Unfortunately there are no pictures from the next part of the report. It was gonna be dark, I expected to be drinking a bit, and I pretty much just didn't wanna be bothered with the camera. I'll just go ahead and paste the review I wrote up in the official HHN thread for posterity, if nothing else.
Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights 21
First off, I'm not the biggest Halloween-type person. It's cool and all, but it's not necessarily the highlight of my year. With that said, this was the one event I had been wanting to experience for quite some time. I've read glowing reports for years and years, and have watched it grow into the juggernaut that it is today.
I've also read the not-so-glowing reviews from recent years about its slow demise. Put it all together, and I wasn't quite sure what to expect as a HHN virgin. Well, if there's one word to sum up my whole experience, it's "anticipointment."
Don't get me wrong, we still managed to have a great time with some great friends. However; for what I paid, I feel like I really got bent over by Universal (I suppose the house did indeed win). The one thing that still holds up is what everyone continues to be 100% correct about - the Express Pass. If you're only visiting once, and it happens to be on a typically busy evening........BUY IT. There is absolutely NO way we could've done everything without it.
Our visit was not unlike many others you've read about. We met up around official park opening time, got several houses done before darkness and bigger lines, ate some stuff, rode HRRRRRRRRRR, saw Bill & Ted, MiB, did the rest of the houses/scare zones, went back and did a few more again (this time with Express Pass), took a spin on Mummy, then left.
Anyway, here's my thoughts on the houses, from favorite to least favorite:
1. Nightingales - Prior to our trip, this was my third most anticipated house. We did it once early in the evening, and then again right before we left. On our first trip through I was blown away by the set and the atmosphere it created. I LOVED the story, the noise, and the general creepiness of it all. Unfortunately, it somehow felt a little flat in the scare department.
Our second visit through was a HUGE improvement though! This time it all just "worked." I realize these things can be hit or miss, and I left feeling really happy that I caught this one at the right time, thus cementing it's place as my favorite of the night.
2. Nevermore - I'm a Poe fan. In reading many of the reports from this year, I realize this fact helps dramatically. I'm also a huge fan of subtle scares. I don't always need scare actors jumping out from behind a plywood board. I appreciate a "feeling" of fright, and that's what this house delivered. Just walking past Poe standing there looking at you with a menacing look gave me a shiver or two. And the "Masque of the Red Death" scene? Top notch!!
3. Forsaken - This was my most anticipated house. The backstory had SO much potential, but the execution of it left a lot to be desired. On the other hand, the set and the atmosphere helped out a ton.
4. Winter's Night - This is about where I expected this house to fall....right in the middle of the pack for me. As most agree, the set design was amazing, and the atmosphere they created was pretty impressive. The execution, again, just left me wanting a bit more.
5. Saws N Steam - I'm really warming up to the whole Steam Punk thing. I think this is another house with a story that had some potential, but didn't quite deliver for some reason. I really dug the vibe around this one though.
6. Blood N Guts - Again, I liked the theme, I just thought the scares were pretty lame. Piers may have been the highlight of this house. You're welcome.
7. The Thing - I've heard some folks talking about the buildup to the final scene, but I'm not gonna tell you anything about it......but that's because I don't remember a damn thing about it either, other than sub-par costumes.
8. In-Between - You wear cheap 3D glasses for a few minutes.
Scare zones - I thought they were all pretty lame, except for the acid rain thing -the crumbling building effects were awesome. Oh, and I can't forget the black tarp-covered chain link fences of death. Oh, the horror (and comedy of it all)!!!
Bill & Ted - I have very limited resources to pull from regarding shows of the past, so my opinion may not be worth much here. All things considered, I thought it was pretty fun. Music, sarcasm, adult themes/language, explosions, and chicks? Put that up against any other theme park show and it's kinda hard to knock it, right? It was fun. No need to dissect it or get too critical, so I'll leave it at that.
Overall, my first impression of HHN was a mixed bag. There were some highs, lows, and some "mehs." What struck me the most is the short amount of time it took for me to clearly see what the die-hard fans are so concerned with. It literally only took a couple of houses to realize what now seems to plague this event.....it's a victim of its own success.
For years it seems to have been "edgy" enough amongst competitors to carve out it's own unique niche in the industry. Along with that came the accolades ("Best Halloween Event" - Amusement Today, Hauntworld, etc., etc.), and given the corporate nature of things (insurance, security, safety for scare actors, etc.) it just seems like the company is willing to put it in neutral and coast for a while.
And that's a shame really. I'm not opposed to paying a premium price for a premium service/product, but that's clearly NOT what I thought I got from my first visit. Even so, as said before, it helps when you're surrounded by a great group of friends!
Displaying "Online Enthusiast Morality" since 2006, with 99.9% more sarcasm.