Reviewed: Halloween Horror Nights 2018 haunts part 1 – home grown houses

in Artwork, Haunted Attractions, Immersive, Parties, Theme Parks, Universal Orlando, Universal Studios Florida

With the recent September 14th launch of Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights 2018, the season of spooky boo is officially underway!  This ultimate annual eerie event, with its 80’s overtones, drew thousands of brave guests eager to experience opening weekend haunts.

Inside the Magic survived the monsters, mazes and mayhem, ready to spread the wicked word about all the fiendish fun.  Ranked and reviewed, we’ll unveil Halloween Horror Night’s record 10 haunted houses, 5 scare zones, and its troupe of terrorizing chainsaw performers.

The creative minds behind Halloween Horror Nights ghoulishly gifted fear fans with more macabre madness for the 28th return of this wicked wonder to the grounds at Universal Studios Florida.  A record total of ten treacherous tales of terror take form for this year’s fiendish fall festival (the most ever for HHN).  In addition to a quartet of cleverly crafted outdoor scare zones, five licensed properties, also known as intellectual properties (or IPs) and five home grown mazes (original content) have descended around the theme park.

While the IP houses spawn familiar fears from favored films and television shows, Universal’s creative team really shines with their in-house haunts. Many of the macabre mazes have taken on a life of their own, returning with new twists over the years.  2018 enjoys two such sequels with the return of Scary Tales and Dead Exposure.  Carnival Graveyard Rust in Pieces and Slaughterhouse Cinema have the added benefit of eerie “Easter eggs” hidden along the way. Seeds of extinction, also peppered with recognizable references, removes the human factor for foliage fueled fear.  Each of these haunts have their own merits and monsters, all five are reviewed and ranked below (WARNING: spoilers ahead) . . .

5. Dead Exposure: Patient Zero  “Fear will infect you, plunging you into darkness against a plague of swarming, fast-moving zombies.” –Universal

Dead Exposure, with its fear focused upon entering the photographic realm, first framed its nightmares by exposing final images of photographer Charlene McPherson and her encounters with ravenous zombies.  Just as the 2008 haunt used ultraviolet flashes of light to reveal monstrous manifestations, so does this year’s Patient Zero, reviving the ingenious camera-like experience.

Dead Exposure Patient Zero is more of a prequel. Keeping with the 1980’s theme of this year’s Halloween Horror Nights, this terror erupts in 1982, Paris France.  Here the zombie outbreak begins. . .in total darkness, again.

Strobe effects within can be disorienting with rapid fire photographic simulation stoking the confusion.  Thus, the frights are quick, creepy and effective, but seem to drag on for a bit too long.  While the nostalgia of seeing Dead Exposure return in an eighties setting is sure to appeal to fans of the original version, the unique fright device of this house is also a bit of a distraction.

4. Scary Tales: Deadly Ever After  “The Wicked Witch of the West has cursed the land of the fairies, twisting beloved stories beyond recognition. There are no fairytale endings here.” –Universal

Fatal fairy tale terrors first appeared as part the haunts of Halloween Horror Nights 11 (2001).  It featured appearances from The Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts, Big Bad Wolf and Pinocchio in nightmarish twisted versions of their fairy tale stories.  The original haunt won “house of the year” and returned as Scary Tales II the following year.  Scary Tales even received a Steampunk makeover in 2015 for its own scare zone.

For Scary Tales: Deadly Ever After, the Wicked Witch of the West has cast her spell over the realm, creating chaos and twisting these tales into true terror.  Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Goldilocks, the Three Little Pigs are among the creepy characters facing macabre misfortune.

The frights in Deadly Ever After both amuse and horrify at the same time (a perfect roller coaster of reactions).   Especially amusing, Scary Tales version of the Three Little Pigs (talk about growth hormones!).  Equally impressive, the Wicked Witch of the West makes a malevolent materialization from atop a boo-tifully crafted castle to kick off this trail of twisted terror tales.

3. Carnival Graveyard: Rust in Pieces  The caramel-coated carnivals of yesteryear have died, but something sinister has festered, waiting to torment those who trespass upon their salvage yard.” – Universal

Trespassers beware when entering this final resting place for traveling carnivals of days long past.  Filled with relics of rusted rides and amusements, the operators of these attractions haunt the wretched remains.

Lavishly dressed with scores of creepy carnival signs, parts and perils, walking through this maze in low light is eerie enough as it is.  A closer look reveals the corpses of captured intruders, labeled in blood lettered signs: “trespasser.”   Creatures in Carnival Graveyard lurk at every turn, though the frights are not overly intense, becoming more of shock and startle than full grown fear.

Kudos to the creepy kissing booth scene. However, the real star of this haunt is the decaying décor itself.  Eerily illuminated, perfectly placed parts from bygone rides, allow an ambiance of decay and foreboding affording Carnival Graveyard: Rust in Pieces its subtle spook sensations.

2. Seeds of Extinction  Humanity is extinct, wiped out by a cataclysmic meteor. In its wake something monstrous has taken root.” –Universal

No more near misses, it finally happened. The meteor that managed to make its mark on Earth brought with it the seeds of extinction for the human race.  Now overrun with perilous plant life, the planet vexing vegetation infestation.  Monster plants are everywhere, especially in the once bustling shopping mall which sets the stage for this well rooted horror.

Set dressing in Seeds of Extinction is di-vine! Monster man-eating plants hide in plain sight, ready to attack.  Peering predatory pods and larger than life creeping creatures give this plant powered house scores scares.  Urban decay delivers delightfully dark nightmares in an ivy-inspired immersive environment making this one of Halloween Horror Nights most imaginative and well-crafted haunts.

A must see to be-leaf, Seeds of Extinction not only delivers on the fright front, but also adds a few nods to prior haunts and icons:

1. Slaughter Sinema It’s showtime at the local drive-in, where you don’t just catch a movie; the movie catches you. When the credits roll, heads roll.” – Universal

B-movie brilliance with humor and horror ensures Slaughter Sinema shines! Projecting amusing yet gory vignettes of sinister schlock, this series of 1980’s style made up monster movies includes a swamp yeti, barbaric barbers, werewolf bikers, amazon cannibals and much more.

Brilliantly balanced, frightfully funny scares are offset by cleverly crafted movie posters which herald the horror to come.  Not only do these works of art reveal the film to found ahead, a closer look at each project’s production crew and cast might ring a bell or two (Jack Schmidt HAS been busy).

Central Florida horror guru, “the Dead Girl,” gives Slaughter Sinema rave reviews: “Slaughter Sinema is everything I love about B movies. It was fun and campy and gory. It had the feeling of being in a drive-in movie theatre but you were the cheese in this bloody sandwich. It was hands down my favorite independent house.”

All five of Halloween Horror Nights 2018 home grown houses deliver delightfully dark original haunts that fans have come to expect from this world-famous Halloween party.  Essentially the backbone of this exciting event, Horror Night’s original content, both the returning favorites and brand-new tales of terror, showcase amazing creative talent, slightly twisted imaginations and pure passion.

Halloween Horror Nights is a separately ticketed event at Universal Studios Florida in the Universal Orlando Resort.  Event dates, times, tickets and extras can be unearthed on the Halloween Horror Nights website.

Keep those shovels ready to unearth more haunted house reviews featuring Halloween Horror Nights’ franchises of fear.  Until then, keep the Jack-o-Lantern lit and the candy bowl full in preparation for more Halloween Horror Nights news from the friendly monsters at Inside the Magic.

Source and images: Halloween Horror Nights, Horror Happenings with The Dead Girl, YouTube

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