Much to the despair of horror and theme-park fans alike, it was announced in July 2020 that Universal’s world-famous Halloween Horror Nights would be cancelled for the first time in its 30 years of running. Despite this, however, a ghostly glimmer of hope appeared as Universal revealed two haunted houses would be open for daytime guests on September 19 and 20: Revenge of the Tooth Fairy and Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives.
A preview of the houses took place for Premier Passholders on September 18, and – as dedicated HHN enthusiasts – we were there at the scene of the scares to take it all in. Not only was this a unique Halloween event to experience at Universal Orlando Resort due to its occurring during regular park hours, but even the frights themselves differed from those of the past thanks to newly enhanced safety features. From pulsed parties to plexiglass sheets, we’ll dive into the details of what changed and what remained terrifyingly familiar.
If anything stayed the same, it was the frighteningly impressive level of detail and quality that we have come to expect from these mazes each year. What’s scarier, you may wonder – deranged dental demons or vengeful newlywed zombies? We can’t wait to spill our guts on what we saw, heard, and screamed at this year, so let’s get started!
Revenge of the Tooth Fairy
Taking a page from Scary Tales: Deadly Ever After, this haunted house turns a lighthearted children’s fantasy into a brutal, bloody nightmare. Revenge of the Tooth Fairy wields gruesome creatures and depictions of dental torture that could make a root canal look like a Swedish massage.
This haunt is certainly the more darkly themed and creepier of the two. The set design is impressive and unique from the start, quickly immersing you in a childlike storybook atmosphere with very sinister intentions. A strong throughline is established via both visual and audio narration before you even enter the house, and it echoes hauntingly through the various rooms as you wind through narrow halls and violent scenes.
Even though Tooth Fairy brings a more frightening experience than its neighbor, we found the scares themselves, while intense, to be somewhat on the generic side; you won’t discover any groundbreaking stunts or illusions, but you’ll still be caught off guard by traditional jumpscares. The “wow” moments are more in the innovative opening set and detailed makeup effects. If you can focus through your fear, take a good look at the mouths of the Tooth Fairy’s victims – you may never want to floss again. Likewise, the mix of children and gore add to the disturbing tone and kept us on edge the whole time. This maze did not seem to blend its protective plexiglass sheets into its set as smoothly as The Bride of Frankenstein Lives, which could sometimes take away from the otherwise-unnerving environment.
Overall, the unsettling imagery paired with the consistent scares made Revenge of the Tooth Fairy more thrilling than its rival house, and it was deemed the favorite among the majority of our team.
Universal Monsters: The Bride of Frankenstein Lives
Derived from the success of Halloween Horror Nights 2019’s Universal Monsters, this maze focuses on a less-utilized character, the Bride of Frankenstein. She’s alive! And she’s furious.
After a powerful and cinematic opening facade, you may soon notice that the Bride is presented in a different style than you’ve ever seen her before. Dropping her classic look, this woeful wife goes full mad-scientist and takes on an original and chilling new persona; only her iconic, blood-curdling screams remain the same. While the change in appearance is interesting, it may take you a scare or two to actually recognize the Monster’s mate in her crazy new getup.
We found the storyline of this haunted house to be a bit less structured in comparison to Tooth Fairy’s, as there is a lot of action scattered between the Bride and her torturous experiments on vampires and other unsightly beasts. Though this haunt may not be the most fearsome in nature, we were impressed with how it found creative ways to blend current safety enhancements with the elaborate theming. The set of The Bride of Frankenstein Lives is designed to appear broad and grand, in contrast to Tooth Fairy’s tighter, more intimate feel – stony walls, crypts, and candles present an eerily ethereal ambience that, at points, reminded us of last year’s Graveyard Games. A couple of imaginative and multi-layered scenes are to be discovered along the way, utilizing tricky lighting and timing. Universal Monsters fans will want to keep an eye out for a few familiar faces, some of which are easy to miss in the electrifying chaos.
While we found this house to be less intense, Bride of Frankenstein boasts clever and beautiful design, and it truly captures the spirit (and smell!) of our dearly departed HHN.
Enhanced safety features
As we mentioned before, these haunted houses – while maintaining the iconic Horror Nights feel – present a slightly different experience from those of previous years. Universal was faced with the unexpected challenge of creating frightening, close-quartered encounters while continuing to uphold current safety standards, and we feel as though they’ve done a great job. Let’s take a closer look at which modifications were put in place and how the mazes were affected (and, in some cases, enhanced) by them.
The most notable change is the addition of clear plastic sheets throughout the houses, which serve as a shield between you and the scareactors. The main downside of these barriers is that they are typically only placed in areas where scareactors will appear, which reveal where they are located and, in some instances, spoil the scare. These sheets also mean that (understandably) actors are not able to be in extremely close proximity to you, as they have been in previous years; no more extra-personal, “in your face” scares. Despite this, we found the scareactors can still be surprisingly startling from behind the plastic, and we appreciated when the barriers were mixed into the set design so as to not reveal the scare ahead.
One of the updated safety features that we felt improved the experience was the pulsing and distancing of groups through the mazes; the conga line-esque movement of guests in previous years often made for a less personal and more predictable walkthrough of the haunts. With distanced parties, the scariness is ramped up, and the experience becomes much more intimate and intimidating.
Another result of new safety procedures that we enjoyed was a much slower pacing through the houses. Rather than being encouraged to move through quickly, this relaxed pace allows you more time to absorb all of the horrifying detail around you and catch every scene and scare. It also makes your overall time spent in the haunted house feel longer and more worth the wait. However, this speed can occasionally include being paused at certain intervals by team members who are holding glowing wands, which ensures spacing between parties – and which can, at times, take away from the immersion.
Some of the more standard changes include mandatory hand sanitizing upon entry of each house (as has been implemented for rides, as well) and face-covering requirements for both guests and most scareactors. We did not feel as though this majorly affected our experience, as many of the scareactors’ masks tied into their costumes, anyway.
Though certainly different from the haunts of prior years, both houses are still full of the sets, sights, smells, and scares from Universal that we have come to know and love each Halloween season.
How do you feel about the taste of Halloween horror Universal has bestowed upon us this year? Which freakish entity would you be more willing to face? Discuss it all with 100,000+ other Halloween die-hard fans in our OI Community Facebook group.