Home » Halloween Horror Nights 25: Does the Anniversary Live Up to the Hype?

    Halloween Horror Nights 25: Does the Anniversary Live Up to the Hype?

    Expectations ran high for the 25th.

    Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights has evolved from a three-night party into a 30-night extravaganza. Each year brings an entirely new lineup of thrills and chills, and the loyal fans spend a good portion of the year speculating and debating what the next event might hold. The Art and Design team (A & D) plays into the fans’ deep love and boundless curiosity in many ways, from creative and mysterious teasers of upcoming content through the alternate reality game within the event, Legendary Truth, which grows and evolves each year. 

    The expectations

    Expectations ran high for the 25th.

    With 2015 marking the 25th anniversary of Halloween Horror Nights, fan expectations went through the roof. A & D slipped us a huge reveal at the end of last year’s event, when they announced the return of killer clown Jack Schmidt, Halloween Horror Nights’ most popular icon ever. Over the intervening months, they gave us some other clues and promises, such as a tribute to the best of past Halloween Horror Nights’ and more blood than ever before. Speculation and rumors began flying, as everyone tried to piece together exactly what to expect.

    The drama

    The Purge replaced Scream at the zero hour.

    Yet one by one, the houses on the map were officially announced, along with brief descriptions of their content. And in every case, they matched the leak. Then something strange happened. Each reveal came right on schedule…until mid-August, when it was time to announce Scream. That day, and the days that followed, came and went without a word—beyond some cryptic Tweets from creative director Mike Aiello assuring fans that everything would be explained soon.

    For reasons that will probably never be fully revealed, Scream was dropped from the lineup. This was entirely unprecedented in the history of Halloween Horror Nights—after all, the house was built, the actors were cast, and marketing was imminently set to begin! Now they would have to start over from scratch with just weeks to go before opening night. The closest Halloween Horror Nights had ever come to something like this was after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001—and even then, it was a matter of changing blood to ooze, demoting the icon and bringing back the previous year’s, and changing the names of houses and scare zones. The rumor mill went nuts.

    Within days, the next house was officially announced—not Scream, but The Purge. The house was given an extreme makeover and all was right with the world. Meanwhile, marketing took the safe road and released materials from fast food cups to billboards with minimal advertising drawn only from what had previously been revealed.

    The extras

    The Scareactor Dining Experience was an added surprise.

    Despite the historic last-minute drama, Halloween Horror Nights completed the full event reveal near the end of August. All that was left was for fans to finally see the results for themselves. Then, Universal announced a couple of special events that truly demonstrated their commitment to their fans. First, a never before seen Scareactor Dining Experience that would allow guests to get up close and personal with a handpicked group of scareactors while enjoying a buffet dinner. It was originally announced for just a few dates, and was exclusively available to annual passholders. With the unexpected overwhelming response, more dates were quickly added and it was soon opened up to additional types of ticket holders.

    At the last minute, Universal also announced a special merchandise event for team members and annual pass holders. For the first time ever, the Twister Aftermath store was cleared of its regular merchandise and opened as a mini-museum and specialty shop for Halloween Horror Nights memorabilia. Team members and annual pass holders were invited to an exclusive sneak peek on Wednesday, September 16th. 

    My review

    The special events

    The merchandise event was truly special.

    If you have ever fought the crowds in the Universal Studios Store during Halloween Horror Nights, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that shopping in a small group of dedicated fans was simply amazing. No members of the general public, just a fun and relaxed group of people who love the event. We did not purchase any of the expensive limited edition collectibles, but clearly someone did—we heard that several items sold out that day!

    We had wonderful personalized interactions at the dining event.

    The Scareactor Dining Experience was an incredible experience with a very VIP feel. Held at the Monsters Café on certain event nights (we went September 19), it features elevated versions of many of the café’s regular dishes, along with some extras. You make your way through the line cafeteria-style, but are free to sample as many dishes as you like, and return as many times as you want. Nonalcoholic beverages are included, and beer is available for purchase.

    At the end of the dining period, we were released as a group to the soundstage houses. We got to Freddy vs. Jason at the same moment as those in the Stay and Scream holding pen, which made for a bit of a free for all, but it was still a nice gesture. Our only suggestion for next year is that they release Dining Experience guests about five minutes ahead of the holding pen.

    The houses

    RUN was a definite hit.

    Of course, the haunted houses are the major draw at Halloween Horror Nights, and this year features a stunning nine of them! One is a scene by scene repeat of a 2013 favorite, American Werewolf in London. My impression is that, though the wolf puppets have been upgraded, it was too soon to bring this one back. Still, if you consider it a bonus house, it’s not a bad addition.

    Insidious is one of the most frankly scary houses ever.

    Otherwise, the houses are extremely good this year. I’m personally tired of The Walking Dead, but the house is inventive and the scareactors are good. The Purge is tremendously well done, especially given the limited time they had to convert it from Scream. Insidious is probably the single scariest house I have ever seen. Both RUN and Asylum in Wonderland 3D have incredible effects that really up their game. Freddy vs. Jason actually changes depending on when you walk through, and the intensity is high. For me, in any other year, any of these houses could easily hit the top of my list. But this year, two houses stand head and shoulders above the others.

    Body Collectors: Recollections is actually a mashup of two of my favorite house themes of all time—the Body Collectors, previously featured in houses of the same name, and the inmates of Shadybrook Asylum, featured in the Psychoscareapy houses. I am absolutely in love with both sets of characters, and this house brings them together in a tremendously creative way.

    Jack Presents: 25 Years of Monsters and Mayhem is truly the fans’ house in every conceivable way. Featuring a stunning 15 separate rooms, the house brings together the most iconic elements and characters from the past 25 years in truly imaginative new ways. Even the icons who never fully saw the light of day are in their glory here, taking their rightful place among the rest of the icon characters. Those who have been to the event before are sure to be delighted, yet the house stands on its own for those who are new to Halloween Horror Nights.

    The scare zones

    Don't miss the mini shows in the scare zones this year!

    At one time, the streets were an absolutely vital part of the Halloween Horror Nights experience. When there were just a handful of haunted houses, the scare zones truly fleshed out the night. Along with the Festival of the Dead parade and numerous small shows, the scare zones helped bring the park to life (or would that be unlife?). In recent years, though, it’s been all about the huge stage shows and the haunted houses. The streets varied from so-so to really good, but they simply could not compete with the main attractions.

    Clowns with chainsaws have to be some people's worst nightmare.

    This year, Universal went old-school, pulling out all the stops to create street experiences that are absolutely integral to the event. From roaming bands of chainsaws (the classic drill team, the all-girl crew, and even a batch of killer clowns) to the twisted denizens of Scary Tales—Screampunk, the streets are filled with more scareactors than ever before. And several of the zones feature multiple mini-shows that lure guests back again and again.

    The shows

    Does it get any better than The Carnage Returns?

    Bill and Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure has been skewering pop culture and current events since 1992, and this year’s show does a masterful job of grounding itself in 2015 while tossing in numerous winks and nods to long-time fans. Even the show’s opening is a throwback to the way the very first Bill and Ted show opened.

    The Carnage Returns is a thoroughly modern twist on Jack’s Carnival of Carnage from the 2007 event. It feels like a tribute to one of the event’s most popular shows, but is far from a simple retread. Instead, it is amped up in every possible way, from the new and even bloodier kills to the Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics and aerial work. It does a great job of drawing guests into the event world, and provides an amazingly high energy backdrop even for those who are just passing by. 

    The verdict

    Fan favorite Chucky is back with his bride.

    It is impossible to please everybody, and this year’s event is no exception. But the majority of the complaints I’ve heard so far have to do with the crowds, the lines, and other factors outside of the actual content. Halloween Horror Nights 25 is, in my opinion, everything that a major anniversary should be: an exciting blend of new content, endless tributes to what has come before, and a no holds barred celebration of all things Halloween. Others may disagree, but for me, this year more than lives up to the hype!