E.A. Poe's "Nevermore" Haunted House: My Favorite
My wife, son, and his cousin just returned from an amazing Universal Orlando 4-day vacation. The highlight of the trip for me and the kids was the event known as Halloween Horror Nights which is pretty much regarded by horror fans as the sine qua non of Halloween experiences in the nation. As a rabid horror fan I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I have lived in Florida for over a decade, and have never attended. Needless to say, I was looking forward to October 14th with great anticipation, and my only worry was whether or not this mental build-up would lead to a huge let-down. I should not have worried; HHN's was all that and more.
For those of you completely unfamiliar with HHN here is a quick guide:
A. HHN is a special event held every fall at Universal Studios Orlando (not Islands of Adventure; now known as the Harry Potter Park).
B. HHN is not included in your daily park ticket. At 5:00pm, Universal Studios closes it's doors and kicks everyone out. I have read that some people try to hide in the park, but I have never heard of it being done successfully. Besides, the penalty would probably include being banned permanently from the park which is not worth the risk.
C. Cost: Not cheap. I paid over $100 a ticket because I opted for the Express Pass. In my opinion, you are simply wasting your time if you do not choose this feature. The average wait time on a Friday or Saturday night for each haunted house is over two hours. With the Express Pass you will easily see all of the houses in 4-5 hours. Without one, you will be lucky to see four houses; not to mention the sheer frustration of seeing people with these passes walk on by you hour after hour.
D. Start early. HHN open the doors at 6:30pm. Eat beforehand, and get into the park. Head straight for the houses. It matters not if the sun is still shining because the houses are totally light controlled. Later, when it gets dark, you can hit the Scare Zones which are simply not worth experiencing in the daylight as they are all outside. At night, they can be truly creepy. In the day, they are annoying.
E. Under no circumstances would I bring small children to this event. The minimum age I would recommend is 13-14, and even then you should make sure your young adult is not scared easily. The houses are intense, adult-themed experiences, and would be traumatic to a young child (I don't think they let children into the houses in any event).
Edgar Allan Poe is my favorite horror author, and I was excited to hear that HHN would have a Poe-themed house. It could have fallen flat on it's face, though, as Poe is not what I would call contemporary, and if handled incorrectly by a bunch of Rob Zombie wannabees this house could have been an absolute disaster. Fortunately, this was not the case. All of Poe's major works are represented, and even the smell of this house was pure Gothic horror. Awesome.
Nightingales: Blood Prey (5/5)
This house was a big surprise as I expected a hospital theme. Instead, you descend into a World War One trench and are attacked by ravenous beings from beyond. The soldiers also take shots at you. It was truly frightening. A twentys-somthing woman behind me actually hit me in the back several times (not hard, thankfully) while screaming her head off. The only reason I rate this a little lower than Nevermore is the theme (IMO, Poe can't be beat). Other than that caveat these two houses were the highlights of the night.
Saws N' Steam: Into the Machine (4/5)
The theme of this strange house was truly creepy. A mad scientist comes up with the idea to create a pollution free, steam-powered Utopian metropolis. The only problem is the steam power will come from unwilling human victims. In terms of graphic violence this house had no equal. Each room was littered with scenes that would make a serial killer queasy. Just a step below the first two in horror, and only just.
The In Between (3.5/5)
This house will probably be the favorite of non-horror fans simply because of it's gimmick. Yes, this house is presented in 3D, and if you love 3D, then this house would be near the top for you. For me, it was cool, but the horror just was not there. Not scary in the slightest, but the effect, I will admit, was pulled off successfully.
The Thing (3.5/5)
High hopes for this house based on the movie that was just released (Carpenter's is better, by the way). Overall, this house did what it was supposed to, but not much else. By far the loudest house in the park as you almost feel like you are in a heavy metal concert. It was a solid house, but nothing special.
Winter's Night (3/5)
Your traditional, Victorian-themed haunted cemetery comes to life. Pretty cool for such a well-worn theme. It was like Poe's "Nevermore", but with less scares. A couple of jumpy moments take it above simply average. Enjoyable, and the antithesis in theme from the "The Thing". Overall, slightly above average.
H.R. Bloodengutz Presents: Holidays of Horror (3/5)
Traditionally, horror movies are divided into two general categories: the first takes itself very seriously (think "The Exorcist") and the second doesn't (think "Chucky). This house ends up on the far end of the second kind. Campy horror humor can be funny if you have an open mind, and a strong stomach. My favorite moment: seeing a Thanksgiving turkey with all the trimmings; instead of turkey, though, you have an actual human being! The Indians getting back at the white man, I suppose.
The Forsaken (2.5/5)
Silly house. I really didn't like Carpenter's "The Fog" theme to begin with (the movie is great, but as an indoor haunted house?), and all of the characters looked the same. It was as if the team doing HHN ran out of ideas, and came up with this house. I actually saw a woman come out of this house in tears. I did, too, but for different reasons (just kidding).
Well, 7/8 would grade out as an "A", and that's what I would give HHN. It was an amazing experience in every way, and I will be back next year (draggin' the wife kickin n' screamin', but she loves me). Hope to see you there!