A Full Tour of Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights!

ON

Saw, Wolfman mazes described

Much like its depraved Los Angeles counterpart, the “Halloween Horror Nights” month-long event that transforms Orlando, Florida’s Universal Studios theme park from the noisy, pulsing, tourist-riddled energy crack den it is into a shadowy haven for wandering ghouls and grinning pumpkins is taking a large chunk of its inspiration from modern-day monsters and maniacs this year.

Under the theme “Ripped from the Silver Screen,” and under the creative eye of Michael J. Roddy, eight haunted house attractions were erected, all unique from the Los Angeles “Halloween Horror Nights.” That’s a coup for visitors and locals as Orlando’s presentation is significantly larger than what occurs on the west coast! In addition, there are six “scare zones” guests will ultimately wander through – there’s no avoiding them or the killers, cannibals, mutants and freaks that populate them – all, again, distinctively themed.

On a humid Friday night, where the oppressive heat never let up, this writer was invited down to the park to experience the drunken, sweaty bacchanal that was opening night – where the actors who worked the mazes and scare zones put their training to the test and tried to terrify the living shit out of the liquor ‘n a plastic cup-carrying guests (that’s a big difference between Orlando and Los Angeles, the former offers booze). A helpful tip – while I’m not one to shy from a beer or two during an event like this, I’ll say it doesn’t heighten the experience any as every house is a sensory overload as it stands and asks that you keep your wits about you. Plus, hydration (i.e. water) is helpful when traversing the expanse of the massive park. But if booze is your bag (and your of age), rock on.

The park opened at 6pm, with the sun slowly setting in the sky. Not exactly conducive to the frightening atmosphere so I fueled up with some dinner on the park grounds with my guides and hit the mazes around nine. That’s when I found things to really be in full swing. Led by park employee David – a patient soul, I have to say, who braved the crowds (they were expecting 13,000 people tonight; 40,000 on a busy night in October) – I started at square one and spent the subsequent two and a half hours awed by the craft Roddy’s crew brought to the 2009 attraction slate.

Another brief note: The crowds were thick so allot more time than I did if you wish to hit all of the mazes. Or, snag a front of the line pass.

Rather than just rattle off the maze experiences in order, I’m instead going to rank them in the order of my favorite to least favorites. All had their merits and all should be experienced, however, some had more of a bite than the others.

1.) Leave it to Cleaver: A bone-chilling and sardonic take on an archetypal 1950’s town. Except this one is beset by cannibals – knife-wielding locals who doo-wop to a sinister groove and prey on hapless transients and town lawbreakers (as the story goes). It appears the townsfolk here are in on a giant human harvesting scheme, slaughtering all in the name of Sam Meetz’s successful butcher shop. It’s Motel Hell by way of Parents and Leave it to Beaver (where the moniker of this maze gets its cue from). Guests walk through the maze tormented by anonymous, grinning mask-wearing psychos (some in my group thought they looked like The Strangers). Here, poodle skirt cuties rave about Meetz’ meat while one innocent striped shirt tyke giggles as he hacks away at a pig hung over a bucket to catch the blood. Especially creepy was the sight of a long hallway from which a butcher, again wearing a mask, casually saunters out of the shadows. Subtle and eerie. Naturally, blood coats every room and those with weak stomachs are bound to gag over the site of beef jerkied corpses, especially as they pass through the meat locker. The maze ends in – where else? – Sam Meetz’s nondescript meat shop and yes, Sam is here…and he’s not alone. Unexpectedly, this was the pick of the litter for me and not based on a film, although I think the idea is ripe for the screen.

2.) Saw: It’s no surprise that the meanest maze on the lot was based on the Twisted Pictures franchise. I imagined this one as a frothing, sneering punk rocker with steel toe boots who came to the party looking for a fight just out of pure shock value. And it doesn’t disappoint on its promise. It’s also no surprise that this was the maze with the longest line (75 minute wait read the sign out front). There’s no story arc per se, as the maze plays more as a “Jigsaw’s greatest hits.” Most of John Kramer’s devices are on display, and most have real actors strapped into them. The reactions you have to each will be myriad, for sure. Disgust (a scalped girl screams for you help), amusement (Billy rides in on his tricycle for a brief caveat) and…well, I wasn’t sure what to do when I turned a corner and found a shirtless obese man sulking in a room of barbed wire. When the strobe light started to flash and he started to scream, I booked it out of there. The now-iconic look of Jigsaw in his black and crimson robe with the pig mask, an intimidating guise that works on film and works even better when it’s leaping out at you from a corner. Every room is thick with detail – steel, rust, blood, agony…big kudos for capturing the visual language we’ve come to expect from the Saw films. Although Los Angeles’ “Halloween Horror Nights” has a Saw maze, too, I’m told it’s different.

3.) Silver Screams: An attraction for those with short attention spans delivers quick bursts of fun. Enter an old theater and greet your guide, a pallid uniformed creep who directs you through a series of scenes from familiar films. Think Waxwork, except you’re walking into the world of Army of Darkness (the Pit Witch sequence), The Strangers, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Shawn of the Dead (you’re in the Winchester!) and Phantom of the Opera. Each vignette is introduced with a poster hanging in the hallway. And each design is done up in a ‘30s and ‘40s fashion – too cool. This was a totally unexpected maze so there was a certain thrill of watching an Ash clone, chainsaw buzzing, taking on the Pit Witch or walking into a quaint Texas home and seeing the Man in the Mask from The Strangers step into the kitchen.

4.) The Wolfman: Based on the upcoming remake of the same name (not the ‘41 Lon Chaney, Jr. film), the frights were limited in this attraction but I’ll give it big points for gothic atmosphere. The journey begins in the woods where the locals of a gypsy camp are terrified. Pressing onward, one is taken through – I believe – a number of major set pieces from the Benicio Del Toro film: a crypt (where there’s a sly nod to An American Werewolf in London), the Talbot mansion and an insane asylum – all while being chased by the titular beast. The actors they hired to played Anthony Hopkins’ Talbot look the part and you can’t help but grin when one of them comes at you and screams “You’ve done terrible things. Terrible, terrible things!” Now I can’t wait to see the film so I know what “terrible things” he’s referring to.

5.) Dracula: Legacy in Blood: The infamous bloodsucker, essayed for Universal by Bela Lugosi, is seeking a harem of brides to carry on his legacy. In this maze you’re transported from the mountains of Transylvania – where bodies are found skewered on spikes – into the heart of his castle where vampire vixens claw and hiss at you, many wearing the funeral gown Sadie Frost dons in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Old school frights abound and you come to find out what happens to the girls, kidnapped by Dracula, who do not want to live for eternity.

6.) Frankenstein: Creation of the Damned: Situated next to the “Dracula” maze is this “sequel” to Bride of Frankenstein, following the destruction of the Frankenstein castle. The good doctor is back at work and his latest creations are set free to roam the maze. Production design here is exciting, but the first half of the trip through the maze is rather dull. There are not too many jump scares that work either.

7.) The Spawning: Part Humanoids from the Deep and part C.H.U.D.. The sewer environments of this maze are not particularly inspired, but they do yield a few decent scares from actors dressed in creature suits. What’s notable about the maze is the palpable and building claustrophobia one experiences as the creatures slowly disappear and you’re forced to push through sewage crap hanging from the ceiling as the strobe lights assault you. It’s a sweet relief once you finally reach the exit.

8.) Chucky: Friends til the End: Chucky, poor Chucky. He finally gets a maze dedicated to his antics and it ultimately leads to disappointment – which is why it makes the bottom of my list. The story here is Chucky is back and he’s controlling an army of toys to menace you. Enter a toy warehouse filled with Good Guy boxes and coast through a number of environments dedicated to toy soldiers, a Barbie rip-off and “a barrel of monkeys.” It simply didn’t work for me. But apparently I was alone as I overheard a ton of people talking about how much they had being scared by the little runt.

Regarding “scare zones,” be sure not to miss “Apocalypse: City of Cannibals” (like The Hills Have Eyes) and “Lights, Camera, Hacktion,” where a film production has gone terribly wrong. I missed out on the Rocky Horror Picture Show: A Tribute – but I did find it amusing to see kids piling into the theater to hear Dr. Frank-N-Furter singing about transvestites.

“Halloween Horror Nights” Orlando runs from September 25 – October 31. Definitely worth the visit if you’re in the area. For ticket information click here!

Follow this link for more photos from the park’s opening night.




Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor