By Emily Mort, Director of Marketing & Communications, Lakeland Chamber of Commerce
If you haven't had a chance to experience Halloween Horror Nights 31 at Universal Studios Orlando, don't worry. You still have time! Whether you're an accomplished HHN veteran or a new goer, you'll want to check out this comprehensive guide to this year's Houses so you don't wait over an hour in line for a lackluster House.
I've been going to Halloween Horror Nights every year since HHN 21 and successfully completing every House without an Express Pass. However, if you want to treat yo'self then go ahead and splurge on the Express Pass -- Just know it's possible to knock out every House without one. How? Take advantage of Stay & Scream (if you can) and go to HHN in September. The closer you get to Halloween, the more crowded it will be.
Stay & Scream gives you a head start on getting through some houses before the general public is even allowed through the gates. To participate in Stay & Scream, you'll need a day ticket and Horror Nights Ticket or a Universal Annual Pass and a Horror Nights Ticket (depending on your AP level, you might get a free HHN ticket).
Alright, now that you're through the gates, let's get to the Houses!
10. The absolute worst House this year (by a landslide, IMO) is Spirits of the Coven. This House had all the right ingredients but failed at execution. The story goes: A coven of flapper witches will lure you into their 20s speakeasy to turn you into a witch's brew. Sounds fun, right? Wrong. The set design was confusing and looked nothing like a speakeasy or brewery. If anything, it resembled a boiler room Freddie would roam around in. In addition, the lack of Scare Actors in this House didn't help anything. It felt like you were carelessly wandering around a boiler room in the dark. With this House's consistently low wait times, it's easy to coin it as the worst House at HHN.
9. Sorry, Michael Myers fans, but coming in at number 9 is Halloween. Don't get me wrong, Michael Myers is a classic slasher film we all know and love, but this House is so overdone. I think in my years going to HHN, this is the third or fourth Halloween House they have done, and they are all basically the same -- Mike is in the House with a knife, and he isn't happy. It's not a bad house. In fact, if you're a huge Halloween fan, I'm sure it will be one of your favorite Houses, but for me, it's just soooo overdone. Halloween is becoming the "new" Walking Dead ... veteran HHN goers will know what I mean.
8. Sometimes, incredible movies just don't translate well into HHN Houses, which was the case for The Horrors of Blumhouse. Don't get me wrong, I've been a huge Blumhouse fan since they came out with Paranormal Activity. They were able to creatively capitalize on a low budget and make a pretty chilling horror movie. I immensely enjoyed their previous runs at HHN 28 (Happy Death Day & The First Purge) and HHN 27 (Insidious, Sinister, and The Purge), but this year just wasn't it. Featuring their new releases Freaky and Black Phone, I felt the House was disjointed and lacked Scare Actors. Although I never saw Freaky, I was still expecting to enjoy the House, but that wasn't the case. The second part of the House was focused on Black Phone (a phenomenal movie I'd recommend to any horror movie fan), and it was a bit better. It did highlight critical scenes in the film well and captured the anxiety of particular scenes. Overall, I felt it fell flat and wouldn't be a house I'd go through again. Maybe we shouldn't put Houses in Fast & The Furious — it seems like a cursed location.
7. Hell Block Horror wasn't great, but it wasn't awful. It was clearly not the primary focus of this year's portfolio of original houses with recycled costumes and average scares. The story of the House is about a prison filled with monsters who are breaking out. It reminded me a lot of the Cabin in the Woods House from several years ago, but not as well executed. I don't have much to say about this House other than … it's there. If it has a short wait, go for it. If it's over an hour, skip it.
6. Deep in the subway below an abandoned, toxic New York City, mutated humans fight to survive. But the deeper you go, the darker your fate. Yes, I'm referring to Descendants of Destruction! As I walked through this House, all I could think of was the viral TikTok — "Sometimes people are like, 'Why did you move back to New York City?' And I was like, 'I don't know. I just really love the ambiance, and there's such a charm to the City, you know." This House is a ton of fun with incredible theming, a clear story, and amazing Scare Actors. I love going through a House and understanding what's happening without reading the description. There's nothing worse than leaving a House and wondering, "What was even happening?" That is not the case with this House! If you have time, this is a great filler House and one of the better original Houses.
5. There's nothing I love more than storylines that play into the dystopian future popularized in the 1950s. While touring a 1950's "Home of the Future," you'll be swarmed by hoards of revolting insects as they worm their way into your deepest fears. Bugs: Eaten Alive plays more into the "gross-factor" versus the "scare-factor." So, if maggots coming out of people's faces isn't your thing, it might be best to sit this one out. However, if you want to see a giant worm or massive cockroach, this is the House for you. The attention to detail, Scare Actor costumes, and storyline make this House so fun!
4. If cryptid creatures and creepypastas are your thing, then you won't want to miss Fiesta De Chupacabra. Travel through a Latin American village where the legend of the Chupacabra lives on, and the streets are lined with the blood of tourists. This House showcases Universal's creative use of horror puppets and fantastic set design. It feels like you're in the streets of a Latin American village as locals fight off the vampire dog, and you are shuffled from room to room into a back alley as you try to escape the blood-thirsty cryptid.
3. "I said, ooooooooooh, I'm blinded by the lights! No, I can't sleep until I feel your touch!" Prepare to enter the macabre mind of The Weeknd in this House as he stalks you through the surreal nightmare of his After Hours music. A slasher carving a smile at an otherworldly rave. Bandaged maniacs performing extreme plastic surgery. A grotesque mannequin masquerade. His nightmare is now yours. Whether you are a Weeknd fan or just a casual enjoyer of his music, this House is an incredible continuation of the story told through his music videos, with a horrific twist. Even if you have no idea what's happening, this House was incredibly well done and immersive. It's also one of the few Houses that isn't afraid to be bright and flashy.
2. This number two spot was a close tie between The Weeknd After Hours Nightmare and Universal Masters: Legends Collide. This year I was able to go through each of these Houses twice, and the number of Scare Actors in the House will make or break your experience. Both Houses are incredible! However, the sheer amount of Scare Actors and double-tap scares in the Universal Monsters House is what pushed it over The Weekend for me. To get scared by Dracula and Wolfman at the same time, then moments later to see the mummy kill Dracula and the Wolfman, was this horror nerd's favorite nightmare that played out right before my eyes.
1. If you plan on drinking the night away and planting yourself in a Scare Zone to people watch as you munch on a Pizza Skull or Twisted Tatter with the goal to only do one House…. Dead Man's Pier: Winters Wake is that House. The story goes: In a New England fishing village, undead fishermen emerge from the waves to seek their revenge. They'll reel you in and drag you under. Honestly, I was too busy being blown away by the set, costumes, and story to be scared. HHN veterans might remember the beloved Scare Zone from HHN 26, Dead Man's Wharf, where the spirits of undead fishermen lost as sea returned to make the dock earn its nickname. The lore of this story spans several years, and the incredible attention to detail on one of Universal's biggest set designs that includes an entire town, lighthouse, several boats, and a whole shipwreck is impressive! Part of the crew, part of the ship!