OK, it's time to ramp things up a bit. Out with the cutesy and in with the gory! On the the 21st Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando!
This is my favorite theme-park event. Last year's event was a bit "off," with no particularly memorable houses, weak scare zones, and a really bad Bill & Ted show. This year was a definite step up with much better (if somewhat familiar) houses, slightly improved scare zones (not outstanding, but OK), and a slightly better (as in I didn't want to gouge out my eyes and fill my ears with hot candle wax) Bill & Ted show. The whole "Lady Luck" theme didn't come off. I was on the RIP Tour, where William (our excellent guide) explained the concept of how Lady Luck appears throughout history, and each house involves a moment when someone's luck could be either good or bad (mostly the latter) based on the the choices he makes. It seemed a bit thin for a theme--and it doesn't bode well if it has to be explained in detail. ("Icons" like Jack the Clown and Director are easier to understand without a lot of back story.)
The houses, as is usually the case with Universal, are beautifully designed with very elaborate sets (even in the "tent" houses) and atmosphere to burn. I didn't think there was a real "bummer" in the bunch, but here they are from best to worst:H. R. Bloodengutz Presents "Holidays of Horror"--
A fired horror-movie-show host gets his revenge on his nasty station manager by making his former boss suffer through some demented "holiday" movies. We've seen plenty of movies and mazes that use Halloween themes to rape and strangle Christmas, Thanksgiving, and even St. Patrick's Day, but how many have tackled Arbor Day? This maze is largely played for laughs, and I enjoyed it thoroughly--beware the living trees!Nevermore: The Madness of Poe--
I've always been a fan of Edgar Allen Poe's stories and poems, and this maze really delivered the gothic atmosphere (especially the "Masque of the Red Death" room). I like how the house was a sort of a "tour" of Poe's sick mind, although Busch Gardens Tampa's approach to the same subject matter was effective, too (more on that later).Winter's Night: The Haunting of Hawthorn Cemetery--
Here's a another 19th-century gothic maze, and a more "traditional" ghost story, complete with bitter cold, "snow," and restless spirits. Good, old-fashioned fun (like walking through a haunted-house movie from the 1930s or '40s).Nightingales: Blood Prey--
WWI nurses turn out to be vicious demons who feed on pain and suffering in this maze, which takes you into the trenches and field hospitals of the 20th century's first major conflict. It's a good maze with plenty of scares, but it did seem a little derivative of the Collectors mazes from past HHNs. Saws 'n' Steam: Into the Machine--
There's lots of noise and water in this Industrial Age nightmare, where guests become unwitting fuel for a monstrous machine that provides power to the privileged few. An interesting idea that builds on a steam-punk scare zone from last year (even KD's Haunt has a steam-punk zone this year).The Forsaken--
In a way, this is another "holday" maze--sort of John Carptenter's The Fog
meets Columbus Day. A garrison at a 14th-century Spanish fort is massacred by the vengeful spirits of a fourth ship abandoned by Christopher Columbus back in 1492. Although the sameness of the scare actors gets a bit monotonous (they all wear armor and have glowing green eyes), the stormy atmosphere makes up for it (you will get wet).The In-Between--
A hapless college student stupidly opens a vortex to another dimension in this "3D" house. I'm not that crazy about 3D mazes, but this one is fairly amusing, although I think they could've made it an evil clown maze with just a few minor changes--still plenty of fun.The Thing--
This house is "meh" at the beginning, but builds to a fairly strong finish (which is probably where most of the budget went). Still, it was the weakest maze of the night.
Here's a tip--if you want to have extra fun on your RIP Tour, go with Renee and Allison. Those two will scream if they see a random piece of paper on the ground.
Here's a look at HHN. I tried to used my flash as little as possible to take more "atmospheric" (that is, blurry) pictures. So, it's not your eyes. It's my meagre photographic skills.