This post will cover my reviews of American Horror Story, The Exorcist, Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch, and The Walking Dead houses.
Throughout the course of several nights – some full, and some when I was gratuitously ER’d from work – I attended Universal Orlando’s twenty-sixth annual Halloween Horror Nights event. I worked at the event as Ops for Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield (and two nights as a rescue at The Exorcist), so to actually go out and take part in the horror made me appreciate my first year from a Team Member’s point of view a lot better. I have seen every house, scarezone (including the four roaming hordes), and show, and in this lengthy post I will explain my thoughts on all that I’ve experienced.
#1. American Horror Story
(Not once did I wait 110 minutes, lol.)
(Visit #: 10)
I’m a huge fan of American Horror Story. I’m not a big fan of television myself, but American Horror Story would keep me glued to my seat, night after night, with interesting stories and spins on different events in history. When I heard that the show would finally have presence at Halloween Horror Nights, I legit cried for a little while. The show has many memorable characters and locations, and the best of the best from Murder House, Freak Show, and Hotel are all represented here.
While the Murder House and Hotel sections featured some of my favorite characters (such as Tate Langdon and James Patrick March), the Freak Show section was where all the magic happened. Laugh at me all you want, but Freak Show is actually my favorite season of American Horror Story. I’m a huge fan of the circus/carnival aesthetic, and I love learning about the various ‘freaks’ that took part in freak shows back in the day. Seeing the human side of someone who doesn’t appear ‘normal’ is something that’s actually really satisfying to see. So when I first walked through the Freak Show area and saw the banners for characters such as Amazon Eve, I cried. Hard. I felt like I was really at Fraulein Elsa Mars’ Cabinet of Curiosities. Hearing “Life on Mars” will never be the same now.
Despite being one of my least favorite seasons, Hotel’s section surprised me. It was rather exciting to step into the Hotel Cortez and come across many of its eccentric residents, such as Hypodermic Sally with her giant needle and Iris and Liz Taylor, who recreate the exact moment when American Horror Story jumped the shark. The Countess herself also appears in some of her most memorable outfits from the season (I love that red dress!).
Audio from the three seasons is used heavily throughout the house. Scareactors lip-sync lines of dialogue spoken by their respective characters, which added to the surreal, “Oh my god I’m in American Horror Story” feel of the house. Music is used to great effect as well; everything from the Twisted Nerve whistle tune to She Wants Revenge’s Tear You Apart to make the scenes 100% identical to the show.
All in all, there is a very, very reason as to why American Horror Story is my favorite house this year. The house has done the show justice beautifully. Being a fan, visiting all the memorable locales and seeing all my favorite characters was like being in a dream. I’ve literally never felt so passionate about any HHN house until now.
That’s why, in all honesty, AHS receives a 5/5 rating from me.
Favorite house moments: Tate’s scene; the entire Freak Show portion; Dandy’s scene; The Countess dancing in the elevator; Mr. March’s scenes; Hypodermic Sally’s scene; the ending with Twisty.
#2. The Exorcist
(Visit #: 8-9… I can’t remember the exact number.)
When The Exorcist was announced as a house, I was very, very concerned. The majority of the film takes place in one location – the MacNeil residence, specifically Regan’s bedroom. How could the house designers take us through the story of The Exorcist while trying not to be repetitive? And most importantly, how could the house do the amazing makeup and special effects justice?
Thankfully, The Exorcist did not disappoint, at all. The way I see this house is that we are seeing the story through the mind of Pazuzu, the demon that possesses Regan. This is why we see Regan as pure evil without the slightest trace of innocence, because we are seeing Pazuzu at work. We’re stuck in Regan’s possessed mind, watching in utmost fright and terror as this little girl is forced to succumb to evil. The only people who can help her are the priests, the exorcists themselves, in a classic battle of good and evil.
One of my favorite scenes in the house is toward the beginning, when we enter the McNeil residence and after a brief encounter with Regan, we see the Iraq ruins, complete with Pazuzu statue, only for the ruins to disappear and be replaced with the walls of the house. This is where I came up with my ‘theory’ of the house being told in Pazuzu’s point of view. This scene showed that Pazuzu has already caused Hell (haha, geddit) in the McNeil house, and this is what we’re about to see.
All, and I mean all of the scareactors in both of my run-throughs were very aggressive. Pazuzu literally comes from nowhere in some scenes, as in from windows to even a narrow, black hallway. I’ve seen people complain about this scene, but I thought it was actually really creepy, a la Insidious’s hallway from last year. I was close to freaking out when the walls would suddenly move and got closer to me. I had no idea what was going on, and I was expecting a Pazuzu scareactor to pop out… and just when I thought it was over, he appeared from a well hidden boohole.
The Regans do their job really well too. I respect them so much considering some horror stories I’ve heard about them being told not-very-nice things and even assaulted by rowdy guests. The makeup work on the Regans is very well done, and I love how they all had their contact lenses in! It added to their creepiness. They may look small, but they’re just as scary as Pazuzu.
Same with the Father Merrin and Karras. Merrin actually looks like an old man, just like the makeup effects in the movie, but can easily get you while you’re distracted by the levitating Regan. As for Father Karras… haha, when you thought he was the good guy of the movie, he’ll scare the shit outta you here, especially when he’s wrestling Regan and becomes possessed himself.
The only concern I have about this house is the ending. I was quite confused – are we following Pazuzu back to hell? What’s up with the blacklight? I talked to a Regan scareactor about this and she said the finale is Pazuzu’s personal Hell. Something obviously was lost in translation in the finale, but that doesn’t ruin the surprise at the end that I didn’t see coming.
But alas, The Exorcist was another solid classic movie adaptation house. I’d consider putting it in the ranks of 2013’s An American Werewolf in London and 2014’s Halloween – that’s how good I thought it was. I thought it told the story rather well, being rather creative in parts where I would’ve been concerned. From the weird vomit scent to the chilliness throughout the house, Exorcist did not fail to deliver the same feeling I had when I watched the film for the first time.
My ranking is 4.5/5.
Favorite house moments: The facade; the Iraq transition; Regan spraying me in the ear with ‘vomit’; “The power of Christ compels you!”; the Regan to the left after the power of Christ scene; the Regan at the end of house who smiled at me and walked with me all the way to the house exit.
Also, I saw this on my way out of the house and cried.
#3. The Walking Dead
(Visit #: 1)
More like The Walking Bore.
This is the fifth year that HHN has had a Walking Dead house. Some iterations were okay, and some just downright sucked. This was one of them. The Walking Dead house is literally rehash of past scenes, and I’m not talking about how Jack Presents from last year showed classic scenes from past HHN houses. This was a dreadful trip down memory lane revisiting the campground (“Oh hey, here’s the props from 2013!”) and the Governor’s tanks and whatnot. None of the actors seemed to be scaring me, instead getting the people in front of me or behind. I maybe had only Walker actually get into my face, that’s it. The only effective scenes were Terminus and the ending with the strobes, a staple from the 2014 house that actually got me pretty bad. But for the most part, can this please be the last TWD house we see? I know, Synergy, but still… enough is enough.
The Walking Dead has always felt out of place at Halloween Horror Nights. The show is not necessarily horror, instead being a drama that just so happens to be set during a zombie apocalypse. Yes, there are zombies, a classic horror creature, but zombies don’t have the right kind of weight to carry through an entire haunted house unless done correctly. If we had seen characters such as Rick Grimes or Michonne, or even the new infamous character Negan in the house, I feel like The Walking Dead’s impact on the event would’ve been stronger. But the usual formula just keeps going on and on…
The Walking Dead gets a 1.5/5.
Favorite moments: Pointing out every prop and set that was reused (more than half of the house); Terminus; the strobe room.
#4. Ghost Town: The Curse of Lightning Gulch
(Visit #: 4-5, can’t remember the exact number.)
Ghost Town had been teased well before HHN started to reveal houses. Known as the ‘requel’ (that means returning sequel) house, Ghost Town returns triumphant since its last appearance in 2004. I was really happy to see this property come back; now, the newer generation of HHN fans can experience a very well-known classic house. And thankfully, this house has all the staples of a great original house, from story to characters and sets.
When you enter Lightning Gulch, you already know you’re in for a hell of time once you see the corpses hanging from the nooses. Walking through Ghost Town for the first time gave me memories of walking through last year’s Body Collectors: Recollections of the Past; small details hit you immediately once you step inside the first room, from the wanted signs to the newspapers on the table. From then on, you come across Lightning Gulch’s interesting residents, such as the schoolmarm (“I said back off!”) to the prostitute to the sultry barmaid who isn’t afraid to pull out her last shot. Seeing the shootouts right before my eyes only added on to the belief that I was traveling through this spooky old ghost town, and even gave me the same vibe that I get from The Great Movie Ride’s western scene.
Like The Exorcist, there were times when the storyline would be unclear. For instance, the finale scene was a bit confusing here as well. We enter the mine and have a guy shouting, “That’s my gold!” at us, but for what purpose? Was it just because we ventured into the mine when we weren’t supposed to?
The best way to fully understand the stories of these houses is by asking a scareactor. I have a friend who was a scareactor in this house, and he gave me the whole run-down regarding the story. Some of Lightning Gulch’s citizens were either killed, killed themselves, or were simply stolen away by the storm – this is a detail I would’ve never known otherwise. So my tip is if you make friends with a scareactor, ask them questions! They’ll be sure to help you out.
Yet despite these brief confusions, Ghost Town is a solid house and a great retelling of a classic story. I rate this house 4/5.
Favorite house moments: The impressive sets, costumes, and makeup; the schoolmarm; the Pepper’s Ghost effect in the prostitute’s room; “Die, Pinkerton!”; “That’s my gold!”.
Stick around for Part 2 of my HHN 26 review, where I’ll cover Krampus, Halloween: Hell Comes to Haddonfield, Tomb of the Ancients, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Lunatics Playground!