You walk into a part of Universal Studios Orlando separated from the big shiny attractions by a series of giant posters. One may show a vintage styling of a werewolf howling, another hoards of zombies. Horror icons leer at you from above, pleased that you’ve chosen to enter.
You check your bag and step into a benign-looking area. There are souvenirs, snacks and shirts for sale. But why’s that woman on the bench catching her breath?
Twenty steps to the right and the answer become clear.
The lights have suddenly dimmed, and you’ve entered a misty pumpkin patch with evil scarecrows and monsters walking around like it’s totally normal. The theme park is lost behind you. It’s Halloween now.
The only way is forward. The crowd, mostly couples and groups no more than four each, shrieks with delight when a scare actor (a special seasonal employee trained in the art of scaring people) dressed as a fairy jumps out and yells, “Boo!” You laugh at how silly they look. But then a snake demon snarls in front of you and you almost pee yourself.
You’ve made it past the first Scare Zone. The real frights are waiting for you up ahead in mazes, erected as tributes to Leatherface, Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and every other villain or monster that scared you senseless as a kid when you watched them on VHS. They’re all here, waiting.
You down a cocktail named blood and guts, then find yourself saying, “Let’s do this.”
Halloween Horror Nights (or HHN, as it is lovingly called by fans) is celebrating 26 years as a horror attraction in 2016. It began in 1991 as a temporary event called Fright Nights, with shows above its now signature horror mazes. It has since expanded to almost two months across four theme parks, each with a particular style. HHN Singapore is dark and grisly. HHN Japan is campy, with houses like Jason’s Bloody Diner. HHN Hollywood loves flashy horror (they’re the ones hosting a Scare Zone centered around The Purge: Election Year).
HHN Orlando is all of the above, but has a more fun overtone to it all. Yes, you’re coming to a special pocket of Universal Studios to get scared. But there are people laughing all around you as everyone from horror fanatics to friends looking for something different to do pull each other along to the next maze. It feels like Halloween Town from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Harmless, but creepy.