – I find a lot of the houses to be very good, but there’s not one I can point to that really knocked me flat. The overall quality of the sets seems like it took a step backwards this year too, with the exception of Dollhouse and Dracula. I will say that I found myself more on edge in most of the houses than I usually do – and a lot of that has to do with the fact sprawling, wide sets have been abandoned this year.
I had more fun at this year’s HHN than I’ve had in years. As always, it has my recommendation. Still, from an objective point of view, I wouldn’t list it as one of the best in the last ten years. It’s a solid year all around, but considering the lack of truly memorable houses or zones (or even a tagline), this might be a year we struggle to remember more than most.
Overall Grade: B-