In any other place, running from chainsaw-wielding clowns and evading flying demons lurking in the shadows would warrant a call to the police, but at Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights, it’s just another night in October.
The seasonal event is back in Orlando until Nov. 4 for its 27th anniversary, with a remarkable lineup of nine new haunted houses, five open-air “scare zones” and two popular live shows.
HHN increased the number of sites in response to a demand from attendees and as a way to include a larger variety of freaky performances, said Show Director for Houses Charles Gray, who oversees the creative teams that put together the haunted houses.
“When people come to visit, there’s something for everybody,” Gray said. “There’s always someone who’s freaked out by clowns, by that axe-wielding guy, by vampires, zombies. Everybody has their ‘thing,’ and we want to make sure that your thing is at the event.”
Gray and his team work year-round to create varying haunted houses and scare zones, allowing each site to get the most out of every visitor’s unique set of fears.
Some sites offer an original take on the age-old fear of the unknown. In the “Invasion” scare zone, alien occupants of a downed UFO wander the streets, ready to find humans they can chase around the park.
The haunted houses keep guests on edge by immersing all senses in a spooky world.
The creative team built four houses with original themes, one of which is “Scarecrow: The Reaping.” Guests tour a farmhouse in Nebraska, after the great dustbowl and during the blood-soaked revenge of the forgotten farmers.
The remaining five haunted houses are based on existing franchises, such as the “AHS: Asylum” house, which is a play on the second season of the cult TV show, “American Horror Story.”
Guests with a fear of hospitals might get especially queasy in this house, as zombie nurses and caged patients jump out from the dark and get inches from your face.
Unexpected sources of unease, such as the scent of baby powder in an eerie nursery or scare-actors who swoop down from the ceiling and land right in front of your feet are doubly distressing.
The gang of clowns, aliens and demons that walk around the scare zones and hide inside the haunted houses are a force of “easily a thousand or more” actors, Gray said.
Hurricane Irma had blown through Orlando just a week before the event’s opening, but it only caused minor damage to the park, Gray said.
Senior Erum Kidwai, who enjoyed an impromptu visit to the park while classes were canceled due to Irma, said the face-to-face contact of scare zones thrilled her the most.
“I personally enjoyed the scare zones more than I enjoyed the houses because I liked being able to interact with the actors,” Kidwai said.
The trip to HHN also gave Kidwai the chance to see Diagon Alley, the beloved Harry Potter themed expanse at the center of the park.
While most of the park is closed off for the scary event, fans of Harry Potter World would be relieved to know that the area remains open and free of haunted houses and other frights – making it the perfect place to catch your breath, chug a butter beer and take a break from the monsters.
Universal’s HHN is by far one of the most popular Halloween events. Tickets sell out almost every year.
Admission ranges from $60 to $83 per night. For more information on ticket and hotel packages and group sales options, visit halloweenhorrornights.com/orlando/tickets.