25 years and still bloody impressive


Malcolm Robinson, Staff Reporter

The massive success story that is Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights, an annual assortment of haunted houses and scare zones that caused a seasonal fever to since Sept. 18 that consistently gained acclaim and praise from its intended audience.

Billed as the “nation’s premier Halloween event,” the occasion has amassed a devoted fan base that has both bolstered the theme park’s sales and even taken to the web to proclaim their love. After witnessing the event in its gory glory, such an obsessive response seems reasonable. Boasting impeccable, Hollywood-inspired environments and acting that would put the majority of horror movies to shame, Horror Nights both fulfills and exceeds its title.

Littered throughout the foggy, ominous streets are a variety of raised podiums and portable stages. Specific sets adorn each one and feature a character who is the studio’s take on a popular archetype (ranging from the typical “sadistic grandmother” to the “deranged doctor pulled straight from The Human Centipede“). The grotesque creations on display stayed in character through the night, going so far as to interact with passerby and make jokes at the audience’s expense.

It slowly became apparent that the designers intended for them to have a dual purpose: serving as a fun way to occupy one’s time and as a distraction that allows the wandering street performers to gain at least one terrified shriek before the night ends. However, they were neither annoying or repetitive; each was distinct in its own way and so well acted that they were prepared for any number of questions, interruptions, or heckling their respective audience could throw at them.

The makeup artists in particular should be applauded. Never has a disemboweled corpse or deranged, bloodied clown been so tough to look at.

The equally immersive acting serves as a testament to the high-quality costumes. Each haunted house, including the lesser known “Run: Blood, Sweat, and Fears” and “Body Collectors”, had a number of gruesome set pieces amplified by the frighteningly realistic reactions both the victim and murderer had.

If there is one prevalent fabric that fuels the individual houses, it is nightmares. Although the houses vary in innovation and reliance on animatronics, Universal has, in a grand departure from previous years, managed to maintain a scary atmosphere through the event as a whole. While the theme park has always had a small number of poorly designed houses (We’re looking at you, 2014’s Dracula Untold), Horror Nights enthusiasts will be pleased to know there are none this year.

Standouts include the masterfully crafted “Insidious” house, which, much like its 2014 predecessor based on the John Carpenter classic “Halloween”, remained for the most part within the confines of an eerie house (until the dreaded moment it leads into an open space, of course). Within dimly lit corridors brightened by the occasional strobe light, the designers ensured that not a moment would pass when a gangly, intimidating monstrosity that towered over guests would lash out at the passerby.

More impressive was the clever use of strobe lighting during “The Purge” haunted house. The effect is comparable to opening and closing one’s eyes for several seconds.

Crowds won’t be hard-pressed to feel frightened by the surprises and events that await them at 2015’s Halloween Horror Nights. Hate it or love it, this is the event’s best iteration in years, making it a fitting choice for all those struggling to find both delight and fright in October.