This year’s Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando, Florida, brings a full slate of horror—tapping into both familiar and original frights to realize the nightmares in its haunted houses. io9 was invited to visit all of them in one night on an “RIP Tour” with other members of the press; it was an adrenaline-charged sprint through the 2022 event.
Before the tour we got a special intro from Lora Sauls, Manager of Entertainment Creative Development and Show Director of Universal Studios Orlando. Sauls described this year’s offerings as a team effort that came from the collaborative stable of storytellers at the East Coast haunt, who are known to never rehash frights if they can help it. “We all get in a room and put down every idea like mad scientists, really,” shared Sauls. “All the ideas [get] written up on a whiteboard—it looks absolutely insane—[and] all the environments on another whiteboard. And there’s lines [connecting] all these things. Here, we feel with these intellectual properties, with these original content mazes, we have a really great slate because we want to be diverse. We want to have something for everyone. We don’t want to stay in one genre.”
This year leans heavily on the slashers. There’s a Blumhouse double feature house composed of Freaky and The Black Phone, offering straightforward interpretations of the recent horror flicks. The scares are slick, but more jumps than rooted horror due to both films being more in the thriller wheelhouse. It’s a little hard for a haunted house to translate the body-switch aspect of Freaky, which is about a teen inhabited by the spirit of a killer. Similarly, The Black Phone has a challenge with conveying why the Grabber (the child killer played in the film by Ethan Hawke) is particularly scary outside of the creepy design on his mask. Elsewhere, HHN’s Halloween attraction offers a new interpretation of the Carpenter classic; it’s the first time the Halloween house has featured the series’ iconic Final Girl, Laurie Strode, going head to head with Michael Myers. From a storytelling perspective, all of these houses were interesting to look at and the Boogeyman is never not scary.
The enthusiasm to elevate the art of the experience also could be seen in the Weeknd’s Afterhours Nightmare house, which felt like a horror movie version of some of the pop star’s biggest hits. Yes, there was a lightbulb hallway moment like the artist’s Super Bowl set, but what was so fascinating about the house was the way it transported you into different places that felt very different than the standard linear house design. At one moment, you’re in a classy, Kubrick-esque supper club with an actor performing as the Weeknd, who entertains you and lulls you into a sense of safety—then bam! You get a sudden fright from where you’d least expect. Major props to the “scareactors” in this one for really being able to read the room as they performed, distracting visitors and letting their castmates strike for maximum shrieks.
Everybody knows the Universal Monsters, but this year’s attraction isn’t just a re-telling of the classic movies—it builds on the stories while also giving us some epic showdowns and “what-ifs.” The Legends Collide house pits Dracula vs. the Wolfman vs. the Mummy, as they all seek a mysterious gem that could help them manage their curses to reign supreme—but then run into some creature-on-creature conflict when they all arrive at the same ruins to collect.
The effort put in to not only revive classics but also continue to grow HHN’s own stable of terror titans can be seen in its original mazes. My favorite this year is Dead Man’s Pier: Winter’s Wake, which recreates a New England ﬁshing village with undead ﬁshermen haunting frozen-over seaside shacks (bless the AC blasts in this house), plus plenty of other aquatic horror creatures. Then there’s the fun Fiesta de Chupacabras house which highlights a popular Latin American cryptid myth, set in a village that lures unsuspecting tourists into the maw of the cultural beast. For those of you who are new to the interconnected stories of Orlando’s original tales I definitely recommend digging into Halloween Horror Nights: Haunted Tales, the podcast companion anthology the creatives at Universal released to go alongside the houses for Dead Man’s Pier, Chupacabras (in English and Spanish), and the Sweet Revenge scare zone.
Throughout the haunt juggernaut’s 10 houses and multiple themed scarezones there’s a boo-fet of horror subgenres to feast on (lest you let yourself get feasted on, of course). With ghosts, flapper witches, retro futurist creepy crawlies, post-apocalyptic gore, and more, there’s surely no other Halloween event with this much to keep you occupied—and it’s virtually impossible to do in one night unless you book an RIP Tour (which is exhausting in its own right, but could be worth it if you have a small window of time to visit; the amazing guides ready to dole out trivia are a particularly fun part). Personally, I’d opt for two to three nights with an Express Pass, especially if you’re traveling especially for the event, to truly take in the environments, watch the shows (which I unfortunately missed), try out all the spooky snacks, and ride some rides while taking multiple breaks from Orlando’s hot, humid weather (you will need these breaks). You don’t want to speed through this event, as the theatricality and spirit of the season is unmatched.
Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights Orlando runs through October 31. For more information, including ticket details, check out the event’s official site.
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