We know that Universal opted to kick off this year’s Halloween Horror Nights announcement season with the little nugget that Stranger Things would be returning for the second year in a row. We also know, thanks to posts from Universal’s various attached Twitter accounts, that the vast majority of the haunted house will be devoted to the show’s second season (which dropped back in October 2017), with the remaining portion given over to its just-released third season (which arrived on the Fourth of July of this year).
Now that we’ve had a little while to digest the newest batch of episodes, it’s time to pull out the scenes that we’d most like to see implemented in the haunt – given the constraints outlined above, of course – ranked in order from least impactful to most desirable. Consider this a short must-have list of narrative elements that would most make for an immersive, scary experience at one of the most immersive and scariest Halloween events around.
Oh – needless to say, there will be SPOILERS for Stranger Things 3. Please proceed at your own caution.
6. Funhouse of mirrors
It may be something of a cliché to have a funhouse in a haunt, but that doesn’t make it any less, well, fun.
Universal’s version would have all the hallmarks of Stranger Things’s short-but-sweet sequence in the penultimate episode of the season: a hunted Police Chief Jim Hopper, plenty of Russian baddies out to assassinate him, and copious amounts of reflections and misdirections. If done properly, it could result in some truly disorienting experiences – perhaps not unlike the subway scene in the Dead Exposure: Patient Zero house from last year’s Horror Nights – and, of course, some great scares.
Given the (relatively) short amount of “screen time” that season three will possess in the Stranger Things maze, and given the plethora of other (and, quite honestly, better) material from these newest eps available to the designers, we wouldn’t want to see the Fourth of July fair be anything more than just a quick stretch, replete with some fun gags. But – c’mon – who could pass up the chance to see Hopper get the better of Grigori, the Terminator-esque Soviet hitman that peruses him relentlessly throughout the entire season?
It’s one of the very first distinctive images we get in Stranger Things 3, and it’s one of the most indelible ones, as well: the propensity for the various rats of sleepy Hawkins, Indiana to run en masse to a certain mysterious location, and then to collapse, shiver, and then, finally, to explode. The resulting biological mess then gets collected and absorbed together to create the very beginnings of a brand-new type of monster, one that the Mind Flayer – the imposing creature that sits atop the collective hive consciousness of the Upside Down’s various surreal denizens – has designed specifically to eliminate the threat that is Eleven.
The repeating television motif is one that could be implemented as one very specific scene at the very beginning of the third season portion of the HHN maze, or it could be a gag that recurs all throughout this section – either way, it would be a suitably unnerving element of the house, and we fully expect it to come replete with water effects to simulate the splatter of the various rats popping off.
4. Hawkins Hospital
When Nancy Wheeler and Jonathan Byers go to the town’s hospital in order to visit an elderly patient who has been infected by the Mind Flayer, they walk into a trap. Soon, the lights begin to flicker – the telltale sign that something from the Upside Down is present – and other individuals under the entity’s spell start to stalk the young couple, leading to violent confrontations and one of the tautest sequences from the entire season.
What would make this stretch of the house even more spectacularly frightful would be its ultimate conclusion, when the new flesh-absorbing monster arrives to finish the job that the individual hosts couldn’t accomplish by themselves. By this point in the storyline, the creature’s increased in size and ferocity, and seeing how Halloween Horror Nights’s designers could pull it off would easily become one of the highlights of the entire haunt – if not, indeed, the entire event. (There would even be the possibility of seeing the possessed human attackers explode, merge into one meaty mass, and then combine with the rest of the monster in order to finish its attack on Jonathan and Nancy – a dream come true for the Horror Nights faithful.)
3. Russian facility
That the Starcourt Mall is just an elaborate cover for a secret Russian installation underground is one of Stranger Things 3’s bigger – and, admittedly, most-farfetched – reveals. It also provides one of the most fertile grounds for haunted-house material, providing everything from impressive, multi-story sets to tons of scare actors to an action set-piece that, if pulled off correctly, could be one for the HHN history books.
Indeed, there are several different scenes that could be recreated here: Dustin Henderson, Steve Harrington, Erica Sinclair, and Robin sneaking around the top-secret installation, Jim Hopper and Joyce Byers impersonating Soviet soldiers in order to infiltrate it, the lovably-gruff Murray Baughman sabotaging the portal-generating machine, and the various scientists and military officers being incinerated by said machine as it attempts to pry open a new gate to the Upside Down (just imagine how that effect could be pulled off!). But trumping all these is, of course, the biggest moment of the season – Hopper having his final showdown with Grigori, (apparently) sacrificing his life in the process.
In fact, that could make for just as stellar of an ending for Halloween Horror Nights as it was for the Netflix series.
2. Hopper’s cabin
We’ve already received official confirmation that the second season portion of the Stranger Things house will feature among its many settings Jim Hopper’s cabin, which he inherited from his grandfather and which he has since remade into his and Eleven’s new home. Having it reappear later on in the maze, then, would make for a really nice echoing effect, both playing up the dual-season nature of the experience and adding some extra weight to the event that transpires there in Stranger Things 3.
And what an event it is! With the Mind Flayer having tracked Eleven and her party to her home, it unleashes its new monster, now giant in size – it’s flush with the biological mass of several dozen Hawkins residents. The monstrosity savages Hopper’s cabin, tearing off part of its roof and snaking in huge tendrils that are meant to either eviscerate or assimilate the gang of adolescents inside. It’s a powerful scene, combining tension, action, and scares in equal measure – in other words, the perfect Horror Nights set piece, and one that could very easily prove to be the flagship moment of the entire haunt.
1. Starcourt Mall
The item that tops our list is the same one that served as the centerpiece of Stranger Things 3, both conceptually and narratively: the just-arrived Starcourt Mall. As a piece of production design, it’s staggering – large, detailed, authentic, and all-encompassing (it was built on location in a mostly-deserted mall in Georgia, which helps a great deal in its verisimilitude).
The height of ‘80s culture and the beginning of the modern-day economy – Hawkins, Indiana’s main-street, mom-and-pop shops are already feeling the pinch just months after the mall’s opening – Starcourt is a towering symbol of the show’s time period and pop-culture roots as well as being the main site of its action, thanks to the giant Soviet installation that secretly sits underneath it. Given Universal’s propensity for big two-story sets for its bigger properties (the ending of the Trick ‘r Treat maze from last year comes to mind, with its recreation of the quarry, replete with the school bus trapped in it), reconstructing at least a swath of the mall not only seems a shoo-in, but also a spectacle that makes us positively giddy.
And that’s not even factoring the seemingly-ever-present Mind Flayer into the equation.
Stranger Things will join Nightingales: Blood Pit, Universal Monsters, Depths of Fear, Yeti: Terror of the Yukon, Ghostbusters, and Killer Klowns from Outer Space at Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights, which runs for a record-breaking 41 select nights, from Friday, September 6 to Saturday, November 2.