Anyone who listens to our weekly Orlando Informer Podcast knows that Halloween Horror Nights is my favorite time of the year at Universal Orlando. There is very few things I enjoy more than walking down the Universal Studios New York backlot invaded by chainsaw maniacs. Now that I can do so this year with a Butterbeer ice cream from Diagon Alley in my hand, life couldn’t get any better.
We’ve already provided you with the world’s most popular unofficial guide to this year’s event, provided an overview of this year’s lineup, gave you a list of what to watch, and explained the backstories of the event’s original content. Today, we’re sharing our review of Halloween Horror Nights 25.
A pumpkin found in Evil’s Roots, a scare zone at Halloween Horror Nights 2015.
Halloween Horror Nights 25 is one of the best years of the event that I have ever experienced. Right now, it is my second favorite year ever, directly behind 2008’s Reflections of Fear. Four of the event’s nine houses are nearly perfect, an unheard of feat. The scare zones are all uniquely different and entertaining.
Jack the Clown acts as the ribbon to a present of horror-filled content. The return of a singular figure to present the lineup is both a welcomed and needed step in the right direction. Jack the Clown was almost perfectly executed. As a refreshing change, almost the entire body of Universal Orlando seemed to be on the same page when it came to Jack. From the “gift” we received from Jack in the weeks prior to the event to Jack’s show in the park, a consistent character was displayed. While the social campaign may not have captured Jack’s character and left some fans scratching their head, the presentation of Jack was leaps and bounds of an improvement when compared to the past few years of Horror Nights.
1. Jack Presents: 25 Years of Monsters and Mayhem
Scares: 5/5 | Scenic: 5/5
Everything you could ask for in a Halloween Horror Nights haunted house, plus a little bit more. The longest house in the history of the event offers up a new, varied environment at every turn. The scenes aren’t only designed to take you through HHN’s storied history, but are equally efficient at providing scares. Some of the best scare tactics I’ve seen utilized at the event over the years have been placed in this house. Returning fans will enjoy revisiting some of their favorites, whereas newfound fans will enjoy discovering the characters and locations for the first time. No matter who you are, 25 Years of Monsters and Mayhem is guaranteed to deliver and takes the number one spot on our list.
Insidious at Halloween Horror Nights 25.
Scares: 5/5 | Scenic: 5/5
From the moment I experienced this house at the media preview it has left me seriously impressed. The haunted house manages to consistently capture the spirit of the Insidious series. The simple, but impressive façade, sets the tone for the best paranormal maze Universal has ever designed. Past paranormal houses have provided creepy and elaborate design without scares. This isn’t the case with Insidious, which has been mustering impressive scares. Universal has managed to place the iconic characters from Insidious in powerful scenes that deliver from both a visual and scare point of view.
Freddy Kruegar surprises a guest at Halloween Horror Nights 25.
3. Freddy vs. Jason
Scares: 4/5 | Scenic: 5/5
It’s relatively difficult to go wrong when you’re working with Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees. Place the two icons of horror into one soundstage and you’ve got a winning house. Putting the two characters, and their respective environments, into the same house also results in only the “best of” each party making the cut into the house. This significantly benefits Freddy vs. Jason, with guests taking a short trek through each of the character’s worlds before seeing the two collide in an epic finale. I didn’t find the intensity of Freddy vs. Jason quite to the level of Monsters and Mayhem and Insidious, but there’s plenty of time for that to change. If it were to change, Freddy vs. Jason could claim one of the top two spots.
Body Collectors – Recollections elegant facade at Halloween Horror Nights 25.
4. Body Collectors – Recollections
Scares: 4/5 | Scenic: 5/5
Recollections certainly takes home the award for the most beautiful house at Halloween Horror Nights 25. Matter of fact, it’s probably the best looking house since 2012’s Gothic house. Body Collectors are a staple of the HHN and rarely fail to bring creepiness along with them. The idea of a blizzard causing the body collectors to invade an insane asylum works well and is a lot of fun. However, Body Collectors isn’t as scary as the aforementioned houses. Nonetheless, it is still a truly powerful house. In an average year, I could see this house easily ranking in the top two.
5. Asylum in Wonderland 3D
Scares: 3/5 | Scenic: 4/5
Asylum in Wonderland (2008) is my favorite scare zone ever, so this house had large shoes to fill. In my (controversial) opinion, it is the best 3D haunted house that Universal has done in its 25 year history. The storyline is fun and allows the designers to create vivid environments that actually provide some scares. In addition, Wonderland 3D certainly features some of the usual 3D (read: disorienting) effects you’d expect to see. I’m simply not a huge fan of 3D houses at Halloween Horror Nights, leading this house to rank as a solid number five.
The opening scene of RUN at Halloween Horror Nights 25.
6. RUN: Blood, Sweat, and Fears
Scares: 2/5 | Scenic: 3/5
The premise of this rendition of RUN left me excited. For some reason, though, the actual house was not how I expected. I don’t think it’s bad by any means. Blood, Sweat, and Fears does deliver interesting and different scenes. However, it doesn’t feel like a cohesive story and the scares aren’t as plentiful as I’d hope. Finally, the gameshow storyline isn’t as apparent as it should be. There’s plenty of time for RUN: Blood, Sweat, and Fears to improve. I have a feeling by the end of the event this house will be delivering more plentiful scares.
An American Werewolf in London surprises a guest at Halloween Horror Nights 25.
7. An American Werewolf in London
Scares: 4/5 | Scenic 5/5
This is a phenomenal house! It was one of my favorite houses when The Slaughtered Lamb first opened its doors in 2013. Why is the house ranked at number seven? The reason is simple: it’s a repeat. The house is a near carbon copy of its initial version. First time visitors are sure to love this haunted house, but some seasoned fans may leave with a case of déjà vu. The design team did plus the werewolves found throughout the maze, and add an additional wolf. John Landis, writer and director of An American Werewolf in London, shared with media on opening night that the size of the werewolves were the only disappointment he had with the initial rendition of the house.
A purger surprises three guests at Halloween Horror Nights 25.
8. The Purge
Scares: 3/5 | Scenic 2/5
The Purge’s loose story fits like a glove for Halloween Horror Nights. It can be a lot of fun and is certainly startling at times. I personally enjoyed the property more when it was set loose on the New York backlot last year when compared to this year’s haunted house version. The house’s lacking scenic, when compared to the rest of HHN 25’s stellar lineup, leaves the focus on the scares. Unfortunately, these can be hit or miss. When they do hit, The Purge can be a genuinely terrifying house.
9. The Walking Dead: The Living and the Dead
Scares: 1/5 | Scenic 1/5
It is crystal clear 2014’s The Walking Dead haunted house, aptly subtitled “End of the Line,” should have been the end of the line for this series of yearly houses. There was no imaginable way Universal could have beat last year’s house, which at the time was crowned the longest house ever designed. This year, The Walking Dead feels like it has been downgraded in every possible way. While I was never in the camp that thought the property was a fit for the Halloween Horror Nights brand; 2014 was the popular TV series done correctly. The Walking Dead 2015 boasts virtually no scares and no memorable scenes, outside of a beaten dead horse that calls this house home. It should be noted that neither the designers nor scareactors are at fault for this dud; both (very passionate) parties seem to be trying their hardest to keep this property afloat to the best of their ability.
A Shadybrook Asylum inmate nibbles on a corpse at Halloween Horror Nights 25.
1. Psychoscareapy – Unleashed
Easily the powerhouse zone of 2015 by a longshot. The concept is fun and comedic, yet it still achieves respectable scares. The storyline allows the scareactors nearly limitless guest interaction, which shows through. It has been years since there has been a zone with this level of interaction, reminiscent of the fan favorite Asylum in Wonderland zone (2008).
Wolfman stalks his next victim at Halloween Horror Nights 25.
2. All Nite Die-In – Double Feature
This double feature started out at the bottom of my list on Employee Preview night. Since then, the zone has significantly improved. Scareactors have begun to found their rhythm and additional actors were added. Scareactors are using unique tactics to scare guests. Granted the zone is definitely on the smaller side, it has a classic Horror Nights feel to it. The idea to have one group of actors in color and the other in black & white is nifty and works surprisingly well.
An ogre resident of Evil’s Roots at Halloween Horror Nights 25.
3. Evil’s Roots
Evil’s Roots is another scare zone with a classic Horror Nights feel to it. The area its located, Central Park, is beautifully decorated. The atmosphere couldn’t get better. The monsters that call this zone their own were managing to get substantial scares opening weekend. I only expect this zone to improve as the event continues.
An Usher takes part in a staredown with a guest at Halloween Horror Nights 25.
4. Icons – HHN
The characters that have brought the past 25 years of Halloween Horror Nights to life killing strangers. On paper it sounds great. Unfortunately on my first three nights at the event, I was only able to see The Usher’s and The Director’s mini-shows. Should the zone manage to run its kills on a timely and efficient basis, Icons – HHN could rocket into my top 2 zones. The Usher’s show was particularly impressive and captured his personality well. There are several top-notch actors in this zone, providing plenty of interaction already.
An scareactor welcomes guests to Scary Tales – Screampunk at Halloween Horror Nights 25.
5. Scary Tales – Screampunk
Scary Tales is one of my favorite HHN brands. Unfortunately, this street version of the concept doesn’t hit the mark. While the zone is fun to look at, most characters aren’t scary. The zone’s location doesn’t allow for more than one prop, which undoubtedly hurts the immersion of the area. The zone is certainly still enjoyable. It may not compare to some of the other zones this year, but does bring variety and needed visuals to the 25th anniversary.
The Carnage Returns show at Halloween Horror Nights 25.
1. The Carnage Returns
My favorite Halloween Horror Nights show I’ve ever seen. The stage is beautifully crafted and matches Jack the Clown’s refreshed look. The writing gives first-timers and veterans alike a look at Jack’s entertaining personality. The music and choreography, kicking off with an audience singalong of My Chemical Romance’s “Blood,” is catchy and fits the show suitably. Finally, the individuals who play the roles of Jack and Chance are some of the best talent Universal Orlando has to offer.
2. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure
Outside of The Walking Dead, this show was the only disappointing part of Halloween Horror Nights 2015. (Bogus, I know.) The opening dance is a step backwards in the well-produced openings of the past few years that Bill & Ted has enjoyed. Some of the best talent of this year’s show is either underutilized or spread too thin across multiple roles. The show suffers from prolonged segments of jokes that fall flat. Thankfully, the show does succeed with jabs towards the parks down the street and closes with a strong choreographed outro.
Halloween Horror Nights 2015 has proved to be one of the best years of its 25 year history. The event runs from now through November 1. I’ll be checking out the event many additional nights. Hope to see you there!
Ready to start planning your horrific night? Check out the guides below:
Halloween Horror Nights 2015 (Overview & explanation)
- Admission Guide: Tickets, Express & Tours
- How to get HHN early admission
- HHN 2015 touring plan
- HHN 2015 tips, tricks, & secrets
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