Universal Studios Orlando is celebrating 23 years of scaring people at their annual Halloween Horror Nights event and they’re doing it with bigger and more intense terror. The studio has lined up some of the horror genre’s biggest properties to base their haunted mazes on, from “The Walking Dead,” to “Cabin in the Woods,” to “An American Werewolf in London.”
“An American Werewolf in London” seems to be the one the creative team behind Halloween Horror Nights is most excited about, and working with the movie’s director, John Landis, is the icing on the cake. According to Creative Director Michael Aiello, the maze has been “a passion project for us for about four of five years.”
It takes visitors through a narrative of the movies, with several key scenes recreated. Keep an eye out for the giant hand-operated werewolf puppets and that transformation scene, which includes some pretty spectacular effects.
“The Walking Dead” made it’s debut at Halloween Horror Nights in 2012 with an impressive maze, to say the least. However, the creative team decided that for 2013 it was go big or go home. So they increased the size of their “Walking Dead: No Save Haven” experience, with a maze that encapsulates all of Season 3 of the hit TV show. Visitors start off in Woodbury, as they make their way through the arena and town before heading into The Governor’s home, complete with his treasured aquarium. From there they begin the journey to the prison, which has been overrun with walkers. Be on the lookout for some familiar faces from the series, including a couple extra special zombies.
The park has also let “The Walking Dead” take over its streets. Various sections of the park are broken up to represent different seasons of the show, from a walker-infested Atlanta, to Hershel’s burning barn. It’s an added bonus for those who are wild about zombies.
If you like another type of zombie, there’s “Resident Evil: Escape from Raccoon City,” which follows the video game series, rather than the movie. The folks that built this maze paid special attention to detail, allowing for a wonderful experience for video game fans. They even places little hidden reference to the game, if you can spot them. If it’s too scary, don’t worry. There’s a pause screen in the middle of the maze so you can take a breather.
Two other newcomers to the event are “The Cabin in the Woods” and “Evil Dead.” The two movies were a welcome treat to theater goers and the mazes are no different. Each will take you through the world they are set in, via old wood cabins. The attention to detail is what makes these, and all of the mazes, work best as the creative team does everything possible to immerse you in the setting, even including smells. Watch out for the scent of dead cats in “Evil Dead.”
“The Cabin in the Woods” reintroduces all of the nightmarish creatures from the movie, and puts them too close for comfort. From the Sugarplum Fairy to the Merman, they’re all out to get you.
Mazes based on movies and video games aren’t all Halloween Horror Nights has to offer though. The event began with original concept haunted houses, something the park makes sure is included annually. The 23rd incarnation of the event is no different with three new, original mazes.
“Havoc: Detailed” is a sequel to 2010’s “Havoc: Dogs of War.” The new maze takes the demented super soldiers from “Dogs of War” and puts them on a train to transport them. That is, until the train goes off the rails. The entire maze takes place on a train the park has built, as you actually go through the derailment and attempt to escape the maniacs that are now on the loose.
“Urban Legends: La Llorona” recounts the legend of “The Weeping Woman,” who drowned her own children in order to be with the man she loved. However, the man shunned her and, devastated, she took her own life. Now, she stalks the maze, which follows her personal sorrow, looking for those who can share her pain. Some of the imagery used was pretty jarring, striking an emotional note as you see the grief the woman has brought herself.
Finally, 3D returns again to Halloween Horror Nights with “After Life: Death’s Vengeance.” Bobby “The Blade” is a serial killer headed to the electric chair as you enter the maze. Now, visitors follow him through the afterlife where he is tormented by those he killed. It’s definitely the most colorful maze, but also one of the most disorienting. With the fluorescent colors and 3D aspects, it’s easy to get drawn in for the big scare you’ll never seen coming.
When you’re not having the life scares out of you in mazes, there are a couple shows to enjoy. “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure” is back to skewer the last year in pop culture with jokes, songs, women not wearing very much and, of course, Miley Cyrus twerking. Finally, there’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show: A Tribute,” which features a full cast going through recreations of many of the movie’s best-known scenes and songs. Don’t even think about not dancing during “Time Warp.” And watch out for a little rain early on in the show.
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando Resorts runs through November 2.