Preview: Halloween Horror Nights 2010 scare zones, initial thoughts, and plenty of nostalgia

in Events, Theme Parks, Universal Orlando, Universal Studios Florida

Last night I attended Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights 2010 employee preview (as a guest). Dubbed an “Advance Screaming,” Universal uses this preview night to test out their haunted houses, scare zones, and shows on a large scale audience full of their own employees (team members) before the event grand opens to the public this Friday, Sept. 24.

During the three-and-a-half hour sneak peek of the twentieth year of Halloween Horror Nights, I explored this year’s 6 all-new scare zones and 5 of the 8 haunted houses. I’ll hold my complete event report and review until after opening night, as this preview is a technical rehearsal, both for special effects and for the actors, so not everything I saw was exactly as it should be. But given that, I can still safely say that Halloween Horror Nights 20 has turned out to be one of the best years in the event’s recent history.

It seemed to me that the scare zones were all well-rehearsed and mostly ready to go, so I bring to you a video summary of all six, spending the most time focusing on the icons presented in the “HHN: 20 Years of Fear” and “Fear Revealed” zones:

This year’s event is largely about its own history. Its icon, Fear, is the master of five Horror Nights icons from the past. Two scare zones and a full haunted house are devoted to bringing back fan favorites from previous years of the event. And there was plenty of nostalgia to be found. Within the Hallow’d Past house, it was as if the designers had read my mind as to which haunted house scenes and characters I wanted to see return – nearly all of them were all back.

I found it wonderful to see Jack the Clown, the Director, and other characters stopping to pose for pictures this year. These icons have been brought back because fans have fond memories of visiting Halloween Horror Nights during their years and getting a picture with them now is the ultimate keepsake.

HHN: 20 Years of Fear scare zone

Jack the Clown in HHN: 20 Years of Fear scare zone

The Usher in HHN: 20 Years of Fear scare zone

The Director in HHN: 20 Years of Fear scare zone

Jack's partner in HHN: 20 Years of Fear scare zone

The Fear Revealed “scare zone” (more of a small street show than a scare zone) was the only place I actually saw Fear himself. His presence was massive and impressive in that street zone, but I wanted him to actually scare me, not just stare at me. Perhaps I’ll receive more fear from Fear on Friday. But his minions are a nice touch, worshipping the ground he walks on, complete with glowing faces.

Fear and his minions

Beyond the nostalgic areas, Halloween Horror Nights XX is full of plenty of exciting new ideas for haunted house visuals, the likes of which I have never experienced before. Out of the five houses I visited tonight, I rank Legendary Truth the highest in originality and technical achievement and Catacombs the highest in scare factor. But I haven’t been through Havoc, Hades, or Zombiegeddon yet, nor have I experienced any of the houses in their ready-for-primetime form, so further review will come in a couple days.

But Saws n’ Steam was easily my favorite scare zone (for now), not only because I heard strains of a Nine Inch Nails song playing in the background, but also because it is somewhat of a small haunted house unto itself. Scenes play out, costumes are elaborate, and the ever-popular chainsaw gang is back and better than ever. But beware, you may find yourself bumping into others in the dense fog and this steamy world is not without a few gushing pipes as well.

Saws & Steam scare zone

Following closely behind is Zombie Gras, a turned-on-its-head version of Universal’s annual Mardi Gras parade in which one of their parade floats has crashed and its performers are all now zombified and after your flesh. The actors in this area were some of the best I saw all night, melding their smooth Mardi Gras-style body movements with the jerky, spastic movements of a brain-seeking zombie.

Zombie Gras scare zone

Zombie Gras scare zone

And every so often, in true Mardi Gras form, the zombies in the street run up to the crashed parade float yelling for beads to be thrown to them. Another nice touch.

Zombie Gras scare zone

For a complete report from Halloween Horror Nights 2010, including all haunted houses, scare zones, and shows, return here after it officially launches on September 24. And throughout opening night, follow @insidethemagic on Twitter and/or on Facebook for live updates.

More photos from Halloween Horror Nights 2010 scare zones:

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