A recap of my Halloween Horror Nights 2021 experience and tips for newcomers looking to make the most of this incredible annual event.
The sun slowly drops below the horizon, covering Universal Studio Orlando in darkness.
Horror fans from around the world converge on the park as Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) welcomes the unexpected masses. Heavy metal guitar riffs mixed with a pounding synth score blare, fog moves across the streets, strobes and colored lights flash through the sky, and scary creatures roam the park looking for new victims.
2021 marks 30 years of HHN at Orlando, and the park boasts ten haunted houses, five scare zones, and two stage shows. There’s enough content at HHN to keep fans busy over multiple nights.
I spent one afternoon, and two nights roaming the haunted spaces of HHN and survived to tell the tale.
On my first day visiting Universal, the wife and I had the good fortune of doing the Behind-The-Screams tour.
This event brings fans behind the scenes of three HHN houses: Case Files Unearthed: Legendary Tales, Revenge of the Tooth Fairy, and the newest haunted house Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives.
The tour lasts approximately 3.5 hours and peels back the curtain on the horrors contained within the haunts. Not only does the Universal guide reveal the secrets of each house but tells fans the story of the house.
Fans may not realize, but the houses aren’t built just to scare fans; they tell a story from the time you step into the entrance until you exit.
For instance, The Bride of Frankenstein Lives’ story is that The Bride survived the explosion at the end of the movie, The Bride of Frankenstein.
She finds the body of the Monster and tries to revive him using the body parts of local villagers to repair damage from the explosion. Her experiments are met with failure, but she realizes that vampires are immortal and may hold the key to revising the Monster. The Bride captures the three brides of Dracula to experiment on their blood. At the end of the house, the Monster is revived, and the ultimate battle renews between The Bride and her mate, the Monster.
While the tour does reveal the secrets behind the scares, the best feature of Behind-The-Screams is the time to really look at the art design of the houses.
The creators and artists of these haunts put a lot of time and thought into every detail of the house. The tour gives fans the opportunity to see their fabulous work in the light of day and with the time to look in awe at their artistry.
This is especially insightful with a house like Case Files. There are handwritten notes by a character covering the walls of the house, as well as symbols and designs throughout that can be missed when going through when the attraction is open.
By going through the Behind-The-Screams tour, my wife and I gained a greater appreciation for the haunted houses and the work that goes into these attractions to delight and frighten fans.
The HHN event is an assault on the senses.
Outside, in the park, you’re hit with the pounding rhythmic music, lights, and fog. The number of fans in the park and the creatures that roam the streets are a feast for the eyes. It’s a taste of what happens when you enter one of HHN’s houses.
The houses are dark with just enough light to follow the creepy, twisting hallways. Like the scare zones outside, the houses engage all your senses. There are smells, strobes, fog, sometimes a spray when a character is killed in some gruesome way, jump scares galore, and such sights to behold.
I was able to go through nine of the ten houses over two nights.
I loved all the houses I visited, but there were definite favorites: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives, The Haunting of Hill House, Case Files Unearthed, and The Wicked Growth: The Realm of the Pumpkin.
Having visited HHN twice, the last time being 2014, I have some advice for visitors to this grand horror celebration — just a few tips I’ve picked up along the way. I’m sure there are more things to learn on future visits, and you may have your own HHN advice from previous visits. Combine all that knowledge together.
My tips for a fun HHN experience:
- If you can, buy the Express Pass. Believe me, when it’s late at night and your feet are numb, and the last house you want to visit has a one-hour wait in line, you will be thankful for that Express Pass.
- Download the Universal Resorts app. You can track the wait times of each haunted house via the app, and it updates in real-time.
- Get a map of the event. You can get one at the entrance or around the park. These are invaluable. Use the map to locate where houses are located together, and you can knock out 2 or 3 houses fairly quickly.
- Visit the Tribute Store. It’s more than a store, though there is a ton of merch. The Tribute Store is the history of HHN. Go inside and take your time looking at everything!
- Visit Monster’s Café! But don’t eat the food. Inside Monster’s Café, you can take a break off of your feet, watch classic Universal Monster trailers, and get a drink. The food borders on terrible and should be avoided.
Lastly, and most importantly, have fun. Interact with the Scare actors but don’t try to touch them. When you’re inside the haunted house, don’t grab or touch the props. I saw too many people reaching to touch models and prop pieces that move. You’re there to be scared and entertained, not make yourself part of the show. Look, don’t touch.
Universal HHN is one of the best haunt experiences horror fans can have. I spent two nights there and still didn’t see everything. I expect it would take up to a week to really see everything a season of HHN has to offer. I hope that you, dear readers, get the chance to visit HHN this year or in the future. I can’t encourage horror fans enough to check out this amazing event.
Make sure to read Morbidly Beautiful writer Dylan Russ’ review of his first time visiting HHN! Follow this link to read his recap of the event.